Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
When we think of the word “law,” immediately our thoughts go south. The word has a negative connotation in our hearts. Admit it; “law” is not a comforting word to you. We’re all rebellious at heart and feel confined by the law, be it the laws of the Bible or the laws handed down by the government. However, God used the Law in the Bible to do so much more than to restrict Israel. But if you’re not paying attention, you may miss the bigger picture. When you read through the fairly dry texts of the Law (end of Exodus, Leviticus, some of Numbers, the middle of Deuteronomy) pray for God to help you understand his mind and see why he says what he says. The Holy Spirit will guide your reading and he’ll open up an amazing world of God’s heart through these sections. Anyway, today I want to look at what the Holy Spirit showed me, the Law of Hope.
In the desert, the Israelites hit a streak of bad luck. Namely, the Promised Land they were heading towards was populated by giants. They had gone out to spy the land and figure out how they’d take it, but the spies realized that the folk who lived in Canaan were um…big, really big. History records,
But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” And they spread a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people there are of great size. We saw Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them” (Numbers 13:31-33).
After finally being freed from slavery in Egypt, the Israelites crossed the awful desert and just across the river they could see the Promised Land. But the Promised Land was already populated by large, strong people. Oh, and did I mention that their cities were heavily fortified? No? Well their cities were heavily fortified: “But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there” (Numbers 13:28). Understandably, everyone was depressed and in this depression, they started to consider giving up. And so their thoughts returned to Egypt, the land of their slavery. We read,
That night all the people of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this desert! Why is the Lord brining us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” (Numbers 14:1-3).
You know the situation is dire when slavery becomes a viable option. God didn’t take this too well. He was disappointed by the Israelites lack of faith and cursed the people. Scripture records God speaking to Moses,
So tell them, “As surely as I live, declares he Lord, I will do to you the very things I heard you say: In this desert your bodies will fall- everyone one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me. Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. As for your children that you said would be taken as plunder, I will bring them in to enjoy the land you have rejected. But you- your bodies will fall in this desert. Your children will be shepherds here forty years, suffering for your unfaithfulness, until the last of your bodies lies in the desert. For forty years- one for each of the forty days you explored the land- you will suffer for your sins and know what it is like to have me against you” (Numbers 14:28-34).
So, because all the people chickened out and tried to go back to Egypt, God condemned them to die in the desert. Obviously, nobody wants to hear this from God, so the people tried to do the right thing and take the land as they were commanded in the first place, “Early the next morning they went up toward the high hill country. ‘We have sinned,’ they said. ‘We will go up to the place the Lord promised’” (Numbers 14:40). However, it was too little, too late,
But Moses said, “Why are you disobeying the Lord’s command? This will not succeed! Do not go up, because the Lord is not with you. You will be defeated by your enemies, for the Amalekites and Canaanites will face you there. Because you have turned away from the Lord, he will not be with you and you will fall by the sword.”
Nevertheless, in their presumption they went up toward the high hill country, though neither Moses nor the ark of the Lord’s covenant moved from the camp. Then the Amalekites and Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down and attacked them and beat them down all the way to Hormah (Numbers 14:41-45).
So in short order, the Israelites had (1) found out that the Promised Land was filled with strong and powerful people, (2) been cursed by God for trying to run away, and (3) were soundly defeated when they tried to take the land. It was not a good time to be an Israelite.
Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, Moses comes back from the Tent of Meeting with a new law. Starting in the very next line after the Israelites are beaten back the Bible says,
The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘After you enter the land I am giving you as a home and you present to the Lord offerings made by fire, from the herd or from the flock, as an aroma pleasing to the Lord- whether burnt offerings or sacrifices, for special vows or freewill offerings or festival offerings- then the one who brings his offering shall present to the Lord a grain offering of a tenth of an ephah of fine flour mixed with a quarter of a hin of oil. With each lamb for the burnt offering or the sacrifice, prepare a quarter of a hin of wine as a drink offering’” (Numbers 15:1).
Really? A new law about sacrifice, right now? But check out what the Holy Spirit showed me: when they had basically lost all hope about entering into the Promised Land, there God shows up and says, “After you enter the land…” So the Lord, through his Law, was reminding the people that it wasn’t a matter of if they’d enter the Promised Land so much as it was a matter of when. Now, as we already read from above, most of the people would die in the desert. So this particular Law was for the young people and children (those who were under 20). Through his Law, God gave the people assurance that Israel (specifically the next generation) would make it into the Promised Land. But there was more too from the Law that day;
The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land to which I am taking you and you eat the food of the land, present a portion as an offering to the Lord. Present a cake from the first of your ground meal and present it as an offering from the threshing floor. Throughout the generations to come you are to give this offering to the Lord from the first of your ground meal (Numbers 15:17-21).
Now this may not seem like much to us in the 21st century; but consider Israel’s position at the time. They were nomads in a desert. They acquired food by having to pick some white stuff (manna) off the ground every morning and double on Fridays (because there wasn’t any on Saturday). They couldn’t store it because it had an exceptionally short shelf life (gaining maggots overnight) and it only came in one flavor: manna. But this is what the Lord said through his law: “Your offspring will eat more than manna and they will be able to rest and cultivate the land.” Things would get better. This wasn’t conditional, it was already written in the Word of God through the Law.
Maybe you feel like the Israelites; like you’re going one step forward and then two steps back. But today God says that you will make it. Consider this from a New Testament perspective. Jesus died. And with his death he effectively destroyed his disciples hope (I mean, wasn’t this guy the Messiah?). And even after rising from the dead, Jesus showed no interest in freeing Israel from Rome (which is what most of the Jews assumed the Messiah would do). Basically Jesus’ disciples had found Christ, but given up everything (including their businesses) and were now basically wanted men among their own people. One step forward, two steps back. And now Jesus was going to return to the Lord. But before that, the disciples had a question for him, “So when they met together, they asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’’ (Acts 1:6) Jesus, like his Father before him answered their concern with a command,
He said to them: “It is not for you to know the time or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:7-9).
Jesus told them not to worry about that kind of stuff, but they’d be endued with power and would move about freely and proclaim the Gospel with God watching over them. He had a plan for them, and he has a plan for you. Maybe God won’t give you the answer you’re looking for, but for those in Christ, he has already written down that you can be assured of good things to come. For it is written,
As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile- the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:11-13).
If you trust in Jesus, the promises are yours; for you have been made righteous in God’s eyes through him. And just like the Israelites and the disciples of Christ of his time, you too can lean on the Law of Hope and know that you will be brought into your Promised Land and you will be given power from on high through the Holy Spirit. Maybe it doesn’t seem like it now, but Jesus said “It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law” (Luke 16:17). So don’t worry about how things look, rather relax and consider the words of Solomon: “The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride” (Ecclesiastes 7:8). The end will be better than things look now; you will receive power from the Holy Spirit (if you haven’t already) and you will enter into your Promised Land- it’s the Law.
Rock on God!