John has been preaching about the patience of God, and last Sunday he preached a very convicting message. I have been reading in the book of Numbers, and as I have read, the theme of God's patience has been in technicolor to me. I am going to TRY to articulate the tangled web of things the Lord has been showing me, but tangled is an operative descriptive here.
It all began on Monday when I read the story of Phinehas in Numbers 25. I am not as much of an Old Testament scholar as many people in our church. Until this week, the name Phinehas evoked images of the Disney cartoon character, not a person zealous for God's honor.
The Lord expressly forbade the Israelites from marrying and fraternizing with other people groups. God isn't a snob; He just knows how sinful our hearts are (so much better than we do), and how easily we can be led astray. So, for the sake of His honor and love for his people, he wants them to be separate from the other nations. (In fact, many, many times He tells the Israelites not just to stay away, but to put to death these people.)
I haven't counted, but it would be interesting to find out how many times in the Old Testament the Israelites plunged into sin because of associating with Godless people. It would be just as interesting to count the times that God had patience with His children; either by staying judgement because of a person or small group's intercession, or by allowing them to be disciplined but not destroyed.
Back to Phinehas... Numbers 25 says, "While Israel remained at Shittim, the people began to play the harlot with the daughters of Moab. For they invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel joined themselves to Baal of Peor, and the Lord was angry against Israel."
The Lord commands Moses to kill the leaders who are taking part of this, in order to turn away God's anger and to stop the idolatry. In the midst of this, a man has the nerve to bring a midianite woman into the camp and present her before his family and the congregation while everyone is still weeping in the tent of meeting.
Phinehas sees this, takes a spear and runs it through the man and the woman together.
Anger issues? Violent temper? NO! A zeal for the honor and holiness of God. This could be considered a good example of righteous anger!
In response to this action, God says to Moses, "Phinehas.... has turned away My wrath from the sons of Israel in that he was jealous with My jealousy among them, so that I did not destroy the sons of Israel in My jealousy."
So, God exercises forbearance (or patience) to the Israelites based on the correctly placed zeal of an individual.
WOW! I have been stuck on this all week, and it keeps coming up. My first thoughts were like these:
"How zealous am I?"
"Would I have done that?"
"Do I fellowship with the Lord in a way that would create that kind of a relationship?"
On Tuesday a friend of mine came to visit. I can't remember what we were discussing exactly, but she was talking about being accused of legalism in an area. She mentioned something to the effect of, "When we are called to FLEE from temptation, that doesn't mean back away slowly or dabble a little in it... it means FLEE!"
This is the part that is hard to articulate...
God did not want the Israelites to mix with other nations in order for them to be pure and devoted to Him in worship... God wants us to flee from temptation also, and we are called to NOT be like the world, so that we can be pure and devoted to Him in worship.
Is it logical to compare the world (that is, the culture around us that rages against the things of God and scripture...) to the other nations God warns the Israelites to stay away from?
The world around us might not make tangible altars and burn babies on them, worship cows, and other things that seem far fetched to us. However, as I think about it, it doesn't seem quite so far fetched. How many babies are being sacrificed by mothers who aren't ready to have children in the form of abortion? How many children are being given over to the day cares and government to be raised and taught because parents are hotly pursuing things that will rust and ruin in the end? Fornication, adultery, and all kinds of perversions are accepted as normal... and to oppose this is considered "hating."
If idolatry is elevating something to more important than God, then how many of us are in trouble? Sports, affluence, love, success... the list could go on. The "world" is opposed to the things of God.
Back to my previous question...Is it logical to compare the world (that is, the culture around us that rages against the things of God and scripture...) to the other nations God warns the Israelites to stay away from?
If so, God's patience should be clear to us. If this is a fair comparison, then it is obvious how God feels about consorting with the world. When God tells a people to kill even the women and children, He is serious about keeping his children from sin.
How many times do I allow myself to be distracted from seeking the Lord because of some worldy reason. Good grief, how many times is my heart cold because I am too busy keeping my house clean to humble myself and stop and seek the Lord? How many times do I get as close to that Midianite border as I can... rather than fleeing or destroying for the Lord's sake?
There is a sheet we received a long time ago titled, "The Pattern of Jesus of Nazareth: the Goal of My Life." The first thing on their is something to the effect of "Do I do everything with the goal of the PLEASURE of God in mind?"
I read this yesterday, and it made me examine my motivations. Am I :
being as much like the world as I can, while still not crossing into sin?
making decisions based on what would be the most pleasing to God?
To quote from The Princess Bride, "Let me splain... no, let me sum up..."
As I am seeing how God feels about Israel's relationship with other pagan nations in the Old Testament, his patience and kindness are amazing. Moreover, we can liken our relationship to the world with the relationship of Israel to idolatrous nations. God still feels the same way about sin; His patience and kindness toward us are equally amazing. In fact, I can think of no better motivation for repentance and close following.