Numbers (Numeri) – Leadership in the Desert

Contents

Numbers 10: 11-28
Numbers 10: 29-36
Numeri 10: 35 — Dutch — Schriftoverdenking/ Meditatie
Numbers 11: 1-3
Numbers 11: 4-29
Numbers 12
Numeri 16: 5a — Dutch — Preek met liturgie

 

Numbers 10: 11-28.
Hymn: The Church’s one foundation

For this morning chapel time, I have been looking for a suitable section in the historical parts of the Old Testament. And I didn’t find it easy to find one. Not only did I want to respect other speakers’ choices, and avoid interfering or overlapping with them. But also, it is hardly possible to pick just one section out. It is just one history, from the beginning to the end. Wherever you choose your starting point – apart from Genesis 1, or 1 Chronicles 1 – it will take a lot of explanation of what preceded. It is the one history of God’s wonderful dealing with his people.
I have chosen, as a starting point, the moment that the Israelites, on their journey from Egypt to Canaan, left Mount Sinai, after God had made his covenant with them there, and the tabernacle had been established. That’s how we find ourselves in this passage.
It doesn’t look particularly interesting. It appears to be mainly a list of names. You may be inclined to skip a passage like this in your devotions, as, apparently, it will not yield much for the practice of godliness.
Even the name of the book as a whole may deter you. ‘Numbers’ – that’s what it starts with, the counting of Israel. What could that possibly mean to us?
But then, the name of the book in the Hebrew Bible is: ‘In the desert’. That’s the first word of the book; that’s what it is called after. And that brings in much more tension, right from the beginning. Yes, Israel was in the desert, for a long time. How would they manage? This numerous people, in a vast area where food is scarce, and so is water. Many dangers lie in wait for them; snakes; brigands, enemies.
True, numbers are there, but they are in the beginning of the book. Later on, there is so much more that is necessary for God’s people in those circumstances. There is even much drama in this book, especially in the after chapters.
Israel has been rescued out of Egypt; delivered from slavery. And God has already revealed how wonderfully he cares for his people. They get manna everyday for their food. They even get water from the rock, if necessary. And God has given them victory in the battle against the Amalekites. Yes, but they have not by far reached their destination yet; the promised country. Apparently, this Sinai area provided an opportunity for a longer stay, somewhat more than a
year. But they have not yet settled.
There is a saying: ‘Once saved, always saved’. And it is true – if properly understood. It means: once you find yourself saved by God, you may be sure, in faith, that he will keep you safe till the end; in all eternity. But… this section of the OT is a long teaching about which misunderstandings of this saying we should avoid. We are saved; but we have not yet reached our destination. The ultimate fulfilment of our salvation is still in the future.

Once saved from the great oppressor, Israel had a long way to go to its destination; a long way on which God wanted to lead them.
And there is progress on this way.
One of the most important things God has done during this time is: he has made worship arrangements. He has established a place where he and his people would meet. He has established the ministry of atonement. His people has to go with Christ, all the way.
This sanctuary is being carried in the middle of the cara’van; carefully, rather in the vanguard, as, in case of hostilities, the rear guard will be most liable to attacks.
It is wonderful, these arrangements for the transportation of the tabernacle. It is a sanctuary; and every measure is taken for preventing it from being desecrated. All parts have to be covered, from the moment of taking apart, during transport. And yet, at the same time, all necessary arrangements have been made to facilitate transportation. The walls consist of loose shelves, standing on bases and fitting together. And so on. The tabernacle itself has been described in Exodus, and the arrangements for transportation the preceding chapters of Numbers. The most holy things, the Ark of the Covenant and a few more, are carried by priests, but by far the most things are carried on carts, pulled by oxen. The holy things which are inside the tabernacle – utensils, and so on – are taken out first, but then the family of the Levites who carry them, have to wait; the parts of the building itself are carried ahead of them, in the vanguard, so that they arrive first and the tent can be set up, and the things can be put in afterwards.
The holy God is in the midst of his people. Those who don’t observe his regulations and desecrate his sanctuary will die. But, at the same time, he is there, very down-to-earth, in their midst, in the desert, on their journey. They don’t have to wait worshipping him till they arrive on their destination. He does not burden them with inhuman requirements during their trip. He allows his sanctuary to be carried all the way, with them, wherever they have to go.
To be sure, he takes the lead, in the cloud. He gives the sign for departure. He shows the way. But he is not just elevated high above them. He is in their midst. He shares all their hardships, toils and dangers. They really don’t need an idol, as they have imagined once, not long ago, a golden calf, to have their god in their midst. O no, he is there, all the way.
Yes, they have to carry it out, all these arrangements. They have to care for the sanctuary. But this requires just obedience, and reverence, and care. And that’s what they do. It has been described in the preceding chapters, how they all brought their gifts, on the occasion of the consecration of the tabernacle: the ox-carts, and precious things. They acknowledge it, whole-heartedly, and dedicate themselves accordingly: God is with them.
This people, dedicated to their God who is in their midst – this people now takes down their camp and set out for the next stretch of their journey. They do so in an orderly way.
To be sure, there must have been some order right from the beginning, when they left Egypt. There has been, even in Egypt, under the oppression, some kind of organization of the tribes, according to their families. Yet, now, this order is shown more clearly. There is progress on the way.
The people have been counted. That has a military purpose; I plan to digress on that another time. But, apart from that: God’s nation is well organized. Everybody has his or her own place in the whole. You belong to that tribe, that clan, that particular family. Everybody is counted; everybody is considered; everybody is accounted for; nobody is neglected; everybody is cared for.
Somehow, this list may suggest something perfect. Of course it wasn’t, in reality, but this suggestion is deliberate; no doubt about that. This is the same people we see again in the book of Revelation, chapter 7: Israel, tribe by tribe, 12.000 each, 144.000 in total.
You are counted, brother, sister. You have your own, proper place. You are not forgotten; you won’t be. You may feel that way sometimes. You may feel neglected. Human care, human concern, human attention, is imperfect. But, as a member of the people of God, you have a place quite of your own. On the way, from the initial salvation to your final destination, you won’t be left aside.
You are counted; you have your own place, in the entirety of the people of God. The order of the cara’van shows discipline. Everybody has to wait for his proper place in the queue, before he sets out. This journey of this people through the desert requires much discipline. Nobody can just travel just on his own initiative, as he pleases: I have enough of this place, I want to go! And, on the other side: everybody has to be prepared; once it is your turn, you have to be ready, and go. You go together. You hold, so to say, one and the same rope.
This requires much discipline; much submission. Does that sound too strong to you? That’s how it is expressed in the NT, in several passages of exhortation; let me quote just one, from Ephesians, chapter 4: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit (…) one Lord, one faith, one baptism… (and so on) (…) Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ”.
Submission… discipline is required in order to be one. It is impressive, this whole caravan that we see setting out here: a well organized unity. That is how God had made them: a large people; the numbers that are listed in the first chapters are even not understandable. That’s what God had promised to Abraham: a numerous offspring. He had been just one. And Isaac… and Jacob… and then, there were twelve sons. And then… now, there are twelve tribes; a complete people, wandering through the desert. They are one.
Later on, during the many centuries of the OT, we see so much lack of unity; so much division, in Israel, between the tribes. Hardly ever, a unity like this is seen. Division, conflict, or just everybody doing his own thing, every group going its own way – apparently, that is just natural; that is how people are. Yet, here is this one people, thoroughly organized as a unity. One Spirit… one body.
The secret of this is summarized in verse 13: obedience. “They set out, this first time, at the Lord’s command through Moses”.
Today, we are tempted to doubt whether it is possible: the church as one body. This temptation has many roots in history; this is not the time to discuss them.
Some even doubt whether it is desirable. Union seems only imaginable as a putting together of parts, churches, denominations, that do not really fit together; it will be full of tensions. It conjures up the image of the notoriously arrogant bishop.
Many may even doubt whether such a unity is important. We are one, they will say, even without being one body.
But what a powerful people is this one Israel, setting out for the last stretch of their journey through the desert, full of dangers; this obedient people – soon, we will hear of much disobedience, grumbling, lack of faith, and so on, but here it is: one people, truly and thoroughly united in obedience, discipline, and submission.
What a testimony this would be to today’s world: one church – one true, believing church; all powers, all gifts of the Spirit, put together. How much effort, how much dedication to God’s mission, could be coordinated and used more efficiently. As Christ prayed for us: “…That all of them may be one (…) so that the world may believe (…). May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you [Father] (…) have loved them even as you have loved me”.
Let’s not despair of this vision; much less, reject it. It was there, at that time, in the desert, by God’s grace.

Numbers 10: 29-36
Hymns:
Onward, Christian soldiers
Kingdoms and thrones to God belong
Fight the good fight – TH 484

(1)
Israel continues its journey through the desert. And God leads the way, in the cloud. Mysterious, isn’t it?, that cloud; and majestic. God leads his people, through the desert, to the country he has promised.
Just follow the leader! Now, when I heard this story, when I was a child, at home, read from the children’s Bible, and at school, like children here are told at Sunday school, I had the impression that the Israelites had nothing to do than just follow; just walk. Like dumb, with an empty mind.
Later on, you mature in your understanding of the Bible, and you find that that is not right. There was much to do. God’s leadership elicits a lot of activity. That’s what we learn from this passage.
Israel is an army. We read in the preceding passage, that they are organized in divisions. Every time, when the tents are taken down, the heads of the tribes, and then the subaltern commanders, have to arrange that every tribe, every clan, gets ready to take his place, everybody with his family, to take his place in the line, in the army column. Now I can tell you that it may take a lot of effort to get one single family ready, just for, let us say, going to church on Sunday morning. So, there is a lot to do.
This is even a migration of an entire nation. And the desert is dangerous. Once, this army has had to fight already, against the Amalekites. And we know – and they also realize – that many battles are ahead, once they arrive in the promised country.
Right from the beginning, when they had just left Egypt, we read (in Exodus 13): “God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt”.
Israel is an army, which has to face war. And that applies to us also, the church of the NT. We have to be ready for fight. Not an earthly war, the war on terrorism or whatever, but against the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil: sin, ungodliness, a worldly life, wickedness. We have to prepare by putting on the armour of God; you know it well from Ephesians 6. Everybody is actively involved; everybody bears a responsibility, and is counted on, with the best of his or her abilities and resources that God has given to him or her.
Israel is an army, and God leads it as its Chief Commander.
Apparently, when the cloud comes to a halt, they cannot just set up the camp. Still, arrangements have to be made. They have to choose the most suitable place, within a range of maybe two kilometres. The camp has to be set up in the best possible way not to be exposed to enemies, and to be protected against any dangers that loom in the desert. Sentries have to be posted.
Ultimately, this is Moses’ responsibility, as the human commander-in-chief; the lieutenant-general. He realizes that. Does he become, at this moment, a little nervous? I don’t think so. Moses has faith in God. But at the same time, he realizes his responsibility.
And he is careful. As our Lord Jesus Christ has taught us: Be shrewd as snakes. Because of the dangers you have to face in this world. God’s leadership does not make us careless. Quite the contrary: it elicits prudence. That’s what we see here in Moses, in the desert. He is cautious. And he recurs to the opportunities that are at hand.
We may have forgotten by now, at this moment in biblical history, but he has relatives here in the desert; his in-laws. They have stayed with him for some time, or they visited him from time to time. Earlier, his father-in-law has given him a wise advice for organizing the administration of civil justice: solving the conflicts of the people.
Now, he appeals to them for help. They know the desert. They have their own expertise of the terrain, the dangers and the opportunities. Please help us!
And when they decline, he is insistent. He urges them even to join the people.
And then, he makes a promise. “If you come with us, we will share with you whatever good things the Lord gives us”.
Israel is just a people wandering through the desert. They have even just been delivered from slavery. But they have their God in their midst, and he has given them great promises. They are, and will be, richly blessed. Moses can make generous promises, confidently, about what is not yet visible.
Generally, later on, Israel is not allowed to intermarry with other peoples. They cannot associate with gentiles. They are a holy people, and they have to remain so. There will even be nations from which nobody is allowed to enter the assembly of the Lord.
But these people are no enemies; no rivals. They are not going to penetrate the holy people. They are just invited to join. They have a positive attitude, and they are challenged to show that anew, with even more commitment. If they do so, and join God’s people, they will share in his blessings!
We have no evidence whether, finally, they have consented. If necessary, God’s people can do without this help; God will care for them anyway. But it would be unwise and irresponsible not to make use of the opportunities available.
There are, in the OT, non-Israelites whose wisdom and expertise are used, and adapted. I am thinking especially of the wisdom in Proverbs. Part of it was borrowed from gentile sources. And some non-Israelites are even referred to by name. Agur, the son of Jakeh, and Lemuel and his mother – apparently, they were not Israelites. But they had wisdom that can be used by God’s people… It is being used even now.
The more so, now that we live in the NT dispensation, we can learn from non-Christians. We do, in every field of knowledge and expertise and skills. Everything is Christ’s!
We have to remain holy. We don’t go for the blessing of false gods. But we may be generous, promising, offering the blessings of the living God, to relatives and friends and colleagues, whenever there is an occasion: If you join, if you cooperate, you will share in Christ’s blessings! He is rich, he is generous, he has so much to give!

(2)
Then, the caravan sets out. The cloud leads the way. At the head of the army goes the Ark of the Covenant, covered with a cloth, borne by priests on their shoulders; appropriately, because that is the throne of God in its earthly manifestation. It reflects God’s leadership on the surface.
At the moment that the ark sets out – every time – Moses speaks a solemn phrase. It is like a very small devotion; a moment of worship.
This was not required. All worship in the tabernacle was regulated into details. But this is Moses’ own initiative. It is, again, a response to God’s leadership.
The first response we saw in this passage was carefulness; royal carefulness, sprinkled with generosity. The second is a confession; a creed.
Moses interprets what is going on. God initiates a new stretch on the way to the promised country. He leads his army.
Moses has experienced the hostility and oppression in Egypt. More enmity is to be expected.
“Rise up, O Lord, / may your enemies be scattered, / may your foes flee before you”.
We all know stories about nations in conflict; or tribes. We know about patriotism, images of the enemy, aggression and competition. And it is easy to wish, and pray: May our enemies be defeated. Give us the victory”. But that is not at stake here. Moses says: “Your enemies”. He realizes that this holy God faces opposition of unholy people, who don’t want to know him and are not ready to receive his chosen people friendly and hospitable.
It is like we face the powers of evil. Not Pakistan or Osama bin Laden. But ungodliness and immorality even around us.
On this level, Moses faces war; holy war; even though at this moment, in the desert, no enemies are in sight. It is God himself who has a conflict with the nations and will fight.
And that’s why Israel has to face battle also! The hosts of Yahweh (as they are called once), his army on the ground, goes to war!
You may be scared. Hardly anybody likes to go to war. To be sure, there are images of bravery and glory on the battlefield. But, as a pop song around 1970 (the days of the Vietnam War) said: “Soldiers who want to be hero / are there hardly zero, / but there are millions / who want to be citizens”.
But Moses, speaking at another level, is confident. God can defeat his enemies. He will. That confidence, that high spirit, is what Moses expresses here.
And in that confidence, he expresses – as the leader, on behalf of the people – readiness to take part in that war. Lord, with you, in your battle, we will win!
At the same time, it is a prayer. Lord, please, rise up. What can we do, against the powers of evil, the worship of national idols all around us, the immoral ways that people like to indulge in – what can be done about it, unless you yourself lead your army in battle; what is more, you yourself achieve the victory? Without you, we are powerless. With you only, as our Chief Commander, we can go ahead!
This solemn phrase, initiated by Moses, has become a long Psalm: Psalm 68. It starts in the desert, indeed. A hymn of war and victory; dazzling in its content and a problem to commentators, but quoted in the NT, applied to the ascension of Jesus Christ, his exaltation. It is a hymn in which believers have expressed their confidence when they faced violent persecution and pyres. It was their only weapon in battle.
If only Israel had kept these words in mind, these words of Moses that must have become so familiar to them. If only they had kept this mood, these high spirits in faith, when the approached the border of Canaan for the first time and had the country explored! And, later on, in the time of the judges, when they became reluctant in God’s war and got accustomed to the pagan way of life!
Do we see, in faith, God’s holy war, going on these days? Are we ready to take part? Do we have confidence? How would you express your reverence for God’s holy war today?

(3)
You don’t need to be afraid. There is no commander, no leader, whether in Washington or wherever, who is as considerate with his men and women, as this God. He allows them rest at its time. The cloud will halt; the priests will, solemnly and reverently, put the ark on the ground. Then, again, Moses, on his own account, will express his confidence in a confession, a creed. “Return, O Lord, to the countless thousands of Israel”.
At night, the cloud will shine light, as a night lamp, reassuring his people who go to sleep. God is in their midst. He is around them. He is their sentry. He is also their first-aid post. At the time when they cannot see around them, the mysterious hazards of the desert, no harm will occur to them.
How great you are, O Lord! You have made your people uncountable! Now, please, care for all of them. Allow your army to sleep quietly.
Again, it is a prayer. A prayer full of confidence of what it asks for; full of trust in him who will fulfil it.
I don’t know whether you consider it fully appropriate to conclude a morning worship hour this way. O.k., let it go with you for 24 hours, and on your free Saturday – the ark often stayed resting for more than one day. This is your God.
Have a confident day!

Numeri 10: 35 — Dutch — Schriftoverdenking/ Meditatie

Wanneer de ark opbrak, zei Mozes: “Sta op, HERE, opdat uw vijanden verstrooid worden en uw haters van uw aangezicht wegvluchten.”

Het ziet er ongunstig uit voor de kerk in Nederland. We hebben een paars kabinet, en dat is te merken in het beleid. Trouwe kerkgangers worden steeds meer een uitzondering.
Hoe zag het er uit voor Israël in de woestijn? Een volk van pas losgebroken slaven, zonder vorming, zonder kennis. Egypte hadden ze achter zich gelaten; dat land was bezig zich te herstellen van de klappen die het kort geleden had opgelopen. De voorwaarden voor herstel waren gunstig; zij redden het wel. De Israëlieten hoefden daar niet meer terug te komen. Zij waren zwervers in een onherbergzaam gebied, zonder middelen van bestaan, zonder werkgelegenheid. Hun heiligdom was demontabel, het was niet meer dan een tent. Ze zijn op weg naar een ander kultuurland. Wat willen ze beginnen tegen de mensen die daar wonen? Die zien ze aankomen!
Maar de HERE is bij ze. De wolk rust op de tent, in het afgesloten allerheiligste, boven de ark met het verzoendeksel. De HERE woont bij ze. Hij voorziet in hun levensonderhoud, elke dag. Hij stort gaven op ze uit, telkens opnieuw.
Die wolk trekt op boven het heiligdom en verplaatst zich in de richting waarin ze moeten gaan reizen. Dan wordt de tent opgebroken en op wagens geladen; priesters nemen de ark op de schouders, en het kamp breekt ordelijk op; de kolonne zet zich in beweging.
Zie je de koning, de aanvoerder, die voorop gaat, die leiding geeft, die de marsroute bepaalt? Dan wordt Israël een leger, de “legerscharen des HEREN” (Exodus 12: 41). Hij zal voor ze strijden. De volken in Kanaän zijn zijn vijanden; Hij zal ze voor Israël uit verdrijven. Dat heeft Hij beloofd.
Dat roept Mozes uit, als de priesters de ark op de schouders nemen en op weg gaan achter de wolk aan. Sta op, HERE, tot de strijd! Het is zoiets als een plechtige opening, het zingen van het volkslied voor een wedstrijd. Nu gaat het beginnen!
Het gebeurt. God stáát op, zijn vijanden wòrden verstrooid. Zo opent eeuwen later Psalm 68, de feestpsalm over de tocht van de ark, die z’n bestemming in Jeruzalem bereikt. Dan heeft Israël in Kanaän z’n eigen staat onder een machtige koning. Klanken van hemelvaart en pinksteren klinken in die psalm op. Wat Mozes in die armzalige omstandigheden gelovig riep, dat is werkelijkheid geworden.
Het ziet er ongunstig uit voor de kerk. Roepen wij ook, in geloof: “Here, overwin!”? In het geloof dat Hij, midden in die armzaligheid, bij ons is en dat doen zal? “Here, sla de sekularisatie neer!”

 

Numbers 11: 1-3.
Scripture reading: Numbers 11: 1-9.

I would like to speak to you about the very first verses of this chapter; verse 1 to 3: that one event in what came to be known as Taberah.
There is something dry about this passage. It is very short; hardly any details are given. What was the people’s complaint? What damage did the fire do? Were there any casualties? What did Moses do in the beginning? We don’t know.
Often, when the Israelites in the desert complain, God gives them what they need: water – so refreshing; food. Or even what they desire: meat. That’s relieving, after all. Here… nothing of the kind; just fire, in the already scorching desert. It’s just grim. Who would like this passage, and tell it in Sunday school?
The dryness of the passage reflects the barrenness of the desert. According to NIV (and some other translations), the people complained “about their hardships”. – Yes, they are in the desert. And: yes, hardships are there.
We should not imagine that the Israelites get streams of water every time they want it! On the contrary, usually they have to save every drop. No showers. Sometimes quarrels about who should get how much.
In the next passage, we hear an example of how the people would complain. “Always the same manna; boring! We want variety! We want meat! In Egypt we had…” The recollection is still mouth-watering. – Yes, there is some variety, in the way the manna can be prepared; but very little.
Life is primitive and difficult; like in Indian villages – many of you have experienced it recently, during ten days ministry; it may be even worse, like in the desert areas of Rajasthan.
Much has changed since they left Mount Sinai. The tabernacle is in their midst. The ark is being carried by the priests on their shoulders. Ox carts are there, carrying the shelves and cloths and everything. God is in their midst. But the hardships are there no less.

That is our situation also, brothers and sisters: we are ‘in the desert’. That’s how Revelation chapter 12 describes the situation of the NT church.
Yes, we are saved; saved from the power of Satan; from the bondage of sin. Yes, we are on our way to the promised country; the new world. But now, we are in the desert. We experience the hardship of a small community, small congregations, in an ungodly world, which apparently has much more to enjoy; and which is often hostile, or just looking down upon us; and our work, the church’s ministry, appears to bear little or no fruit.

The people complained. We don’t know how, but we can easily imagine: it is so often described in the report of the journey through the desert. The format of the complaint is this:
–    Count your frustrations, not your blessings.
–    Forget where you came from, or remember it in the way of nostalgia, so that slavery becomes security.
–    Forget the promise; don’t look forward to the promised country.
–    Blame the leader – the human leader.
This temptation is still there, in the NT church. It is still happening.

“…In the hearing of the Lord, and when he heard them…” Even in this short passage, this is repeated; this is emphasized. Now some will say: Of course he did; he hears, he perceives, he knows everything. It is just a human expression (‘anthropomorphic’).
But that approach should not make us miss the point. The thing is that the people, probably, have complained just among themselves. They have imagined that they could just speak, so to say, in the open. Even if their grumble became louder, like a roar – remember: it was sometimes like a revolt against Moses! – … you can imagine; it’s the same when we grumble: we imagine that we are on a flat earth, just on the horizontal level. We don’t take God’s ears into account.

And that is the sin in the complaint. Is it sin to complain? Should we just keep our mouths shut, whatever hardships we experience? We know how relieved you can feel when you can just share your trouble with others. “The food is not nice again today. – I really don’t know how to handle the children when they are so fractious!” You will feel relieved, and you can carry on again.
You can even complain to God! You can go to him in prayer. He was with the Israelites, even in the desert, wasn’t he? You can even cry to him, much more that we usually do. The book of Psalms shows us great examples. We may be reluctant to call out to God like that; but we may!
If only we go to him! Commit it to him. Ask for his help. Expect that, somehow, some time, he will answer.
That’s the problem with Israel’s complaints: they don’t do that. They grumble just in the open. As if God is not in their midst, available, willing to listen to them and help them.
They complain as if he won’t hear. But he does. And then, his anger is aroused. He is there, but they don’t take him  into account! They ignore him! That’s what he cannot bear.

Then, suddenly: Fire! Somewhere at the edge of the camp. Yet, not outside, but still in the camp. “Fire from the Lord burned among them”. You can imagine how frightening that is: fire in the desert! How to extinguish, when so little water is available? It will make them desperate!
Is this the God who is love? The God whom we love? Let’s rather start with considering how he has revealed himself.

This is the God of Mount Sinai. He descended on the top of the mountain – it must lay fresh in their memories. So many impressive signs were there: the sound of a trumpet; thunder; storm… But the center of it was: fire. It was even frightening. When he had started speaking, they all trembled. Please stop! Let him speak to Moses, and let Moses in his turn tell us, so that we don’t have to listen to this awful voice any more. It was frightening!
Fire is light. It is power. But it is also consuming. “Our God is a consuming fire”. That is not quoted as often as: “God is love”. But even so, he is; it is quoted, again, in the NT.
This is the God who said, even at the same time, on Mount Sinai, from the very beginning: “You are mine! You are my people! You are my treasure!”
That’s what he wants them to be. That’s what he wants them to take into account. Again, he appears in a fire. Now it’s even more frightening, more dangerous, because it is in the camp. They are not prepared for it, as they were at Mount Sinai. It threatens to consume, to destroy. Tents are already on fire, and adults and children try to run away, screaming, panicking. It’s the fire of a jealous God. Realize that I am in your midst! The same God that appeared to you at Mount Sinai – and then you feared me – … now you don’t have an eye for me like that, but I am still the same, and I am still in your midst! Realize that you are mine, and you ought to be fully mine!

You may notice that the threat is more serious, more urgent, than it has been before. The Israelites have complained like this before; on the first stretch of the journey, before they arrived at Mount Sinai. Yet, God’s punishment did not yet appear like this. Even when they had made a golden calf, right after his revelation on the mount – he was furious, and threatened to destroy the whole people; but he did not yet proceed. Now, the fire is really there.
Yes, there is progress on the way, from Egypt to Canaan. The covenant has been made; it has been solemnly established. The tabernacle has been constructed; it travels with them.
And, the more progress, the more they know God, the more he has revealed himself to them – the greater their responsibility. “From the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked”. This is urged upon us, in the NT, now that, in the end, we have got to know Jesus Christ. But we see that God really practises this already on the desert journey. Still, no casualties are reported. But the threat has come close. God is really educating his people; he wants them to grow. He disciplines them. And we all know: as the child grows older, it will face more serious punishment. God wants his people to mature. They should really learn. They should know by now, the basics.

Still, the fire blazes only at the outskirts of the camp. Yes, it is threatening. It could have burned in the centre of the camp also. But it doesn’t – yet. It could have been much more devastating. It isn’t – yet. This is still a warning.
Then the people cried out to Moses. And he prayed to the Lord. And the fire died down.
Yes, God is love! He is slow to anger. He really disciplines his people, in order to educate it; like a parent disciplines a child that he or she loves. Let this serious warning be sufficient for now.
Even now that his anger burns – he will not “harbour his anger forever”. He forgives. He soon puts an end to his fire. “His anger lasts only a moment (…) Weeping may remain for a night, / but rejoicing comes in the morning” – you will recognize that I am quoting from the Psalms now; what is confessed there, joyful, is lessons that are learnt in Israel’s history, even in the desert, even in times of serious danger and anguish.

This lesson is memorized; a note is taken down. “…So that place was called Taberah, because fire from the Lord had burned among them”.
The place might as well be called ‘forgiveness’, or ‘grace’, isn’t it? In the West of the United States, places where pioneers have gone through terrible experiences like sandstorms or snowstorms – such places got names like ‘Endurance’. That’s positive thinking…
But this fire of the Lord has really made a deep impression upon the people. And they have felt: This impression should last. Grace, forgiveness, yes – but the main lesson from this experience is that we should not misunderstand these great words. They are serious. It means that the Lord is in our midst. And we have experienced now, how easily we are tempted to forget that; not to take it properly into account. And, what the consequences are.
Our God is a consuming fire. Yes, he was, on Mount Sinai. He was, again, in Taberah. He was, finally, most seriously, on Calvary. And we are his! He is in our midst! When we go, on our journey to the promised country, through the hardships of the desert, let us never forget that.

 

Numbers 11: 4-29
Scripture reading : Numbers 11: 10-29.
Hymn: Fill thou my life, O Lord my God. TH 495. (CM)

How do you feel about Moses, lying here, procrastinated, complaining, extensively, wailing, protesting, announcing to God that he wants to be suspended; going on strike? The leader in his weakness, isn’t it? Or is it even sinful: lacking in faith? He even wants to be dead! Here, Moses is not exactly a type of Christ!
Or… do you sympathize with him? Isn’t it rather just human? After all, we all have our limitations. However we struggle, sometimes we cannot manage. And then: the people are to blame! They complain about the manna, the plain but good desert-food; as they complained and grumbled again and again. If I were Moses, I had given up even much earlier.
How would you feel about Dr. Chacko, if he would say: I can’t stand it anymore; all these students, and even staff with always the same questions and complaints and faintness and trivialities – I’m going to quit!
Would you blame him? Or would you rather sympathize with him?
It would not matter much! The only thing we could do is meeting as a faculty to face the crisis and find provisional solutions, and calling for a board-meeting; and it would be a serious setback for reformed theological education.
In the case of Moses, it’s even much more serious. He has been appointed, he has been called as the leader, to bring God’s people to the promised country. If he can’t bear the burden anymore – it doesn’t matter how we would judge him. We are not his parents or his boss. Even God doesn’t judge him here; as he does, later on, when Moses hits the rock instead of speaking to it. Quite the contrary: God is going to encourage him. He is angry with the people; not with Moses.
It’s crisis! That’s the only thing we can observe here. When this great leader, this prophet goes on strike – who will bring the people to the promised country? What will become of God’s great plan?
With men, it is impossible that anybody will ever arrive in the kingdom of God. We will get stuck in our human weaknesses and limited perspective, our objections, complaints… whatever.

2.
God is going to reassure Moses. He is going to show Moses what he has given to him; how much of his spirit he has given to him; how rich and powerful this spirit is, even to him, one human being only.
He tells him, he announces him in advance, what he is going to do. He involves him actively in this plan. Right from the beginning, he gives him a new outlook; new hope.
You don’t have to do it all alone, Moses. – It’s the same thing people used to say to me when I was struggling in my ministry. It’s a deep truth; it’s sometimes difficult to understand, difficult to perceive. Well, God is going to show it to Moses.
Moses himself can choose seventy of Israel’s elders. Men who are known to him as leaders and officials among the people. Men who are recognized as leaders, and trusted, and experienced. Moses can choose himself: These are people I would like to share the leadership with. They may help me to bear the burden of my responsibility. How encouraged Moses must have been, even when he gathered this large staff, this company of helpers!
And then, they meet at the tent of Meeting. In the Lord’s immediate presence. A break, a little time out from being among the people in the everyday trouble.
And then, God “took of the Spirit that was on him (on Moses) and put the Spirit on the seventy elders”.
Let’s read this carefully. What happens? It is not just that God pours out his Spirit on these seventy men; right from heaven. No, he makes them share in the Spirit that was on Moses.
What does that mean? That each one of them gets a very small part, one-seventieth only? And that, in the meantime, only very little is left for Moses?
Apparently not. Apparently, that is not the way the Spirit is. It is like a fire that spreads; almost like what we call a wildfire. You know the image of Pentecost: the flames. What does it say, exactly? “They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them”. Fire multiplies without the parts diminishing. With a single match you can light many candles; and then, with those candles you can light even more candles.
That’s how God makes his Spirit work here; multiply. All of those leaders got the Spirit like he was on Moses.
How did this become apparent? What was the result, the gift, or the fruit, of the Spirit? “When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied!”
What happened? What is that prophesying? It is not that they became ecstatic, out of their mind, and that they started uttering enthusiastic but unintelligible language, all at the same time, chaotically. Many readers may suppose that, but that is not warranted. Prophecy is: speaking the word of God. It is never unintelligible. You know that in 1 Corinthians 14, prophecy is distinguished from tongue-speaking even by being intelligible.
These men must have spoken the word of God in this situation. They must have said the same things that Moses had to say, that he should have said, but did not have the courage to, right beforehand.
God, how great are you, leading a people out of slavery, through the desert, to the country you have reserved for them! How wonderful is your care, in providing them food from heaven every day! People of God, be grateful! Stop grumbling immediately! Beware of putting your God to the test, challenging him to give you meat in his anger… The delicious food you are craving for, might become a disaster for you! Submit yourself to him, to his guidance, so that you may reach the country he has made you look forward to as his great gift!
They may well have done this each in turn, or in a chorus.
To be sure, there must have been something enthusiastic about it; something special, something conspicuous. We see this in the two men, Eldad and Medad, who had remained in the camp. They were noticed to be prophesying! That was not an everyday experience in the Old Testament. But then, even today, when someone speaks the word of God, shares it, freely, confidently, the right word at the right moment, wisely applied – even now, that is something special, isn’t it?
How Moses must have been encouraged! What he knew he would have had to say, what he would have to say even now and in the future, again and again – but he had become desperate so as to never manage again – he heard it around him, seventy fold, a chorus like an army’s! So, this is the Spirit God had given to him! It is far more than he had ever imagined…

3.
Now, Moses realizes what is really needed. No, he does not feel, from this moment onwards, as a super hero, who can manage everything, and who will never be exhausted by whatever trouble anymore. But he knows: it does not depend on me, my personal qualities and abilities, my energy or my staying power. It depends on the Spirit of God – whom he has given to me.
That’s what he expresses in the end of this event, when Joshua suggests that Moses should take care of his own position, and defend it against any irregular prophesying.
“I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!”
That’s what we need. If only this, what happened just now, this wonderful and encouraging hour with the seventy, this sharing, this prophesying – if only this would become general among all the Israelites! If only all of them, instead of this grumbling, would praise the Lord and instruct and correct each other and speak together of the right attitude before the Lord, and the right way! In short, if all of them would be speaking the word of God, in private and towards one another!
Then only, my leadership would become much easier; it would not be a burden anymore. You might even hardly notice it, my personal position, if all of us would speak, and go, the right way, of ourselves; all of us led by one Spirit.
You see, God made Moses experience a slight foreshadowing of the great event of Pentecost. This way, Moses was encouraged. He saw a wonderful perspective he had never seen before. And then he started to look forward to it, and long for it.
He did not yet know how this would be fulfilled in the end!
It has happened. One leader has come, greater than Moses; the only one who went ahead of us and never faltered, who bore all the weaknesses and faintness and trivialities and grumbles – and overcame, and brings us in the promised country. And then, his Spirit was poured out on all God’s people, multiplying like wildfire. And they prophesied.
They do, even now. You do. In you, this yearning of Moses is being fulfilled. You prophesy. You know how to continue on your way to the promised country; all of you together. Do you realize what showers of blessing have been poured out on you? Now, you are not dependent of one great human leader with almost supernatural capacities. You don’t have to look for a Dr. Chacko, or a Dr. Dinakaran, or a special prayer warrior, or whatever teacher or great speaker in a conference, who will make you into a minister of the Word to sinners and unbelievers. The Spirit of God himself in you is becoming a source of living water, flowing from within you to others in prophetic words, words of God: words of praise, and wisdom at the right time, and so on. Do you realize that?

 

Numbers 12
Theme: Prophets should be humble, content with their position.

Will Rahul Gandhi take a leadership role? What is he doing, by the way? How would he perform, as a leader, in Congress first, probably, and then, maybe, in government?
It’s all in the family. Here, in this chapter, it’s all in the family of Moses, the leader. And we know that what happens in the family of the leader, between him and his close relatives, is of special importance; it has even greater impact. Whether in the Nehru-Gandhi-dynasty, or: in the Bal Thackeray family, leading the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra: father, son and nephew. Or: between the Ambani brothers (and their mother).
Now we may feel that that is not always right. In a true democracy – many will say – family ties are not relevant; they should not be. Just the most talented and the most capable persons should be appointed, or elected, in leadership positions. In the church, the more so: pastors should not procure church offices for their sons and other relatives. Unless they have got the proper education and passed exams and graduations and are called by the church according to church government regulations.
O.k. Here, in this section, it is not about human arrangements and manipulations. It is about God’s gifts. And, yes, it does happen from time to time – rather often, in fact: that God gives his special spiritual gifts to persons in the same family. Two disciples of Jesus, John and James, were brothers; so were two others.
In Moses’ family, something similar has happened.  Aaron, his elder brother, has been anointed high-priest, later on, not long ago, at Mount Sinai. And about Miriam, their sister, we read that she was a prophetess. Yes, Miriam is right! God has not only through Moses; he has also spoken through Aaron and Miriam. All of them had the gift of prophecy.
Now, recently, even seventy men, leaders in Israel, had got this gift. God had put his Spirit on all of them, and they had prophesied. It has been recorded in chapter 11, even the previous section. It was temporarily; but even so, it had been striking; it was noted all over the Israelite camp. So many prophets! And Moses has said, on that occasion – it was like a sigh – “I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!”
Now, all these men have just returned to their proper places in the camp, to their tribes, to the divisions of the Israelites they have to lead, and to their everyday duty, making provisions and listening to people’s complaints and making verdicts. But here are Moses’ closest relatives – prophets, both of them!
Now listen to them, what they are saying. They “began to talk against Moses”. They criticized him; they opposed him.
“…Because of his Cushite wife (for he had married a Cushite)”. What had happened? His wife Zippora may have died, and then he may have married another woman, again a non-Israelite. But it is also possible that he had married a second wife; such was not uncommon in those days, even in Israel. Another possibility is that this “Cushite” applies to Zippora herself. She was a non-Israelite; Moses had married her during his exile from Egypt and from his people. The marriage may have been unhappy. Zippora may have been little at home in Israel, and in its religion; we know that at one occasion at least she felt really offended by it, and not without reason.
Anyway – in short – Moses may have done nothing wrong, in this ‘marrying a Cushite’; but yet it was liable to criticism. This happens to all leaders: people will find fault with them, because of something in their personal lives.
And then they go on and say – actually, they ask: “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Hasn’t he also spoken through us?”
This has nothing to do with that marriage matter, has it? The first criticism, apparently, was only a pretext… for asking a question… And then, yes, they were right, weren’t they?
Do you see that this is the way the position of a leader will be attacked, and undermined? Yes, that is what is actually happening here!
But, in the beginning, you may hardly notice! And you may well wonder why God becomes so angry.
This is the way an independent press will write about a leader. This is also the way Satan speaks, to Eve in paradise, as well as to Christ in the desert. Stating something obvious; taking his starting point in the truth, in the facts; and then asking questions, discussing, debating, apparently innocently.
The suggestion – that is the point. God has spoken to us as well as to Moses. There is something equalizing in the air; something egalitarian. Why should Moses alone be the leader? Why should not we have a say as well? Moses’ position as the leader is at stake.
By the way, it appears, from what follows (the punishment), that Miriam played a leading part in this speaking. She may well have been the sharper character and Aaron the weaker one (this latter impression we get more often). Yet, they speak together. This passage has been used by feminist theologians, in a critical way: Look, one woman speaking up as a prophetess and then being terribly chastised in an apparently extremely patriarchal, male-dominated religious culture. But that is not what Miriam has in mind, apparently. Aaron is also involved.
But can’t we understand Miriam? After all, she is the elder sister. Remember how she cared for her younger brother, when he was a baby, floating in a basket on the river Nile, and kept watch and, as soon as it was required, took action smartly. It may not have been easy for her, always having to play (the) second fiddle!
“…And the Lord heard this”. Again, as we noted earlier: that is not just obvious: God knows everything. It means that he is present and listens carefully and feels involved. I am not sure whether he takes as keen an interest in what is going on in the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty; but he keeps a close watch on what happens in his own chosen people and its leader, on their way in the desert.
“Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth”. We can mention three occasions in which he loses his temper, in all his 120 years of life. But then, it was not his personal interest that was at stake. Moses will not champion his own leadership position.
But God does: champion the position of his servant. He calls all three of them to the Tent of Meeting, into his immediate presence. And he starts talking to Aaron and Miriam: “When a prophet of the Lord is among you, / I reveal myself to him in visions, / I speak to him in dreams.” O, why, this is interesting! Getting a vision, or a dream, in which God reveals something special to you! When this happens to somebody, he will surely tell, the next morning, to his closest relatives and friends, and then, soon afterwards, in public in a large meeting! “I had a dream…!” “The Lord has revealed to me…”
Oh no, that’s only just the beginning. “But with my servant Moses, it is different. / He is faithful…” I would rather render: “He is intimate” “in all my house. / With him I speak face to face, / clearly and not in riddles; / he sees the form of the Lord”.
Aaron and Miriam should realize, and we together with them… It started at the burning bush: God revealed himself, personally, with his own name: Now I am going to lead my people out of their slavery in Egypt – using you, Moses! And then afterwards, at Mount Sinai, after God has spoken his Ten Commandments, Moses climbs the mountain, and God pronounces to him, personally, many more laws. He shows him a model of the tabernacle: Look, Moses, this is the way I want to have it made. He hands him over the two stone tablets. Again, after the episode with the golden calf, when he has threatened not to accompany and lead the people personally any further, he comes down in the cloud, covers with his hand Moses’ eyes to protect them against his glory; he stands there with Moses, proclaims his name, passes in front of Moses, and after that, Moses still sees his back. Yes, I am with you, quite personally. God is confidential with Moses, like a close friend. After Moses, there has never been a prophet like him in the fifteen centuries of the Old Testament.
Let’s consider what was at stake! (1) Moses was to lead the people to the promised country. Imagine that Aaron or Miriam or whatever prophet would have said: No, rather listen to me; I will tell you how to reach there; follow me! (2) God revealed to Moses all and everything about the way he wants to be worshiped. Imagine that one prophet would claim how it could be done! (Actually, two sons of Aaron once did; you know the immediate disaster.) (3) The people were protected against God’s anger because of Moses mediating. Who would presume to take that place?
Let’s apply this to us, today, in the new dispensation. The apostles saw Jesus, they were with him in his ministry on earth; they saw him alive after his resurrection from the dead; even Paul saw him, speaking from heaven; they wrote the gospels and the other NT writings – who dares to claim the same authority? Amazingly, there are ‘prophets’ who do: I saw Jesus and he said to me…!
Miriam was struck by a disease by which she is close to death and has to be separated from the camp. All Israel has come to know. They had to wait for her for seven days. Seven days for publicity; for the people to get to understand what had been at stake in the leader’s family. Seven days of discipline. Do we feel it is severe? O.k., but… after these seven days, it’s over, and Miriam can raise her head again and be a respected leading person in Israel as she was before.

Are there still prophets today? Did you ever hear one? One who claimed to be? Yes, even more so – as we discussed in the previous section – after Pentecost, we have all become prophets. But this chapter prevents a misunderstanding; a misunderstanding that is still common.
Prophecy is never for becoming interesting, or attractive: Now I am going to be in the centre of attention; Now you all should listen to me, what I have experienced… fascinating!
Prophecy is never for self-aggrandizement. It is never for climbing the social ladder in church, claiming a higher position, a leading position, competing with other leaders, becoming a spiritual V.I.P.
Neither should the gift of prophecy lead to egalitarianism in the church. We are all prophets – that does not mean that a license to preach is not required, or that ordination is not important, or that the church councils and meetings that decide on it can be ignored.
Let’s consider what is at stake: how to worship God; and the route to the country he has promised to us. All that prophets can do, and should do, is just speak his word, as they have received it; as they have understood it, pass it on. That’s why we are studying it here, as we look forward to be called to that ministry.
Imagine that these things – things like how to worship God, and how to enter the kingdom of heaven – that these things would be blurred, or would become liable to conflict in leadership. Imagine the devastating consequences. Look, it actually happens!
God reveals himself, he appoints prophets, he calls to the ministry, he assigns positions in his church, according to his free and sovereign will. He safeguards his authority, his guidance. He safeguards clarity about his will and his ways. Let all who claim to be prophets realize that, and humbly submit to that. Only in this way, we can be true prophets.

 

Numeri 16: 5a — Dutch — Preek met liturgie

     Liturgie
Schriftlezing: Numeri 16
en 2 Tim. 2: 16-21.
Zingen:
Na groet: Ps. 93.
Na wet: Ps. 138: 3.
Na Schriftlezing: Ps. 106: 7.
Na preek: Ps. 109: 12,13,14.
Na geloofsbelijdenis: Ps. 138: 4.
Slot: Gez. 32: 3.

Dit is een trieste geschiedenis. Spannend; dat ook. Misschien iets voor mensen die van harde avonturenverhalen houden, hard-boiled thrillers (heet dat in het boekenjargon), waarin veel geschoten wordt en veel doden vallen. Het is hard tegen hard, een felle strijd, die maar doorgaat; er komt geen vrede. De opstand laait aldoor opnieuw op; de tegenspraak, het protest: van Korach, van Datan en Abiram, van het hele volk. Tot twee keer toe dreigt de HERE iedereen te vernietigen; en dan moet er voorbede worden gedaan, en maatregelen getroffen. Er vallen, een paar keer achter elkaar, zware slagen, met vele doden.
Maar het lijkt wel of het niet helpt, of de mensen er geen konklusies uit trekken en niets van leren. Aan het eind (het slot van hfdst. 17) lijken ze nog niet te begrijpen waar het de HERE om gaat; ze klagen ze alleen maar, angstig en verongelijkt: “We komen om, we komen allemaal om!” Zoals mensen nu, die alleen maar zeggen: “Hoe kan God nou zoveel mensen verloren laten gaan!”, zonder iets te doen met zijn genade.
Het lijkt wel of er door deze geschiedenis een woestijnstorm waait. De atmosfeer wordt drukkend, het zonlicht wordt gedempt; fijn zand en stof waait in je ogen en je oren en je kleren, het beneemt je de adem, het dringt overal doorheen, je kunt je er nergens voor verschuilen.
Dit is wel een dieptepunt, maar het past toch in het beeld van de hele woestijnreis. Ontevredenheid, gemopper, opstandigheid tegen Mozes. Dit zijn de mensen, een hele generatie, die in de woestijn gestorven zijn; het beloofde land kwamen ze niet in.
Achtendertig jaar heeft die zwerftocht door de woestijn geduurd. De HERE is ze blijven leiden, ook nadat ze het beloofde land versmaad hadden. Hij gaf wetten; pas nog: Maak aan uw kleren kwasten met een blauwe draad, die u aan Mij doet denken. Hij bleef ze verzorgen met manna, iedere dag. Maar wat werkt het uit?

Het begint met blokvorming. Korach, de Leviet, met Datan en Abiram (en On), uit de stam Ruben; in het kamp van Israël zijn ze buren. Mensen met verschillende achtergrond. Ook hun bedoelingen zijn niet precies hetzelfde, zo blijkt even later; de Leviet Korach gaat het speciaal om het priesterschap; De Rubenieten, van de oudste stam van Israël (de oudste zoon van Jakob), gaat het meer om de leiding in z’n geheel. Maar ze bundelen hun krachten in een koalitie. Ze vormen een partij. Het gaat vooral om het aantal. En die mannen zijn niet de eersten de besten ook. Daar ligt de nadruk op. Ze hebben een zetel in de volksvergadering.
Daar wordt de zaak aangekaart, in een vlammende protestrede. Mozes en Aäron, u matigt zich teveel aan! U voert de leiding, maar waar haalt u eigenlijk het recht vandaan?
“…Want de hele vergadering, zij allen zijn heiligen, en de HERE is in hun midden!” Dat zijn op zich prachtige woorden. Vrome woorden. Het is waar. De HERE zelf heeft bij de Sinaï tegen Israël gezegd (Ex. 19): “U bent voor Mij een heilig volk; een koninkrijk van priesters!”
Dit is een algemene waarheid. En dan doen ze geen konkreet voorstel, hoe het volgens hen dan wel moet. Zoiets als: “Laten er meer mensen om de beurt priesterwerk doen”. Een voorstel om over te praten. Ze blijven steken in protest. Onder hun woorden, ook hun mooie woorden, broeit de afgunst op Aäron. Het is tégen hem gericht; een aanval op zijn positie als hogepriester, en stamvader van het priestergeslacht. Dat hij de tabernakel mag binnengaan, de tent der samenkomst, waar de HERE samenkomt met zijn volk; dat hij tot de HERE mag naderen, met het bloed van het offer en het reukwerk van de gebeden, dat is ze een doorn in het oog.
En daarmee vallen ze ook de positie van Mozes aan. Hij heeft de wetten van de HERE doorgegeven. Hij heeft gezegd: Zo heeft de HERE het gewild, zo heeft Hij de dienst in zijn heiligdom, in zijn huis ingericht.” Mozes, hoe komt u daar eigenlijk bij? Wat verbeeldt u zich wel?
Korach is familie van Aäron. Niet alleen uit dezelfde stam, maar ook uit hetzelfde geslacht: van Kehat, de oudste zoon van Levi. Hij stond dicht bij het priestergeslacht. Hij had al een goede positie gekregen: de Levieten zijn helpers in de tempeldienst. Waarom is hij niet tevreden, (en) wil hij nog meer?, vraagt Mozes hem apart, in een gesprek onder vier ogen. Onbegrijpelijk, deze opstand, zeggen sommige lezers. Maar anderen zeggen: Juist begrijpelijk; wie eenmaal macht heeft, die wil meer; die krijgt de smaak te pakken.
Zulke protestbewegingen zijn ook later in de kerkgeschiedenis voorgekomen, brs. en zrs.; dat blijft aktueel. Weg met de ambten in de kerk. We zijn toch allemaal het volk van de HERE, we hebben toch allemaal de Heilige Geest, we hebben toch allemaal de bijbel? Meestal volgt er dan niet een grote golf van bijbelstudie: allemaal zo goed mogelijk weten, en kunnen zeggen, wat de Here bedoelt. Nee, er wordt stemming gekweekt tegen de ambtsdragers, die maar een toontje lager moeten zingen. Geen konstruktieve bijdrage, waar het met de kerk naar toe moet. Alleen geroep om meer ruimte, voor alle meningen en alle partijen. Dat bevordert verdeeldheid.
Achter algemene principes, waar iedereen het mee eens kan zijn, schuilt soms onuitgesproken konflikt; verzet; een tegen-partij; een onwil om er samen uit te komen en samen verder te gaan.

Probeert u zich eens in Mozes’ situatie te verplaatsen, brs. en zrs.; hoe moeilijk hij het heeft op dat moment, in die vergadering. Daar staan ze: aan de ene kant Korach, èn Datan en Abiram, en al die mannen, tweehonderdvijftig, een machtige partij. En aan de andere kant Mozes, alleen, met Aäron. En mensen die zich wel niet bij Korach hebben aangesloten, maar die toch ook niet veel steun aan Mozes en Aäron geven; ze wachten eerder gespannen af, wat er gaat gebeuren. Uit het vervolg van de geschiedenis krijgen we niet de indruk dat de rest van het volk zo overtuigd tegen Korach en de zijnen partij gekozen heeft. Misschien hebben ze heimelijk wel bewondering voor Korach. Die man durft! Zoiets kan toch ook maar gezegd worden!
Het komt allemaal op Mozes af. En wat hij ook zegt, Korach en z’n partij kunnen altijd zeggen: “Ja, Mozes, dat zeg jíj…!”
“Toen Mozes het hoorde, wierp hij zich op zijn aangezicht”, staat er. Mozes is niet onverstoorbaar. Hij is soms radeloos geweest. Hij heeft z’n nood geklaagd bij de HERE. Een enkele keer (later) is hij uit z’n slof geschoten en z’n boekje te buiten gegaan. Best mogelijk dat hij nu ook met de situatie verlegen is. Hij vlucht naar de HERE, hij zoekt steun en kracht bij Hem.

En dan kan hij spreken. Hij zegt: “De HERE zal doen weten, wie Hem toebehoort”.
Dàt woord horen we eeuwen later, in het Nieuwe Testament, als in een echo, terug. De apostel Paulus haalt het aan in z’n tweede brief aan Timoteus. Tenminste, daar lijkt het sterk op; Paulus geeft het niet nadrukkelijk aan als een citaat.
Daar bij Paulus klinkt het zo: “De Here kent de zijnen”. Dat is niet precies hetzelfde. Paulus gebruikt de Griekse vertaling van het Oude Testament. Dan is het: De Here weet het, voor zichzelf. Hier (in Mozes’ woorden in onze vertaling) is het: De HERE laat dat ook aan anderen weten, Hij máákt het bekend.
Het is niet precies uit te maken wat er oorspronkelijk gestaan heeft. Het kan allebei (dat woord “Morgen” kan dan ook iets anders betekenen). Het is niet met elkaar in strijd. Het ligt in elkaars verlengde.
“De HERE weet”: dat is in ieder geval geen passieve kennis. Het betekent niet: Hij is op de hoogte. En het betekent zeker niet: de HERE weet wie voor Hem gekozen heeft, wie aan zijn kant staat.
Nee, het betekent: de HERE heeft zelf een keus gemaakt. Hij weet wat er leeft in zijn eigen hart. Hij heeft gekozen voor een bepaalde persoon, (of) voor bepaalde personen. Die-en-die, die is van Mij. Die wil Ik. Die mag bij Mij komen. Dat staat voor Hem vast. Daar staat Hij achter.
En dat heeft Hij ook bekend gemaakt. Hij heeft doen weten wie van Hem is. Het hele volk Israël – ja, inderdaad, een heilig volk; een priestervolk.
En de stam van Levi, waar Korach ook bij hoort, die heeft Hij uitgekozen om speciaal aan Hem gewijd te zijn.
En, nog meer in het bijzonder, heeft Hij Aäron en zijn zonen uitgekozen als priesters, om voor het hele volk de dienst van de verzoening te doen in zijn heiligdom. Aäron, de broer van Mozes. Mozes heeft de HERE uitgekozen om Israël uit Egypte te leiden naar het beloofde land; en om bij Hem op de berg Sinaï te komen, en van het begin af aan de tent der samenkomst binnen te gaan – de HERE sprak vertrouwelijk met hem, en wat Hij zei, moest Mozes aan het volk doorgeven.
De HERE weet, wie Hij heeft uitgekozen; en dat heeft Hij ook, door middel van Mozes, bekend gemaakt. Wie tot Hem mocht naderen. Aäron als hogepriester. Zijn zonen als priesters. De Levieten als helpers. Kortom, wie Hem mogen dienen, en hoe, in zijn heiligdom. Het is zijn eigen huis; en Hij richt dat in. Hij geeft daar leiding. Hij regelt de zaken. Hij wijst ook posities toe, Hij draagt bepaalde mensen bepaalde taken op, Hij regelt de onderlinge verhoudingen; kortom, Hij organiseert het geheel.
Aäron – we krijgen de indruk dat hij als persoon geen sterke figuur is geweest. Naast Mozes als leider valt hij een beetje in het niet. Hij heeft het volk z’n zin gegeven, toen ze een gouden kalf wilden. Terwijl de stam van Levi als geheel toen juist zich afzijdig heeft gehouden en de HERE trouw bleef. Toen hebben ze mogen ijveren voor de HERE. Best mogelijk dat Korach daar zelf bij is geweest.
Maar voor de HERE is iemands karakter niet beslissend; een gave persoonlijkheid, die indruk maakt op mensen. Hij heeft gekozen, en aangewezen: die wil Ik.
Nieuwtestamentisch gezegd: de HERE God heeft één Man aangewezen, Jezus, zijn eigen Zoon, om tot Hem te naderen, als enige Hogepriester, met het offer van zijn eigen bloed. En in die Christus heeft Hij een gemeente uitgekozen.
God heeft niet alleen maar abstrakte waarheden verkondigd. Waar je je een mening over kunt vormen, en ja of nee op kunt zeggen, ‘geloven’, ieder voor zich. Hij heeft iets gedaan. Hij heeft een huis, waar Hij aan bouwt. Hij heeft mènsen uitgekozen, en aangewezen, om daar tot Hem te naderen en bij Hem te wonen. Niet allemaal losse individuen. Een huisgezin. Eén volk, rondom de ene Hogepriester (Christus); een gemeente, die een eenheid is. Waarin ieder z’n eigen plaats heeft, z’n eigen positie.
Hij weet wat Hij wil. En dat heeft Hij duidelijk gezegd ook. En daar komt Hij niet op terug. Hij aarzelt niet. Hij laat zich niet leiden door de omstandigheden. Er is bij Hem geen ‘nader inzien’, dat het toch beter anders zou kunnen. Mensen weten – wij weten waar we met Hem aan toe zijn. Ook Korach kan dat weten.
En we kunnen daar niets tegenin brengen. Niemand kan dat plan van God met zijn mensen breken. Al maken ze zich sterk met een grote aanhang van representatieve figuren; met een hele partij in de volksvergadering. Al spreken ze ook mooiklinkende woorden. De HERE kent degenen die van Hem zijn. Hij houdt ze in zijn hand, Hij blijft achter ze staan.
Daarom kan Mozes, terwijl een zandstorm van protest en verzet hem in het gezicht slaat, opstaan van z’n smeekgebed en rustig antwoord geven. “De HERE zal laten weten wie de zijnen zijn. Je zult het merken, Korach, en jullie, aanhangers van hem, allemaal.” Mozes weet dan nog niet hoe dat zal gebeuren. Hij weet nog niet wat de HERE van plan is te doen. Maar hij weet: wat de HERE gezegd heeft, daar houdt Hij zich aan. Dat kun je van Hem verwachten. Degenen die van Hem zijn, daar neemt Hij het voor op. Hoe dan ook.
Dat weet Mozes, en dat zegt hij. En dat gebeurt. Of de opstandelingen nu komen, om de proef te nemen – de proef met de vuurpannen voor het reukoffer -, of dat ze in het kamp achterblijven. De ene groep komt om door het vuur dat van de HERE uitgaat, en de andere stort in het ravijn. En als de mensen daar dan over mopperen tegen Mozes, dat dat een veel te streng oordeel is (“U hebt het volk van de HERE gedood!”), en het oordeel van de Here waart opnieuw dodelijk rond door het kamp, dan is het Aäron met zijn vuurpan met vuur van het altaar, die van de HERE de plaag mag doen ophouden. En dan laat de HERE de staf van Aäron, als enige van twaalf staven van alle stammen, tot bloei komen en vrucht dragen.
Gelooft Israël het nu? Nog niet, lijkt het. Ze zijn bang en verongelijkt. Dit is de generatie die is omgekomen in de woestijn. Maar ze zijn in ieder geval ontmoedigd om in opstand te komen tegen degenen die de HERE heeft uitgekozen, en aangewezen.
Zijn huis, zoals Hij mensen daarin hun plaats heeft gegeven, zijn organisatie, heeft de aanvallen doorstaan. Nog eeuwen lang zal Korach in de herinnering voortleven als een waarschuwend voorbeeld. De mensen die van de HERE zijn, daar blijf je af!

Aan deze woorden herinnert Paulus Timoteus. De gemeente van het Nieuwe Testament beleeft opnieuw stormachtige tijden (al direkt in haar begintijd). Predikers met christelijk en stichtelijk klinkende, maar onware woorden, stichten verwarring in de kerk. Wie moet je nou geloven? Er ontstaan sekten, waar voorgangers afwijkende opvattingen verkondigen. Er raken mensen van het geloof af. Geloof maar dat Timoteus zich daar grote zorgen over gemaakt heeft. Zoiets gaat een voorganger aan het hart; hij heeft er slapeloze nachten van. Wat moet er van de kerk terecht komen?
En toch, zegt Paulus, het fundament staat er; nog steeds, ongeschokt. Dit staat erop: “De Here kent de zijnen” (plus een oproep, die in het verlengde daarvan ligt). Dat is fundamenteel. En daarom krijgt niemand de gemeente omver. Predikers verdraaien het Woord van God, maar de waarheid kan verkondigd blijven worden; en dat moet dan ook. Mensen verlaten de kerk, maar de bouw (de gemeenteopbouw) gaat door. Raak niet van je stuk, Timoteus! Blijf rustig en standvastig je ambtswerk doen.

Raak niet van uw stuk, ambtsdragers, en leden, van de gemeente van Christus! Je zult het best wel eens benauwd krijgen, als je hoort hoe de leer van de Here in zijn kerk wordt aangevallen en in twijfel getrokken. En er ontstaat verdeeldheid. De kerk wordt leger. Mensen lopen niet zo warm meer voor de dienst van de Here; ze houden het meest van zichzelf.
Het huis van de Here doorstaat de stormen! Wees niet bang voor mensen. Heb alleen ontzag voor de Here zelf. Hij weet wie van Hem zijn. En dat heeft Hij ook duidelijk gezegd. Hij staat achter ze. Hij komt voor ze op; desnoods met krachtige hand. Daar kun je van op aan! Ga op dat fundament, die zekerheid, rustig verder, met wat ú kunt doen, op de plaats die Hij ú gegeven heeft in zijn huis.

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