TODAY’S READING: NUMBERS 16-18
Do you believe that God gives life or death?
Is God one or the other? Does one exclude the other?
Or, do you believe God gives both life and death? Can God be both life and death?
THE OLD TESTAMENT: GOD IS LIFE AND DEATH
The Old Testament clearly presents God as one who gives life. Genesis 2:7 says, “Then God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.”
Isaiah 42:5 says that it is the Lord “who gives breath to the people on it and the spirit to those who walk in it.”
In Job 33:4, Elihu understands that “the Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.”
In Job 12:10, Job says, “But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare yo you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.”
But, later in Job’s speech we detect the view that God not only gives life, but he takes it too. God is life and death. In Job 13:15, Job says, “Though he slay me, I will hope in him.” The Hebrew word for slay literally means kill. Job and others saw God as giving life. But, they also saw God as one who kills. In addition to giving life, God gave death.
MOSES: GOD IS THE GIVER OF THE LAW AND DEATH
When we read through the life of Moses, we see God giving of the law, God repeatedly giving death. Moses depicts God as one who will kill for the slightest violation of the law.
Pick up sticks on the Sabbath and God will strike you down.
In the rebellion of Korah in Numbers 16, Moses writes that God even killed all the children of the household of Korah and the households of those that rebelled with him.
Moses received from God a revelation of the tabernacle. He was told to pattern it after a heavenly reality. But, if you attempt to come to the tabernacle when you were unclean or otherwise should not, then God will destroy you.
This was certainly the message communicated by Moses to Israel. Numbers 17:12-13 says, “And the people of Israel said to Moses, “Behold, we perish, we are undone, we all undone. Everyone who comes near, who comes near to the tabernacle of the Lord, shall die. Are we all to perish?”
The tabernacle was the place where God’s presence dwelt. But, Moses communicated to Israel that if you came near the tabernacle then you would perish. Come near to God and you will die. Not only would you die, but you would be undone. The Hebrew word for undone literally means to destroy. Come near the tabernacle, the place of God’s presence, and God will destroy you.
But, is God really the one who gives life and gives death? Or, did Moses have a veiled view of who God really is?
LISTEN TO JESUS NOT MOSES
In the New Testament, we are told that not everything the Old Testament said about God was correct. We know this because of the transfiguration of Jesus.
In Matthew 17:1-8, Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him up a mountain. Jesus was transfigured in front of them. His face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. Then, Moses and Elijah appeared next to Jesus and were talking with him. Peter said they should make a tent for all three of them. Peter wanted to elevate Jesus to the status of Moses and Elijah. He wanted to put them on equal footing.
But, Peter couldn’t even get the words out of his mouth before God spoke the truth to him. Matthew 17:5 says, “He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.'”
Peter, James, and John fell down on their faces in fear. But, Jesus told them to rise and have no fear. When the three of them did rise and lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus. Moses and Elijah had disappeared.
God is telling us that we should listen to Jesus and Jesus only. Not everything that we find in Moses, the law, and Elijah, the prophets, is the truth about God. Jesus is the truth about God.
We can only begin to read Moses and Elijah, the law and the prophets, clearly when we read them through the lens of the crucified and resurrected Jesus.
2 Corinthians 3:12-15 says, “Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts.”
The Old Testament presents a veiled view of God. He could not be seen clearly and distinctly. But, in Christ, the crucified and resurrected Jesus, the veil is removed. Now, we can read Moses and see what was really God and what was not God. The New Testament presents the distinction clearly.
In the next chapter, Paul writes further about those who still read Moses through a veil. 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 says, “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
The god of this world, Satan, blinds the minds of those who don’t believe God and his testimony of and through Jesus. Satan keeps people reading Moses through a veil. Satan keeps people from seeing God for who he really is.
So does God give life and death?
Does God kill and destroy those who come to the tabernacle and the Israelites thought in Numbers 17?
The New Testament provides a clear answer.
SATAN GIVES DEATH
Hebrews 2:14 says that Satan, the devil, is “the one who has the power of death.”
In John 10:10, Jesus says that “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” It wasn’t God that would kill and destroy those that came to the tabernacle. That was Satan. He is the thief that steals, kills, and destroys.
Romans 5:12 says that death came into the world through sin. Romans 7:8 says that apart from the law, sin is dead. According to 1 Corinthians 15:56, the law gives power to sin. And, sin is the sting of death. When we read the Old Testament without the veil, we see Satan bringing death and destruction by use of the law to give sin its power.
In John 8:44, Jesus says that Satan was a murderer from the beginning. But, in John 14:30, Jesus says that the ruler of this world, Satan, has nothing in him. Jesus has no death, no murder in him.
It is Satan alone that kills and destroys. Hebrews 2:14-15 tells us that Jesus came to destroy those works of Satan so that we would no longer fear death and be held in slavery to it.
GOD GIVES LIFE
Have you received the testimony of men, Moses and Elijah, or God?
1 John 5:9-12 says, “If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
The testimony of God is that he gave us eternal life through Jesus. God gives life. If you don’t believe this testimony, then you make God a liar. To say God gives death is to say Satan has a part of him. This is a lie. If you believe this, then you make God a liar.
At the end of his letter, John writes in 1 John 1:20, “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.”
Jesus has given us understanding. We don’t have understanding through Moses. Through Jesus we know him who is true, God. Jesus is the true God. Jesus is eternal life. Jesus, God, is life.
God cannot be life and death at the same time. One excludes the other. John 1:4-5 says, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” And, 1 John 1:5 says, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” God is light. Therefore, there is no darkness in him. The same is true of life and death. God is life, and there is no death in him at all.
God gives life. He does not kill, murder, or destroy.
In John 5:40, Jesus says there are those who “refuse to come to me that you may have life.” Jesus is the tabernacle that dwelt among us. Israel thought that to go near the tabernacle meant you would be killed and destroyed. But, Jesus shows that we are to go to the tabernacle for life. It’s just the opposite of what Israel learned from Moses.
In John 10:10, Jesus says that Satan, the thief, comes only to steal, kill, and destroy. But, in the very same verse, Jesus says, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
How do we miss this? How do we miss that Jesus, God, is life? How do we miss that death – killing, murdering, and destroying – is from Satan? We read Moses through a veil.
From now on, let us read the Old Testament through the crucified and resurrected Jesus. Let us read Moses without a veil so that we can clearly see the God gives, and only gives, life. There is no death in him.