TODAY’S READING: NUMBERS 27-29
Many Christians think of Canaan, the promised land, as a picture of heaven. But, it is not. There are still battles and wars to fight in the promised land. However, in heaven the victory has been won. There’s nothing left to fight. So, the promised land is a picture of the rest we have in this life when we abide in Jesus Christ.
This is a critical point of understanding because many Christians think all those that died in the wilderness are a picture of unsaved people. However, this is not so. Those that died in the wilderness are a picture of those that did not enter the rest of Jesus Christ in this life.
Work is the opposite of rest. In Exodus and Numbers, Israel’s wandering in the wilderness is a picture of them working, working, working to make themselves righteous and please God. They promised to keep the law of God and tried to do so. But, they could not keep it no matter how much work they put into it. Take note that throughout the wilderness wandering Israel was led by Moses, who stands for the law.
But, when it came time to enter rest, Israel was given a new leader. Instead of being led by Moses, Israel was now led by Joshua. Joshua was to lead Israel into the promised land, Canaan, the rest of God. Israel was no longer to strive for their own righteousness. They would bear fruit by trusting in God. There would still be battles to fight in the promised land, but Israel would not fight the battles themselves. Joshua, as a picture of Jesus, would lead them in battle. That fight would be his. Israel would rest from its work and striving to please God. They would dwell in the land, which is a picture of abiding in Christ.
Let’s recap some key points in Numbers and then examine today’s reading to see the above playing out.
MOSES STRIKES THE ROCK: A TASTE OF REST
In Exodus 17, Moses strikes the rock to get water for the people. I wrote previously that this was a picture of Jesus’ crucifixion. Moses, the law, struck the rock, Jesus, with a staff of death. The law condemned the one who had kept the law perfectly. But, Jesus was the rock that was struck to yield his water, the Holy Spirit.
Through this first striking of the rock by Moses, Israel had become partakers of the Holy Spirit, the divine nature. In 1 Peter 5:1, Peter says that the other elders were like him “a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed.” Peter writes that they were only partial partakers because the glory was not fully revealed yet.
In 2 Peter 1:4, Peter says that we have been granted the precious and very great promises of God “so that through them you become partakers of the divine nature.” Again, in Exodus and Numbers, we see Israel has partaken of the Holy Spirit, the divine nature, the water from the rock, but they don’t have the Holy Spirit in full.
At this time for Israel, it’s as if they “have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come.” Israel had tasted, but not received in full.
They were still struggling between the law and the Spirit, work and rest. Paul details this struggle as an internal battle in his mind in Romans 6 and 7.
Paul also picks up this battle between the law and the Spirit in Galatians 3. In Galatians 3:2-3, 5, Paul says, “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?”
Later in the same chapter, Paul explains why the law was given. In Galatians 3:24, Paul says, “the law was our guardian until Christ came.” Throughout its wilderness wandering, Israel was battling between the law and the Spirit, work and rest. But, the law was there to teach them their work would fail. They needed to trust the rock and live by the water. Rest from the work of the law comes through faith and abiding in Christ, who has given the Holy Spirit to do the work for us.
MOSES STRIKES THE ROCK A SECOND TIME: READY FOR REST IN FULL
In Numbers 20, Moses strikes the rock a second time to get water for the people. However, this time Moses was only to speak for, that is prophesy about or witness to, the rock that would give the people water to drink. Jesus, the rock, was only to be struck once.
Hebrews 6:4-6 says, “For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.”
When Moses struck the rock a second time, it was a picture of Christ being crucified a second time. Therefore, we see the utter failure of the law to give us life or rest. Israel may have tasted the Holy Spirit, the heavenly gift, the rest they would receive in the promised land. But, Moses, the law, was still leading them. And, the law failed when it came to trust God to get water from the rock by speaking for the rock. Moses, the law, took matters into his own hands.
All of us do the same when we rely on the flesh through its own work, the law, instead of the Holy Spirit. For in the Spirit, we rest from our work and let Christ live through us.
In the second striking of the rock, the law was clearly revealed as failing to bring rest. Moses, the law, had failed. In Numbers 20:12, God said to Moses, “Because you did not believe me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” The law does not display belief in God but in self. The law does not uphold God as holy in the eyes of others. Trying to work the law brings the eyes of others onto ourselves. Therefore, Moses, the law, would not lead Israel into the promised land, into rest.
Yet, the water flowed from the rock abundantly. Israel now had more than a taste of the water from the rock. They had water abundantly. And, now there would be a change in who was leading Israel.
MOSES DOESN’T LEAD ISRAEL INTO REST
In Numbers 27:12, Moses is told to go up into the mountain of Abarim. The Hebrew root word for Abarim means both to pass through and pass over. It also means to pull along or to overstep or contravene. Moses, the law, had led the people through the wilderness. But, now he was being passed over. Moses, the law, had pulled the people along. But, he overstepped or contravened what God told him to do. Like Paul said, the law is our schoolteacher to lead us to faith in Christ. But, we do not receive the Spirit, or rest, by works of the law.
Also, the root word of Abarim is where we get the word Hebrew, which was first used of Abraham when he passed over the river. On the mountain of Abarim, Moses sees the land that God has given to Israel to pass over the river Jordan into his rest.
God reiterated to Moses that he was not going to lead Israel into the promised land because he rebelled against God’s word and failed to uphold God as holy before the eyes of the people.
Lest we feel too bad about what happened to Moses, we should remember that Paul says in Romans 7:12 that the “law is holy.” In 1 Timothy 1:8-9, Paul says, “Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient.” Moses, the law got the people to the edge of the promised land. He was needed to a point.
JESUS LEADS US INTO REST
Having been told that he would not lead Israel into rest, Moses asked God to appoint a man over the congregation. Interestingly, Moses acknowledged God as “the God of the spirits of all flesh.” In Numbers 27:18, God told Moses, “Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him.” Joshua was to be the man to lead Israel into rest. God picks a man in whom his Spirit dwelt.
Joshua means the Lord saves, and the son of Nun means the son of life. The Spirit was in Joshua. Joshua is a picture of Jesus. Therefore, Joshua leading Israel into the promised land is a picture of Jesus leading us into the rest of God.
But, Joshua is only a picture of Jesus. He did not actually lead the people into rest. Hebrews 4:8-10 says, “For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.”
Truly, we have only partially tasted of the rest that comes through Jesus and the Spirit dwelling in us. In a sense, we are in the promised land, being led by Joshua. However, there are still battles to fight. We still have thoughts, desires, lusts, passions, arguments, and lofty opinions that are against the knowledge of God. But, instead of fighting these in our own strength, we need to stand strong in the Lord and let Jesus fight these battles for us. It is not by our work, the keeping of the law, that we will get victory. We get victory by abiding in and resting in Jesus so that the Holy Spirit can produce fruit – love, joy peace, kindness, etc. – through us.
REST NOT ORDINARY WORK
Notice what takes place in the two chapters following Joshua’s replacement of Moses. Numbers 28 and 29 go through the seven feasts of Israel and detail the offerings to be given at each feast. But, seven times God says that Israel should not do any ordinary work. The work is no longer ours, but God’s. We no longer work. Instead we rest.