TODAY’S READING: NUMBERS 33-36
Israel has wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. Now, they are camped in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho. In Numbers 33:50-56, God instructs Israel to take actions: drive out, destroy and demolish, take possession and settle, and inherit. This is all about inheritance, specifically, the inheritance of Jesus.
Israel is to “drive out” all the inhabitants of the land. Then, they are to “destroy” and “demolish” the idols and places of worship in the land. Next, they are to “take possession” of the land and “settle” in it. Finally, having possessed the land, Israel would “inherit” the land. I believe God gives these actions in their specific order too.
Let’s look closely at each of these actions to see what they reveal about Jesus and the church today.
DRIVE OUT ALL THE INHABITANTS OF THE LAND
The first action God tells Israel to take is to “drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you.”
“Drive out” is a form of the Hebrew word yaras. Yaras means to inherit or take possession. In a sense, Israel would possess the land by dispossessing, or driving out, the Canaanites.
The idea conveyed by yaras is gaining control of a territory through means other than purchases or exchange. Control can be gained by bequest or conquest. Bequest is the act of giving or leaving something by will. However, conquest is the act or process of conquering. Note that in verse 53 God says, “for I have given the land to you.” Israel is not conquering the land. Rather, God is giving, or bequesting, the land to Israel.
When we read Israel was to “drive out all the inhabitants of the land,” I think our first thought goes to Israel physically driving out the Canaanites through an act of war. But, I think this first action commanded by God could be telling Israel to possess all the inhabitants of the land.
There are many scriptures that make reference to Israel being a witness of God to all the people around them. If we consider Jesus and how he lived before us, is it possible that God was really telling Israel not to drive out all of the inhabitants from the land but to possess, or inherit, all the inhabitants of the land?
Why did Jesus come?
In John 6:38-39, Jesus says, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.” It has always been God’s desire to give his son a bride, a people. God gave Jesus a people, and Jesus would lose none of them.
In this way, Jesus came to possess his inheritance. Deuteronomy 32:8-9 says, “When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. But the Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage.” God gave the nations land as their inheritance. But, God’s inheritance, Jesus’ inheritance, is his people.
In the NET Bible, Ephesians 1:11 says, “In Christ we too have been claimed as God’s own possession.” In addition to Christ being the head of all things in heaven and earth, we, God’s people, would be the inheritance, the possession, of God. Further, Ephesians 1:18 says, “so that you may know what is the hope of his calling, what is the wealth of his glorious inheritance in the saints.” God wants us to know the hope of his calling. What is the hope of his calling? The wealth of his glorious inheritance in the saints. Jesus was sent to inherit, or possess, you.
How does Jesus inherit, or possess, you?
Ephesians 2:1-5 says, “And you were dead in trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved.”
When Jesus was sent by the Father to us, we were dead in our trespasses and sins. But, Jesus did not come to drive us out but possess us. God, being rich in mercy, made us alive together with Christ. He did not do this when we were perfect or clean or well but when we were dead in our sins and trespasses.
Paul echoes this very same idea in Colossians. Colossians 1:12-14 says, “Giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
When Jesus came for us, he did not drive us out. No, Jesus made us a part of his possession, his “inheritance of the saints in light,” by transferring us from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. This was not a physical transference for the kingdom of God is within us. Jesus transferred us from the darkness of our hearts to the light of his kingdom within us.
I believe that it was in this sense that Israel was sent to Canaan. Israel was to be a light to all nations. Israel was to “drive out” the inhabitants of the land in the sense that they were to possess them for God by being a witness to them. Israel was to inherit the Canaanites for God.
Remember, Israel was bringing the tabernacle into the land of Canaan. Inside the tabernacle was the ark of covenant, the very presence and life of God. This is symbolic of Jesus coming into the world. John 1:14 says that he tabernacled (dwelt) among us. Jesus, as the tabernacle, bids people to come to him. Jesus, as the tabernacle does not drive out people. I wrote about this in Moses Puts the Unclean Out of the Camp, Jesus Says “Come to Me.”
We, as the church, are to do the same today. In Matthew 5:14-16, Jesus says, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in who is in heaven.”
We, as the church, are not to drive out the lost of the world. No, we are to draw them as the light of God’s kingdom shines out of our hearts onto them. The life of the kingdom within us should be borne in our works of love to shine a light on who God really is to draw in the lost, transferring them from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light, making those who are dead in their sins and trespasses alive together with Christ. In this way, we, as the body of Christ, continue his work. Instead of driving out the lost of the world, we possess, or inherit, them for Jesus.
DESTROY ALL THEIR IDOLS AND DEMOLISH ALL THEIR HIGH PLACES
After Israel possesses and inherits all the inhabitants of the land, then God tells them to “destroy all their figured stones and destroy all their metal images and demolish all their high places.”
Notice very carefully that God did not tell Israel to destroy the inhabitants of the land. Perhaps that needs repeating. God did not tell Israel to destroy the inhabitants of the land. This fits with the message of Jesus in the New Testament.
But, God did tell Israel to destroy all of the idols, the figured stones and metal images, and false places of worship, the high places.
The figured stones and metal images were idols. Idols were typically the last thing placed into a temple after it was constructed. The creation account is very much the story of God building a cosmic temple. The last thing created was man, who was made in the image of God. In a sense, man was the idol in God’s temple. But, man was only made in the image of God.
Even though the Old Testament speaks a lot about idols, it’s interesting that the four gospels do not contain the word idol or image. I think that is because the gospels are consumed with Jesus, who is the image of God. I wrote about the difference between Jesus is the image of God and man was made in the image of God in Is vs. In – It Makes All the Difference.
Yet, after the gospels, the Bible continues to talk about idols and idolatry. How fascinating!
Just by the mere writing of the Bible, Jesus destroyed the figured stones and metal images.
When Jesus met the woman at the well, he talked with her about the high places of worship. In John 4:19, the woman said, “Sir, I perceive you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” The Samaritans worshiped on that mountain, but the Jews had their own mountain, their own high place, that the temple sat on that they worshiped at. Both had their high places.
But, in John 4:22-24, Jesus responded, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” In addition to destroying the idols as the image of God, Jesus demolished the high places of worship.
What does this look like for us?
In 1 Corinthians 12:2, Paul says, “You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols.” When we were dead in our sins and trespasses, we worshiped idols and not God.
But, there came a time when we gave up those idols. 1 Thessalonians 1:8-9 says, “For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true and God.”
Notice that the word of the Lord was going forth from the church in Thessalonica. This would not have been possible if the saints there had not been possessed by Jesus. So, first the saints in the church were possessed by Jesus. Then, the report came that those saints had turned to God from idols. Jesus possesses then we destroy our idols. Sadly, we try to destroy people’s idols for them before we have shown them the light, love, and life of God.
Paul says that we need to behold Jesus Christ to become his inheritance so that we can put to death our idols. Colossians 3:1-5 says, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are one earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” I believe Paul is saying the list of things in verse 5 are all idolatry and we put them to death, destroy and demolish them, after we become part of the inheritance of Jesus.
Today, we see idols not so much as figured stones or metal images, although they do still exist. However, we still have idols in the sense of ideas and opinions. And, we still have high places of worship in the sense of strongholds. Paul addresses these in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5.
“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive obey Christ.”
The war is internal and not external. The war is against spiritual forces and powers and not against flesh and blood. This is how we destroy the figured stones and metal images and demolish the high places in Numbers 33:52.
TAKE POSSESSION OF THE LAND AND SETTLE IN IT
After the inhabitants of the land are possessed and the idols are destroyed and the high places demolished, God tells Israel to take possession of the land.
When God tells Israel to take “possession” of the land in verse 53, this is the same Hebrew word that is translated “drive out” in verse 52. So, for Israel to take possession of the land was for them to inherit the land.
How do we see Jesus in this?
Adam was made from the dust of the ground. In 1 Corinthians 15:47, 48, 49, Paul says, “The first man was of the earth, a man of dust…As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust…just as we have born the image of the man of dust.” In a sense, Adam was of the land. We are just like Adam, having borne the image of the man of dust. We are of the land too. As Israel was told to take possession of the land, Christ takes possession of us as his inheritance, his land.
In addition to taking possession of the land, God told Israel to settle in it. The Hebrew word for settle means both to dwell and to marry. This is a picture of Jesus dwelling or living in us. Galatians 2:20 says, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”
Not only does Jesus dwell in us, but he marries us too. We, the saints, are the church. The church is Jesus’ bride. Paul explains this in Ephesians 5:22-33 when he compares the relationship between a husband and a wife to that of Christ and the church.
We have already seen above how God gave this land to Israel to possess it. And, God gave Jesus each of us to possess. Israel’s inheritance was the land. Jesus’ inheritance was us. Both were a bequest from God. It’s also true that our inheritance is a bequest and not a conquest.
YOU SHALL INHERIT THE LAND
After the inhabitants of the land are possessed and the idols are destroyed and the high places demolished, and the land has been possessed and settled in, then the land is ready to be inherited.
In verse 54, the Hebrew word for inherit is different than the one we’ve been looking at previously. This Hebrew word for inherit, nahal, means to maintain as a possession. This word relates to the idea that the land can be inherited but cannot be permanently sold.
Here we see the idea that we are the inheritance of Jesus. But, as his inheritance we cannot be sold ever again. Jesus keeps us. Jude 24 says, “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling.” Also, in John 17:12, Jesus says that not one that the Father gave him has been lost, he has kept them all, except the son of destruction that scripture might be fulfilled.
Like Jesus, we have an inheritance that is permanent and cannot be sold. Ephesians 1:13-14 says, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” We have received the Holy Spirit as the guarantee, or a down payment or portion, of our inheritance, which we will one day we receive in full.
As the guarantee of our inheritance, we are to keep or maintain the portion we have received. Ephesians 4:1-3 says, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Like Israel was to maintain its inheritance in the land and Jesus maintains us as his inheritance, we are to maintain the unity of the Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance.
BARBS IN YOUR EYES AND THORNS IN YOUR SIDE
Numbers 33:55 says, “But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then those of them whom you let remain shall be as barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall trouble you in the land where you dwell.”
Clearly, we don’t need to apply this to Jesus as he perfectly fulfills all the Father gives him to do. Therefore, he possessed us as his inheritance completely.
But, there was a chance that Israel would not possess all the inhabitants of the land. God tells Israel that if they do not possess the inhabitants of the land they will become barbs in their eyes and thorns in their sides. In other words, the people currently in the land will be there as a reminder to what Israel failed to do.
Barbs in the eyes brings to mind Jesus’ statement in Matthew 7:3-5, which says, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” When we see a barb in the eye of another, then we should look to see if there is a log, something undone, in our own eye first.
And, Paul references the thorns in the sides. In 2 Corinthians 12:7, Paul says, “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.” The thorn in the flesh is to keep us in check, to keep us dependent on God.
If Israel didn’t possess the land, and if we don’t share the life of God through our works of live to shine forth the light that is within us, then we will have barbs and thorns to remind us of what we haven’t done and humble us to trust God to do it.
So, we see that Numbers 33:50-56 is quite a picture of Jesus’ inheritance in the saints. And, at the same time, we can see how it is a picture of our inheritance too.