Torah Teachings: In the Wilderness

Matthew 23:34– Jesus said, “I am sending you prophets, wisemen, and scribes. . .” The word “scribes” my friend from Seminary helped me understand as “Torah Teachers.” Why in the New Testament would Jesus send someone to teach the Torah to the Pharisees who knew it backwards and forwards? Because the “LAW” as it is called did more than prescribe behavior, but it describes human nature and God’s responses to Save humanity. This is another dimension of the LAW which Jesus fulfills.

The stories of the Torah reveal the character of God and depravity of Humanity like only one other story does: The life and death of Jesus. So often, the life of Jesus is not taken as seriously, and the message of the cross being foolishness to man becomes a mere piece of  thumb-worn religious jewelry on a pale Christian soul. To revitalize the message of the Gospel, one must return to the roots rich with the nourishing dirt of the Torah, in which the tree of Scripture takes root and sprouts to reveal two truths: God is Savior, and we are rebellious.

One story which brought this home is in Numbers chapters 16 and 17 in English Bibles, but just Numbers 16 in the Hebrew Tanak. Israel has just blown their chance to inherit the promised land, because 10 bad apples spread a bad report that discouraged everyone from believing in God, even though 2 spies, and 2 leaders stood with God. The people were finished. God stood ready to destroy them in Numbers 14, but Moses intercedes, and now the people who refused to trust God will die in the wilderness, and their children will possess the land.

This is not satisfactory for the people. Would it be for you? There is a military coup, where the people try to go up anyway, but God is not with them. They get slaughtered. No surprises here that those with military might would seek to secure their own salvation. This has been human nature since the fall.

Then there is a priestly coup. 250 Levites and Korah, Dathan, and Abiram– sounds like quite a force to be reckoned with. They move to dispose of Moses and Aaron because Moses and Aaron are thought to be the reason why the people are dying in the wilderness and not God, but God defends them, and proves that He is in charge by the earth swallowing up the 3 leaders, and the fire of the LORD consuming the 250 Levites where they stood. Again, no surprises here. The priests do not want to die, they don’t want the people to all fall dead in the wilderness. They refuse to accept God’s judgment, and they rise up and try to take control to preserve themselves. God has condemned them in His wrath “They shall not enter my rest.” Instead of humbly submitting, they revolt. “I don’t want to die!” they cry. Is this not a piece of Human nature we see over and over to this day?

Then, immediately after all the offering pans are picked up from the 250 smoldering corpses, another coup, this time the whole congregation of the people of Israel! Every layperson in Israel rises up against Moses and Aaron and says, “You have caused the LORD’s people to die!” Once again the glory of God appears.

It is fallen human nature to not accept God’s judgment. Whether it be military or privilege, this is easier to see and understand, but is it really everybody? The Torah teaches how utterly depraved all humans are to the end and how God’s glory will continue to fill the earth so long as He lives (Numbers 14:20-21).

It is my view that this utter depravity of Human nature can only be dealt with in a believer’s life after he is saved by the filling of the Holy Spirit. This, I believe, is why Jesus had to go into the Wilderness, so that in the crucible any dross of humanity left beneath the skin through the waters of baptism may be purified from the inside out. God will keep refining us in the Wilderness (Which, by the way, happens to be the Hebrew name for the Book of Numbers: “In the Wilderness.”) We must be taught to accept God’s judgment on sin in our lives, and not see it as making us a victim, but as refining impure gold, which has chosen it’s impurity over the love of the Lord since birth.

How does one know that he is ready to leave the wilderness? When he can do what Moses and Aaron did in all three of these circumstances: they fell on their face. The falling on their face is a vulnerable, death-like stance of submission one takes before God and man: unwilling to try to save oneself– thrown fully on the mercy of another. Moses and Aaron and Joshua and Caleb were the only ones who fell on their face in Numbers 14, and even Moses and Aaron did not get to enter into the promised land. The stance of falling on your face means, you accept God’s judgment of you even if it means he damn you to Hell. This is truly what we deserve. And this is true too: If we do not fall face-down before God (Numbers 14:5) in whole-hearted submission to His judgment, then our corpses will fall in the wilderness. (Numbers 14:29)

How does this work in light of Christ’s death for all sin? Does this negate the work of the cross? Should not the believer see Christ’s death on the cross as God’s justice fulfilled even for the punishment of sin in his life? Certainly all the required wrath has been poured out on Jesus instead of those of us who now have peace with Him, but we need our own cross to deal with the persistent presence of sin in our fallen hearts. God has given us a cross to carry behind Jesus on the road to Calvary to deal with this part of our sin problem, and only those indwelt by the Spirit will carry their cross just as Jesus did, not for their own salvation, but for Christ’s salvation to be borne to others through our constant dying to self. Such is the mystery of faith: Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27)

I pray that if you find yourself in the wilderness with God, that you treasure this time. He is preparing you as a pure vessel so that His work may be done through you, and He loves you more than I can say.

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Marks of God’s Servant

To be God’s Servant, you must give up what most people think of as living ordinarily: You do what you want and serve yourself and serve whoever you want to and enjoy life wile you have it. Such a life is utterly sinful and warrants the total death of the fruitless tree. You are a fruitless tree.

What characteristics mark the Servant of God? Well, let us look at the life of one of God’s greatest servants, through which God showed much of his own character. That was Moses. And Moses was a servant whom God raised up to do a marvelous work through, but Moses was not perfect. In many ways he was a man just like us. And yet Moses got to stand with Jesus on the mountain top in glory, with Elijah, another great servant of the Lord. What allowed Moses to be on that mountain top with Jesus, I believe, was that he had sought to see the glory of God face to face, but the Lord told him, “You shall not see my face because no one can see my face and live.” (Ex 33:20) Elijah went to the mountain of God seeking out God wanting God to give him an explanation for what was going on around him. “I’m all alone,” he said, “And they are seeking to take my life.”

I tell you one of the marks of God’s servant, is that they will seek to take your life. In the life of Moses there were two times, well, I mean there were many times that Moses’ life was in danger, but there were two times when he was threatened explicitly or on the verge of being killed. Once was after the 10th sign Moses performed for Pharoh. It was the 9th Plague of Darkness, and Pharoh said, “Don’t you dare show your face again, cause if I see you again I’ll kill you.” Moses said, “Indeed you will not see my face again.” That was the first time. The second time was after the 10th time the Israelites had tested God. It was right there at the edge of the promised land in Kadesh, in Numbers 13 and 14. The people had complained and tested God 10 times in the wilderness, and each time God disciplined them, slew them, gave them what they wanted, and Moses interceded for them. Now at last, this one final thing that the people of God were supposed to do: Go in an enter the promised land. Trust God that He is going to do it! Well, they hadn’t learned to trust God and instead they said in Numbers 14, “Let us go back to Egypt.” And they got ready to stone Moses and Aaron.

What happens next in Numbers 14 shows another mark of God’s servant. And that is God will only talk to you. He is selective of the company He keeps, and it says in the Scriptures that “He is intimate with the Upright.” in Prov 3:32. It also says in Amos that, “Surly God does NOTHING unless he first reveals his secret council to His prophets.” Ps. 25:14, “God shares his secret council with those who fear him.” Only those who fear God, those who are upright, only those whose hearts are pure can abide in His holy Hill. (Ps 15) A pure heart that seeks to know Him, and clean hands to fear Him and Obey Him.

The servant of God Moses goes in to talk to the Lord. Because of His closeness with God the people have sought to kill him, and because of his closeness with God, God will only speak his deepest feelings and thoughts with him. God tells Moses how he feels, and speaks plainly with him. It says in Exodus 33:11 that God spoke to him as one speaks to his friend.

What gave Moses the right to be God’s friend? Moses was a sinner. Moses was also more humble than any man alive. Moses knew his place with God, as humanly as he could know it. It is humility that grants you an audience before the Lord. He does not recognize the pompous or the arrogant, because they are nothing like him. He does not recognize the self-seeking, or the fool-hardy. He will not listen to the complaining, and whining of undisciplined children who aren’t getting their way, at least not without being ready to lash out with anger. If you find yourself grumbling, take heed to the warnings given in scripture. Let us not grumble as they did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. (1 Cor 10:10) It is the fear of the Lord and obedience to the Lord that is humility. Humility rightly takes its English shape from the same latin root as the English word Human. It is because humility is rightly understood as the art of being human. Jesus showed us what God is truly like– he showed us what true humanity looked like. He showed us why God doesn’t recognize the proud, and the reason is because God is nothing like that. The humility of God is shown in God’s servant. Humility is the basic shape a human must take if he is to have any sort of relationship with the God who made him in his image. Until he sloughs off his serpentine shape of a beast rearing its head up towards heaven fangs outstretched, he will not be able to bend low enough to avoid being eclipsed by the enormity of God’s magnanimity.

God talks with Moses and rescues Moses from being killed because he is His friend and he is humble. He tells Moses in Numbers 14 verse 11, “How long will this people reject me? How long will they not believe in Me, with all the signs which I have performed among them?” If you look at the accounts of Exodus and Numbers at the miracles God did in their midst: 10 times, and the amount of times Israel rejected God they’re the same: 10 times. 10 is a mark of completeness in the Bible. God has completely done all the sufficient wonders to woo back his people, and Israel has completely done everything possible to reject God until now. God is just and He has borne with these people and he is finished he has it up to here: it is His holy, just, righteous character that even Pharoh recognized after the Seventh sign, that He be done with these people. He says, “I will smite them with pestilence and  and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.”

This is where we see the mark of God’s Servant and that is intercession. For the very people who seek to end his life, Moses relates here and also earlier in Exodus, that he would rather that his own life be ended than for theirs to be ended. (Ex 32:32) The level of “Let me take their place.” that Moses claimed is nationwide, but God doesn’t take him up on it. He listens to his friend Moses, and pardons them, and relents in the disaster, but just as with Egypt the Firstborn generation was slain, so Israel will also suffer the consequences of their utter rejection with the death they have chosen over him. What is remarkable about the servant of God, is that he has learned to choose God over everything else. He has chosen God over himself, he has chosen God over his livelihood, he has chosen to serve God completely, so that in a moment of intercession, there is nothing between him and God. He has allied himself with the ultimate power-holder in the universe, with the humility that qualifies him to wield it, and he says, “I even choose that your people should live instead of me. I would gladly give my life, so that these people may live.”

God’s servant is not a relished or cushy position. It may sometimes mean waging your eternity for the salvation of another. But you know something, that level of “I would gladly go to Hell so that they may live eternally knowing you,” is the very spirit in which Jesus Christ came to this earth to intercede on our behalf. And it was the mercy of God that he didn’t send Moses to hell for Israel’s sins. He sent Jesus to Hell for Israel’s sins, and for the sins of the whole world. And because Hell could not contain him, he left with the keys to the grave, and told his disciples, his friends, his servants, those with whom he was closest, that I have all the authority in heaven and on earth. And whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

Now we see, what only a true servant of God can see. No nominal Christian will stare this ugly truth in the face and let it reflect in his own. A Servant of God isn’t one who let’s Jesus do all the suffering for him and that’s the end of it. A true servant of God realizes that pregnant truth which Jesus told his disciples, “Remember what I told you, no servant is greater than his master.” (Jn 15:20). “If they persecute me, they will persecute you.” If they seek my life, because I am so closely resembling the one they hate from the bottom of their heart, they will seek your life because you will be so closely resembling the one they hate from the bottom of their heart. Somewhere in Nominal Christianity we got the idea that Christianity is about Christ suffering for us so we don’t have to. But Peter knew better when he said, “As Christ suffered in the flesh, You also arm yourself with the same purpose.”

The Servant of God is self-sacrificing, humbly interceding for the ones who are seeking to end his life. He is so intimate with God that he knows the Heart of God, and lets his own heart break with it. The Servant of God suffers, for the very reason Jesus suffered, “so that others may live.” The servant suffers all the harms the world has to offer natural, supernatural, internal, external, bleeding, beating, blaming, shaming, isolation, excommunication, rejection: everything we have done to God and would do to God if we sinners had the chance. The Servant of God gives the world a chance to respond to God very clearly. Either they will join him in His suffering, or they will seek in the end to kill Him by killing you.

Why would anyone want to be a servant of God? It truly is as preposterous as it sounds for someone to want to be God’s servant. That is why it takes the call of God to raise up such a person to die to self daily. But I tell you, what I have been describing so far in this short article is not something different from Christianity. God’s Servant is anyone who represents God rightly. And the only human being to do this perfectly is Jesus Christ. The Christ is the Anointed Servant of God who rules as King the way God rules. Let me ask you, What is a Christian? A Little Christ. A replica, a reproduction, a fellow anointed servant of God who rules the way God rules. Let me ask you this. How did Jesus, who rightly represented God rule? He served. How did he conquer? He gave Himself. What power did he have? Only that which flowed from the Holiness of the Spirit within him, which the Father gave him to accomplish His will.

One of the final thoughts I’ll leave you with for now about the Servant of God is something I have been hinting at this whole time, and it may be obvious once I say it. It is only God’s servants who are authorized to wield God’s power. The Holy Spirit fills the believer with power to accomplish God’s work supernaturally. If you are looking to be filled with supernatural power than become God’s servant in truth from the heart. If you want to wield God’s mighty demonstrations of healing and miracles, recognize this is your price tag. To represent Him in power, is to know Him in pain. To know Him in the power of His resurrection, is only possible through knowing the fellowship of His sufferings.

O God speed the day! Raise up true servants of God, so that the world can be reminded in living color how You look and move and feel for them. God give us servants, give us prophets, give us those with whole lives devoted to serving you in the power of Your Spirit. Give the church your benchmark for holiness, so we can know that the Kingdom of God is NOT in words but in power! Call Your people to repentance. Call your people to Obedience. Call your people to Seek you. Call your people to Faith, believing and trusting and knowing You. And Lord give us hearts utterly devoted to serving you again. And let the world be drawn to you by the light of our fires, so they may see our good works and glorify You our Father who suffers with us.