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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