Three Thoughts in Preaching Numbers
….followed by Three Themes to preach from Leviticus
I have to admit that Numbers is not a book that I rush toward. The main reason for this is that I have not studied it in depth and so should probably preach it in order to develop my appreciation. Nonetheless, here are three thoughts from reading it through these last few days.
1. Faith does not automatically flow from the miraculous.
Many people assume that if we could just see something miraculous, then we’d believe. After all, if we could just see God doing wonders in our midst then the culture would come flocking. Numbers again underlines that even God’s people don’t automatically respond in faith to observed wonders, so assuming others will is presumptuous. Water from a rock, a budding staff, the ground swallowing rebels, and consequently that generation were a people of faith? Not quite. The issue is not what we see, but how our hearts perceive what we see. If we don’t want to believe, no amount of miraculous intervention will guarantee true faith.
2. The Law’s community function did not generate faith.
The nation that had started with one man, become twelve men, then seventy, then hundreds of thousands needed to be constrained and ordered. Their sin and rebellion had led to a growing statute book and legal code. By the time we get to Numbers we might assume that being a people with well defined laws meant they were ready to believe and trust God. Caleb and Joshua are the glorious exceptions. The ten spies didn’t. The people didn’t. Even Moses didn’t. In fact, rather than getting caught up in what Moses actually did wrong in chapter 20, perhaps the writer is vague on the errant action to point us to underlying faith issues. The great leader under the Law who disobeys God through lack of faith (Num.20:12) seems to contrast with the great man of faith before Law who kept God’s commands (compare and contrast Gen.26:5).
3. God’s promise plan is not thwarted even when the faithless miss out.
It is important to help listeners know that Numbers sits in the flow of the Pentateuch, rather than as a stand-alone collection of stories. God’s plan to bless the world back in the beginning of Genesis was articulated clearly in his promise to Abram. By the end of Genesis the seed promise has grown into an extended family, with blessing to all families reiterated in the blessing of Judah by Jacob. That nation through which the blessing would come is born in Exodus despite the three-fold attempt by Pharoah to curse the “too numerous people.” At the other end of the wilderness sojourn we see another king seeking three times to curse a “too numerous” Israel. Again, the attempts to curse God’s nation lead only to their blessing. Thus the promise to Abraham marches on, with just Deuteronomy left: a sermonic call for circumcised hearts and love for God from the new generation heading into the dangerous place of security and peace.
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Moving on now to consider….
Three Themes to Preach from Leviticus
I admit it, I haven’t preached through Leviticus. For many people it is the book that undoes their read through (my suggestion? Read faster and get the sweeping history rather than trying to meticulously study through Leviticus every time . . . and keep the pace through the rest of the Bible too!) So I haven’t preached it, but I can say this: when I preached the whole Bible in a single message, the key text came from Leviticus.
So here are three themes that are worth pondering, both in preaching Leviticus itself, and for preaching elsewhere:
1. Worship and Atonement.
Leviticus launches with seven chapters on sacrificial offerings, then builds to the climactic Day of Atonement description in chapter 16. It is too easy to preach from the New Testament and make vague references to “Old Testament sacrifices” and how glad we are not to have to do them. As a preacher it would be well worth reading this section closely enough to be able to describe what was involved in “all those sacrifices.” Can we really grasp all that Jesus has done for us if we are basically unaware of the system in place prior to His sacrifice?
2. Living and Loving.
The priestly code of early Leviticus flowed out of the conclusion to Exodus (and the terrible golden calf incident). But then in Leviticus 17 there is a passing reference to another ghastly failure, this time on the part of the people: worshipping goat demons. What follows is yet more law, this time focusing in on the people who needed to live with one another and love one another in light of who the LORD is. In the midst of this section we find the seven Mosaic feasts described in chapter 23. Again, to preach the New Testament effectively we need to know our way around the annual feasts of Israel.
3. Living in God’s Presence.
So the last time I preached the whole Bible in a single message, what text proved pivotal? It came from Leviticus. It is about living in God’s presence. Sounds like it will feel like a pressure passage pushing us to live holy lives so we might be able to approach God? Not quite. The anticipation of Leviticus 26:11-12 shows God’s desire to dwell with His people, a desire that shows throughout the canon and culminates the whole story in Revelation 21.
“I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people.”
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[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://christmycovenant.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Peter-Mead.png[/author_image] [author_info]Dr Peter Mead is a Bible teacher and ministry trainer, based in southern England. His main ministry is as co-director and mentor of Cor Deo, a full-time mentored study and ministry training program. Peter leads the Advanced Bible Teachers Network at the European Leadership Forum. He holds degrees from Multnomah Biblical Seminary (MDiv/MA), and the Doctor of Ministry degree in homiletics from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where Dr Haddon Robinson was his mentor. For more information on Cor Deo, including the weekly theological blog, please visit www.cordeo.org.uk. Peter also authors the BiblicalPreaching.net website for preachers.[/author_info] [/author] [button link=”http://www.biblicalpreaching.net” newwindow=”yes”] Visit Biblical Preaching[/button] [button link=”http://www.cordeo.org.uk/” newwindow=”yes”] Visit Cor Deo[/button]