Numbers 23, Isaiah 13, Psalm 128

Read Numbers 23, Isaiah 13, and Psalm 128.

This devotional is about Numbers 23.

When we left Israel yesterday, Balak the king of Moab had enlisted the help of Balaam to bring a divine curse on the people of God. Balaam was eager to earn the money that Balak was offering so he went with Balak’s delegation so that he could curse Israel. God, however, met with Balaam and told him only to say what the Lord told him.

I think it is pretty clear that Balaam was a heathen prophet who did not know the Lord but knew of the Lord and enquired of God on that basis. God, for his own reasons, chose to communicate with Balaam even though he was not a genuine worshipper.

Here in Numbers 23, Balak is ready for Balaam to earn his money and start cursing Israel. But, just as he said, Balaam was only able to say what God told him to say (v. 26) so blessings were what came out of his mouth. In one of those blessings Balaam said this, “God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind” (v. 19). We’re all thankful for the fact that God does not, even cannot, lie; but what about Balaam’s statement that God is “not a human being, that he should change his mind”? In 1 Samuel 15:11 we will read, “I regret that I have made Saul king....” This sounds like God changed his mind about something quite important--which man should lead and serve Israel as king. God seems to have changed his mind about sending judgment on the Ninevites in Jonah 3:10, “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.” He also seemed to change his mind about Hezekiah’s death (2 Kings 20:1, 4-5). So why did God tell Balaam to say that God is not a human being that he should change his mind?

The answer is that God does not change his mind, but that changes are part of his plan. In the case of Saul, God’s regret was over his unbelief and disobedience. God, of course, knew that Saul would be disobedient but he wanted Israel to see the contrast between a guy who looked like a king “should” look (Saul) and David, a king who would follow God genuinely, from the heart. In the case of Jonah, the whole purpose in sending him there was to warn them about judgement so that they would repent. Their repentance was part of God’s plan so that he would withhold judgment until a later time and so that Jonah and Israel would learn an important lesson about hatred. Finally, in the case of Hezekiah, God’s “mind change” was done to demonstrate his power to Hezekiah when Hezekiah cried out to him in faith.

So, it is true that God does not change his mind. His plans and decrees were established in eternity and do not change in real time. As Psalm 119:89 says, “Your word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.” We don’t need to worry, for instance, about whether God will change his mind about the return of Christ or about our salvation. God has promised these and other blessings to us and he will fulfill those promises just as he fulfilled his promise to Israel that they would enter the land under Joshua (which is what happened fairly soon after the events recorded here in Numbers 23). Trust God, then, your life takes unexpected turns that make you question his purpose or his control. God is not a man that he should lie or change his mind.

Exodus 34, Proverbs 10, Psalm 82

Today we’re reading Exodus 34, Proverbs 10, and Psalm 82.

This devotional is about Exodus 34.

In Exodus 33 we read, yesterday, that Moses wanted to see the glory of God (33:18). God promised that Moses would hear an announcement of God’s goodness (33:19) and see a glimpse His glory (vv. 20-23).

Here in Exodus 34, we read Moses’s description of how God kept that promise. Whatever Moses saw, he did not describe it for us in this passage. He did, however, describe what he heard. When God wanted to show Moses his glory, God proclaimed his name: “The LORD, the LORD” (YHWH, v. 6b) followed by a description of God’s character: “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation” (vv. 6c-7).

When God wanted to reveal his glory, he described himself in words, in theological propositions. He did show Moses something at various times (see Ex 24:10, 33:11, 23) but whatever Moses saw was a physical representation of God (probably, the person of Christ) not the essence of God. That’s because God is spirit (Jn 4:24, 1 Tim 6:15b-16) so a visible, physical presence is not part of his essence. The only aspect of God that we can understand is his Word--his description of himself in human languages.

If you want to know God, learn theology. That’s how God has revealed himself. The better you learn your theology, the better you will know God. But truly knowing God goes beyond memorizing statements about his character. Truly knowing God requires experiencing his character; that is, we see his compassion, his grace, his slowness to anger, his abounding love and faithfulness, and his forgiveness. We see these truths he has revealed about himself--first in his Word as we read about his work in the lives of others, then in our own lives as we walk with him. Again, if you want to know God, learn theology; then notice how theology impacts and changes everyday life.

What Moses learned about God in this passage is paradoxical. On one hand, God is “compassionate” “gracious” “slow to anger” “abounding in love” and “forgiving [of] wickedness, rebellion, and sin” (vv. 6b-7). Verse 7b, however, says that God “...does not leave the guilty unpunished....” How can God forgive wickedness without leaving the guilty unpunished? The answer is Jesus. We know God’s love and forgiveness in him because he received the punishment that we guilty sinners deserved. This is the glory and greatness of our God. When we consider these things, they should cause us to act like Moses who “...bowed to the ground at once and worshiped” (v. 8).

Exodus 35, John 14, Proverbs 11, Ephesians 4

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Exodus 35, John 14, Proverbs 11, Ephesians 4. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read John 14.

John 14:1-6 is one of the most comforting passages in the Bible to me. Christ’s soothing command, “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” his promise that “I will come back and take you to be with me,” and, most importantly, his assurance “I am the way and the truth  and the life” may have been lost on his disciples, but they give me great hope in a world that is troubling and hard to understand. Because the first 6 verses are so well-known and so filled with hope, I wonder how often people miss the great truth in verses 8-9: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (v. 9b). This is one of many clear statements of the deity of Christ. No man could say these words and intend them to mean something less than an overt claim to deity. 

Still, they are not easy to interpret. The church has never struggled with tri-theism (the idea that there are three Gods), but it struggles to this day with modalism—the idea that there is one God and that the three persons of God are merely “modes” of presentation. Modalism might be explained that, just as I am one man who is also a husband, father, and pastor, so God is one person who has three distinct roles. Or, some modalists say, “God sometimes puts on his Father suit, or his Son suit, or his Holy Spirit suit but he’s just one person appearing in different ways. Christ’s claim that “anyone who has seen me as seen the Father” looks like a good supporting text for modalism; it suggests that Christ is the same person as the Father. But this cannot be reconciled with other clear texts where the Father, Son, and Spirit all appear in the same scene. We saw this in Luke 3:21-22 where Jesus was baptized and the Spirit descended on him like a dove while a voice from heaven, the Father’s voice, said, “This is my beloved Son.” Taken together, we understand God to be a trinity—a being unlike anyone or anything else. He is one in nature: the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Spirit is God. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” Since they have the exact nature, anything that is true of God can be seen in Christ. In the life of Christ we see God’s holiness, wisdom, power, righteousness, justice, and so on. Yet, although all three members of the Trinity are fully God, sharing the same nature, they are also distinct person. The Father is God but the Son is not the Father. The Son is God but the Spirit is not the Son. It is correct to say that God the Son died on the cross for our sins but it is incorrect to say that the Father died on the cross. Because of God’s uniqueness, and our creatureliness, it is impossible for us to fully understand the Trinitarian God we worship and serve. But we should understand that Christ is the clearest, most concrete revelation of God that humanity has ever experienced. In Christ we learn all that we need to know about God and because of Christ, we can know God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. 

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.