Numbers 35, Isaiah 27, Psalm 140

Today’s Bible readings are Numbers 35, Isaiah 27-28, Psalm 140.

This devotional is about Numbers 35.

The best form of leadership is self-leadership. If every person would do what is right, what is wise, and what is best, then human leaders would be unnecessary. We would not need bosses, or human government, or even pastors.

Although self-leadership is the best form of leadership, it is also the most difficult form of leadership. Even when we know what is right, what is wise, what is best, we have trouble doing it. Laziness, lethargy, pride, and depravity call to us, making us yearn to do was is easy, pleasurable, or perverse rather than what is right. So all of us need human authority; each of us needs leadership to call us to do what is right, to lead us toward what is right, and to hold us accountable to righteousness.

Moses knew this as well as anyone else. In this chapter from Numbers 35, God told Moses that his time had come and his life would be over. Moses’s response was not to plead for more time; it was to beg God for godly leadership for the people (vv. 15-17). This shows why Moses was such a successful, godly leader. He cared about the people and what they needed more than himself and what he wanted or needed. His life illustrates what servant leadership is all about.

God was gracious to Israel and provided Joshua to succeed Moses. There was a very public transition from Moses to Joshua in verses 22-23. That transition provides an excellent model to follow anytime there is a change from one leader to another.

Notice, though, how Moses described the need for leadership in Israel. Recall that Moses had been a shepherd before God called him to lead Israel (Ex 3:1). The time he spent as a shepherd caused him to observe how people wander from righteousness into danger just as sheep wander from nourishing pastures into sin. So in Moses’s prayer for a new leader he said, “May the Lord, the God who gives breath to all living things, appoint someone over this community... so the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd” (vv. 16, 17b). A good leader, a godly leader, knows that each of us has a heart that can wander; therefore, godly leaders show their care by giving oversight, guidance, and correction when people need it.

The problem is that people are not as easily led as sheep are. Someone told me that sheep bite; that may be true, but according to Jesus they hear the voice of the shepherd and follow him. People are not always so quick to listen and follow their leaders, even when leaders provide loving guidance and oversight.

If you are a leader, do you love and lead and watch over your people like a shepherd does his sheep? If you’re under a leader, do you listen to the voice of your shepherd and follow him? Good leadership is a gift from God. Be wise and follow the leaders God has given you.

Numbers 35, Psalm 79, Isaiah 27, 1 John 5

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Numbers 35, Psalm 79, Isaiah 27, 1 John 5. 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 Numbers 35.

Murder is one of the world’s oldest sins and, despite its antiquity, it remains as gruesome and painful for the survivors as it was when Cain killed Abel. Revenge is a natural reaction for the survivors of the one who was murdered, but sometimes people die due to accidents or negligence. What is the just response in these cases? On one hand, the family of the one who died is still deprived of his or her life, so does it really matter whether their loved one was killed intentionally or unintentionally?

God says yes, it does matter. He designated cities of refuge for those who killed someone unintentionally (vv. 6-13). This would keep the land of Israel from being dominated by violence and bloodshed anytime someone died under suspicious circumstances. But for those who committed murder—they killed because they intended to kill (v. 20: “with malice aforethought”)—the Bible prescribes capital punishment as the appropriate means of justice (v. 16b, 17b, 18b, 19b, 21b: “the murderer is to be put to death”). 

Although many Christians are proponents of capital punishment, too many of us miss the limits the Bible puts on it. Verse 30 of our text says, “Anyone who kills a person is to be put to death as a murderer only on the testimony of witnesses. But no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness.” This is a very high standard of proof. Often there are no witnesses at all to murder. If one person witnessed the murder, Moses’ law did not permit him to be executed. A situation where two or more people witnessed a murder is highly unusual, yet that’s the standard of evidence the Old Testament law required before capital punishment could be administered. This is because human life is special; as people, we bear the image of God and have eternal souls. It is deeply evil to take another person’s life but to do it as punishment without a strong standard of proof is reckless and often unjust. The Innocence Project has exonerated many people who were unjustly executed or wrongly convicted of murder. This, as well as today’s passage here in Numbers 35, should teach us that capital punishment needs to be reformed here in America. While I believe that modern evidence like DNA matching or video surveillance can and should replace the standard 2 or more eyewitnesses required in this passage, the point of the eyewitnesses was to establish absolute proof of guilt before taking a man’s life. If you support the death penalty from biblical conviction—and I do—your biblical conviction should also insist that anyone who is executed must have been convicted based on near certainty, not just “beyond a reasonable doubt.” To take an innocent human life in punishment is just as murderous and evil in God’s sight as first degree murder is.

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.