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“Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their heart, and put the stumblingblock of their iniquity before their face: should I be enquired of at all by them?” (Ezekiel 14:3).
Much of Ezekiel contains lessons of rebuke because of Israel’s wayward sins. This would be hard for
Ezekiel, or any prophet, to communicate to Israel. (Even among brethren, a kind word of correction may not be well received.) So God fortified Ezekiel for the task. “Behold, I have made thy face strong against their faces, and thy forehead strong against their foreheads. As an adamant harder than flint have I made thy forehead: fear them not, neither be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house” (Ezekiel 3:8,9).
Israel had long been wayward, even under Moses, who predicted the very punishment that fell on Israel in the days of Ezekiel. Here we look retrospectively at the early history of Israel to draw lessons of warning to us, Spiritual Israel, lest we also fall from our faith and obedience.
In Romans 3:1,2, Paul shows that Israel had much advantage of the Gentiles, for “they have been entrusted with the very words of God” (NIV). When Moses delivered to Israel “the very words of God,” these were not simply imposed upon them. Israel heard, accepted, and agreed to keep the words of God, recognizing this as a blessed opportunity. “All the people answered with one voice, and said, All the words which Jehovah hath said will we do” (Exodus 24:3,4). Thus Israel voluntarily committed to keep the Law.
Members of the Gospel Age Church also voluntarily commit themselves to God. The test now is whether we will abide in that resolution, or — as many of the Israelites of old — be led away by trials or insufficient faith.
Numbers 13:1 — “Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying, Send thou men, that they may search the land of Canaan which I give unto the children of Israel: of every tribe of their fathers shall ye send a man, every one a ruler among them.” The Israelites were told by God to go and possess the land. “Fear not, neither be discouraged.”
Nevertheless, fear gripped them. Instead of advancing as advised, they decided to send spies through the land, to evaluate the enemy. These people had seen more than once the guiding hand of God and the power that He demonstrated when necessary. But they preferred the word of their fellowman rather than the word of Jehovah.
God could have made it easier for them. Perhaps He might have performed a miracle to strengthen them and overcome their fear. But God wanted to develop in them faith, trust, and obedience. It is so with Spiritual Israel as well. Instead of quelling every battle we face, He calls upon our faith. When we fight a battle exercising faith, having confidence in all the divine promises, plus the merit and help from our captain and leader, Jesus, we can be victorious (2 Peter 1:3,4, Ephesians 6:10-18, Romans 8:35-39, Psalms 18:2).
The nation of Israel allowed fear and doubt to weaken their faith. This can happen when one approaches consecration and begins to doubt whether they will be able to reach their destiny. They may look to ones other than those who have helped them learn the truth of God’s word, thereby wandering about like a ship without a rudder (James 3:4).
Fear and doubt may cause them to look into other belief systems. As the Israelites doubted God, so too, some want the testimony of fellow men. We must “let God be true, but every man a liar” (Romans 3:3,4). Never should we forget that the things written in God’s word are for our instruction (Romans 15:4).
What happens when things are made easy for people? The tendency is not to appreciate what is given. When a child is growing, if his parents spoil him with many material things, and do not teach the child how to learn responsibility, helping in the home and concerned for others, he may grow up insensitive to others, and feel that he is entitled to more things that he is unable to acquire by himself. When a child learns discipline in the home, cooperating with the rest of the family, sharing in the work load, he most likely will become well adjusted, self sufficient, and trustworthy. This is especially so when he is trained in the word of God (Proverbs 22:6).
Rebellion Against God
Apparently Korah, along with Dathan, Abiram and On, became insolent, rude, and disrespectful. They did not like Moses taking the lead, instructing the Israelites when he told them to make something with fringes to wear as a reminder to keep the Law, etc. (Numbers 15:38-40). Perhaps something about this apparently simple directive, which Moses simply conveyed from God, stirred resentment. For immediately afterward, the Levites under the leadership of Korah objected to the leadership of Moses (Numbers 16:1 and forward).
It was not only these four that confronted Moses. They needed the support of many to prove to Moses that they were right. “They gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them, Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and Jehovah is among them: wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of Jehovah?” (Numbers 16:3). However, they were really rebelling against God.
If we begin to think that Godly and sanctified ways are not necessary, it behooves us to be cautious about dismissing too quickly the leadings of the words of Jesus and the Apostles. Korah and his “two hundred and fifty principle men of the congregation” pictured in type those who oppose the work of God. It suggests a lowering of God’s standards.
Moses was so humble. The account says, “he fell upon his face” (Numbers 16:4). He feared that the entire assembly might be destroyed. God instructed Moses to have the assembly move away from the tents of Korah — Dathan, and Abiram “those wicked men” (Numbers 16:23-26). Moses reminded Korah and his group of Levites that God blessed them in the Tabernacle work, and that they now were trying to get the priesthood also (Numbers 16:9,10). The ground opened up and consumed the dwellings of Korah. The 250 men who offered incense were consumed with fire (Numbers 16:30-35).
One would think that after seeing the mighty hand of Jehovah destroy a group of His people for disrespecting God’s representative, that they would pause and reflect on what occurred. But the very next day, the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron. “You have killed the Lord’s people” (Numbers 16:41). Here they again opposed Moses and Aaron. God wasted no time telling Moses that He would put an end to the assembly. Moses and Aaron fell face down, fearing what would happen. They intervened, stopping a plague that took the lives of 14,000 persons (Numbers 16:49).
Why did they murmur again? They had not recognized the justice of Jehovah. Might this suggest that some we as Spiritual Israel, may succumb to the same concerns? Pride could exalt our opinion of self-worth, and aspire to services that God has not opened to us. This may be the suggestion in the type of Korah. Let us always be on the Lord’s side, keeping our hearts free from pride and self-will. Let us discern the Lord’s way whenever there is a controversy.
At The End of Forty Years
In the first month, Abib, April in our calendar, in the 40th year from the Exodus, the Israelites assembled to enter the promised land. They had no water, and they were in a desert. Reports by people who have visited that area claim it is unbearable heat that makes one feel extremely uncomfortable, parched, and fatigued. Being thirsty does not adequately describe the Israelites in that moment.
Numbers 20:3 says the Israelites chided Moses, their leader. Leaders of honor and influence carry weighty responsibilities. Verse 6 says that Moses and Aaron went to “the door of the tabernacle” and fell upon their faces. The glory of Jehovah appeared to them, perhaps a ray of light emanating from the mercy seat in the most holy.
God told Moses to gather the people, speak to the rock, and then the assembly and their livestock would drink. Consider the many people, perhaps two million, plus the many animals, God was ready to provide a generous amount of water. He would not let the people die of thirst. They were on the brink of entering the promised land. Numbers 20:8 says that God told Moses to take the rod (a symbol of authority), perhaps Aaron’s rod that budded, to remind the people that God had accepted Aaron as high priest and Moses’ assistant.
Numbers 20:10 shows that Moses took some honor to himself. He was told to speak to the rock, not strike the rock, but Moses was so angry that he struck the rock twice. This shows that even a great servant can stumble.
We should be careful not to judge Moses too harshly for his deed. “Ye shall know them by their fruits” — and the fruits of Moses’ character were rich (Matthew 7:16). However this experience can be a lesson to each and every one of us to be all the more careful in our conduct, especially when under pressure.
Moses was not told to speak to the people, but only to speak to the rock. The people were tortured by fear and were very thirsty. God was about to give them a sign or proof of his love and care. “For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust” (Psalms 103:14). Because water is a symbol of truth, we can readily see how God will provide the water of truth and life to a weary world, when the time is due for it. Even now, Spiritual Israelites receive the water of truth which strengthens and satisfies the soul (Psalms 23:2).
Do Not Harden Your Hearts
In Hebrews 3:8, the apostle Paul quoted Psalms 95:8. “Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness.”
In the wilderness, Israel quarreled with Moses and tested God by lack of faith in the
leadings of God. We will succeed only as we retain complete and abiding faith that God’s presence guides our walk in the narrow way.
The term Paul used in the exhortation, “Harden not your hearts,” is the Greek word skleruno, similar to sclerosis, a medical term. Arteriosclerosis is hardening of the arteries. Paul refers to the heart losing its flexibility in order to supply the body with proper circulation. Israel would not allow God to flex and mold their characters as He desired. “Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, What makest thou?” (Isaiah 45:9).
Israel’s inflexibility prevented their learning. We, unlike Israel, must not “quarrel” or “grumble” (Exodus 17:2,3, NAS). We are not to test God. God, the “potter,” is to try us and test us for our development. Psalm 95:10 NAS says he “loathed” that generation. In Deuteronomy 31:27 Moses told Israel, “I know your rebellion and thy stiff neck.” Barclay says, “and they never learned my ways.”
“Fear God” (1 Peter 2:17)
There is no excuse for not learning what God wants us to know. Think about the 40 years in the wilderness. The adults, 20 years and older, never entered the promised land, except Joshua, Caleb, and the Levites who sided with Moses (Exodus 32:26 and following). What made them different from the rest of the Israelites? They trusted God.
Disobedience comes from lack of trust, an insecure feeling that God cannot or will not handle things for us. In Exodus 17:7 Israel asked, “Is the Lord among us or not?” Bro. Russell comments, “Nearly all who fall away first lose all fear” (R3596). This is such a dangerous condition to allow to grow in us. Let us revere, respect, and appreciate all the wonderful promises of God. “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering (for he is faithful that promised)” (Hebrews 10:23).
Israel failed as a nation because they did not trust God, did not believe God, and did not love the promises of God. God never lied to Israel. God cannot lie!
When God promised Abraham to bless all the nations through his seed, He made a promise to show us, the heirs of the promise, that we can rely on Him. God swore with an oath in addition to His promise.
“Whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).