The Plains of Moab: Part 5

Numbers 25  •  10 min. read  •  grade level: 8
UM 25{The counterpart of Israel dwelling in Shittim is recorded by the Holy Spirit in the New Testament, in Rev. 2. To the church at Pergamos the message is sent through John, "I know...where thou dwellest, even where Satan's throne is." In the days of the Church's history, represented by Smyrna, she had suffered tribulation, the direct work of the devil. Some he had cast into prison. There had too been martyrdom, the result of faithfulness where Satan dwelt. The true portion of the Church lay outside the territory where he had his throne. Suffering lay in the pathway through it, but the saints were sustained by the promise of the crown of life from the hands of Him who had gone through death, and opened up the way of life. How marked the contrast between the blasphemy and persecution of Satan, and the promise of Jesus, the First and the Last-"I will give thee a crown of life "! One of old, in the very thick of increasing trials, had said, " I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the Lord sustained me." So was it with Jesus Himself on the troubled waters of the Sea of Galilee. The awaking might be in resurrection, or it might be deliverance from so great a death, but the sustaining power of the Lord was known.
The victories over Sihon and Og should have been the earnest to Israel that every power of man, used as Satan's instrument to prevent them reaching and possessing their inheritance, would be swept away. (Compare Deut. 2:24,2524Rise ye up, take your journey, and pass over the river Arnon: behold, I have given into thine hand Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and his land: begin to possess it, and contend with him in battle. 25This day will I begin to put the dread of thee and the fear of thee upon the nations that are under the whole heaven, who shall hear report of thee, and shall tremble, and be in anguish because of thee. (Deuteronomy 2:24‑25); Josh. 2:9,109And she said unto the men, I know that the Lord hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you. 10For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red sea for you, when ye came out of Egypt; and what ye did unto the two kings of the Amorites, that were on the other side Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom ye utterly destroyed. (Joshua 2:9‑10); see also Psa. 135 and 136) It is interesting to see how Paul (2 Cor. 1:8-108For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life: 9But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead: 10Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us; (2 Corinthians 1:8‑10)) connects present deliverance from death, when pressed out of measure beyond strength in Asia, with the God of resurrection. But then Paul had the sentence of death in himself that he should not trust in himself, and this, not only with regard to the pressure around, but also as to the self within, which he reckoned as crucified with Christ. Fighting enemies without is not renouncing self. The sense of deliverance from outward foes is not always accompanied by the sense of deliverance from self. Nay, the rest and ease which follow a victory over the enemy may lead to the indulgence of self, and Satan is not slow to avail himself of such a position, and to bring the allurements of the world to bear on such a state. Israel abiding in Shittim were open to the seductions of Moab. The next thing to dwelling where Satan's throne is, is to be at ease there. And then what may not follow? With regard to Israel, first, they are led into unholy and abominable dalliance with the world; and, secondly, at the invitation of the same world, now friendly in appearance, they forsake the God who had answered for them on the heights above, to eat the sacrifices of idols, and to bow down to the gods of Moab.
While contrasting the effect which the friendship of the world produced upon Israel in the plains of Moab, with the mischief wrought in the Church by the same means, we must remember that Israel had not yet crossed the Jordan; while the place of the Church is sitting in heavenly places in Christ, according to the power which wrought in Him when God raised Him from the dead, and set Him there. In Christ it is new creation; and, though here as to the body, the saint is to walk according to this rule. The Church was set as the vessel of heavenly light to the world. Her sustainment is from heaven. Heavenly bread, and not the sacrifices of idols, her portion. Christ more precious to her than all the world could offer, and suffering accepted for His sake. So it was in the days of her first love. To be in the place where the doctrine of Balaam affected the saints, necessitated that she should have forgotten her place as united to Christ in the heavenlies, and become a dweller where she was only a stranger. The virgins who went out in the energy of first love to meet the Bridegroom, found a place of ease, and slept; and the saints who suffered in Smyrna from the world, were dwelling there in the days of Pergamos. Consequently those who held the doctrine of Balaam were allowed. When the Church forgot her position and calling to be a dweller upon earth, then the individual saint is exhorted to overcome; but we must remember there is the state of things to overcome.
The jealousy of the Lord is aroused. Where is the people whom He had brought out of Egypt, separated to Himself, wrought for, justified, set in order and blessing with Himself? Corrupting themselves, and bowing down to idols. Could He be ought but jealous? His jealousy showed itself in the judicial action which swept away twenty-four thousand men. Moses too calls on the judges of Israel to slay every one his men that were joined to Baal-peor. In Pergamos the Lord who comforted with sure promise the tried of Smyrna, would fight in this jealousy with the sword of His mouth against the unrepentant.
A people lately victorious are a weeping people, and, alas when the strength is given to strangers, a powerless people. Let it be remembered here that though the New Testament makes us know that they were suffering from the counsel of Balaam, yet Balaam himself is not seen in the history here recorded. The Spirit of God brings before us the condition of Israel. "Israel abode in Shittim." "Israel joined himself to Baal-peor." God had met Balaam, and frustrated the purpose of Balak; hence the history concludes with, "Balaam rose up, and went and returned to his place." What is before us then is not Balaam but Israel. It was their state which laid them open to the seductions of Moab. Balaam, whatever he counseled, had no place in Israel, he returned to his place. He is found again, as it were, in those who held his doctrine in the midst of the Church. "Thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam," is the Lord's word to the mystic representative of the church in Pergamos. Balaam was outside of Israel, affecting them from without, but allowed in the Church. Sad and solemn progress of evil paving the way for the full-blown apostasy. The doctrine of Balaam allowed in Pergamos has borne its fruits in Thyatira. Alliance with the world is systematic there. There is a corrupt public body which is given over to its corruption, and its offspring killed with death. In Jude, verse 11, the corruption taught by Balaam precedes the gainsaying of Core, wherein they finally perish. Cain, Balaam, Core-the genealogy of the dwellers upon earth -who turn the grace of God into lasciviousness, and deny the claims of the Lord.
Here is sorrow indeed. A people weeping before the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and Christ fighting with the sword of His mouth against the evildoers. But then, as another has said, "there cannot be any trouble among the saints that does not bring out the faithfulness of Him who waits to bless the overcomer, and thus bring the soul into communion with Christ in a way that nothing else could. For nothing gives the blessed consciousness of Christ's approbation, as between the soul and Himself, like faithfulness when evil begins to corrupt." We see in Phinehas the faithfulness which overcomes. He judges the evil on God's behalf. "He was zealous for my sake." His zeal turned away the Lord's wrath from the children of Israel. Such was the effect of being "zealous for his God." Paul too in later days showed the holy jealousy which would not tolerate evil in the Church. "I... have judged already," he writes, "concerning him that hath done this deed... to deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord." (1 Cor. 5:3-53For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, 4In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, 5To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. (1 Corinthians 5:3‑5)) And wherefore such jealousy? It was of God. He writes again to them. "I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ." (2 Cor. 11:22For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:2)) The relation of Israel to Jehovah brought out the zeal of Phinehas when he executed judgment, and the sense of what the Church is to Christ creates in the faithful the earnest desire that she should answer to His mind, and be unspotted from the world. Faithfulness calls for the judgment of evil, as another has written: " We are called upon to judge evil in the Church, for God cannot accept Balaam and Jezebel if we can. Therefore may the Lord give us to remember that failure within the Church is to be judged." Faithfulness brings with it the approval of the Lord. Of Phinehas it is said, " I give unto him my covenant of peace." It was a wonderful thing for him to get such a word. None indeed but One could so come between the jealousy of God and the corrupted people, that the covenant of peace should be forever undisturbed. The act of Phinehas so far made atonement for the children of Israel by caring for the glory of God, that what will be fully established in Him who perfectly glorified God was given to him on behalf of Israel-the covenant of peace, together with the covenant of an everlasting priesthood. This latter carried with it many things, but among them the place of special nearness and intimacy. (Ezek. 44:1515But the priests the Levites, the sons of Zadok, that kept the charge of my sanctuary when the children of Israel went astray from me, they shall come near to me to minister unto me, and they shall stand before me to offer unto me the fat and the blood, saith the Lord God: (Ezekiel 44:15)) Nearness gives the sense of what is due to God, and turning away from iniquity themselves enabled the priestly family to walk with God in peace and equity, and turn many away from iniquity also. (Mal. 2:66The law of truth was in his mouth, and iniquity was not found in his lips: he walked with me in peace and equity, and did turn many away from iniquity. (Malachi 2:6)) The priest too feeds on the choicest food of the sanctuary.
The white stone given to the overcomer in Pergamos marks the approbation of Christ given to the one who receives it. The new name written in it betokens that the overcomer is individually known of Him. Precious knowledge! The Lord give us more to desire it as the result of refusing all fellowship with the doctrine of Balaam. The hidden manna was "God's treasured store." In eating it the soul enters into the delight which God had in the lowly, humbled pathway of Jesus in this world, but rejected by it down to the suffering of death. When the saints listen to Balaam's doctrine, and get into unholy association with the world, the one who refuses the evil on God's behalf gets special communion with God's thoughts of Jesus. The fullness of this communion will be in heaven, but the promise becomes true as we overcome the snare of association with the world. There is also a special and individual sense of what it is to belong to Christ, the known sweetness of the words, "I am my Beloved's, and His desire is toward me." The intimacy is tasted now, but it belongs to another scene, where the golden pot of manna has been laid up in the presence of God. Then there is not only the individual joy with which no stranger intermeddles; but to judge the evil, and be jealous over the saints with a jealousy of God, is that their hearts may be diverted from the allurements of the world, so that Christ may possess their affections. He does value the love of His own. " Little children, keep yourselves from idols."
The Lord give us to learn the lessons He would teach us from the history of Israel in the plains of Moab. T. H. R.