"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)


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    Images of the Savior (38 -- Korah's Rebellion)

    And it came to pass, when he had finished speaking all these words, that the ground which was beneath them was cloven, and the earth opened up its mouth and swallowed them and their households and all the men who were Korah's and all their possessions. And they and all that was theirs went down to Sheol alive, and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly. And all of Israel that was surrounding them fled at their voice, because they said, “Lest the earth should swallow us up!”. And fire came forth from Yahweh, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men offering incense. – Numbers 16:31-35

    Immediately after the account of Israel's failure to enter the land of Canaan, and her being cursed, therefore, to wander about in the wilderness for forty years, until that entire generation which disbelieved God's promises should be utterly consumed, excepting only Caleb and Joshua, who had a different spirit; God then immediately sees fit to set forth in summary the laws that Israel must obey when she had entered into the Promised Land, and the means of the forgiveness of sins committed in ignorance, through an atoning sacrifice. In this way, after so devastating an occurrence, he holds forth both a solemn warning and a certain hope, as we shall now make clear.

    First, in that God was pleased to give a brief summary of his law, even after he had sworn in his wrath that the entire generation of Israel which was then in the wilderness should never enter his rest, was an indication of his steadfast love and mercy, in that, he still considered himself in covenant with them, and still, therefore, held firm that relationship that they had entered, in which the Law belonged to them, and was enjoined upon them, in order that they must obey it. So we see that, even after her rebellion, Israel was still not just as one of the nations around her, to whom God was not pleased to make himself known, but was even then the possessor of his oracles (Romans 3:1-4), and thus most peculiarly blessed. And moreover, the fact that God prefaces this repetition of the law with a declaration that it should pertain most specifically to the time that Israel had entered Canaan (Numbers 15:1-2) was a most comforting assurance that God had not yet abandoned his purpose to bring her into his rest, even though he had resolved first to destroy an entire generation. Thus far do the promised mercies of God extend, reaching even beyond the rebellion of generations!

    And then, God also made clear his merciful provision of forgiveness in focusing his reiteration of the law most specifically on the various sacrifices he had freely provided for all who sinned ignorantly, or in the weakness of their flesh, and were thereafter repentant. In this way, lest he should have overwhelmed and discouraged the nation completely, he reminds them, in a figure, of the coming Christ, who should give the weak and repentant among them true forgiveness, through the atoning sacrifice of his own body, as of a Lamb without spot and without blemish (1 Peter 1:18-19).

    However, in the midst of these overtures of mercy, and bound up together with them, were some very stern and solemn warnings against rebellion; for God at that time made manifest that, although his sacrifice should be sufficient for any sin of weakness and ignorance, for which there should then be true repentance, yet for sins of presumption and high-handedness, done in rebellion and with a hard heart, no sacrifice should suffice, but they should all bear their iniquity and punishment, each one who sinned before the Lord with complacency and contentment in their wickedness. Ah, how we ought to be warned by this, brothers and sisters! For if “one who broke the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the basis of two or three witnesses, of how much worse punishment do you suppose he will be considered worthy who has trampled upon the Son of God, and considered the blood of the covenant, by which he was sanctified, to be unclean, and reviled the Spirit of grace?”.

    The next historical example we come across, in our reading, serves to confirm this very point (Numbers 15:32-36). For the fact that it treats of the Sabbath, as an institution still binding upon the people, reaffirms that God's rest still remained for Israel, and that he had not forever cut off his rest from every generation, even though he had prevented that one generation from finally entering it. But that a breaker of the Sabbath, who was found picking up sticks, was put to death without mercy, shows that, if one were to reject this proffered rest, and rebel against God, he should bear his punishment. From this case, as well, we may learn the spiritual lesson that, in his great mercy, God has done every work necessary for our spiritual good and eternal salvation, and he offers it to us freely; but if we think that we can work when he says “Rest!”, then we make a mockery of his gracious provision, and will receive instead his judgment. So let us hope in Christ, our final Sabbath rest, and not dare to do any works for our salvation when he has told us to rest completely in his grace and salvation, or else we will bear the same punishment as this Sabbath-breaker, for all eternity.

    And then, the next commandment following immediately after this case again illustrates our point: for God there commands his people to make blue tassels upon the hems of their garments, that they might look upon them, and remember always to be holy and to obey God's law. Now, this reminds us likewise of the necessity for us to look to Christ alone for all our hope and righteousness; for when we consider this account, we are immediately brought to two different passages in the gospels. In the first, Christ roundly condemns the Pharisees for arrogantly making their tassels very great, so as to boast of their righteousness before all the people (Matthew 23:5); and in the second, we find a poor, miserable, desperate woman grabbing hold of the fringed tassel of the Savior, hoping thereby to be saved (Matthew 9:20-23); and neither in this expectation was she disappointed. In the confluence of these two accounts, which make sense to us only as we look to the command given here in Numbers, we are taught that, if we look to our own good works, and boast in the righteousness that we have done, we will be condemned, as were the Pharisees; but if we cling to Christ's works of righteousness, and hope thereby to be saved, we will never be disappointed, no matter how weak and despised we may be.

    But now, we must look to the matter of Korah's rebellion; for that account, as well, holds forth a very fearful and terrible warning against all rebellion, but also sustains the weak and terrified with several notable glimpses of the Savior. First of all, we see the severity and unexpected nature of God's judgment, when, in response to Korah and his companions, he causes the earth to swallow them up alive, and then sends forth a consuming fire to eat up all those who offered incense with false censers. In these fearful judgments we are taught these solemn truths, that God himself will judge all rebellion against his word and his ministers; that he will do so suddenly and unexpectedly, coming as a thief in the night (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:1-4; 2 Peter 3:3-7), and yet not without warning, as Moses foretold to the rebels what was about to happen, and as today God is still crying out to all men, through his ministers, to flee from the wrath to come (Acts 2:37-40; 16:30-31; 2 Timothy 4:1-5, etc.); and that he will do so thoroughly and implacably, even as the rebels went down to Sheol alive, as if to say that they will be forever conscious of their torment in hell. For that point, compare also Revelation 19:20; 20:10.

    We also obtain a hint of the solemnity and fearfulness of rebellion against God in this, that all who were in any wise connected with these rebels shared in the same fate without mercy. Not only did God destroy those who were actively disobeying, but all those who had not the conviction to come out from among them, although perhaps they were not themselves a part of the active rebellion, were swallowed up together with them; and so also were all their families destroyed, and in fact, the next day, even those who complained about the event, as if God had been too harsh in exacting such a fearful punishment, were also consumed, until Aaron interceded for them with incense from the true censer. Oh, let us flee from rebellion and apostasy, dear Christian! Let us abhor all the works of darkness and the evil spewings of false teachers! Let us not even bid them godspeed (2 John 1:10-11), let us hate even the garment spotted by the works of their foul flesh (Jude 1:23), let us come out from among them and be separate (2 Corinthians 6:14-18, lest we too be destroyed in their rebellion. How many people, although sincere enough themselves, have brought their own selves and their families into utter ruin because, when those about them became apostate, they did not have the courage to rebuke them and separate themselves from them, but made as if they would be a light while remaining in the midst of their perversion, as one of them. Let us be certain, brothers, that the way to be a light to apostate believers is to come out and roundly deride their heresies, and stand off from their presumptuous sin, and cry out solemn warnings of coming judgment, with tears and supplications and deep and tender love.

    Now, as we conclude, let us observe the several types of the Christ in this account, by which our hearts of faith may be nourished. First, we see that Moses committed himself to God, when he was unjustly accused, and did not respond in kind, giving railing for railing (Numbers 16:15); and in this way, he was a type of Christ, who, when he was reviled did not revile again, but committed himself to the One who judges righteously (1 Peter 2:22-23). But then, he did indeed bring the judgment of God against the rebels, just as God has appointed one man, Jesus Christ, to judge the world (Acts 17:31; John 5:22-27). In these two diverse circumstances, we see a type of the diverse work of Christ, in meekly bearing judgment for no wrong done by him, and in fearfully bringing judgment, in the will of God, to those who disobey.

    Second, we see another type of Christ in Aaron, who was resisted by evil men who sought to take his place as the true priest, and who was mocked and despised by the people; but who, in response, only offered up true incense with his censer, and thus saved them from God's wrath. In the same way, Christ Jesus, being opposed and mocked by the wicked world, only offered up for them true prayers of mercy, groaning in humble intercession, even when he was being nailed to the cross, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

    Third, there is a type of the work of Christ in the false censers, which were used to offer up illegitimate incense, and which were then beaten out and used to cover the true altar, as a fearful warning against all false worship and sacrifice. In this way, the evil acts of men, in sacrificing wickedly, were made to adorn and confirm the true altar and the true sacrifice. So too, when the wicked men of this world – the Romans and Pontius Pilate and the unbelieving Jews – performed the most wicked and heinous act of sacrificing the Son of Man unjustly, that very act of wickedness was used by God to bring about the true and effective sacrifice of his dear Son, the spotless Lamb of God (see Acts 2:23-24; 4:27-28). In this way, just as God confirmed the true sacrifice through false and wicked acts, in using the hands of rebellion to adorn his altar, so he used wicked hands to bring about the final and perfect offering of his own dear Son.

    Fourth, and finally, the rod of Aaron that Moses placed together with the rods from the eleven other tribes, and which then miraculously blossomed and bore fruit, and so confirmed the legitimacy of Aaron's priesthood alone, was also typical of the Messiah. For this rod demonstrates the principle that our Savior taught, that a good tree cannot produce evil fruit, nor an evil tree good fruit, but that, by the fruits of each professor we shall know them (Matthew 7:15-20); and so, the true fruits of godliness and righteousness are everywhere a sure sign that God has indeed called such a person at such a place and time into his holy service (cf. Psalm 52:8). But also, and more to the point, this rod was a type of the Savior in this respect, that it was a dry and barren rod, to all appearances, but that God then made it fruitful; and in the same manner, Christ was a dry twig growing up in a barren land, and was despised and ignoble in his appearance (Isaiah 53:1-3); but by the miracle of his unstoppable grace, God brought the fruits of eternal salvation out of this lowly Messiah, so that, from his humble and broken body flowed down the true wine of eternal salvation, and his body was broken to be the bread of eternal life in God's own presence. Let us feast on him, then, this Lord's Day, rejoicing that, from so humble a Savior, God has brought the bread and wine of eternal life!

    Posted by Nathan on December 26, 2008 11:02 AM

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