Numbers 17-18

Sunday Evening Bible Study

February 15, 1998


The book of Numbers is the book about the History of Israel during their wanderings in the wilderness for forty years. They are in the "in-between-state" of having been delivered from the bondage of Egypt, but have yet to enter into the Promised Land that God has for them.

The people had become transformed from a band of delivered slaves, to an organized fighting army.

Last week we looked at "Korahís Rebellion", where a group of people became dissatisfied with Mosesí leadership, and decided to take things into their own hands. They didnít like the idea that only a select, chosen few were priests, but they wanted whoever wanted to, to become priests. They had a showdown, and Korahís pseudo-priests ended up as ashes, consumed by the fire of God, while Aaron was still standing.

Numbers 17

:1-7 Pick a stick

:2 take of every one of them a rod

Every tribe will provide their own stick to be placed before the tabernacle.

rod - The Hebrew word used here (matteh) is also the same word used for "tribe".

:4 in the tabernacle of the congregation before the testimony

The "testimony" was the name for the two stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments. The "testimony" was kept inside the Ark of the Covenant.

:5 the manís rod, whom I shall choose

Again, just as the case with Korah, God is going to do the decision making.

Ordination, choosing people for ministry, is not manís responsibility, itís Godís.

The best we can do is to recognize that God has called a person into ministry.

If youíre considering going into the ministry, ask yourself one tough question Ė

"Has God called me?"

:5 shall blossom

Just think of it, they are going to take twelve dead, disconnected tree branches, and are going to expect them to sprout and come to life!

This is a good picture of what itís like for any of us in our ministries.

By ourselves, we are nothing more than just deadwood. Thereís not a whole lot in us that can do a whole lot for anyone.

And yet, somehow, when God gets a hold of our lives, he can take these dead old sticks and infuse them with such life that they not only sprout, but bear fruit as well.

John 15:5 "I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing.

Abiding in the Vine will always result in fruit.

Not bearing fruit is evidence of a branch that isnít abiding, itís just a lifeless old stick.

:5 I will make to cease from me the murmurings

The people have been complaining about Moses and Aaron, but in reality, they were complaining against God.

Samuel had something similar happen to him, when the people didnít want any of Samuelís sons to rule after him, but wanted a king instead, like "all the other nations".

(1 Sam 8:7 KJV) And the LORD said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.

Lesson #1:

Handling personal complaints

Itís a hard thing to hear someone who is unhappy about you and the things you do.

But if God is truly leading you, the bottom line is that they arenít grumbling at you, but at God.

Lesson #2:

Be slow to complain about those in leadership.

Itís not that we should let our leaders do just whatever they want to, and to let them lead us off a cliff or something. That leads to cult mentality, where Jim Jones orders everyone to drink poison Kool-Aid, and they all obey.

But on the other hand, we need to be careful that we donít find ourselves complaining against God.

How do you know that God might not be controlling whatever situation youíre unhappy about?

:8-11 Godís choice

:8 on the morrow

Keep in mind that the things that are going to happen to Aaronís rod happened over night.

:8 buds ... blossoms ... almonds

(Kind of reminds me of the scene in "Pinnochio" where Pinnochio is lying to the blue fairy and his nose keeps growing longer and longer until it blooms with flowers and has a birdís nest in it.)

Aaronís rod not only sprouted, but it was a fully developed, bearing not only leaves, but flowers and almonds, the fruit of the almond tree.


Fruit is the proof of Godís anointing.

Though sometimes we think the proof must be if the person is a little "nuts"!

(Mat 7:15-20 KJV) Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheepís clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. {16} Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? {17} Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. {18} A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. {19} Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. {20} Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

What is "FRUIT"?

Itís simply the by-product of a growing organism. Itís the natural results of a work of God.

It can be good fruit or bad fruit.

If God has called you to be a street preacher, then the fruit is going to involve people getting saved and their lives changing.

If God has called you to be a Sunday School teacher, then thereís lots of things to look for: Salvation for your kids, an excitement in their lives about the Lord, love for the Bible and prayer, the way they treat their parents and each other.

If God has called you to a ministry of intercessory prayer, youíre going to see what? Answered prayers!

If God has called you to a prophetic ministry, then youíre going to see fulfilled prophecies (if they deal with future things) and youíre going to see edifying, exhorting, and consolation (1Cor.14:3).

If youíre a worship leader, then people are going to be experiencing true worship (from time to time at least). Youíll be seeing some of the results of true worship, namely humility, joy, peace, healing, etc.

Sometimes, we need to be careful to not rush people into places of responsibility until weíve seen the proof of Godís anointing.

1TI 5:22 Do not lay hands upon anyone {too} hastily and thus share {responsibility for} the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin.

1TI 5:24-25 The sins of some men are quite evident, going before them to judgment; for others, their {sins} follow after. 25 Likewise also, deeds that are good are quite evident, and those which are otherwise cannot be concealed.

:10 Bring Aaronís rod again before the testimony

The rod of Aaron became one of the three things that were held in the Ark of the Covenant. In a sense it was kind of like a safe-deposit box at the bank, where you keep your important records and treasures. The Ark would hold the two stone tablet containing the Ten Commandments (Exo 25:16), a jar with a sample of the manna (Exo 16:33-34), and now Aaronís rod was to be added.

:12-13 Israelitesí reaction of fear

:13 Whosoever cometh any thing near unto the tabernacle of the LORD shall die

They donít think itís safe for anyone to come near to God.

You have to give the people credit though, they are beginning to get a clue about the holiness of God.

Compare this with what Korah was claiming when he stirred up the people:

(Num 16:3 KJV) And 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 the LORD is among them: wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the LORD?

First they were saying that anybody could come near to the tabernacle. But after Korah and his buddies were either swallowed up by the earth, or toasted with the fire of God, now they are afraid that itís not safe for anybody to approach God.


Awe at His holiness.

I think it wouldnít hurt us to have a taste of this from time to time, after all, it is the truth about God.

Even when the prophet Isaiah had his vision of God sitting on His throne, his response was Ė

(Isa 6:5 KJV) Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.

I believe that every time we truly open our eyes to the presence of God in our midst, that we too should tremble a little at His majesty and holiness.

But we also shouldnít just stay in that mode of awe and unworthiness. We too, just like Isaiah, can be cleansed and brought fully into the throne room of the Father, where we can rejoice in His grace and His love for us.

Cockiness and grumbling are evidence of people who have yet to come into contact with God. Humility and being awestruck are evidence of a people who have been to the throne.

Numbers 18

:1-7 To Aaron: The responsibility of a priest

:1 shall bear the iniquity of the sanctuary

Godís saying to Aaron: "OK now, you all are beginning to understand that I am holy, and I require all those who want to come near to me to be holy also. And so Iím going to put the responsibility of this knowledge on you and your sons. You and your sons are going to have to be the ones who are very careful to be holy when you approach me.

:2 the tribe of Levi ... minister unto thee

The Levites again are reminded that their place is going to be as helpers to Aaron and his sons in the work of the sanctuary.

:7 service of gift

alternate translations: "a bestowed service" (NAS); "I am giving you the service of the priesthood as a gift" (NIV)

What God is saying is that Aaronís position as priest was a gift from God to him.

As a gift, it wasnít something Aaron had earned or worked hard to attain to. It was simply a gift.

This calls to mind the New Testament word "charismata". "charis" means "grace", "mata" means "work", we translate the word "spiritual gift"

Spiritual gifts are not abilities that a person is naturally endowed with. They arenít abilities that a person acquires from a lot of hard work. They are abilities that are supernaturally given to them from God.

You can take no credit for the spiritual gifts God has given you.

(1 Cor 12:7-11 KJV) But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. {8} For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; {9} To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; {10} To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: {11} But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.

God will take your particular set of gifts and as you use them, they form your ministry.

Ministries, just as gifts, are given to us by the Lord

:8-19 Compensation for the Priesthood

:13 shall be thine

The priests would not have an inheritance in the Promised Land like the rest of the people. They would not have "the family farm" to pass on from generation to generation.

Instead, God promised to meet their needs by giving to them their support from the sacrifices and offerings that they participated in.


God takes care of His servants.

Look at how well God does it too!

(Num 18:12 KJV) All the best of the oil, and all the best of the wine, and of the wheat, the firstfruits of them which they shall offer unto the LORD, them have I given thee.

Paul will use this principle to tell the Corinthians that it is proper for a person in ministry to be supported financially by his ministry Ė

(1 Cor 9:13-14 KJV) Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar? {14} Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.

:15 the firstborn of man shalt thou surely redeem

The first-born was to be Godís portion.

To give God His portion, you would sacrifice it.

God didnít want people sacrificing their children, so He set up an "exchange" program where you could "buy back" your children from the Lord.

This is called "redemption"

:17 thou shalt not redeem; they are holy

The clean animals, those acceptable for sacrifice, could not be redeemed.

They too belonged to God, but since they were acceptable sacrifices (children were not), God didnít want to sell them, He wanted them sacrificed.

:19 it is a covenant of salt for ever

This appears two other places in Scripture (Lev.2:13; 2Chr.13:4-5)

What does this mean?

It seems that salt was looked on as something that lasted, something that was incorruptible.

God is making an agreement with the priests that their needs will be met. And itís a solid, unchanging promise.

:20-24 Compensation for the Levites

:20 I am thy part and thine inheritance

I like the idea that the priests had to rely on God to support them, and not trust in their possessions.


Get wealth or get the Lord.

Godís desire is not that we set our eyes on getting wealth and possessions, but that we set our eyes on Him.

We can see this in the life of Abraham Ė

When Abraham and his nephew Lot had to split up, Abraham gave Lot the first choice of the land, and he chose the land along the Jordan, near Sodom and Gomorrah.

God responded to Abraham taking second choice and said,

(Gen 13:14-15 KJV) And the LORD said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: {15} For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever.

When Abraham rescued Lot and the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, the kind of Sodom offered to make Abraham rich as a reward, but Abraham refused to become wealthy by having the worldliest of the world give it to him.

God responded again to Abraham and said,

(Gen 15:1 KJV) After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.

Itís not that God doesnít care about our earthly needs, after all this entire chapter is about meeting the physical needs of the families of the priests and Levites. But Godís desire is that we learn to make Him our desire first, and then He promises to take care of our needs.

(Mat 6:33 KJV) But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

:21 I have given the children of Levi all the tenth in Israel

So the Levites too, just as Aaronís sons, were to be taken care of out of the tithes that the people brought into the Lord.

:22 Neither must the children of Israel henceforth come nigh the tabernacle

This is what prompted this whole chapter, Korahís rebellion and the people realizing that God was Holy and Just, and they were Unholy and Deserving of Judgment.

This didnít mean that the ordinary person couldnít worship God, it meant that they had to go to a priest who would offer up their sacrifice for them. An intermediary.

Like Jesus!

(1 Tim 2:5 KJV) For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;

:25-32 Levites to tithe also

:26 even a tenth part of the tithe

Now the question might come up: "If Iím a Levite, and Iíve received the tithes from other people for the Lord, do I have to pay tithes?" The answer is YES!


Everyone needs to learn the blessings of giving.

We are in a money-paranoid society. We have been abused so much by people out to fleece the flock, that we become wary of any talk about giving.

But the fact of the matter is, if you havenít learned how to freely give out of what God has given you, you are missing out on a wealth of spiritual blessings.

This is what Paul wrote to the wealthy Corinthians, in trying to get them to have a financial contribution ready to make to the poor church in Jerusalem Ė

2 Cor 9:6-8 But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. {7} Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. {8} And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work:

There is a little truth to what the "prosperity teachers" say about giving, you reap what you sow. Not that you will necessarily reap financial rewards for giving, but that God will make grace abound to you, and take care of your needs.

:27 reckoned to you as the grain from the threshing floor ...

In other words, in Godís eyes, the tithe that the Levites would pay would be just as valid as if they had earned the sacrifice from being a farmer.

The Levitesí income was just as valid as that of the laborer.

:32 ye shall bear no sin by reason of it

As long as they were faithful to give a tenth back to the Lord, they were free from the sin of abusing what God had given to them.

:32 neither shall ye pollute the holy things of the children of Israel, lest ye die

The "holy things" were the sacrifices and offerings that the Israelites would bring to the Lord.

Sadly, this "polluting" (or, profaning) was done from time to time.

Eliís sons

1 Sam 2:12-17 Now the sons of Eli were sons of Belial; they knew not the LORD. {13} And the priests' custom with the people was, that, when any man offered sacrifice, the priest's servant came, while the flesh was in seething, with a fleshhook of three teeth in his hand; {14} And he struck it into the pan, or kettle, or caldron, or pot; all that the fleshhook brought up the priest took for himself. So they did in Shiloh, unto all the Israelites that came thither. {15} Also before they burnt the fat, the priest's servant came, and said to the man that sacrificed, Give flesh to roast for the priest; for he will not have sodden flesh of thee, but raw. {16} And if any man said unto him, Let them not fail to burn the fat presently, and then take as much as thy soul desireth; then he would answer him, Nay; but thou shalt give it me now: and if not, I will take it by force. {17} Wherefore the sin of the young men was very great before the LORD: for men abhorred the offering of the LORD.

Rather than settling for the portions that were assigned to the priests according to the Law, the sons of Eli demanded to take whatever they wanted from the sacrifices

They would also rob God of His portion by taking from the offering before the fat was burned to God.

The result was that the people grew to despise the offering of the Lord. They didnít want to worship God any longer.


Donít pollute Godís gifts.

I see this as a real concern for us in several ways:

1. Material gifts

Itís important for any church not to be ripping the people off. When pastors give themselves big salaries, drive big cars, buy several houses, etc. the result is that people are turned off to God. I think itís important that we are careful in how the finances of the church are handled, and things be done properly and above reproach.

2. Spiritual gifts

God wants us to be careful that we donít abuse the spiritual gifts Heís entrusted us with.

We can abuse spiritual gifts two ways:

a. Non-use

Paul wrote Timothy Ė

(2 Tim 1:6 KJV) Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands.

b. Misuse

The Corinthian church had a lot of things going for them, but one problem they had was the abuse of spiritual gifts. Apparently, whenever they got together, there was a lot of confusion. Some people were real proud that they had the gift of tongues, and in fact, everybody seemed to speak in tongues at the same. Generally, their church service was filled with confusion.

Paul had to give them rules and guidelines for using the gifts, so people would be benefited by the gifts, and not hurt.

We want to be careful that in whatever God has gifted us in, that we find the proper way to use that gift, and use it, donít abuse it.

Itís not impossible for a person with the gift of prophecy to abuse their gift and start telling people what they think they should hear, rather than what God wants to say.

Some people turn gifts of healing and word of knowledge into a big three ring circus. You might as well be selling popcorn in the aisles.

And then thereís simply the use of a gift only to draw attention to ourselves. Feeling like every time youíre in a group of people, you have to be one of the ones who prays. Or feeling like you have to give a prophecy every time we wait on the Lord. I find that sometimes God is actually able to work without me opening my mouth.

Unlike the sons of Eli, we want our own personal ministries to be such that people come to glorify the Lord, rather than become disgusted at the idea of worshipping Him.