Spiritual conflict

When the people of Israel left Egypt, Exodus 12:37-38 tells us that there were about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children and “a mixed multitude also went up with them.” The mixed multitude consisted of people from various ethnic and cultural backgrounds” (H6154), most likely descendants of Jacob that were part Egyptian and part Israelite. After the Israelites started their journey from the Sinai Desert to the wilderness of Paran, the people began to complain (Numbers 11:1) and it says in Numbers 11:4, “Now the mixed multitude who were among them yielded to intense craving; so the children of Israel also wept again and said: “Who will give us meat to eat?” (NKJV). The mixed multitude’s influence over the people of Israel led to an extreme dissatisfaction that ultimately caused the entire congregation to reject God. Numbers 14:1-4 states:

Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”

The people’s conclusion that it would be better for them to go back to Egypt was based on “that which is appealing and pleasant to the senses” (H2896). The people of Israel thought that it would be easier for them to go back to being slaves in Egypt than to conquer the people living in Canaan.

God pardoned the people for their rebellion against him, but also made it clear that none of the men who had seen his glory and the signs that he did in Egypt and had not obeyed his voice would see the land that he swore to give them (Numbers 14:23). And yet, “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land you are to inhabit, which I am giving you, and you offer to the Lord from the herd or from the flock a food offering or a burnt offering or a sacrifice, to fulfill a vow or as a freewill offering or at your appointed feasts, to make a pleasing aroma to the Lord, then he who brings his offering shall offer to the Lord a grain offering of a tenth of an ephah of fine flour, mixed with a quarter of a hinof oil; and you shall offer with the burnt offering, or for the sacrifice, a quarter of a hin of wine for the drink offering for each lamb’” (Numbers 15:1-5). The reason why the LORD communicated his expectation at that particular point in time that the people were going to occupy the land of Canaan and would offer sacrifices to him was most likely to reinforce the fact that the final outcome of the Israelites’ situation was not dependent on their faithfulness to him, but God’s faithfulness to keep his promises.

One of the things that God clarified for the people before they moved on was the difference between an unintentional sin or mistake and willful rebellion against him. Numbers 15:22-27 states:

“But if you sin unintentionally, and do not observe all these commandments that the Lord has spoken to Moses, all that the Lord has commanded you by Moses, from the day that the Lord gave commandment, and onward throughout your generations, then if it was done unintentionally without the knowledge of the congregation, all the congregation shall offer one bull from the herd for a burnt offering, a pleasing aroma to the Lord, with its grain offering and its drink offering, according to the rule, and one male goat for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement for all the congregation of the people of Israel, and they shall be forgiven, because it was a mistake, and they have brought their offering, a food offering to the Lord, and their sin offering before the Lord for their mistake.

The LORD said that an unintentional sin would be forgiven because it was a mistake (Numbers 15:25). On the contrary, intentional sins would not to be forgiven. The LORD told Moses:

“But the person who does anything with a high hand, whether he is a native or a sojourner, reviles the LORD, and that person shall be cut off from among his people. Because he despised the word of the LORD and has broken his commandment, that person shall be utterly cut off; his iniquity shall be on him.” (Numbers 15:30-31).

God indicated that the person that despised his word and broke his commandment would be utterly cut off. Basically, that meant that the person would be excluded from God’s covenant and his promises with regard to that specific person would become null and void. God demonstrated the principle of intentional sin when “a man gathered sticks on the Sabbath day” (Numbers 15:32). The LORD told Moses, “The man shall be put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp” (Numbers 15:35).

The people of Israel’s tendency to rebel against God was dealt with in a very severe manner, but the LORD wanted the people to understand that they couldn’t trust their own instincts. God instructed the people to put tassels on their garments to remind them of the LORD’s commandments and told them “not to follow after your own heart” (Numbers 15:39). Following after our own heart means that we explore our thoughts, feelings, and desires to discover what we would like to do or what we might happen next in a particular situation. While the heart “is the source of all action and the center of all thought and feeling the heart is also described as receptive to the influences both from the outer world and from God Himself” (H3824). The problem with following after our own heart is that the influences from the outer word and the influences from God Himself do not usually align with each other, and as a result, there will be spiritual conflict.

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians included instructions about how to resist the influences of the outer world. Paul said:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Ephesians 6:10-13)

Paul’s reference to putting on spiritual armor was meant to convey the importance of protecting ourselves from the schemes of the devil. The Greek word that is translated schemes, methodeia (meth-od-iˊ-ah) means “to work by method. To trace out with method and skill, to treat methodically; to use art, to deal artfully; hence method, in the sense of art, wile (Ephesians 4:14; 6:11)” (G3180). The devil considers it his craft to entice believers to do things that are contrary to God’s will. The devil often works through people that we admire in order to get us to do things that we know are wrong.

Korah’s rebellion against Moses and Aaron’s authority was intended to undermine their ability to influence the people of Israel to do what God wanted them to. Numbers 16:1-3 states:

Now Korah the son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men. And they rose up before Moses, with a number of the people of Israel, 250 chiefs of the congregation, chosen from the assembly, well-known men. They assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?”

Korah argued against Moses and Aaron’s authority by stating that everyone in the congregation was holy. Although it was true that all of the Israelites had been consecrated to the LORD, they were not all free from sin. Moses responded to Korah’s accusation by pointing out that he and his followers were rebelling against God (Numbers 16:11) and said, “In the morning the LORD will show who is his, and who is holy, and will bring him near to him. The one whom he chooses he will bring near to him” (Numbers 16:5). Moses indicated that there was only one person who was holy in the congregation and that person had been chosen by God to lead the people.

It might seem as though Moses was referring to himself when he said that the LORD would show who was his and would bring him near to him (Numbers 16:5), but Moses was likely referring to the angel of the LORD who was sent to guard the people on their way to land of Canaan (Exodus 23:20). “There is a distinct possibility that various Old Testament references to the ‘angel of the LORD’ involved preincarnate appearances of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Things are said of the angel of the LORD that seem to go beyond the category of angels and are applicable to Christ…The designation ‘angel of the LORD’ is used interchangeably with ‘the LORD’ and ‘God’ in the account of Moses and the burning bush (Exodus 3:2-6). Exodus 23:21 states that the angel of the LORD has the power to forgive sins, a characteristic belonging to God alone (cf. Mark 2:7; Luke 7:49) and that he has the name of God in him. No man can see the full glory of God and live (Exodus 33:20), but Jesus Christ, in whom all the fullness of deity was manifested in bodily form, has made God the Father known (John 1:18; Colossians 2:9)” (note on Exodus 23:20-23).

Moses and Aaron interceded for the people of Israel (Numbers 16:22) and told them to “Depart, please, from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing of theirs, lest you be swept away with all their sins” (Numbers 16:26). The Israelites were told that they needed to stop associating with Korah or his influence would lead to their destruction. Afterward, Moses said of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram:

“Hereby you shall know that the Lord has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord. If these men die as all men die, or if they are visited by the fate of all mankind, then the Lord has not sent me. But if the Lord creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the Lord.” And as soon as he had finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split apart. And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the people who belonged to Korah and all their goods. So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol, and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly. (Numbers 16:28-33)

The Hebrew word that is translated perished in Numbers 16:33, ʾabad (aw-bad) means “to wander away, i.e. lose oneself” or “to be lost” (H6). Korah and all the people who belonged to him were lost in the sense of being unsaved. Their souls were not redeemed and therefore, they were condemned to eternal punishment.

In his second letter to Timothy, Paul talked about Christ’s judgment of the living and the dead. Paul said to Timothy, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:1-4). The dead that Paul was talking about in this passage were the spiritually dead (G3498). Paul indicated that Christ would judge the living and the dead. The Greek word that is translated judge, krino (kreeˊ-no) has to do with pronouncing an opinion concerning right and wrong, in a forensic sense (G2919). The difference between a living person and a dead person in a forensic sense is quite clear therefore, you should be able to distinguish very easily what a person’s spiritual state is. The problem is that the devil is very clever in the way that he disguises himself and is able to deceive an unsuspecting or naïve believer (Matthew 24:25) and so, Paul admonished Timothy to “always be sober-minded” (2 Timothy 4:5).

The Greek word Paul used that is translated sober-minded in 2 Timothy 4:5, nepho (nayˊ-fo) signifies “to be free from the influence of intoxicants” (G3525). This seems to suggest that demonic influence can be similar to getting drunk. One way of describing this kind of effect might be the mob mentality which can easily overtake people in emotionally charged situations. In contentious sporting events, people seem to lose their minds and can get out of control very quickly. The point that Paul was trying to make was that Timothy needed to make an intentional effort to not let himself come under the influence of someone or something that would compromise his ability to serve God. Paul told Timothy that he had “fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on the Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8). In this passage, Paul referred to the Lord as the righteous judge. What Paul was likely getting at was that Jesus is able to judge us as one who is an expert in human behavior because he lived a human life and can discern between human and divine characteristics. Jesus doesn’t judge people from a superior perspective, but as one who can relate to all that we have to deal with regarding the overwhelming negative influences in our lives.

Paul concluded his second letter to Timothy with some examples of the spiritual conflict that he had to deal with during the final years of his ministry. Paul said:

Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me…Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! (2 Timothy 4:9-11, 14-16)

Paul indicated that he had been deserted by all of his ministry companions and that the only one that was with him at the time when he was writing his letter to Timothy was Luke. Paul’s statement, “May it not be charged against them!” (2 Timothy 4:16) may have been related to his earlier comment about the crown of righteousness that Christ would award “to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8). Paul didn’t want his companions to be judged too harshly because they had helped him a great deal in the early years of his ministry. The Greek word that is translated charged in 2 Timothy 4:16, logizomai (log-idˊ-zom-ahee) means “to take an inventory” and primarily signifies “’to reckon,’ whether by calculation or imputation…Imputation has three steps: the collecting of all charges and remissions; the totaling of these debits and credits; the placing of the balance or credit on one’s account” (G3049). The remission of sins is what makes the imputation of Christ’s righteousness balance out our account and makes it possible for us to be free from our moral debt to God. It says in Genesis 15:6 that Abraham “believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness,” so it is one’s belief in God that causes Christ’s righteousness to be imputed to his account.

Paul’s concern for his companions’ spiritual well being was similar to Moses and Aaron’s reaction to the rebellion that undermined their ability to lead the people of Israel. After everyone grumbled against Moses and Aaron, saying, “You have killed the people of the LORD” (Numbers 16:41), the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Get away from the midst of this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment” (Numbers 16:45), but instead, Moses and Aaron “fell on their faces. And Moses said to Aaron, ‘Take your censer, and put fire on it from off the altar and lay incense on it and carry it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath had gone out from the LORD; the plague has begun.’ So Aaron took it as Moses said and ran into the midst of the assembly. And behold, the plague had already begun among the people. And he put on the incense and made atonement for the people. And he stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was stopped” (Numbers 16:45-48). When Aaron stood between the dead and the living, he was acting as a spiritual guard, similar to what Paul said Timothy should do when he instructed him to be “sober-minded” (2 Timothy 4:5). In the midst of spiritual conflict, Aaron was able to intervene and restored order to the congregation. As a result, the plague was stopped and the Israelites continued their journey to the Promised Land.

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