My new book, “Forty Days with Jesus in the Old Testament: The Son of God Revealed in Every Book of the Jewish Scriptures” is released this weekend. You can buy the Kindle eBook at Amazon USA ($7.99), Amazon UK (£5.29) or at your own country’s Amazon site. You can order the paperback version online at nickpark.ie (€10 including free delivery to anywhere in the world).
The book consists of 40 daily devotionals. Here is a free sample chapter to whet your appetite:
DAY 5 – NUMBERS
JESUS IS THE PILLAR OF CLOUD AND THE PILLAR OF FIRE
Today’s Readings: Numbers 20:6-11 Numbers 21:4-9 Numbers 24:15-19
It should only have taken a few weeks for the Israelites to have made their way from Egypt to the Promised Land. Because of their disobedience, however, the journey would take forty years, with a whole generation passing from the scene.
The entire book of Numbers is set in this ‘in between’ period. The people were no longer in Egypt, but they had not yet reached the Promised Land. That is a fitting picture of where most of us, as Christian believers, live our lives. We have been set free from sin and darkness, but we’re not yet enjoying all the blessings and benefits that come from Christ’s death on the Cross. We still look forward to the promised day when “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Revelation 21:4).
Even in this ‘in between’ place, God continued to guide His people. A pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night, led the way. When the pillar stopped, then the people stopped and set up camp. When the pillar moved once more, then the people packed up their tents and moved once more.
The pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire represent Jesus Christ being present with His people in all circumstances while we journey through our ‘in between’ place.
Water from the Rock
At one point on their travels, the people had run out of water and were grumbling and complaining against Moses. They wanted to return to Egypt, conveniently forgetting the agonies of their past slavery and selectively remembering the food that grew there.
God instructed Moses to stand before the people, speak to a large rock, and to trust God to cause water to flow from the rock. Moses didn’t follow God’s instructions perfectly, preferring to make a big show of striking the rock with his staff, but that’s another story! What matters here is that God graciously caused water to flow, thus slaking the people’s thirst.
In the New Testament, this incident is used to teach that Christ was with the Israelites in the wilderness. The pillar of cloud, the manna and the rock that provided water were all visible manifestations of Christ’s presence.
“For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptised into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.” (1 Corinthians 10:1-4)
The Bronze Serpent
Later on in their wanderings, the Israelites began to grumble against God once more. Many of them were bitten by poisonous snakes and died. God instructed Moses to make a bronze serpent, and to hoist it up on a pole. Anyone who had been bitten, yet who looked at the bronze serpent in faith, was healed.
Because of the identification of the serpent with evil in the Garden of Eden in Genesis, it seems strange to us for Jesus to be represented by a serpent. Yet He Himself made this comparison, and did so in one of the clearest Gospel messages in Scripture. Every Christian is familiar with John 3:16. Yet the preceding two verses compare Jesus to Moses’ bronze serpent, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in Him.” (John 3:14-15)
Theologically speaking, this makes perfect sense. Jesus took our sin upon His shoulders, to the extent that He is actually described as having become sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21) so that we, in turn, might become the righteousness of God. The bronze serpent in the wilderness points forward to Calvary where this incredible spiritual transaction took place.
Our task is to proclaim this truth to others. For Jesus also said, “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” (John 12:32)
The Star and the Sceptre
Our final reading from the book of Numbers is part of a series of prophecies from Balaam, who was hired by the king of Moab to curse the Israelites. God intervened, so that each time Balaam tried to curse them, blessings came out of his mouth instead! It was this incident which prompted the oft-quoted Scripture verse about our God turning curses into blessings (Nehemiah 13:2).
In his fourth prophecy, Balaam spoke about a star and a sceptre (denoting kingship) arising out of Jacob. This saying was stored up and pondered over by scholars in eastern lands for centuries. Over a thousand years later they saw an unusual star and followed it to Israel, asking “Where is the One who has been born King of the Jews? We saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” (Matthew 2:2)
God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are so thankful that we have received spiritual healing and new life through looking to Jesus as the One who was lifted up on the Cross. We acknowledge Him as our Provider when we are weary and in need of refreshing. We seek His face as our Guide in good times and bad. We rejoice in the knowledge that our God turns curses into blessings, and that the Son of God was born in Bethlehem for our sakes.
We pray this in Jesus’ name.