Grim start. Bronze censers were picked up from among the ‘smouldering remains’ (v.37) of the 250 men who had unwisely burned incense before the Lord and, as a consequence, were burned up by fire for their impudence. Only the descendants of Aaron were allowed to burn incense. Catholics still have some sacraments reserved to the full ordained priesthood today such as the Eucharist, Reconciliation, and the Anointing of the Sick (as this also involves reconciliation). Only a priest, appointed by the Bishop, can carry out a formal exorcism. As lay people, we are also priests, prophets and kings, and can pray informally for healing and deliverance.
Moses faced an even larger rebellion after God killed the 250 rebels and God threatened to to kill the entire assembly of Israelites – all 2 million of them (v.45) – and started a plague among them. I have heard some pastors say that God will never give someone a disease but this passage disproves that. Some don’t preach an omnipotent God – which He is. Anything that happens to us is because God has allowed it to happen. God can do what He likes and we should always show him love and respect. Jesus pointed out: ‘Be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Sometimes, God uses death and disease to get our attention. Jesus took the wrath of God for us so that now We call him our Father. I think today some people contract diseases to bring them to God. If normal methods of evangelisation don’t work, it’s only by having our body affected that we might start to consider if God can help us. God might directly give us the disease or He might reduce the spiritual protection He gives us which allows the devil to give us the disease or He may just allow the rogue bacteria or virus to spread to us. This is splitting hairs, dropping our protection so that we catch a diseases is the same as giving us one. People can contract a disease or a disability so that a miraculous cure can bring them and others to God and increase the faith of direct witnesses and those who hear the resultant testimonies, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him’ (John 9:3). This is a good reason to evangelise and pray for healing. It might be our destined mission to pray for someone at a defined place and time for them to be healed. If we don’t listen to the prompting of the Spirit to go there and do that, that person may miss their healing but hopefully God has a back-up plan. When we go to heaven we might be shown the healings we missed by not being in the right place at the right time.
Moses and Aaron rushed to make atonement for all the Israelites – just as Jesus made atonement for us on the cross. They had to hurry as the plague had already started. The plague bacteria may already have been present in the desert soil or on the skin of the people and it was only God’s protection that had stopped the Israelites catching it before. Once God lifted this protection, as a righteous punishment for rebellion, the bacteria was able to grow and spread. Aaron offered incense, made atonement, and stood between the living and the dead and the plague stopped Another 14,700 people were dead. When were the Israelites going to understand the necessity to be obedient?
God was keen to stop the rebellions and the deaths and did this by proving Aaron, representing the house of Levi, is the appointed priest by making his wooden staff sprout, bud, blossom and produce almonds (17:8). This was meant to be a sign to the rebellious. The Israelite switched from being rebellious to being terrified worrying that they were all going to die. It is easy to understand how God became so exasperated with them. It was only the Levites who were allowed to perform duties near the Tent of Meeting and only an even smaller group, Aaron and his sons, could be priests.
God himself selected the Levites to do the work at the Tent of Meeting (v.6). They didn’t select themselves. They were paid with all the tithes of Israel (18:21). All the Israelites had to give them a tenth of whatever they produced / earnt and the Levites had to give a tenth of this – the best part of it – to the priests. We aren’t obliged to tithe our money anymore but it is good practice. However, for obvious reasons, many Pastors would prefer this Old Testament tradition to continue and it does seem to confer spiritual benefits. When we freely give away money in a cheerful manner, God will always look after us even though that shouldn’t be the motive behind giving. We should all freely give a realistic proportion of our money to the church. If we value the work of our priests / pastors and want to worship in a building that isn’t falling apart – we have to support in a generous way. Tithing and freely donating generously on other occasions builds up a health attitude to money. We are just custodians of money and our task is to give away excess to worthy causes and support our church.
‘And the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick’ (v.17). Even though Jesus was both God and Man and filled completely with the Holy Spirit, it seems that some days were better than others for healing. We know from Matthew 13:58 that the faith of people around Jesus was sometimes necessary for miracles to take place, ‘And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith’.
Jesus heals the paralytic lowered through the roof. Our pastor says this happened at Jesus’ own house. That makes the story even more incredible. I love praying for healing but might get a little concerned if people started dismantling my roof. At least Jesus was a carpenter to fix the damage and one hopes that the men responsible helped. It’s marvellous that Jesus isn’t concerned about his roof – he is concerned with forgiving the paralytic’s sins and healing him. Maybe it’s immediately after this that Jesus just walks away from his house – maybe tossing the keys to the healed paralytic – and starts to travel. He never goes back to his previous possessions. ‘Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’ (Luke 9:58).
‘The meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace’ (Psalm 37:11). (Also see Matthew 5:5). Won’t it be great to have peace? If the wickedness, greed, anger and sin could just go away. That could happen if everyone become a ‘born-again’ Christian. When you visit a dynamic, spirit-filled church where everyone is loving each other and joining in – you don’t ever want to leave. But we have to take that joy and co-operation into the world. Unfortunately, it soon gets diluted by the work of the wicked. However, church can give us a glimpse of paradise – a place where everyone loves God and their neighbour as themselves.
‘The wicked plot against the righteous’ (v.12). We see this in modern day society with the wicked trying to ban campaigners standing near abortion clinics to save the lives of the unborn or parliamentary attempts to try to remove bishops from the House of Lords. It’s not just a reaction against new religious ideas, people actively seem to wrack their minds to try to dismantle any religious influence on the state. There is often a smoke screen of reasonableness stating that ‘all people are all equal before the law and parliament’ – but unborn people are not regarded as equal at all and targeted for destruction in the womb with enthusiastic support for abortion. Abortion isn’t a specific religious topic and so should not form part of a secularist agenda. All good people should agree that killing the defenceless unborn and trying to systematically eliminate people with conditions such as down’s syndrome is bad. However, the wicked cannot help but plot against any ideals that religious people should sign up to. We have to trust in God that wicked schemes will be foiled and the wicked themselves will perish and vanish: ‘Their swords shall pierce their own hearts, and their bows will be broken’ (v.15).