The Lord instructed Moses to ascend a mountain, to view from afar the land that had been given to the Israelites. Moses was destined to die there because of his earlier disobedience (Numbers 20:9-12).
Moses didn’t plead with God for an even longer life but asked for God to provide a new leader ‘so that the Lord’s people will not be like a sheep without a shepherd’ (27:17). It’s wonderful that Moses’ concern was not for himself but for the Israelites to have a worthy leader as his successor. God has lined up Moses’ assistant Joshua ‘a man in whom is the Spirit (v.18) to become leader. It was quite rare in the Old Testament for the Holy Spirit to be in someone permanently. Normally, the Spirit came to rest on someone temporarily for a specific purpose / prophesy. These days, all baptized Christians can benefit from the priceless help and comfort of the Holy Spirit inside them permanently. We just have to invite him to come into our lives fully, giving us all his gifts and fully ignite our faith.
Ministry was passed on by the laying on of hands (v.18 and v.23). Moses was instructed to officially ordain Joshua in front of the entire assembly so everyone was clear about the identity of the authorised leader. It was extremely important to appoint a spiritual man to such an important role. His decision making would mean either prosperity or disaster for the entire Israelite nation.
Joshua would have help making decisions in that he could ask the priest to consult the mysterious ‘Urim’ (v.21). The Urim was a supernatural object which allowed God to communicate decisions. The Urim usually went together with the Thummim (see Exodus 20:30) and resided in the ceremonial breast piece worn by the Chief Priest. It may possibly have been a way of casting lots, or the priest might have looked through it to see a vision / answer. Either way, it is lost now – judging by the quality of many world leaders’ decisions (https://bible.org/question/how-did-urim-and-thummim-function). Maybe they were destroyed or reside in Ethiopia with the Ark of the Covenant. One suggestion is that these objects only functioned when the early Israelite priests had the Holy Spirit residing in them. Later on, the Holy Spirit withdrew from the priests and gave temporary power to certain prophets by resting on them. God doesn’t like to make things too easy. He created multiple languages after Babel in Genesis (Genesis 11:7) so we couldn’t understand each other and could possibly have removed the Urim and Thummin to make us pray to him as individuals for advice rather than letting a priest find out from God what our decisions should be.
The rest of today’s reading covers the complicated list of offerings required daily, monthly, on the Sabbath day and on specific feast days. As Christians, these don’t apply to us but it is fascinating to see how specific God was for each occasion.
Jesus travelled from place to place. We hear about ‘Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out’ (v.2). When multiple demons infest someone they will obey the most senior / powerful demon present, who may prevent the lower powered demons from leaving during an exorcism. There is a power hierarchy for the nine different choirs of angels / demons with the seraphim at the top and ordinary angels at the bottom. Jesus, as the Chief Exorcist, had the authority to bind and cast out the most senior demon in Mary, along with all the others (see Matthew 12:29 – ‘How can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house’).
Jesus and his disciples had financial support from women who had been cured of diseases and exorcised (v.3). It’s significant that Joanna was the wife of the manager of King Herod’s household. This Herod’s full name was Herod Antipas and he was the son of ‘Herod the Great’ who had attempted to murder baby Jesus. Joanna was a member of the upper class of Jewish society and if she was subsidised by her husband’s wages, Jesus would have been indirectly using money from the King for his ministry. Joanna may have contracted a serious diseases or demonic oppression because her husband worked for the evil King. She turned to Jesus for her cure.
We then have the famous parable of the sower. When my children were growing up, I can really relate to ‘the seed that fell among thorns’. This signifies those who hear but ‘as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature’ (v.14). It has only been after my children grew up and started to do their own thing that I started to feel I could begin to produce a crop through perseverance. So the different types of soil may represent different stages of our lives. I might cycle through the different examples that Jesus gives us weekly or daily. I may go to church on one Sunday as ‘good soil’ and hear the word and retain it. The very next week, I might be distracted by worldly cares and then I am thorny ground. The place we don’t want to be is the path, which is where most people are. We must believe and be saved. Do not let the devil take away the joyful gospel from your hearts. Believe and be saved.
After we receive the Holy Spirit at our baptism, we should shine his light to everyone through the joyful and charitable way we lead our lives. We must be lights for all the world. When we have the Holy Spirit, we will be given more of his gifts and wisdom if we ask God for it. If people reject coming to Christ in baptism and live an empty, superficial life without searching for God, ‘even what he thinks he has will be taken from him (v.18).
King David show us that no matter how we are feeling we can be confident that God will eventually answer us (v.15).
We can be surrounded by hostile, evil people who ‘repay by good with evil’ (v.20). Many Christians find they are slandered by friends, family and acquaintances just for trying to follow the Christian faith. They ‘slander me when I pursue what is good’ (v.20).
We know that if we confess our sins and believe in Him, God will not be far from us. Praying in tongues demonstrates that God is actually within us at all times. The Holy Spirit is always there to help us, we just have to hand over control to Him and He will build us up to confound our enemies.