In the version of Numbers 11 that I’ve taught many times to first graders in Sunday School, we teach that God provided quail for the Israelites to eat when they were wandering in the desert and hungry. In I the version straight out of the Bible, we learn that God provided quail for the Israelites to eat when they were wandering in the desert and hungry…and then he pretty much killed them all for whining.
But while the meat was still between their teeth and before it could be consumed, the anger of the LORD burned against the people, and he struck them with a severe plague. Therefore the place was named Kibroth Hattaavah, because there they buried the people who had craved other food. (Numbers 11:33-34)
I’m not sure what to make of that, though as the father of seven, I think I’ll keep it handy the next time a six-year-old complains about the dinner cuisine.
In Isaiah 1, Isaiah delivers a sobering account of God’s punishment of the Israelites for their rebellion.
But if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword (Isaiah 1:20)
It’s passages like these that cause me to think twice before pontificating about what God meant in 2 Timothy when Paul instructs us:
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16)
This verse was part of the daily reading the last time I posted. I wrote about something else.
I think some passages are to be dissected and others are to be viewed broadly yet ALL require significant context to be properly understood. Likewise I think that scripture is only suitable for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training once it is properly understood.
Hebrews 9 sheds some light on why we must consider the context when applying scripture to individual circumstances. The writer of Hebrews explains that there is a new covenant.
For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance–now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. (Hebrews 9:15)
We have a high priest as mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. “He bore the sins of many, those who eagerly wait for Him” (Hebrew 9:28). We no longer are under God’s judgment. We no longer must sacrifice to atone for our sinfulness. Christ has done it for us. It’s as if when we are reading God’s instructions to the Israelites under the old covenant we are reading other people’s mail. It can be useful for us, but we need to be careful how we apply it, since we have a different set of circumstances.
I admit that I still have trouble harmonizing the God of love found in the ultimate sacrifice of his Son, Jesus Christ for me, with the “God of judgment” found often in the Old Testament. But I know enough to understand that by his mercy I am under a new covenant that I “may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance”.
There are mysteries that you hide from me that often baffle me during my quiet times. But this you have made clear to me: I am a sinner and yet you loved me so much that you sent your Son to die for my sins, that I may have everlasting life. I am humbled and eternally grateful for your sacrifice and the freedom provided by your new covenant.