Acceptance, Communion, and Obedience.

Numbers 15.

T. H. Reynolds.

Christian Friend vol. 18, 1891, p. 1.

When the Lord took up the nation of Israel to deliver them from the bondage of Egypt, He not only regarded their misery, but expressed the desire of His own heart, "I will take you to me for a people, and I will be your God." (Exodus 6:7.) Later on in their history the prophetic Spirit in Israel thus recognizes another purpose in their call. Jehovah had said unto them, "Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified." (Isaiah 49:3.) In fulfilment of this, they will yet become "a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord." Then "righteousness and praise" will "spring forth before all the nations;" not as the result of keeping the law, but of being clothed with Jehovah's robe of righteousness. That which has failed under the law is yet to be accomplished in grace. Had it been possible that they could have been established under the law as a holy people to the Lord, the nations around would have learned from them two things. First, what a blessed people they were; and, secondly, what a God their Jehovah was. (Compare Deut. 4:6-8.) How everything broke down with them on the ground of their own responsibility their history records. At the same time the desires of the Lord's heart are expressed in many ways.

At Sinai we see them a delivered people, brought to God; and there the Lord acquaints Moses with His desire that they should make a tabernacle that He might dwell among them, a place that should be sanctified with His glory, and in which at the altar of burnt-offering He could meet with them. Before Moses could make this desire known they had corrupted themselves, "and changed their glory into the similitude of an ox that eateth grass." Through the intercession of Moses they are pardoned and placed upon the ground of long-suffering mercy (Exodus 34:6, 9), and he then communicates to them this desire of the Lord. It was a happy time for them while engaged in preparing an habitation for their God. When it was completed and set up, the glory of the Lord filled it. Jehovah took His place between the cherubim, dwelling in their midst.

They are now ready to start for the land given to them of the Lord, carrying with them the tabernacle of the testimony of God. A journey of eleven days brought them to Kadesh-Barnea, the southern limit of their promised possessions. Here the murmuring, which had characterized them before, reached its height; and they despise the pleasant land, and in their hearts turn back to Egypt. But at this moment faith shines out very brightly in Caleb and Joshua. In the sense of the purpose of God to have a people for Himself, they speak to the congregation, not only of the exceeding goodness of the land given to them for their own blessing, but they add, "If the Lord delight in us, then He will bring us into this land." (Num. 14:8.) If any poor sinner now thinks of what happiness it will be that he should possess the heavenly Canaan, there is a deeper joy than his, - the Lord's delight to have him there. (Luke 15.) But we may say that the Lord was then robbed of His delight, save in the two men of faith, and the people consequently are turned back in the desert to bear their iniquities. It is at this moment that the Lord does not give up His purpose of being glorified in Israel. It could not be accomplished in the generation that grieved Him, and they must perish in the wilderness, but He expresses His determined purpose thus: "As truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord." (Num. 14:21.) It will yet be accomplished when Israel will be fully established under the favour of God in their own land, and He will be glorified in them. This is anticipated by the remnant of Israel in the words of Psalm 67, "God be merciful unto us, and bless us … that Thy way may be known upon earth, Thy saving health among all nations."

In the certainty of His own purpose the Lord (Num. 15) speaks to them thus: "When ye be come into the land of your habitations, which I give unto you." Some must enter therein, though those to whom the glad tidings of Canaan were first preached (Exodus 3:16-17) did not enter in because of unbelief. Blessed in that exceeding good land those who entered in would be. There they would eat bread without scarceness, and not lack anything in it. But their own blessings in the land is not the subject before us in this chapter. It is the Blesser, who anticipates the approach to Himself in the joy of worship of those whom He has blessed. At rest in the land of their habitations, their happy service will be to make a sweet savour to the Lord. No doubt there will be holy convocations and set times in which they can offer, but here the free-will offerings of thankful hearts apart from ordered seasons is anticipated. The details of these sweet-savour offerings are given elsewhere. Chief among them is the burnt-offering, which went up wholly as a sweet savour to God; representing thus the intrinsic perfection, so fully proved in devotedness even to death, of Him who said, "Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God." How acceptable to God this offering was is shown by its being entirely a sweet savour; and in all this fragrance and acceptability He desires to have worshippers before Himself. But the great point to notice here is the special ordinance, connected with the burnt-offering or peace-offering, of a meat-offering and drink-offering. In other words, they were to be in communion and joy before Him, as well as in acceptance. The meat-offering speaks of the perfections of Christ as a man before God. It was in a Man these perfections were. Hence we, as men, when taught of God, are able to enter into them. No part of the burnt-offering was eaten. In its sweet savour the worshipper knew his acceptance, but in the meat-offering there was communion. God has been well pleased in a Man.

"Grace and truth, in love unceasing,
Rivers on the thirsty ground,
Every step to God well pleasing,
Spread their heavenly savour round."

Mark, the communion was not founded on that which the natural man could appreciate - to his selfish heart it would be merely benevolence - but on the apprehension that these perfections were in the blessed Man who said, "I do always those things that please Him." The Lord had His handful from the meat-offering, while those who ate the remainder in priestly nearness were in communion with the deep and spiritual perfections of Christ represented in the fine flour mingled with oil. Then there was the "wine that maketh glad the heart of man." This sets before us the happiness and joy of those who were in this acceptance and communion. It has been noticed that all being grace here, there is one law and manner for all. The stranger is permitted to share in this happy delight of approaching the Lord. Isaiah speaks thus of the sons of the stranger in the purpose and grace of God: "Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar: for mine house shall be called a house of prayer for all people." (Isaiah 56:7.)

So far we see the communion and joy before the Lord of an accepted people. These are their deepest joys. But. while He smells the sweet savour of their freewill-offerings to Him, He also anticipates their eating of the bread of the land. This is more for their own sustenance and blessing, yet even here they are privileged to bring a cake of the first of their dough as a heave-offering to the Lord. He nourishes us with the food of His own land, and the heart is gladdened in knowing that what He feeds us with is acceptable to Him. Just as the pot of manna, the food of the wilderness, was laid up before the Lord, so the bread of the land is offered to Him, though it sustained Israel there. He has always His own share in the preciousness of Christ with which He feeds us.

Following upon these intimations of the Lord's desire to have a people in happy communion with Himself, comes the provision for sins of ignorance against the commandments of the Lord. It could not be supposed that any who were in conscious acceptance, and happy with the Lord, but would also delight in His commandments. Hence, when fully established in the land, and the law written. in their hearts, the blessedness is announced of those who walk in the law of the Lord, of those who keep His testimonies, and seek Him with their whole heart. (Psalm 119:1-2.) The statutes, commandments, and judgments of the Lord are also spoken of as "more to be desired … than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb." (Psalm 19:10.) How much more can the Christian say, "This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments: and His commandments are not grievous"! Knowing his acceptance in the Beloved, and brought into communion with the perfections of Christ, he knows also that every commandment given must be the expression of the perfect will of Him who has given it, and therefore must be blessed. Presumptuously traversing that will is the very opposite to the joy of communion, and when grace has offered such a portion, it is the despisal of grace. It is always the character of flesh to be in rebellion; but flesh has been judged in the cross, and the one who knows this must not revive it. There is no provision therefore for presumptuous sins. Grace and the will of God are alike despised. Errors, or sins of ignorance, are those which unwittingly are in contrariety to the good and perfect and acceptable will of God, with whom they were in acceptance and communion. The sense of nearness enables us to perceive that which is contrary to His blessed will. Many a thing in which we once saw no harm, or justified, is judged when we are in the light of the Lord's presence. There is nothing hidden there, the night shineth as the day. As individuals, through lack of nearness and communion, we may be ignorant of much that is the will of the Lord; but the Christian state is "light in the Lord," and so "understanding what the will of the Lord is," walking as children of light, and proving what is acceptable to the Lord. (Eph. 5.) As we are in the light the commandment is true in us as it says, "Which thing is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth." (1 John 2:8.) Yet we often feel as to our actual state how much we need the prayer of the apostle, "That ye might be filled with the knowledge of His will, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing." (Col. 1:9-10.)

It is a great thing to see that intelligent subjection to the will of God is closely connected with our entering into and enjoyment of the place of acceptance in which we are set. Hence when the whole congregation sinned ignorantly, they offered first a burnt-offering with its meat-offering and drink-offering according to the manner, before they offered the special sacrifice which met their error. The burnt-offering is "unto Jehovah," the sin-offering "before Jehovah." The standing of the whole congregation, as set in acceptance and happy communion with the Lord, is thus recognized first; and then in accordance with that, the error now seen in its true character is judged as sin atoned for in the sin-offering, and it is forgiven. The status of the congregation is common to all, hence, in the case of an individual, there is only the judgment of the sin, and it is forgiven.

We may note here that though an Israelite could not feed on the meat-offering, and his state was not light in the Lord, and therefore he depended upon a priest both as to communion and intelligence in the Lord's will, yet now even the "little children" have an unction from the Holy One, and know all things. We may further note, how the common portion of Christians in the most blessed intimacy and communion - walking in the light, the blood cleansing from all sin, and forgiveness on confession, is brought out in John's epistle. John puts us in the light, where the blood cleanses so that we can be there, in order that we should not sin. And then he tells us of the advocacy of Christ which is carried on when we sin, to make us conscious of everything inconsistent with, and unsuitable to, the place of communion and light into which we are introduced. In the end of the epistle there is an intimation of "a sin unto death," a very near approach to the presumptuous sin of old. There may be in a Christian an allowance of that evil nature which God condemned in the cross. Unbroken will and unbridled flesh may so mark its working that it becomes a sin unto death. This is very solemn, and the soul is cut off from among his people. No doubt it is the judgment of the flesh that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. To be taken out of the circle of the fellowship of the saints on earth, as they enjoy the perfections of Christ in the Lord's own presence, is a solemn thing. May the Lord keep us in the sense of the desires of His own heart, not only in the place of acceptance, but endeavouring to be acceptable to Him.

But however sure and immutable the purpose of the Lord to have a worshipping people in His land, Israel were actually in the wilderness. God had brought them out of Egypt to be there with Him, therefore He puts upon them the colour which denoted that they belonged to Him, that they were a holy people to their God. It was their privilege no longer to walk after their own heart and their own eyes, but according to the commandments of the Lord. All the vessels that belonged to the holy places had coverings of blue as they were borne through the wilderness. Notably amongst them it was seen upon the ark. Its place was the holy of holies, - figure of heaven itself. Hence when it "went before them" (Numbers 10:33), only the heavenly colour was seen. This was true in Jesus. He was the perfect manifestation of God in a Man, and as a man ever the heavenly One. When an Israelite looked on the ribband of blue, he saw on the border of his own garment, that which was nearest the earth, the colour which was upon the Ark. We have thus the foreshadowing of the Son of God becoming a Man - the Second Man out of heaven, yet in this world, and a people that are to express His character of blessed obedience in their walk. We can now say, "Which thing is true in Him and in us." We do not become heavenly by trying to be heavenly, but the perfect love of God has made us what Christ is. "As He is, so are we in this world." The ribband of blue was not for others to see, but for the Israelite himself. God has put upon us this heavenly colour, so that we may have the conscious sense of belonging to Him, according to the boundless grace which in eternal ages chose a people for Himself.

T. H. R.