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The prepared text of this morning’s sermon at MacAlpine Presbyterian Church in Buffalo, New York is below.  The sermon audio before setting out on a wilderness journey is available at this link.  My commentary on Numbers began with a post covering Numbers 1:1-10:10 and it is available at this link.  Next Sunday we will look at Numbers 10:11-36.

Everything leading up to today’s passage in Numbers has been in preparation for the wilderness journey. The people have stood up to be counted. God has arranged the camp with His tent in the center of the camp because He is their king. The Levites have received their marching orders. God has given the people ways to deal with sin so that He can live with them without consuming them. And after God reminded the people that they are sinners who are not completely consecrated to always serve Him, He blessed them and they responded with offerings that He accepted. Those offerings were necessary so that the tabernacle could work the way that it was intended to work and indeed we saw it was working the way that it was supposed to for when Moses went into the tent of meeting to speak with the Lord, he heard the Lord speaking to him. The Levites redeemed the firstborn of Israel and the people who were clean celebrated Passover with provision for those who couldn’t do it the first time because they were unclean. Everything is ready for the wilderness journey to commence. We have read verses that say, “When the tabernacle is to set out, the Levites shall take it down, and when the tabernacle is to be pitched, the Levites shall set it up” (Num 1:51). We have read about how the tribe of Judah was to set out first on the march (Num 2:9). Indeed, the order of each tribe when they were to set out has all been taught. We have heard how the priests were to go and package the things from the holy of holies for the Kohathites to carry (i.e. Numbers 4:5) and how the twelve tribes gave twelve oxen and six wagons that Moses distributed to the rest of the Levites to help them with the heaviest pieces of the tabernacle. Even celebrating the Passover was fitting before they set out seeing as the reason that the people ate unleavened bread for Passover and on their journey was how they left Egypt in haste and didn’t have time to wait for bread to rise (Exo 12:39). Indeed, they were supposed to eat the Passover meal with their belt fastened, sandals on their feet, walking staff in hand, in haste (Exo 12:11). In other words, they were to eat the Passover meal ready to embark on a wilderness journey. Thus the firstborn have been redeemed by the Levites and the Passover celebrated, it is time to get underway. But not so fast. There are two things that we need to know as we embark on our wilderness journey today. Thus Moses belabors the first thing for nine verses—saying it in every possible way that he can. It was the thing that gave the people assurance whenever they camped and whenever they set out. They knew it because they saw the glory-cloud. Then Moses looks at the second thing from several angles in the next ten verses. They knew the second thing because they heard the silver trumpets. What are the two things that we need to know as we get ready to go? Hear the word of the Lord:

Numbers 9:15-10:10 

  1. The first thing that we need to know as we set out on our wilderness journey is that God is going to go with us on it.

    1. Israel knew that God was with them in the wilderness because they saw the glory-cloud. Having the tent of God in the center of the camp wasn’t an empty symbol only teaching that God was their king. The glory-cloud came down from the heavens to dwell among them. The glory-cloud came down from above to take up residence in the tabernacle and the glory-cloud lifted up from the tabernacle to lead the people when they set out. The king was taking up residence in the tabernacle whenever He wanted them to stop and He was leading them in the way that they should go whenever He wanted to set out. Throughout history, usually the glory-cloud has been invisible to people. But the people in Numbers were able to see the glory-cloud leading them forward when they set out and they were able to see the glory-cloud resting over the tabernacle when they camped. The glory-cloud represented God Himself. To be sure this glory-cloud is part of God’s creation—though yes, the usually invisible heavens that God created. Nevertheless, it isn’t an empty symbol representing God’s presence. It is God’s glory in a created form. Think about it this way: the second person of the Trinity took on flesh as Jesus Christ in the New Testament. We call this the incarnation. Dr. Meredith Kline once coined a parallel word to explain the glory-cloud—the word he coined was endoxation. Doxos being the Greek word for glory. The glory-cloud is the epiphany or theophany of the third person of the Trinity. Thus we speak of the incarnation of the Son and the endoxation of the Spirit. This is why seeing the glory-cloud was not just seeing some empty symbol that represents God but seeing much more. (But speaking of the incarnation,…)

    2. We too know that God is with us as we set out on our wilderness journey today. Jesus is God with us and for us—He is the permanent incarnation of the second person of the Trinity. We may not see Jesus Christ now for He is in the heavens that are usually invisible to us. Indeed, the risen Jesus rode the glory-cloud into heaven after teaching the apostles about Himself from the Hebrew Scriptures for forty days. But before disappearing from their sight He blessed them and us saying, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (cf. Matt 28:20). Then on Pentecost, He poured out the Spirit on His church. Truly God is with us as we undertake our wilderness journey and shows us favor. We may not see the glory-cloud today, but we have the Spirit of God in our hearts by faith in Jesus Christ. He will never leave us or forsake us just as the Lord said to Joshua (Deut 31:6, 8, Joshua 1:5). And one day we will see Jesus Christ returning in the same way that He went into heaven—riding the glory-cloud for His second coming. This journey we are on through the wilderness will not last forever. The Promised Land will come down to us—the invisible heavens will become visible forevermore. Until then, we believe His word that He is with us and for us. We need to hear this good news when we feel like life is a deserted desert, when we are weary and worn, when we are ready to give up, God is with us on this journey to the Promised Land and shining His favor upon us as we go. (But there is something else that we need to know as we embark on this wilderness journey. Yes we need to know that God is with us and shining His face upon us but…)

  2. We also need to know as we set out on our wilderness journey that God is going to come to our aid when we call.

    1. Israel knew that God would come to their aid when they called because of the silver trumpets. The silver trumpets were a signal for the people of Israel to assemble themselves. Duguid in his commentary mentions the illustration of getting your kids ready for school. Everyone knows that it can be a challenge. Parents often say the same thing about getting to church. I think that church bells used to serve this kind of purpose. The sound of trumpets or bells serves to call the people together. The people needed some kind of signal like this to know to assemble to move out just as they would hear the trumpet sound to assemble for worship. Indeed, the trumpets had a two-fold purpose going forward – they were for war and for worship. They were to be blown when the people needed to assemble for battle and when the people assembled for worship festivals. But at the same time these trumpets would bring the people to God’s remembrance. That is, the sounding of the trumpet called upon God to come to their aid. When the people heard the trumpets, they knew that God hears them. When the people went into battle, they knew that God would remember them and help them because they heard the trumpets and knew He heard the trumpets. And when the people went to worship festivals, they knew that God would remember them and look favorably on their offerings because they heard the trumpet and knew that God heard the trumpet. In either circumstance, the people knew that God would save them because He heard their cry and remembered them.

    2. We too need to know that God will come to our aid on our wilderness journey. We are engaged in Spiritual warfare until Christ comes again and we come together for worship until Christ comes again. But whether we are resting for worship or we are taking the fight outside the camp during the week, we need to know that God will hear us and remember us. Indeed, we can know this because we are sitting with Christ in the heaven of heavens and Christ is interceding for us. We know that God looks with favor upon our offerings given in faith. We know that God looks with favor upon us as we share the gospel with those who do not yet know Jesus Christ. It is fitting then that we have a policy of “no man left behind,” to borrow from the military. Duguid mentions this and says “no man left behind” means that when one of us hurts then we all hurt and when one of us rejoices then we all rejoice. In other words, it is not just one of us asking for God to hear us and show favor toward us but we all come together and ask for it and we know that He hears us and remembers us when we do so. “No man left behind” is a good reminder as we engage in Spiritual warfare. We may not have the sound of silver trumpets, but we still can have the same kind of assurance that they offered Israel. It is an assurance that we have by faith. Indeed, we begin this wilderness journey by faith, we walk this wilderness journey by faith, and we finish this wilderness journey by faith. Hearing this good news and experiencing assurance from God by faith during this time of resting on Sunday makes it so that when we set out on the journey again on Monday morning we know that God is with us and favors us and hears us and remembers us. Now one day we will hear the trumpet sound again. For the trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised incorruptible. When the trumpet sounds we will hear it as a call for us to assemble together for the final battle—not that there will be a fight, for the enemy will not be able to put up a fight at that point. Indeed, the sounding of the trumpet will assemble us for the final judgment. Speaking of the final judgment, the destruction of the Canaanites was part of the final judgment. Their sin had reached a climax and God brought that judgment to them with the army of Israel. The trumpet sounded to bring the people of Israel together to fight those battles. But one day the sins of humanity will reach a climax and the trumpet will sound and the final judgment will follow. For those who do not trust in Jesus the sounding of the silver trumpet is bad news. But for us who believe, the sounding of the trumpet is good news. The sounding of the trumpet means that our wandering and warfare is over and we are coming together to worship God. Indeed, the sounding of that trumpet means God heard us and remembers us. Praise God! Amen.

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