As we consider the past year and the year to come, a common (and valuable) practice is to “count your blessings”. We who have been called into the family of God the Creator have been blessed. However, I recently was reading through the book of Numbers and realized that I often mistake God’s provision for God’s blessing.
Numbers is not everyone’s first stop for encouragement. In fact it is probably in about 65th place on that list (just before Lamentations).If you are a little rusty on the book of Numbers, here is a quick video primer from The Bible Project:
So the 1st generation rebels and misses out on the blessing of the Promised Land. They wander the wilderness for 38 years as a consequence. In the wilderness, God provides them with manna (literally “what is it”). Then they complain about manna and God gives them quail (which FYI is about $10 per pound at Kroger right now). They complain about being thirsty and God gives them water from a rock.
Often times we look at this and say, “Look how God blesses them even when they are rebellious and complaining.”
But don’t miss this: God is providing for their needs, but it is not the blessing that He wanted to give them. God wanted them to enjoy a land flowing with milk and honey. A land with grape clusters so big two men had to carry them. A land with pomegranates and figs in plenty and pastures for their livestock.
Manna was provided daily and they could not store it for the future. That was not God’s intention for them. We see how he wanted to bless the 1st generation in His renewal of that promise to the 2nd generation in Deuteronomy 28: 12-13 (emphasis added):
“And the Lord will make you abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your livestock and in the fruit of your ground, within the land that the Lord swore to your fathers to give you. The Lord will open to you his good treasury, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hands. And you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow.”
God wanted to bless the nation so abundantly that they would have extra to lend to the surrounding nations so that “all the peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the LORD…” That is certainly not the state of Israel in the wilderness. They are not in a state of blessing. They are in a state of rebellion and it is only God’s faithfulness to His promises that caused him to provide for their needs until the time came to impart blessing.
So, what about you? Is God blessing you because of your obedience? Or are you in a state of provision, where God is giving you what you need but you are missing out on blessings unknown?
Some might say, “I have breath in my lungs today. I am blessed.”
Here’s the thing: There are 6 billion unbelievers with breath in their lungs today. Is God blessing those people the same as you who are His child?
Some might say, “I have a roof over my head. I am blessed.”
Here’s the thing: Jesus said, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Does that mean that you are blessed greater than Jesus?
Some might say, “I live in America (the land of the free and the home of the brave). I am blessed.”
Here’s the thing: 1 Peter 2 tells us that we are sojourners (travelers/foreigners) in our own land. Paul tells us in Philippians that we our citizenship is in heaven. The nation of Israel struggled with nationalism, and Paul reminds us in Galatians that there is neither Greek nor Jew and that our nationality is not a source of blessing.
So in the book of Numbers, God provided for the needs of Israel while they were missing out on the promised blessings that come with obedience, specifically the fruit of the Promised Land. So what promises might we look to as a test to see if we are blessed, or merely provided for?
John 14:12-14 says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”
Test: Are you doing the same and greater works than Jesus did? Are you asking in the name of Jesus and having it come to pass? (As a reminder, Jesus raised the dead, walked on water, multiplied food, healed deafness, blindness, lameness, leprosy, and bleeding, withered a fig tree with his words, and passed through doors so people thought he was a ghost.)
John 14:26 says, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”
Test: Are you experiencing the promised Holy Spirit? He is not a theological doctrine. He is the Living God abiding and working in you.
John 14:27 says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
Test: Are you at peace? Is your peace and comfort found the way the world finds it (financial stability, job security, health)? Are you content as Paul says in Philippians 4 that “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” Whatever situation…?
One last thing to remember:
When wander in the wilderness, the Nation of Israel was already God’s chosen people. Their obedience was not a test to see if God would choose them. He had already made the promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The obedience (and resulting blessings) that I am talking about are those that come from a state of “alreadyness”. It is no coincidence that the promises of John 14 listed above have this passage sandwiched in between them:
“Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.”
If you are a follower of Jesus, you are already a part of God’s people. You now have the choice to walk in obedience that leads to blessing, or walk in disobedience which removes blessing. Unfortunately, too many of us see manna, quail, and water in our lives and think that God is blessing us, when all the while He is trying to say, “Look what you are missing!”