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God’s Word for You

Numbers 36:13 The word of truth.

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, February 15, 2022

13 These are the commands and the ordinances which the LORD commanded through Moses for the Israelites on the Plains of Moab near the Jordan across from Jericho.

This fourth book of Moses closes with this strong note: These things are what the Lord commanded. The Lord has been specific, both about his laws and about the gospel promises he has made regarding the blessings of Canaan (which include the promised Seed of Abraham, the Savior). This final verse also reminds us that these things were not commanded in some remote time and place that nobody really knows anything about, but that both the time and the place are well-known and well-documented. The time was the last year of Moses’ life, 1406 BC. The place was “the plains of Moab near the Jordan across from Jericho.”

There is also a reminder that Moses is the human author of this book. In the Hebrew text, the phrasing is specific: the commands, etc., are what the Lord commanded “by the hand of Moses” (beyad Mosheh), with “by the hand” here meaning that his was the hand that wrote these things down for God’s people.

In this book, the Holy Spirit has told us everything we need to know about the forty years that Israel spent in the wilderness after the construction of the tabernacle. This has especially included the journey toward Canaan from Mount Sinai, the expedition and report of the twelve spies, the sentence from God condemning the rebellious nation to spend forty years wandering (one for each day the spies were in Canaan) because they didn’t believe they could occupy the land, the places where they camped along the way, the prophecies of Balaam, the victories over Sihon and Og, and the commands from the Lord about how they should distribute the land.

There are critics who despise the authorship of Moses and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit by calling the arrangement of the book’s contents “the junk room of the priestly code.” Their difficulty is the seemingly random jumble of legal code with narrative. These are writers of the sort who express their opinions before they read the explanations given in the Scriptures themselves. Paul commended Timothy to “present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who… correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Such correct handling of the word of God means, above all, discerning between law and gospel. Law and gospel are distributed back and forth, back and forth, throughout the book. After Miriam’s rebellion (Numbers 12:1-13), the Lord shows Canaan to the nation through the eyes of the spies (Numbers 13:1-25). After the rebellion of the people and their condemnation (ch. 14), the Lord graciously continues with laws about additional offerings once they have arrived in the land (ch. 15). And so the book goes, on and on, back and forth: law and gospel, law and gospel. It is not a confused, orderless junk room, but a regular pattern of sin and grace; the true life and worship of a believer.

Why would Moses inform Israel of the Lord’s words in such a way? The answer should be clear to anyone who has ever confessed their sins and been absolved: After the law has done its work, and terror of the Lord’s wrath has brought us to our knees, faith in Christ lifts us up once again. These are the two parts of repentance: terror and faith. It is the gospel that works faith (Romans 1:17) just as it is the law that works wrath (Romans 4:15). All through this book, wrath and grace, law and gospel, are woven together with brilliance, written under divine inspiration by Moses, a workman correctly handling the word of truth.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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