Monday, February 26, 2018

The place of death

Numbers 17:12–13

We've been reading through Numbers in our Wednesday night Bible readings. Numbers is a favourite book of mine, and I've read it through many times. But I admit that I am seeing Numbers in an entirely new light now that we're reading through it as a group.

When I've read Numbers previously, I saw it as a sort of a patchwork of stories about the journey from Sinai to Canaan, with commandments and laws interspersed. It wouldn't be fair to say that I never saw any uniting themes, but certainly Numbers has always seemed to me more of a series of anecdotes than a unified message. This time, I'm realizing that the laws given in Numbers are generally responses to the stories that come immediately before.

Numbers 18 is a fascinating chapter, it details the priest's duty (not merely privilege) to eat the offerings brought to the Lord. There are some offerings that only Aaron and his sons are to eat (Numbers 18:9–10), others are for Aaron, his sons, and his daughters (Numbers 18:11–13). There are some offerings that the Levites are to have (Numbers 18:21–24).

What I hadn't ever understood before is, the commands in Numbers 18 are a response to the events in Numbers 16–17. Numbers 17 ends with the people declaring that the Tabernacle was a place of death (Numbers 17:12–13). Numbers 18 is the instructions for the priest, detailing how to live in the place of death. How does the priest live in the place of death? he feeds on the sacrifices.

It's worthy of note that Numbers 17:8–10 introduces resurrection: God confirms Aaron's priesthood by making his [dead] staff bloom, producing blossoms and ripe almonds. God marks His priest by resurrection.

So Numbers 18 builds on these two ideas: first, the priesthood is characterized by resurrection; second, the Tabernacle is the place of death. So the question is, how can Aaron and his sons serve God in the place of death? How does one live in the place of death?

First, the priesthood must be in the power of resurrection. It's no use trying to serve God in the power of natural life. God's presence really is death to fallen men and women (Exodus 33:20). The fact is, the overwhelming majority of "Christian" ministry I have seen ignores this. If we want to serve God, if we want to come into His presence, it can only be in the power of resurrection. It's only as risen with Christ we can yield our members to righteousness (Romans 6:13). It's only as risen with Christ we can seek those things above (Colossians 3:1–3).

Second, the service of God is sustained by feeding on the Sacrifice. There is a great deal more involved in eating the offerings, but we must at least start with this: it is feeding on Christ as dead for us – His flesh our food, His blood our drink (John 6:53–58) – that we have any life in ourselves. God never intended us to be plants, He never designed us to produce our own food. We are designed to feed: the first man fed on plants in the Garden, the new Man feeds on Christ.

This is a challenge to me: it's incredibly difficult for me to admit that I can't produce for God. He hasn't called me to fill a need He has, but to have my needs filled by Him in His Son. God doesn't need us.


Robert said...


Thank you for this post which I find incredibly helpful and I will look into these passages through the week to gain the benefit of them.

I have been recently looking at the theme of living in the place of death as it is presented in 1 Peter 3:18-22. Noah was taken through the waters from the place of death into a new world that was filled with the fragrance of the burnt offering.

We cannot physically escape the present world of death but Peter tells us we can do so spiritually, and that is in fact what we promised to do on the day of our baptism.

As you say, the true Christian position is to stand on the other side of death and judgement recognising that 'Christ has also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God'. This allows us to enjoy the new world where Christ is central,'by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto Him'.

He is everything in that world and it is only left to us to stand around the altar and enjoy Him and find our resources in Him.

HandWrittenWord said...

If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above,
where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.
Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.
For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.
When Christ, who is our life, shall appear,
then shall ye also appear with Him in glory.
(Colossians 3:1-4)

I am the vine, ye are the branches. He that abideth in Me,
and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit:
for without Me ye can do nothing.
(John 15:5)

Moreover the Word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
Jeremiah, what seest thou? And I said,
I see a rod of an almond tree.
Then said the LORD unto me,
Thou hast well seen: for I will
hasten My Word to perform it.
(Jeremiah 1:11-12)

Susan said...

"Oh taste and see that the Lord is good" Psalm 34:8

Faith is the soul's taste.......

clumsy ox said...


Several weeks ago, a brother was ministering on Genesis 6 in the assembly. He was talking about how the ark was pitched both inside and out, and drew our attention to what that must have looked like: the ark was literally "black as pitch". It was three stories high, and only had window(s) at the very top. The description in Genesis sounds much more like a coffin than a ship. It would have been almost completely dark inside.

Going into the ark must have been very like going into death.

I think he said something like, "Sometimes the gospel is glorious, sometimes it's a six hundred-year-old specter inviting people into a huge, dark eyesore on the plain."

We generally don't record the meetings, this is a case when I wish we would have. I'd love to listen to his comments on Genesis 6 again. I feel like I missed a lot.

I was delighted to read your brief comments on 1 Peter 3, in light of the recent thoughts this brother shared on Genesis 6.


Robert said...

Paul asked the Romans, ‘know ye not, that so many of us were baptised unto Jesus Christ were baptised into his death?’ It would be interesting to learn how long it took the readers of Assembly Quest to learn that this is the meaning of baptism.

My own experience was that at the age of 14 I asked to be baptised and was told, 1. I was obeying the Lord and 2. it was an important step. When I was 19 I bought JNDs Synopsis and learned from it that baptism is linked to death with Christ. When I asked older brethren about this, I was told,’be careful about what you read’! Yet once it is pointed out, there is no escaping the truth that when I was baptised, I confessed that I had accepted the truth that I have died with Christ.

Whatever our experience, and however long it has taken us to learn it, what a monumental truth!

Imagine if everyone who came into assembly fellowship came through the door of death with Christ. This is what the passage in Numbers is conveying in type. The assembly is place of death for the old man. The local assembly should therefore in practice be the meeting place of people who belong to a resurrection world and are eating of the sacrifice that brings a sweet savour to God.

What a difference it would have made to the entire Christian profession if Acts 2:41 has been read as, ‘then they that gladly received his word accepted they had died with Christ, and the same day there were added to them about three thousand souls’.

clumsy ox said...

Well, I can't speak for anyone else, but I was baptized at 11 years old, and didn't really "get it" until I was 21 or so.

I was on the university campus, and saw an acquaintance reading something by Watchman Nee. I knew nothing about Watchman Nee, except I'd heard people say he was unsound. I made a comment to my acquaintance, and he responded by giving me a copy of Sit, Walk, Stand. I read it twice in an afternoon. I finished the book and realized I'd glimpsed fundamental truth, but I found I couldn't explain it to myself. So I read the whole (very short) book again right then and there.

Interestingly, I'd been exposed to Romans 6 several times before that, but I didn't understand what it was saying. I was really trying to become dead to sin by reckoning it to be so, rather than simply resting in what God says. I think this was the fundamental change for me.

I do find that sort of thing common in a lot of ministry I listen to: when Romans 6 is mentioned at all, it's mentioned as a duty of the believer, rather than a work of God.

Susan said...

I was water baptized when I was 12 years old, but this truth was not realized until I was 29.