March 15, 2015

Ambitious or Satisfied?

Numbers 16:1–50, John 21:1–25, Psalm 17:1–15

I used to be ambitious. I wanted to not only succeed but be the best at whatever I was doing. The Lord has been working on that. Maybe this is the reason I’m so emotional reading this passage from Numbers. It tells about three ambitious men who confronted Moses. They took with them a number of people, 250 chiefs of the congregation. They told Moses and Aaron, “You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?”

The Bible says that Moses was a meek man. It’s not a surprise that when he heard this, he fell on his face in dismay. Then he said to these opposers, “In the morning the Lord will show who is his, and who is holy, and will bring him near to him. The one whom he chooses he will bring near to him.” (Numbers 16:2–5)

He also challenged them in return. “Hear now, you sons of Levi: is it too small a thing for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself, to do service in the tabernacle of the Lord and to stand before the congregation to minister to them, and that he has brought you near him, and all your brothers the sons of Levi with you? And would you seek the priesthood also? Therefore it is against the Lord that you and all your company have gathered together. What is Aaron that you grumble against him?” (Numbers 16:8–11)

Moses understood an important thing about leadership; God puts up leaders. Moses didn’t want this job. He had to be convinced because he felt so inadequate. This is an important attitude also; serve God in weakness, not with a sense of power.

Then the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron: “Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.” At that, I would likely have done it, let these whiners be consumed. But Moses and Aaron fell on their faces, “O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin, and will you be angry with all the congregation?”

God told Moses to have the people get away from the dwellings of the three opposing men. Moses cried out, “Hereby you shall know that the Lord has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord. If these men die as all men die, or if they are visited by the fate of all mankind, then the Lord has not sent me. But if the Lord creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the Lord.” (Numbers 16:28–30)

“And as soon as he had finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split apart. And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the people who belonged to their leaders and all their goods. So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol, and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly. And all Israel who were around them fled at their cry, for they said, ‘Lest the earth swallow us up!’ And fire came out from the Lord and consumed the 250 men offering the incense.” (Numbers 16:31–35)

One would think that would have been the end of this rebellion, but on the next day all the congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and against Aaron, saying, “You have killed the people of the Lord.”

The congregation crowded against Moses and Aaron, then turned toward the tent of meeting. The cloud covered it and the glory of the Lord appeared. Moses and Aaron went to the front of the tent and the Lord spoke to Moses, “Get away from the midst of this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.”

Again, these two men fell on their faces. Moses told Aaron, “Take your censer, and put fire on it from off the altar and lay incense on it and carry it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone out from the Lord; the plague has begun.” (Numbers 16:41–46)

Aaron did it, but not before many of the people died.

I sit in silence thinking of the times I’ve been critical of leaders, either in church or government, or other areas. God is clear about this sin: it is only because of Jesus that I am not consumed.

In the NT reading, I’m reminded of how often the disciples argued over who would be the greatest. But they learned. Peter learned through colossal failure by denying Jesus three times. Then Jesus died and rose again, appearing to them and telling Peter he would be a leader . . .   

 “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
 “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”
 “Feed my lambs  . . . . Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
 “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”
 “Tend my sheep . . . . Simon, son of John, do you love me”
Peter was grieved, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:15–17)

Those who followed Moses wanted his job. Peter followed Jesus and wanted to be the greatest, but in the end, with shame and humility he had to be told three times to take a position of responsibility.

The psalmist also rises above those Israelite rebels, not by desiring a place of leadership but by having only one ambition: “As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.” (Psalm 17:15)

I’m getting there. I’m not wanting to take over anything or anyone, tell leaders how to do their jobs, or be the greatest. Sometimes I even need to be told three times, but mostly all, I simply want to obey the Lord and be satisfied by seeing His face. 

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