Christian Churches of God
Reward and Punishment
(Edition 2.0 20050122-20061125)
“This day I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God.” This paper has been adapted from Chapters 35 and 36 of The Bible Story Volume II by Basil Wolverton, published by Ambassador College Press and covers from Leviticus chapter 26 to the end of Numbers chapter 10 in the Bible.
Reward and Punishment
We now continue from the paper The Ordination of Aaron and His Sons (No. CB43).
Man was put on earth with the power to choose between good and evil. No mere animal has such power or such a great responsibility to make the right choice.
But man has to be told what is good and what is evil. God has to reveal it. That is why, again and again, God told Israel, generally through Moses, that the people must observe all the Laws He had given them if they are to do good. He promised them many wonderful things if they would faithfully keep the rules given to them for their own happiness and security.
“If you will do as I have directed,” God said, “many worthwhile rewards shall come to you. You shall receive plenty of rain. The land you are coming to shall yield such large crops that your grain harvest shall last till the grape harvest, and the grape harvest shall last till it’s time again to plant grain.
“You shall have plenty to eat. I will drive all evil beasts out of your land. You shall be safe from your enemies. If a hundred of them try to attack you, I will require only five of you to chase them away. If ten thousand soldiers come at you, I will take only a hundred of you to cause them to turn and flee for their lives.
“I will respect you. I will cause you to have many healthy children and grow into a great nation. I will be pleased to continue dwelling among you” (Lev. 26:3-9).
What else could any people ask for? Good health, plenty of good food, safety from enemies, safety from evil creatures, good weather and peace of mind for obeying God could all be theirs on and on into the future. What would any nation give right now in these troubled times to have all these good things?
Then God went on to relate the terrible things that would come on the Israelites if they disobeyed.
“If you ignore my rules,” God told them, “and if you refuse to live by them and break the agreement we have made, then your future shall be one of misery, hardship and despair.
“You shall become full of fears and constant worries. Your enemies shall kill you in great numbers. They shall win many battles and take over your homes and the crops you have sown. Your feeling of dread and danger shall be so great that you shall flee in fright even when no one is after you.
“If you still refuse to listen to me after all this punishment, then I will bring many other awful things upon you. I will send severe famines and horrible plagues. At the same time, your enemies will trouble you more and more.
“I will send ferocious wild beasts to destroy your livestock and eat up your children. So great shall be your fear of evil things coming upon you that you shall even be afraid to venture out on the nearest roads or trails” (vv.14-22).
Then God continued:
“If these things fail to convince you that I mean what I say, and if you continue to refuse to live by the laws that are best for you, then I will punish you even more severely.
“Your enemies shall completely conquer you. I will send terrible diseases on you. They shall spread among you when you gather together in your cities. Your supply of food shall dwindle down and down until you become aware that you are facing starvation.
“If you still feel that your ways are better than mine, your food shall become so scarce that some of you shall roast and eat your own children” (vv. 23-29).
Such a prediction probably seemed absurd to the Israelites, but it came true in Samaria and in Jerusalem many years later when their enemies cut them off from their food supplies.
God also foretold what would happen if the people insisted on secretly worshipping ridiculous objects regarded as having miraculous powers.
The foolish respect and adoration of certain lifeless objects isn’t something done only by people considered primitive and ignorant. Even in civilized nations today there are many who prize such articles as coins, rabbits’ feet, crosses, statues, images, insignia and such which are believed to bring “good luck” or harbour some unusual influence. This is a form of silly idolatry in which the first two Commandments are being broken. Having undue regard and desire for wealth, prestige, influence and pleasure - that is, they mean more than respect for the Creator - is also idolatry in God’s sight.
God had this to say to the Israelites concerning idols: “I will destroy them and the places in which you worship them. I will wipe out your cities and make your fields barren. Your families, tribes and nations shall be scattered as slaves to heathen nations” (vv. 30-33). “But to those who realize they have sinned, and become humble and wise enough to admit it, I will be merciful.”
One would think that these wonderful promises and stern warnings would have caused the Israelites to make the right decisions for the future. Some were inspired to better living, but what most of them did afterward is an unhappy story that will come later, proving that God means what He says when he promises to do something.
There was a man living among the Israelites whose father was an Egyptian, and whose mother was an Israelite of the tribe of Dan. One day a fight broke out between this man and an Israelite.
In his mounting anger he went on to yell out some terrible things about God. He cursed his Creator and called Him terrible names. Some of the Israelites who witnessed the scene brought the offender before Moses to tell what had happened and to ask what punishment should be given to one who had so loudly cursed God.
They put him in custody until the will of God should be made clear to them (Lev. 24:10-12).
Say to the Israelites, “If anyone curses his God, he will be held responsible; anyone who blasphemes the name of God must be put to death. Take him to a place far outside the camps where witnesses to his profanity and hatred must cast heavy stones on the curser until he is dead.”
Moses passed on these instructions to the people, who did as God commanded. The Egyptian-Israelite died soon afterward (vv. 13-23). God’s Law applied to all people whether an alien or a native-born Israelite.
The death penalty imposed swiftly after a crime probably seems harsh and unjust treatment to some readers. Some might even think of God as a stern monster, eager to see people suffer for even the slightest reason.
A careful reading of the whole Bible will bring out the fact that, rather than being cruel, God is far more merciful, just, patient and forgiving than any human being. If He was like us He would have become so disgusted with mankind that He would have blasted every one out of existence many centuries ago.
One of the judgments given to Israel was that anyone who curses his parents should be subject to death. If breaking the Fifth Commandment is this punishment, the punishment could be no less for one who curses God, the Creator of all parents.
God’s judgments are just, but humans try to substitute lesser ones. A person guilty in God’s sight isn’t overlooked. The only hope of escaping punishment is through Jesus Christ, who came to earth for several reasons, including dying for man’s sins. Sinners who feel very sorry for their wrong deeds call on God for forgiveness and strive to live according to God’s Laws can look forward to a bright future.
Those who see others doing wrong and seemingly avoiding punishment should never feel envious. Why feel envious of those who will eventually be punished? Punishment is certain unless there is repentance (Ps. 37).
The first census of Israel
A month had passed from the time Moses had the Tabernacle built and put into operation. It was a year since the Exodus. God informed Moses that it was time to find out how many males of twenty years and older were among the Israelites (Ex. 40:17; Num. 1:1-3).
It was necessary to have accurate records of the people so that order could be maintained, especially when the people broke camp.
Accordingly, all males of twenty years and older were required to register at certain points, and to give information about themselves and their families (Num. 1:17-19). This census wasn’t to include strangers, men of the tribe of Levi, or any who were too old to go into battle in case the Israelites had to wage war against attacking armies (Num. 1:45, 47).
When all were registered and their numbers added, the able-bodied male Israelites amounted to 603,550 (Num. 1:45-46). This was quite an increase over the seventy males who had gone down into Egypt when Joseph was ruler. Together with women, children, strangers and the tribe of Levi, there were at least two million people compactly camped near Mt. Sinai. Besides this, there were many tens of thousands of animals to feed. So much food and water was required that there had to be special order and control by leadership through Moses.
Of the twelve tribes, Judah was the largest with 74,600 men (Num.1:26-27). The smallest tribe numbered at that time was Manasseh, with 32,200 men.
The census having been completed, Moses and Aaron were instructed by God concerning the layout of the camps of the various tribes. Up to that time there was fair order, but God wanted precise order and arrangement so that from that time on there would be a proper system and control whenever the people camped (Num. 2). See also the paper The Creation of the Family of God (No. CB4).
Although the tribe of Levi wasn’t included in the census that had just been taken, it was numbered later by God’s order. Males were counted from a month old and upward, and were found to number exactly 22,000 (Num. 3:39).
Specific and definite duties were assigned to the various families of the Levites. Every one learned what he was to do. God had planned all of it so that there wouldn’t be any confusion (Num. 3:5-38; 4:4-33).
God dislikes confusion (1Cor. 14:33). That means that everything our Creator does is carefully thought out, planned, orderly, true and perfect. He doesn’t like half-truths, disorder, conflict, theories, guesswork, false doctrines, lies or propaganda. God has nothing to do with today’s religious confusion except to draw out from this confused world the individuals who are zealously seeking the truth.
Before Israel left Sinai, God also gave them the order in which the various tribes were to break camp and spread out in their vast caravan on the move toward Canaan (Num. 10:11-28).
Meanwhile, there were other necessary instructions for that day from God. All unclean people—those with leprosy and other contagious diseases and those exposed to dead bodies—were to be separated within the camp or put far outside the camp to stay for various periods (Num. 5:1-4; Lev. 13:1-8; 15:1-13; 21:1-3). This was not only as a health measure for the good of the people but also God didn’t want unclean persons existing so close to the holy area in which the Angel of His Presence was to dwell with the Israelites. These measures were necessary before the coming of the Holy Spirit. Cleanliness outside was to teach the people the need of God’s power to clean the human being from within through the Holy Spirit.
At this same time God also made plain certain rules for those who were not Levites, but who wished to be set apart for a time of special service to God. Israelites who wanted to do this were called Nazarites. They are not to be confused with the Levites. God honoured the intentions of those individuals who wished to take Nazarite vows and blessed them for their zeal.
During the time people were Nazarites they (men or women) weren’t to shave or cut their hair. They weren’t to touch any dead body. They weren’t to consume any wine. Neither were they to drink grape juice. Grapes, either fresh or dried, weren’t to be eaten (Num. 6:1-8). This was a sign of their special service.
Many people have believed that Jesus Christ was a Nazarite because he was raised in Nazareth, a town in the district of Galilee about seventy miles north of Jerusalem. This is not true. People who come from or reside in Nazareth are called Nazarenes. They aren’t Nazarites unless they have taken the Nazarite vow. Christ was not a Nazarite; he drank wine (Mat. 11:19). If he had been a Nazarite he could not have drunk wine without sinning and losing his place as our Saviour.
Some who believe Jesus was a Nazarite mistakenly claim that the wine Jesus drank was grape juice—but even grape juice was forbidden to Nazarites.
Because of assuming that Christ was a Nazarite many people have believed that he had long hair flowing down to his shoulders. Christ didn’t have long hair. Long hair is a shame to a man (1Cor. 11:15) unless he is a Nazarite under vows. No one knows how Jesus looked. In as much as Christ was a hard-working carpenter who ate only clean foods and observed the laws of good health, we know he was a very masculine fellow with physical strength and endurance. Because he loved all people, he was a sociable, friendly, cheerful person who was thoughtful of others and courteous at all times. What matters most, however, is what Christ is like now. Hebrews 1:2-4 and Revelation 1:12-16 tell us of Christ’s present power and appearance.
When Moses finished setting up the Tabernacle he anointed it and covered it and all its furnishings. He also anointed and consecrated the altar and all its utensils. Then the leaders of Israel, the heads of families who were the tribal leaders in charge of those who were counted, made offerings.
They brought as their gifts before the Lord six covered carts and twelve oxen – an ox from each leader and a cart from every two. These they presented before the Tabernacle (Num. 7:1-3).
The Lord said to Moses, “Accept these from them that they may be used in the work of the Tent of Meeting. Give them to the Levites as each man’s work requires” (Num. 7:4-5).
Moses was relieved to hear that the gifts from the Israelite princes were of their own idea and free will. Moses happily accepted the wagons and the oxen, and turned them over to Aaron so that they could be put to special use by the Levites (vv. 6-8).
The wagons and the oxen weren’t the only gifts from the heads of the Israelite tribes. So many other things were brought in that the prince of each tribe was assigned a particular day in which to present his gifts and make his offerings (vv. 10-11).
The total from all the tribes amounted to twelve large silver dishes in which to knead dough for the shewbread, twelve deep silver bowls (all of them filled with fine flour mixed with oil) for receiving blood for sacrifices, twelve golden spoons filled with incense, twelve kids, thirty-six bullocks, seventy-two rams, sixty male goats and seventy-two lambs (Num. 7:12-23, 84-88).
After the tribes had finished giving these things, Moses went into the Tabernacle to thank God for what so many people had contributed. Thereupon a voice spoke to him from above the mercy seat. It was the Angel of God directing Moses what to tell Aaron concerning matters having to do with the Tabernacle and the Levites (Num. 7:89; 8:1-2).
The instructions included those touching on the Passover. The Passover lamb is always to be killed on the Fourteenth day of the first month, Nisan (or Abib) and roasted and eaten that night from the beginning of the Fifteenth day. But for those away on a journey, or those who for any reason are unable to keep it on that date, the Passover is to be observed from the Fourteenth day of the Second month, Iyar (Num. 9:9-12).
This also applies to the New Testament Passover memorial to be observed by baptised Christians today, as recorded in Matthew 26:26-28. Those who for some special reason can’t observe the Lord’s Supper and subsequent Passover (with unleavened bread and wine as a memorial of Christ’s death) on and from the 14th day of Abib (or Nisan) should make every effort to observe it exactly one month later according to God’s sacred calendar. But if a person who is not on a journey and who is fit to take the Passover at the appointed time and does not, he is to be cut off from his people. See also the paper God’s Holy Days (No. CB22).
God also instructed that two long trumpets of solid silver should be made for use in contacting the people. The blowing of only one trumpet was to summon the heads of the tribes for a meeting. The blowing of both trumpets was either to call for a solemn assembly of all the people or was the signal to move out of camp. They were also to be blown in such varying manners that the hearers would instantly recognize an alarm to prepare for war, happy occasions, solemn days, beginnings of months and times of offerings (Num. 10:1-10).
One might doubt that two trumpets, even large and long, could be heard by two million people scattered over miles. But a horn of the type God wanted made, blown by a strong person of good lung capacity, could easily be heard for miles in the clear desert air in the vicinity of Mt. Sinai.
One morning shortly after the trumpets had been made and put into use, the Israelites came out of their tents to see that the cloud had moved away from the Tabernacle during the night and was high in the sky.
It wasn’t long afterward that the two silver trumpets loudly blown by Aaron’s two sons blasted out the signal for the breaking of camp.
There was great excitement among the people. They had been encamped before Mt. Sinai for almost a year, and the signal had arrived to move on. The cloud had moved upward from the Tabernacle. Men hurried to get their livestock and tents ready to move. Women worked quickly to get the family belongings together. Excited at the thought of going somewhere, children ran happily about, but not to become lost or get in the way.
Meanwhile men took down the Tabernacle. They had been so well trained in this task that it was done in a remarkably short time. It was rather astonishing that two million people were ready to move so quickly on such short notice.
In accordance with God’s orders, the first tribe to move out of camp was Judah. Others followed in the order given them. The Levites, carrying the Tabernacle equipment were spaced in two different areas among the other tribes. The tribe of Naphtali, although being mentioned last behind Asher, was not the last to leave. Dan is stated to be the rearguard of all the tribes of the host (vv.11-28 and esp. v 25).
A few hours later the mammoth caravan had disappeared through the mountain passes to the northeast, leaving the Sinai valley silent and lonely. Among the strangers who had stayed with the Israelites at Sinai was Hobab, Jethro’s son. This brother-in-law of Moses, along with a clan he headed, had joined them when he came with his father to visit Moses and bring Zipporah, Moses’ wife. As a native of the desert, he had a keen knowledge of the desert. Moses therefore hoped that Hobab and his people would go along with the Israelites.
Hobab, who loved God and saw that God’s people needed him, joined his clan to the tribe of Judah, which always led the way when the Israelite caravan moved through the wilderness. In this way his men could use their knowledge of the desert in choosing the best pathway for the Israelites to use in following the cloud and the pillar of fire. After the Israelites entered Palestine, Hobab, son of Raguel or Reuel (Jethro) the Midianite, and his relatives, settled down with the tribe of Judah, choosing for themselves a wilderness area that was similar to their old homeland (Jdg. 1:16).
Reuel means Friend of God and was the name given to Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, who was the priest of Midian (Ex. 2:18; cf. Ex. 3:1). Jethro was a worshipper of the One True God and thus was called Reuel or Raguel here.
So the Israelites went out from the mountain and for three days the vast line of humanity and animals slowly struggled across the rocky plains and hillsides characteristic of that region. The Ark of the Covenant of the Lord went before them during those three days to find a place to rest. The cloud of the Lord was over them by day.
Moses uttered a public prayer for protection each time they started out and each time they camped (Num. 10:33-36).
(The New International Study Bible was used as a source of reference in various places in this paper.)
We will continue with the Bible story in the paper Complaining and Rebellion (No. CB45).