I don’t know about you but when I think about discipline I don’t immediately think about love. However, the more I learn about God, the more I understand that the challenges that force me to grow are a reflection of his love. This is the third post in a series titled “A Love That Shows Us The Way” – a series focusing on the characteristics that are required to go from Egypt to Canaan. In each post, I will examine Moses, his relationship with God, the people of Israel, and his purpose. Today, I will consider the role of discipline in the journey from Egypt to Canaan.

I was inspired to write this series while reading Numbers 11. There, Moses had an emotional breakdown and asked God to kill him. Throughout this series, I have been comparing the Moses who parted the Red Sea in Exodus 14 with the Moses who asked God to kill him in Numbers 11 by looking at a number of passages in Exodus and Numbers. I want to know what led to this breakdown and how we can prevent breaking down like this on our journey to Canaan. After all, Moses wrote this book so he wanted us to learn something about God by sharing this testimony. What did Moses want to teach us by recording this story?

The Book of Numbers is powerful and contains a strong message concerning how God guides us to his promises.

DAY 18

Numbers 1-10. Read here.

READY

God turned the slaves of Egypt into the nation of Israel in the desert. Today, these scriptures teach us to embrace the season of preparation.

In Numbers 1-10, God showed the Israelites how to organize a society in the middle of a desert. In Numbers 1, the Israelites had been living in the Desert of Sinai for 2 years and 2 months (Num. 1:1). Under the command of God as given by Moses the Israelites took a census of all of their men over 20 years of age (1:2), organized an army (1:3), designated leaders of each tribe (1:4), and established tents (1:52) according to each clan and family. They developed a proper society and established laws to govern their lives all the while keeping God at the center. God taught the Israelites how to live, how to lead, how to follow, how to address sin and more. These matters are all settled in the desert.

What strikes me is that God wanted the Israelites to be ready for Canaan before they got there. He was training them to believe in something they had never seen before and to conduct themselves as if they already had it. If you are anything like me then you have visions of all of the things that you will do when you get to your promise. For example, “I’ll exercise every day when I…” or “I’ll manage my money better when I…” or “I’ll have better habits when I reach — level”. Maybe it’s just me but I have a whole list of things that I will do after I get there. However, God expects us to get ready before we see or experience Canaan. This means that we must embrace his discipline by disciplining ourselves to be prepared to possess the promises of God. When God makes us a promise, we demonstrate that we believe and agree with God by doing what we would do if we were expecting his promise to be fulfilled.

Therefore, the desert is a time of preparation. It allows us to understand how God wants us to govern ourselves when we reach our promise. God wanted the Israelites to enter Canaan already ready. This is God’s love. 

NATION

The gradual progression of desert discipline reflects God’s promise fulfilled.

Reading the Book of Numbers, I noticed that God did not give instructions on how to organize the society until the Israelites had been in the desert for over 2 years. God’s desire to give us order and structure in the desert is part of a gradual progression of discipline; one that begins with his discipline progresses to us disciplining ourselves and ends with us disciplining others.

Discipline can be defined as “the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience.”  This definition of discipline reflects the kind of discipline that a person or people receive through “rules or a code of behavior” and, by this definition of discipline, disobedience is punished with correction. I freely admit I am not comfortable with thinking about punishment where it concerns God. Nevertheless, this is exactly how he dealt with the Israelites in the desert as we can see in Exodus 32, Leviticus 10 and Leviticus 24.

As I discussed in my last post, in Exodus 32, while Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the 10 commandments, the Israelites became impatient so they told Aaron to make a golden calf for them to worship. As a result, many of them were killed and God sent a plague among them. Later, in Leviticus 10, two of Aaron’s sons died for bringing “unauthorized fire” before God. Then, in Leviticus 24, a boy was stoned to death for blaspheming the name of God – the same crime for which Jesus was put to death. God gave commands and he expected the Israelites to discipline themselves to obey them. Unlike Numbers, Exodus and Leviticus contain a lot of rules and punishment. This tells me that God wants to use discipline early in our desert experience to remove people from the promise who are with us but who cannot go where we’re are going. This part of the disciplining process is designed to teach us who God is while revealing and removing those who do not belong. After this process of rule giving and punishment, we progress to a stage of being disciplined and creating order and structure for ourselves. This is what happened in Numbers 1 – 10.

Once we become disciplined by God in his rules he counts us. A million Israelites left Egypt but only 600,000 were counted in the census taken in Numbers. So, God didn’t even count those who died from disobedience in Exodus and Leviticus. As we’re becoming disciplined, God gives us a bit more ease and we understand how to operate in the desert circumstances. In this stage, we know the rules so God allows us to create order within those rules. 

Finally, as we watch who God removes from our lives, it teaches us how to identify people who need to be removed from our lives for ourselves. Thus, God’s discipline gives us discernment.  

This direct relationship between discipline and discernment is how God makes us great. Not only is God’s discipline a reflection of his expectation that we prepare before we receive but it is a part of his promise. By ordering and structuring the Israelite society in the desert, God is fulfilling the promise that he gave to Abraham in Genesis 12:2:

“I will make you into a great nation…”

A great nation. What is a great nation? Nation is defined as “a large aggregate of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular country or territory.” And, Great is defined as “of an extent, amount, or intensity considerably above the normal or average” and, also, “of ability, quality, or eminence considerably above the normal or average.”

Considerably above. How is a nation made great? How can a nation become considerably above? Nations that we consider to be great are well organized, have reliable legal and social systems, possess a strong military force and sound moral judgment. When I look at Numbers 1-10, I see the making of a great nation and I see the love of God, a God who does not want his people to attempt to possess Canaan unprepared. I see a God who wants to remove anyone whose heart is not with you by teaching you the way and giving you the discernment to ultimately remove anyone who is not going where you are going. What’s more, ours is a God who does not forget his promises from generation to generation.

 legitimate

If you are disciplined you are loved by God as his children.

With the promise of the benefits that come from being disciplined, we must ask ourselves: how do we submit to God’s discipline. It’s simple. The Israelites who survived the desert responded to God’s discipline with obedience, work, and consistency. We simply must remember that discipline is a seed. It must be planted and watered every day. 

Hebrews 12 tells us that the seeds of discipline produce righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by them. So, my friends, be trained by your discipline. The word train is defined as “to teach (a person or animal) a particular skill or type of behavior through practice and instruction over a period of time”. In God’s discipline, let him teach you the skills and behaviors needed to become a great nation. Through practice and continued instruction, you will become equipped to possess Canaan.

Keeping the desert in perspective requires a love of discipline. To love discipline is to know that God’s discipline is a reflection of his love. The author of Hebrews says 1) do not make light of discipline which means that we should take it seriously, and 2) do not lose heart meaning don’t give up. To help you in your discipline, keep the vision of Canaan in sight. It is a land flowing with milk and honey. What is your Canaan? What promise has God given you? What will your life look like in 10 years once you’ve possessed the promise? I encourage you to talk to God in prayer about the vision of your future. Your very own Canaan.

Discipline is painful. It’s a hard thing to experience. But discipline is the mark of your legitimacy in the kingdom of God. To help encourage you in your time of discipline, I keep in mind the word of Hebrews 12:

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?

If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.

Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live!

10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.

11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

God disciplines those he loves (Hebrews 12) because when it is complete, we will be mature and whole, ready to possess Canaan. While the exodus of the people from Egypt served the purpose of demonstrating God’s glory to the Egyptians, the desert was designed to develop the people of Israel through a gradual progression of discipline. In a time when being seen on social media is crucial to human bonds and relationships, I wonder: do we understand the value of being hidden in the desert? There are times when God has us on display to reveal his glory and there are times when we’re in isolation. These are not times to dread, these are times to prepare.

God bless 

P.S. I discuss how to be disciplined in a way pleasing to God according to the scriptures in my forthcoming book A Love That Shows Us The Way.

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