Numbers 20:14-21 (Part 2) – Knowing What Hills Are Worth Dying On…

Posted: October 1, 2016 in 04-Numbers
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Numbers 20:14-21 (Part 2 of 2)

Edom Refuses Israel Passage

Kenny Rogers said it best in that now classic country song, “The Gambler”, when he said, “You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away and know when to run.” And there are leadership quips like “there are hills to die on and hills not to die on.” Have you ever had a situation where you had to decide to walk away from a conflict even when you know you are right and have every right to fight for your position. Sometimes, we have to decide whether the immediate scrape is worth the fight or whether it is more important to keep the larger goal in mind.


In today’s church, there are hills to die on and there are hills to move on from. My brother and I were having a conversation the other day about the differences between the United Methodist Church and the Southern Baptist Church. He was kidding with me about how I would have to accept some of the more liberal views of the Methodist Church if I were ever to become a pastor in that denomination. My brother has been a pastor in the South Georgia and South Carolina Annual Conferences of the United Methodist Church since 1982. We are both the sons of a Methodist minister (who served in the South Carolina conference for 53 years and still serves part-time). One of my uncles was a life-long Methodist minister as well. So, the Methodist church is the family business. I have been a bit of rebel in attending non-Methodist churches over the years. I am and have been a Baptist for the last six years. Although LifeSong Church does not make a big deal about its Southern Baptist affiliation, our beliefs are straight up out of the 2000 Statement of Faith of the Southern Baptist Convention. So, my brother and I often have discussions about the differences between the two denominations.


People often get hung up on the differences between the denominations – Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, are the three biggies in America. People will get all mad and pissed off at the differences between the two. Family splits have occurred over these differences. There are hills to die on and hills to not die on. When I was having my conversation with my brother about an open position at large Methodist church in Greenville, SC and about how I would have to accept the beliefs of the Methodist Church to hold such a position. I simply said that, “At the end of the day we are all Christians! We all believe in the same Jesus Christ. Most of the differences are just window-dressing preferences.” That is true for most of the differences among the Protestant denominations. However, there are hills to die on when it comes to these differences. If a belief of your denominational Protestant Church or your Catholic Church is inconsistent with God’s Word, His Holy Scriptures, then that’s a hill to die on. That’s my no compromise zone. And it should not be my interpretation of whether consistency exists. Many people stretch God’s Word to fit their interpretation of life. However, my interpretation must be consistent with the whole of God’s Word and must be consistent with the common core of Christian beliefs through time as inspired by God’s Word. I am subject to God’s theology as expressed in His Word not the other way around. That’s the hill to die on. As Christians, we cannot pick and choose what we want to believe as a denomination just to fit in with the world at large. Our statements about what we believe must be measured by the whole of Scripture. As Christians, we can also never let church tradition become equal with the Scriptures. The Scriptures, the whole Bible, are the measure by which we measure all our statements and beliefs. That is the hill to die on.


Then within individual churches of Jesus’ church, we can get mad over things that are not hills to die on and leave churches or split churches over them. The color of the carpet, who is on what committee, where I serve within the church, who I saw the preacher having lunch with, trying to force a preacher out because he stepped on your toes in a sermon, whether or not my kid was picked to be a starter on a church basketball team or not, whether or not we are part of the “in-crowd” at church, whether we are part of the coolest small group or not, these are not hills to die on. These are not reasons to leave a church. The reasons to leave a church are if God calls you to move somewhere for a valid and purposeful reason. Another reason to leave a church is if the church’s preaching and teaching are inconsistent with God’s Word or if the leadership of your church is causing people to stray from God’s Word by their actions and statements. That’s a hill to die on.


It was this concept of hills to die on that I thought of when I read this passage for a second time today, Numbers 20:14-21:


14 Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom, saying:


“This is what your brother Israel says: You know about all the hardships that have come on us. 15 Our ancestors went down into Egypt, and we lived there many years. The Egyptians mistreated us and our ancestors, 16 but when we cried out to the Lord, he heard our cry and sent an angel and brought us out of Egypt.


“Now we are here at Kadesh, a town on the edge of your territory. 17 Please let us pass through your country. We will not go through any field or vineyard, or drink water from any well. We will travel along the King’s Highway and not turn to the right or to the left until we have passed through your territory.”


18 But Edom answered:


“You may not pass through here; if you try, we will march out and attack you with the sword.”


19 The Israelites replied:


“We will go along the main road, and if we or our livestock drink any of your water, we will pay for it. We only want to pass through on foot—nothing else.”


20 Again they answered:


“You may not pass through.”


Then Edom came out against them with a large and powerful army. 21 Since Edom refused to let them go through their territory, Israel turned away from them.


Here in this passage, we see that Moses tried to negotiate with and reason with the Edomite king. When nothing worked, he was left with two choices – force a conflict or avoid it. Moses knew there would be plenty of barriers in the days and months ahead. There was no point in adding another one unnecessarily. Sometimes, conflict is unavoidable. But there are times when the consequences of conflict are not worth the cost. Open conflict gets headlines and sometimes just makes us feel better to try to get our own way, but it is not always the best choice. At times, we should follow Moses’ example and find a solution to the problem without conflict even if that forces us to take a more difficult path.


As Christians, we must understand what is worth fighting for and what is just our personal preferences. We must always stand firm on being consistent with Scripture. We must change the world through God’s Word. We must stand on its solid rock. The color of carpet is a preference. Sprinkling or dunking at baptism is a preference. Going against the totality of Scripture is a hill to die on. Picking and choosing what parts of the Bible that we will believe in and which we will ignore is a hill to die. It is through the wisdom and discernment of the Holy Spirit that we can tell the difference. Everything must be measured by Scripture, nothing more and nothing less, all of it.


Let us be a people that subject ourselves to God’s Word rather than being the arbiter of what we shall believe from it. Let us live in subjection to its commands rather than making it subject to us. Let us have discernment of how to express compliance to God’s Word to a world that lives in opposition to it with loving kindness. Let us be that people.


Amen and Amen.

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