Numbers 21:1-3 – Like A Teenage Boy Being Set Free at Six Flags…

Posted: October 3, 2016 in Book of Numbers
Tags: , ,

Numbers 21:1-3

Arad Destroyed

Have you ever been given a reprieve from punishment that you knew that you deserved? I know I have. I know that I have told this story before here but seems appropriate again as my illustration for this morning. Back when I was just about to turn 14 years old, as the son of a Methodist minister, we were required by the Methodist Church in South Carolina to move from my dad’s appointment as the associate pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church in Anderson, SC to become the pastor of Travelers Rest and Jackson Grove United Methodist Churches in Travelers Rest, SC, north of Greenville, SC. It was in Anderson that I had become a teenager and it was there that I had kind of come into my own socially and was beginning to develop that sense of independence and separateness from my parents that you develop at that age. You start doing things separately from them. You start having a sense of your own life at that age. So, it was in Anderson that I was really enjoying life. I was a popular kid at school. I was on the middle school football team. I was part of the in-crowd. The girls thought I was cute. I was big flirt too. It was a grand time and in the fall I would have moved up Westside High School. I was very comfortable there and wanted and prayed that my dad would be there until I had graduated from Westside. That was my plan, but that was not the plan of the South Carolina convention of the United Methodist Church. We moved in June 1976. I was an angry, distraught young man.

 

Later than summer, my best friend from Anderson came up to Travelers Rest to spend the week with me so that he could join me on our church’s youth trip to Six Flags over Georgia down in Atlanta on like Wednesday of that week. However, on Monday, when we were just hanging out at the house while my parents worked, Donnie and I got bored and started roaming through town to see what we could get into. We stole some candy from the drug store near our house and we spent the day doing things that teenage boys with too much time on their hands might do. Then, we came upon the elementary school. We decided that it would be fun to vandalize the school in some way. We decided that fun would be to pull the telephone wires out of the junction box on the outer wall of the school outside the office. This would be where the telephone wiring from the road meet the telephone wiring of the school. We thought that would be funny. When we yanked on those wires, the janitor was looking through a nearby window and saw us and hollered at us. We took off running down the street to a nearby convenience store and try to act cool as if we were shopping for candy and soft drinks. But being a small town and city hall being just blocks away from the school, the cops were upon us in minutes. We got arrested. In Greenville County, SC at the time, all the small towns had an agreement with the City/County Detention Center to transfer criminals for incarceration to that facility. So, my parents not only get shocked to find out that we had committed a crime, they had to drive to downtown Greenville, some 25-30 minutes away from our house, to come pick us up. The next hours were a blur and I dreaded seeing my dad more than anything law enforcement could throw at me (at least that’s what I worried about most was his anger and his disappointment in me).

 

We were released to there custody and we could not leave their sight. Donnie’s parents were in Arkansas visiting family so sending him home was not an option. Thus, there we were right up my parent’s butts the next day all day. And, our punishment on Wednesday was to not to allowed to leave their sight while our youth from both churches were on the trip to Six Flags. That was a punishment worse than death to a teenager. To have to hang out with our parents all day at an amusement park. It would have been a humiliation of the worst order. That was what I had to tell these teenagers from the church that I barely knew for less than a month. It was embarrassing. However, I don’t know what possessed my dad to do it (because he, before and since, was a dad who always enforced his punishment without exception and without concern for the hardships that punishing us would cause him), but my dad on this one day set us free when we got to Six Flags. We were going to have to pay for our crimes in the coming months after that in various ways but on this day, we were given a reprieve. We were given the freedom we sought. We were given freedom beyond what we deserved. I will never forget that grace that my dad showed us that day. We did not deserve anything but humiliation that day and we knew it and were resigned to our fate. Yet, we were given grace even still.

 

That was what I thought of this morning as I read through today’s short passage, Numbers 21:1-3. The Israelites were given victory even though they really didn’t deserve it when you consider the previous 37 years of history of these people. Let’s read this passage together this morning:

 

21 When the Canaanite king of Arad, who lived in the Negev, heard that Israel was coming along the road to Atharim, he attacked the Israelites and captured some of them. 2 Then Israel made this vow to the Lord: “If you will deliver these people into our hands, we will totally destroy their cities.” 3 The Lord listened to Israel’s plea and gave the Canaanites over to them. They completely destroyed them and their towns; so the place was named Hormah.

 

It is a short passage but one that I find intriguing anyway. What’s the takeaway here? It is the fact that the Israelites were a rebellious people throughout their time of wandering in the desert. God would punish them for this disobedience but yet they would still complain. God would provide for them but they would still complain. God required obedience from them but for the most part all he got from His chosen people was disobedience. They were not the poster children for obedient children of God. Why He did not completely destroy them is a testament to God’s patience with them. Here, after years of disobedience, whining, complaining, and doing often exactly the opposite of what God commanded, He shows them grace and gives them their first victory in what would become the war to take the Promised Land. If you have read any this history of Israel in the Old Testament, you know that they were a stiff-necked, stubborn people who rarely gave God the honor that He deserved. They rebelled against Him at every turn even though they had seen all these miracles of God’s protection and provision. They did not deserve victory on this day. They deserved to be roundly defeated. They deserved to be crushed. But, yet God in his grace and mercy gives His people victory.

 

God certainly does allow us to suffer the consequences of our sin, you and me, but yet He gives us grace through Jesus Christ. We do not deserve God’s grace. What we deserve is to be written off by Him eternally. We rebel against Him at every turn. We have done our deeds of disobedience and they are plain and clear to see. There is no negotiation away or acting as if our crimes were not committed. We have been caught with our sins in our hands. Our sins are laid bare before the Lord. He knows all that we have done. He is the judge with the photos from the crime scene spread out before Him. We are caught dead to rights. We are deserving of our punishment and we and God know it.

 

But He loves us anyway. Just like a couple of teenage boys with a punishment of hanging out with my parents the whole day at Six Flags who are suddenly told that we are free to do as we please (within reason) that day, we are too set free through Jesus Christ and the grace that He provides us at the cross. Our slate is wiped clean. We are covered by His grace that we do not deserve. The Israelites were given their first victory in the conquest of Canaan here even though they surely did not deserve to be providentially protected and guided in that victory. God’s grace abounds even to those who do not deserve it – which is every last one of us. God gives us victory though we are yet sinners. God gives us victory though His Son, Jesus Christ.

 

Amen and Amen.

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