Sunday, February 18, 2018

The "sweet aroma" of sacrifice

Offering a sacrifice (Image: Pixabay)
TODAY’S SPECIAL: Numbers 28-30; Psalm 49

“Command the children of Israel, and say to them, ‘My offering, My food for My offerings made by fire as a sweet aroma to Me, you shall be careful to offer Me at their appointed time.” Numbers 28:2

Do you have a favorite smell? Have you noticed how smells have the power to jog your memory and trigger your emotions? It’s interesting to note that apparently God too has a sense of smell, and that smells also cause Him pleasure or displeasure. At least ten times in Numbers 28 and 29 following the introduction of the idea in Numbers 28:2 (our focus verse), we read the expression “a sweet aroma to the LORD.”

This “sweet aroma” was not the scent of perfume, flowers, or the seaside, but the smell of burning. Every one of the “sweet aroma”s in our passage came as a result of a burnt sacrifice of an animal alone or offered with flour and oil.

The first time we read of God being moved by the aroma of a sacrifice is in Genesis 8:21, when Noah offered clean animals after leaving the ark. “The idea is that Noah’s sacrifice was a propitiation or satisfaction of God’s righteous requirement,” explains an article on

The same is true of the sacrifices we read of in Leviticus and here in Numbers: “As in the case of Noah’s offering, what pleased the Lord was the commitment to offer worship in His name as He commanded” (above article).

God’s pleasure at the smell of a burning sacrifice was not an automatic reaction, however, but very much in tune with the attitude and actions of the worshiper. For when instituting this sacrifice system, God said to Moses: “And after all this, if you do not obey Me but walk contrary to Me … I will not smell the fragrance of your sweet aromas” - Leviticus 26:27,31.

There are at least two references to that sacrificial aroma in the New Testament that help to connect us today to God’s olfactory reaction to offerings in the Old.

In 2 Corinthians 2:14-15 Paul challenges Christians to be the aroma of Christ to all. We know that Christ was the final sacrifice, the one by which we have life. Since His was a sacrifice of both His death and our life, the aroma of our lives should affect all around us (“…those who are being saved… and those who are perishing”) with reminders of life or death.

I ask, are we so dead to self, alive to Christ that our lives actually remind those being saved of life, those unsaved of death?

In Ephesians 5:2 Christ’s sacrifice to God (“for a sweet-smelling aroma”) is connected with His love. Paul challenges readers of His day and us today to walk in Christ’s sacrificial love.

Do we live with such love?

Dear Father, Your reaction to the smell of sacrifice challenges me to be more complete in offering myself to You in the way Paul describes it, “… present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God …” (Romans 12:1). Amen.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Thanks for reading! This year we are using The Bible Project "Timeless Reading Plan" to read through the Bible in 2018. If you'd like to read along in your own Bible, you can download a pdf of the reading plan HERE.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Zion dwellers

Jerusalem at night
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Numbers 25-27; Psalm 48

TO CHEW ON: "Walk about Zion,
And go all around her.
Count her towers; ....
For this is God,
Our God forever and ever;
He will be our guide
Even to death. Psalm 48:12, 14

Zion is the city of Jerusalem. This Bible dictionary description helps us see it in its natural setting:

"The city is set high in the hills of Judah, over 30 miles from the Mediterranean, and over 20 west of the north end of the Dead Sea. It rests on a none-too-level plateau, which slopes noticeably toward the southeast. To the east lies the ridge of Olivet. Access to the city on all sides except the north is hampered by three deep ravines" - New Bible Dictionary, p. 614.

The Sons of Korah here praise Zion for its beauty, its qualities as a refuge, the way its appearance instills fear in Israel's enemies, and its stability.

But it is more than a mere city. For in the Jewish mind of that day its grandeur and solidity seem to be equated in some way with God Himself. Jerusalem was the center of their worship and so its qualities become a reflection of Elohim, the God they worship:

"For this is God (Elohim)
Our God forever and ever
He will be our guide
Even to death" (vs. 14).

Metaphors for God abound in the Bible. He is compared to
  • a bird covering us with its feathers (Psalm 91:4).
  • a mother caring for her child (Isaiah 66:12,13)
  • a father (Psalm 68:5; Matthew 6:9).
  • a shepherd (Psalm 23:1-6).
  • a fire (Hebrews 12:29).

... and many more.

I love this picture of God as the city of Jerusalem. The city's elements of beauty, safety, and solidity remind us of the security we have in Him.

The last line talks about God as a guide. It fits so well with the Numbers passage we read today where Moses asked God who would lead the people after he died, and God told him to anoint Joshua. Joshua, with Aaron's son Eleazar the priest, would guide the Israelites into the promised land (Numbers 27:11). For us too, God has people (parents, friends, pastors, teachers, authors) to act as His representative to guide us.

PRAYER: Dear God, this picture of You as Zion reminds me of the safety and hope I have in You. May my life as a Zion-dweller be a credit to You. Amen. 

 PSALM TO PRAY: Psalm 48

MORE: A city on a hill

I wonder if Jesus was thinking of Jerusalem when He mentioned a city on a hill during the Sermon on the Mount. Reading the physical description of Jerusalem, above, made me think of this verse—something we can take into the day.

"You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. ... Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven." Matthew 5:14, 16. 
Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Cursed by ourselves

Balak and Balaam - Artist unknown
Balak and Balaam - Artist unknown
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Numbers 22-24; Psalm 47

TO CHEW ON: " ' He bows down, he lies down as a lion;
And as a lion, who shall rouse him?
Blessed is he who blesses you,
And cursed is he who curses you.' " Numbers 24:9

Today we read the prophet Balaam's three pronouncements over Israel. Though Balak, king of Moab hired him to curse that nation, divine intervention kept him from delivering any kind of hex. Instead God put only blessings in his mouth. He saw Jacob as numerous as the dust of earth (Numbers 23:7-10), Israel as a mighty lion (Numbers 23:18-24), and he finally pronounced over Israel a blessing as fruitful and ascendant nation (Numbers 24:3-9). His final oracle spoken to Balak (Numbers 24:14-24) even contained a messianic element as he predicted a future leader appearing as a star in the sky (Numbers 24:17).

One Bible commenter says about the Balaam-Balak incident:
"There should be no problem in relating this unit to Numbers. For one thing, the prophecies of Balaam affirmed that God's unequivocal commitment to his people will continue well into the future. … Nothing or no one is able to hinder God from doing that. An omnipotent God and not a human manipulator is the determiner of history" - Asbury Bible Commentary (accessed through this passage's "Study This" link on - emphasis added).

But we know the preceding and following instalments of Israel's story—how checkered it was. Previously we read the story of a mass rebellion where Moses and Aaron's leadership was challenged by Dathan, Abiram, Korah and 250 of Israel's leaders (Numbers 16). A challenge to Aaron's leadership resulted in his rod budding supernaturally (Numbers 17). The people's complaints and grumbling provoked Moses to strike the rock instead of speak to it as God had told him to (Numbers 20). Poisonous snakes came into the camp as a result of their grumbling (Numbers 21). The chapter following the Balaam-Balak incident is titled "Israel's harlotry in Moab" (Numbers 25).

Our Bible commenter makes a wise observation:

" … the (Balaam-Balak) narrative functions as a condemnation of God's people, at least indirectly. The donkey does God's will. Balaam, albeit unintentionally does God's will. But what of Israel? … Israel's real enemy is Israel. God can change a hireling's words of curse into blessing but he cannot change a community's words of backbiting, criticism, and faultfinding into doxology. God's people need not fear the hex of a religious magician or the threats and taunts of a Moabite king. But whenever they degenerate into a community ruled by a quarrelsome, self-serving and envious spirit, there is cause for grave concern. Unholiness, not magic, is Israel's undoing" - Asbury Bible Commentary (emphasis added).

Might this not be equally true of us in the church? We are right to be concerned about the threats to the church's existence from the outside. Our secular critics would love to shut us down because of our stand on issues like abortion, changes to the definition of marriage, sexual orientation and identity, and euthanasia. But I'm wondering if the biggest threat to the church is not these outer pressures at all but disunity and sin tolerated within. The biggest threat to the church might be the church.

Let's search our hearts, as individuals and as a body, and stamp out these embers of quarreling, selfishness, envy, immorality etc.—sparks that have the ability to ignite and destroy the church body from within.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to see myself and my sinful attitudes and tendencies through Your eyes. Help me to make choices for holiness so I will be an asset, not a liability to my local church and Your kingdom. Amen.


Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 15, 2018


TODAY'S SPECIAL: Numbers 19-21; Psalm 46

TO CHEW ON:  "Then they journeyed from Mount Hor by the Way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the soul of the people became very discouraged on the way." Numbers 21:4

Have you ever noticed how one little choice of bad attitude leads to the next and the next until you've worked yourself into a full-blown funk? That seems to be what happened to the Israelites in today's reading.

They have just conquered King Arad, destroying all the cities of his small kingdom south of Canaan. Perhaps the Israelites expected to enter Canaan from that point. Instead God led them on a detour away from the promised land. That understandable disappointment may have sparked their initial complaints.

They began with an attitude that is common — at least to me: discouragement — "discouraged" is also translated "impatient" (Amp, NIV, NLT), "depressed" (Amp), "irritable and cross" (Message).

Their complaints had typical characteristics:
- they were against leadership: "the people spoke against God and against Moses."
- they were against conditions: "There is no food and no water and our soul loathes this worthless bread."
- they had the typical faithless tone: "Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?"

God's response—sending poisonous snakes among them—may have seemed harsh. But it certainly got their attention. The remedy—Moses erecting a bronze snake to which the bitten looked and were cured—foreshadowed God's final blow to sin through Jesus on the cross (John 3:14-15).

I ask myself, am I struggling with a typical though negative attitude today? Discouragement, impatience, irritability in my situation may seem like a harmless, even expected response to irritations, disappointments, and difficulties. But it is just such common attitude choices that got the Israelites into trouble way back in the wilderness and still easily trip us up today.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to guard my attitudes. I want to nip my faithless bent in the bud before it blooms its toxic flowers of complaining, unbelief and depression. Amen

PSALM TO PRAY:  Psalm 46


Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Are you a loyal bride?

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Numbers 17-18; Psalm 45

TO CHEW ON: "Listen, O daughter,
Consider and incline your ear;
Forget your own people also, and your father's house;
So the King will greatly desire your beauty;
Because He is your Lord, worship Him." Psalm 45:10-11

This psalm is subtitled "The Glories of the Messiah and His Bride" in my Bible. The picturesque images of a middle-eastern marriage ceremony with a king welcoming his new bride grow heavy with meaning as we think of them in terms of the spiritual wedding of Christ and His bride. Of course we recognize this as a theme that flows through the Bible.

One aspect of this theme is the couple leaving their childhood homes and establishing a new home together. It's a principle as old as creation: "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and they shall become one flesh" - Genesis 2:24.

Of all the expressions in the Bible, Ruth's declaration of loyalty to her mother-in-law (even after her husband was dead) is the most poignant. Not surprisingly it is often used in wedding ceremonies:  
“Entreat me not to leave you,
Or to turn back from following after you;
For wherever you go, I will go;
And wherever you lodge, I will lodge;
Your people shall be my people,
And your God, my God - Ruth 1:16,17.

My Bible's commenter explains how the instructions for a bride to leave her old home apply to Christians in the church age: "The bride of a king was often from another nation, and so she had to break with her own culture to marry, just as Christians now must forsake marriage to worldly things in order to be part of the bride of Christ" - Dick Iverson, notes on Psalms, New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 723 (emphasis added).

And so we do well to ask ourselves, are we living totally and unreservedly in the home of our husband the Lord Jesus? Or do we still hang on to bits and pieces of our worldly homes from the past?

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, I am so honored to be part of Your Bride. Help me to be faithful bride who incites Your desire because my loyalty is all to You. Amen.


MORE: Spiritual adultery

We recall how many of the prophets speak of Israel's backsliding and worshiping idols in terms of marital unfaithfulness--adultery. The prophet Hosea was even commanded to marry a harlot (Gomer) and when she left to go after other men, he had to repeatedly bring her back home. This was a picture to Israel of how God pursued them.

Andrew Peterson's powerful song "Hosea" pictures Gomer's waywardness and her final response to Hosea persistently coming after her (just as God pursues us).


 Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

A Caleb spirit

Image: Pixabay
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Numbers 14-16; Psalm 44

"But My servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit in him and has followed Me fully, I will bring into the land where he went and his descendants shall inherit it."  Numbers 14:24

We all have friends who could be characterized as positive, who can be counted on to have a can-do attitude, who see life's glass half-full. They are Caleb kind of people.

I love how Caleb and Joshua stand up to the crowd with their faith in God and Moses intact, even after seeing Canaan's giants. Instead of focusing on the size of their obstacles they report the richness of the land and claim the power of God over those giants: "...for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the Lord is with us. Do not fear them." Don't you just love his attitude!

Even God took note and said to Moses, "...My servant Caleb...because he has a different spirit in him and has followed Me fully I will bring him into the land where he went..."

His exploits continue. For he indeed survives the forty more years of wilderness wandering and drives out the giants from his Canaan territory (Joshua  14:10-14; 15:14).

What an example to us. What challenges—giants if you like—have we faced so far in 2018? Whatever they are, let's face them with Caleb-like faith as we:

1. Envision the future we desire - Numbers 14:8.

2. Focus on how big and powerful God is - Numbers 14:9,10.

3. Speak words of hope and faith, not despair and unbelief. Earlier Caleb spoke words of faith (Numbers 13:30). Again in our reading he speaks of the delight of the land not the terrors of its citizens, while the other spies discourage the people by filling them with fear. God pronounces His verdict on all these words: "'Say to them, "As I live, just as you have spoken in my hearing, so I will do to you"'" Numbers 14:28 (emphasis added).

By the outlook we choose and the words we speak we cement our attitudes more firmly into our psyches and put our future and the future of our descendants on one course or another.

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the example of Caleb. Please help me cultivate a Caleb spirit as I enter the new year. Amen. 


MORE: Are we our own problem?
"Where there is no vision, the people perish" - Proverbs 29:18

"The Israelites had no positive vision for their lives—no dreams. They knew where they came from but they did not know where they were going. Everything was based on what they had seen and could see. They did not know how to see with 'the eye of faith.'

".... (Referring to Numbers 14:2-3) I encourage you to look over this passage carefully. Notice how negative these people were—complaining, ready to give up easily, preferring to go back to bondage rather than press through the wilderness into the Promised Land.

"Actually, they did not have a problem, they were the problem" - Joyce Meyer, Battlefield of the Mind, pp. 181, 183.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Help for the Frustrated Leader

Moses helped by Aaron and Hur - Exodus 17:12
Illustration from Treasures of the Bible

TODAY’S SPECIAL: Numbers 11-13; Psalm 43

TO CHEW ON: “And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Has the LORD’s arm been shortened?’” Numbers 11:23

Here we see Moses so discouraged and frustrated with the complaints and grumbling of the people, he wants to die.

His cry out to God was not ignored. Here is a short list of how God came to his aid and the aid of other frustrated and discouraged leaders in the Bible.

1. He gave Moses helpers,
putting His Spirit—the Holy Spirit that was on Moses—onto 70 leaders of the people so they could help him - Numbers 11:24,25.

2. Before David became king and was on-the-run from Saul, on one occasion his camp was raided by Amalekite bandits. All their stuff and wives were taken. David’s response to his own outrage and the anger of his men: He “strengthened himself in God” - 1 Samuel 30:6.

3. For Solomon, his request for wisdom and God’s reply happened in a dream. The next day he went about his work as usual, perhaps not knowing if anything had changed. However, it was soon evident, by the wisdom with which he judged the people, that God had indeed answered his prayer - 1 Kings 3:28.

4. Elijah, after fleeing for more than a day from Queen Jezebel, fell asleep, awoke to an angel-prepared meal, slept some more, ate again, and carried on “in the strength of that food” for 40 days and nights - 1 Kings 19:5-8.

5. In our reading additionally, God’s way of solving the meat problem was, in effect, to do a miracle. When God promised meat and Moses objected: “Shall flocks and herds be slaughtered to provide enough for them…?”  God replied: “‘Has God’s arm been shortened?’” - Numbers 11:23. (“‘Has the Lord’s hand [His ability and power] become short [thwarted and inadequate]?’” - Numbers 11:23 AMP.) In other words, When was I ever limited by anything, to keep My promises?

These are still some of the ways God uses to bring us out of discouragement and provide help (some He does for us; some we do ourselves).

We defeat discouragement by:
  • Accepting help.
  • Changing our focus from the situation to God.
  • Going about our tasks with faith, confident that God has answered our prayer.
  • Attending to our physical needs for rest and food.
  • Trusting that God can, and sometimes does, respond with miracles.

PRAYER: Dear Father, help me to use the means available to me to dispel discouragement. You and Your plans are never thwarted! Help me to believe this at a life level through up and down times. Amen. 


Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked AMP are taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission." (

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