Friday, September 20, 2013

Law, Gospel, and the Book of Numbers

The book of Numbers begins at Mount Sinai and tells the story of Israel moving into the Promised Land, but we quickly run into a problem. Israel refused to invade the Promised Land because they were afraid of the inhabitants. The descendants of Anak (Nephilim) were there as well as many other strong tribes (Num 13:28-29). However, in Numbers 14:11-12 God gives the true reason why Israel failed to invade the land: the people despised God. They had no faith and would not trust and believe His promises. This reason has interesting implications on the perceived dichotomy of Grace vs. Law. 

Many people try to understand the new covenant under Jesus as a ‘covenant of grace’ and the old covenant as a ‘covenant of law.’ This may suggest that God’s requirements for his people are vastly different in the old and new covenants. However, It is important to remember that God has always saved people by grace through faith, even in the old covenant: Abraham “believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Gen 15:6). 

What’s happening in Numbers 14, then? God is angry with his people because they do not have faith. Their lack of faith leads to their breaking of the law, and God’s law condemns those who don’t have faith. In contrast, Caleb and Joshua demonstrate the true faith God requires in his people. Upon their arrival from spying the land, they tell Moses, “If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land to give it to not fear the people of the land...the LORD is with us, do not fear them” (Num 14:8-9).

When wrestling with questions of Grace vs. Law, we ought to move beyond the question of 'what must I do to be saved' and answer the question of 'what does the Lord require.' Often times, well-meaning, God-fearing Christians are really good at answering the former question and forget to wrestle with the latter.