Lesson 11: Immorality on the Border
The lesson focuses on Numbers 25, and should speak to many in Church during these last days. Like the Church today, Israel was at the border of the promised land, having gone through hard years of wandering in the desert, time and again God manifesting His grace, power, and, when Israel strayed, wrath. They were resting at Shittim, fresh off of three glorious and Providential victories, and secure on the banks of the Jordan. We too are at the border of our own Promised Land, having gone through hard times of persecution at the beginning of our faith, through history, and even unto today. The Church as a whole, and maybe many of us individually, have probably come off some real victories: with over 2 billion at least professing the name of Christ, we’ve come a long way.
But Israel fell into sin. The New American Standard Bible says they “began to play the harlot.” (Numbers 25:1). How did this happen? Ellen White reveals that “They neglected prayer and cherished a spirit of self-confidence.” Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 459. Let us not repeat their mistakes; indeed we are called to learn from them. (1 Corinthians 10:6). We must guard, then, against a spirit of pride and self-confidence, against a mindset that we cannot make it — in this world or the next — on our own. How do we do this? With prayer. Especially in times of spiritual victory, we must keep even closer to prayer. As my friend Deriba once told me, “Do not forget that Christ prayed with great trembling, all night long, resisting unto blood. Who are you then, my friend, to think you can get away with 20 minutes of prayer today?”
Why the need for such a faithful watch? Israel stumbled in to their sin because they had an enemy working against them: Balaam was conscripted to tempt Israel. (Numbers 31:16). But who’s there to work against us? Jon Acuff explains that maybe we give Satan a free pass sometimes. Maybe we say “I can go without serious, constant prayer. I can live without always thinking about God. I can do, think, and say things that are neutral — not bad, but not for God — without any harm.” Acuff responds, “Those statements aren’t a big deal if we lived in a world where we didn’t have an enemy that was actively and aggressively fighting us. Those statements don’t matter if we didn’t have a force of evil that was delirious with hunger for you.” But we don’t. 1 Peter 5:8 says, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” Thus, 1 Corinthians 10:12–14 admonishes:
If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry.