Faithful Under Reproach
May 17th, 1959 @ 8:15 AM
FAITHFUL UNDER REPROACH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-17-59 8:15 a.m.
You are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist church in Dallas. At this early morning hour, we are following the life of Moses. We have come to the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Numbers, Numbers 16. And the title of the message is, Faithful Under Reproach. If you turn to the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Numbers, you can easily follow the message of this early morning hour.
In last Sunday’s message, we had the terrible and disappointing judgment upon the unbelief of Israel. When the Lord said to Moses and to the people in Numbers 14:25:
Tomorrow turn you, and get you into the wilderness by the way of the Red Sea.
And as for you, your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness;
And your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years.
I the Lord have said, I will surely do it unto all this unbelieving congregation. In this wilderness they shall be consumed, and there they shall die.
[Numbers 14:25,30, 33, 35]
I tried to depict in the last message the indescribable, immeasurable sorrow of this man of God. Having led with a strong hand these people out of the darkness and bondage of Egypt; having led them to Mount Sinai; having given them the laws of God; the civil, the ceremonial, the moral laws of God [Exodus 20:1-31:18]; having faithfully taught the people what God wished for them to do; having interceded for them in their sin and carried them like a nurse would a child, or like a shepherd would the sheep, and now at the very edge of the Promised Land with all of God’s power, and presence, and glory in their midst then the people refused to enter in [Numbers 13:31-14:3]. “Let us go back,” they said, “to Egypt. Let us elect a captain in the place of Moses, who will take us back into bondage and into slavery” [Numbers 14:4].
And when the Lord looked upon it, He made that terrible pronouncement:
Tomorrow, tomorrow, turn you and get you into the wilderness, by the way where you came from.
And there shall you wander forty years, until the sands of that great, vast peninsula are your winding sheet, and those barren, sterile, blistering rocks, mark the heads of your graves.
[from Numbers 14:25, 33,35]
Oh, what an hour of desolation and darkness and disappointment!
Now we’re in that wandering of forty years; actually thirty-eight, forty altogether from the Exodus until they come to the Jordan river [Joshua 3:1]. We’re in the years of that wandering. And I suppose that purposely, designedly the Holy Spirit makes of those forty years, mostly a blank. There is hardly anything spoken of them.
All the time we spend in unbelief counts for nothing. It’s only in our hours and our work of faith that God has opportunity to bless us. It’s only in our commitment to God, it’s only in our obedience to the Lord that we are able to achieve for His name’s sake. But when we’re in unbelief and disobedience, the days and the years are lost and wasted. How many men coming to their senses, coming to their gift of faith in Christ in later years, look back upon all the previous years as having been wasted? All those years outside of God, outside of Christ, outside of His church, they’re gone.
Well, so it was with Israel. These years are mostly a blank. There’s hardly anything mentioned of them. And what is mentioned is almost terrible. I can hardly believe that the depravity of the human heart is so pervasive, so universal, so among all of us that I come to this scene, in the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Numbers [Numbers 16].
That doctrine of total depravity is not that we are as vile and as bad as we can be, but the doctrine is that the black drop of sin, of disobedience, of shortcoming is in all of our faculties. It’s in our minds. It’s in our hearts. It’s in our souls. It’s in our lives. It’s in our bodies. It’s in our houses. It’s in our homes. It’s everywhere. It’s in the church. This lack, this falling short, this weakness, this shortcoming, this denial, this failing to measure up, it is everywhere.
And this is a demonstration of it in this terrible story that we follow this morning. Now as we look at these pages, we are looking at them in terms of Moses, not just as a story but how Moses reacted, how he did. So let’s start the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Numbers:
Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men:
And they rose up before Moses, with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty princes of the assembly, famous in the congregation, men of renown:
And they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said, Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them: wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the Lord?
Now turn over here to the twelfth verse, and you look and see what Dathan and Abiram say:
And Moses sent to call Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab: who said, We will not come up:
Is it a small thing that thou hast brought us up out of a land that floweth with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, except thou make thyself altogether a prince over us?
Moreover thou hast not brought us into a land that floweth with milk and honey, or given us inheritance of fields and vineyards: wilt thou put out the eyes of these men? we will not come up.
That’s hard to believe! This man Korah, the son of, the descendent of Izhar; Izhar was the brother of Amram. Amram was the father of Moses, Levites. This man Korah, the descendent of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi [Numbers 16:1], the Kohathites had an unusually blessed assignment.
They were pitched on the south side of the tabernacle, and they carried on their shoulders the sacred vessels, the ark, the golden altar of incense, the seven-branched lampstand, the Kohathites; Korah, the leader of the Kohathites so signally favored and blessed of God [Numbers 3:29-31]. Now on that same south side of the tabernacle there pitched Reuben, the tribe of Reuben [Numbers 2:10]. And these men, Dathan and Abiram, are the sons of Reuben, princes in Reuben [Numbers 16:1].
Reuben was the eldest son and of course the birthright was given to Judah [Genesis 49:8]. Well, I suppose the children of Reuben felt slighted. In any event, those men are there and they conspire against Moses [Numbers 16:1-2]. And they say to him, “God never lifted you up above this people. You just chose yourself. We all are alike. We all are holy. And there is no reason for you to be over us” [Numbers 16:3]. And Korah, evidently because he was a Levite and a Kohathite, Korah evidently proposed to have a new priesthood; not one appointed of God but one appointed by himself and he himself to be the high priest. All of this you could hardly imagine. And the insulting things they say to Moses, when Moses sent for the sons of Reuben, they say, “We will not come up. Is it a small thing that thou hast brought us up here to die in the wilderness?” [Numbers 16:12-13].
Well, we’re looking at Moses. How did Moses respond to an insult, and an insurrection, and an insubordination such as you read here in the sixteenth chapter of Numbers? Well, let’s take him first with Dathan and Abiram. Moses called for Dathan and Abiram and they said, “We will not come up” [Numbers 16:12]. And they sent to Moses an insulting reply [Numbers 16:13-14]. Now in this sixteenth chapter of the Book of Numbers, “The Lord spake unto Moses” [Numbers 16:23-24], and the twenty-fifth verse, “And Moses rose up and went unto Dathan and Abiram” [Numbers 16:25]. Would you have done that? Would you? I don’t know whether you would or not. I don’t find that disposition very much among God’s children even. When a guy hits me, I’m going to double up my fist and hit him back. An eye for an eye; he punched my eye. I punch his eye. He knocked out my tooth. I knock out his tooth. He talks about me. I talk about him. He spits on me. I spit on him. He hates me. I hate him. He did me wrong. I’m going to do him wrong. I’m going to get even. Why, that is the spirit in practically all human hearts, even in God’s people. And Moses sent for Dathan and Abiram, and they said, “We will not come” [Numbers 16:12]. Then Moses rose up and went unto Dathan and Abiram. “If they won’t come to see me? Then I will go and see them” [Numbers 16:25].
Why, let me tell you. When I was a pastor in a little country church there were two families in that church. They had not spoken to each other for more than thirty years. They were at picnics together. They were at the same table together. They never spoke to each other. And when I asked one of them, “What is this? What happened? Why is it that you all hate each other? And why is it that you don’t speak?” On my word the old man couldn’t tell me. It had been so long ago he’d forgotten what it was. He’d forgotten. He could not remember. He could not tell me. It had happened so long ago all he knew was they hated one another. And they taught their children to hate each other.
I was pastor of another little country church. And Mr. Chaney—God bless him, a well-to-do farmer, Mr. Chaney, bought this lovely Kentucky farm. The people who owned that place and the people who owned the place next to it had been feuding, and fussing, and fighting over the boundary line between those two farms for generations. Same thing; they hated one another. And they taught their children to hate one another.
They knew why; it was over the boundary between the two farms. We can say that much for them, they knew why they hated each other. So when Mr. Chaney, God bless him, bought this farm here, upon a day he was walking out in the field and he saw his neighbor right over there, right on the other side. And Mr. Chaney walked over there to him and said, “Hello, mister. I bought this farm next to you.”
And the fellow growled, “That’s what I hear. But I want you to know, Mr. Chaney, that the boundary between our farms is right over there,” and he pointed on the other side of the creek and included the bottom in his farm, in his farm. Now the plat in the courthouse showed that the boundary between them was the creek. But they’d been warring over that little bottom. And the fellow over there said, “And that little bottom of the creek is mine, and the boundary is over there on the other side.” Mr. Chaney replied, he said, “Listen neighbor. We’re going to have an arbitrator to set the boundary between us.” And the man said, “Arbitrator nothing. I’m telling you where the boundary is, and it’s going to stay there.”
“Oh no,” said Mr. Chaney, “We’re going to appoint an arbitrator. And when he sets the boundary, that’s where the boundary’s going to be.” And he said, “The arbitrator is going to be you. You set the boundary between us. And wherever you say the boundary is, that’s going to be the boundary between your farm and mine. Whatever you say, that’s it.” And Mr. Chaney walked away.
Why, bless your heart, a few days after that, there was a knock on the back door at breakfast time. And in walked that guy who’d been so belligerent for so many years, kind of awkward like and holding his hat around and round in his hand. He said, “Mr. Chaney, I’ve been a’thinking.” He said, “I never had anybody be nice to me like that and talk to me like that.” And he said, “I’ve been thinking about our farms and what you said.” And he said, “Mr. Chaney, I have decided that the boundary between us is going to be the creek. And you take the bottom on your side of the creek, and I’ll take the bottom on my side of the creek; and we’re going to be friends and neighbors.” And it settled it forever, forever. No more trouble, no more trouble.
It’s pretty hard to get away from what God says: “A soft answer turneth away wrath” [Proverbs 15:1]. “You have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth; But I say unto you, That you resist not evil” [Matthew 5:38, 39]. Don’t strike back. I have a confession to make too. I tore up a letter this week. I wrote a letter in haste, but I didn’t mail it. It’s not because of any goodness on my part that I didn’t mail it. I just didn’t have the opportunity to mail it. It stayed on my desk. But the next day I looked at that letter, and I was ashamed. I was ashamed, and I tore it up and put it in the wastebasket. And I felt so good in my heart.
When you feel bitter, pray. When you’re ready with a hasty word, don’t say it. When you are angry, seal your lips. Don’t reply, don’t. That’s the way you’ll be a child of your Father which is in heaven. Now that was Moses, who was as volative, as full of spirit, but when they didn’t come to him he went to them [Numers 16:25], let’s be like that. Lots of praying, lots of asking the help of God, but that’s the way the Lord delights in His people.
Now let’s look at Korah; this man Korah must have been a very unusual, a very blessed, I mean a very able and very influential man. For when he directed this insurrection, he had two hundred fifty princes of the assembly, famous in the congregation, men of renown, he had them with him [Numbers 16:2-3]. What did Moses do? In the fourth verse it says, “And when Moses heard it, he fell upon his face” [Numbers 16:4]. Think what Moses could have said. Why, he could have written a whole book of the choice and the direction of God through his life. Here’s Korah proposing to take his place. Moses could have said many, many things. But he didn’t. He didn’t say anything at all. He fell upon his face. When Moses heard it, he fell upon his face:
And Moses spake unto Korah and unto all his company, saying, Tomorrow, tomorrow the Lord will show who are His, and who is holy; and will cause him to come near unto Him: even him whom He hath chosen will He cause to come near unto Him.
And Moses left it in the hands of God; that’s the way we are to do. You don’t need to defend yourself. God will do that for you. You don’t need to go to war for yourself, the Lord will vindicate you. Moses never said anything about himself, he just took it to the Lord and he left it with God. And God did what Moses, in his weakness, could not have done at all. You don’t need to fight, God will fight for you. You don’t need to plan and to politic; God will do all those things for you.
We had an executive leader of our Southern Baptist Convention by the name of Austin Krauss, used to be pastor up here at Sherman, Texas, a wonderful, wonderful God-blessed man. When I was a young pastor just beginning, pastor of some of these country churches especially in Kentucky, he came to our part of the country way out there. And he was leading the associations and some of us went with him. I went with him to two of them. He was leading associations, back-wood associations, way out there in the back woods, leading them in stewardship programs and in mission programs. He told a story one time in those meetings that I so vividly remember. He said in one of his churches—and he didn’t say which one, could have been at Sherman—in one of his churches he had a leading deacon who was recalcitrant, against everything. And they had a great program. And they knew that this man was going to oppose it if it involved a financial outlay on the part of the church. So the pastor, Dr. Krauss, called all the other deacons together and they were going to scheme. They were going to politic. They was going to do something astute and smart in order to put that deacon on the spot. So they arranged it like this: all the deacons were going to sit around the table at the conference and the pastor was going to sit here at the head. And the pastor was going to get up and he was going to make a big speech for this program and its financial outlay. Then he was going to go to his left over here. Then that deacon was going to stand up and make a big speech for the program and the outlay. Then the next one was, and the next one was, and so on around the table.
And the pastor was going to see to it that the recalcitrant, hard-headed, non-progressive deacon sat right immediately on his right, right there. And going to call on him last, and by that time, why, all of those speeches would have been made, and all of these big commitments were going to be avowed, and when it got around to him, why, they was going to put him on the spot so that he just feel bad. He just couldn’t oppose it at all.
So Dr. Krauss said they had their meeting. And he arranged it just so and put that deacon there on his right hand. Then he started over here on his left hand with this first deacon. And he got up and made the big speech after the pastor introduced it, and how he felt about it, and the next one, and the next one, and went around, and finally got around to the right and to that last deacon. And he said that old gentleman arose and looked over the group and turned to the pastor and said, he said, “Dear pastor, I’ve been praying about this church. I’ve been praying about this program. I’ve been praying about the financial involvement that it entails. And brother pastor, and my fellow deacons, I want you to know that as I prayed, God put it on my heart that this pleases the Lord. And brother pastor, and my fellow deacons, I am ready to enter into this program, and I am ready financially to see it through.”
And Dr. Krauss said, “I learned then, that one whispered word from the Holy Spirit of God will do more than all of the politicking and all of the astute planning on the part of people. All of it together won’t do as much as one whispered word from the Holy Spirit of God.” What a wonderful lesson to learn.
Instead of depending upon politicking, and astuteness, and ingenuity, what a wonderful lesson to learn to depend upon the Holy Spirit of God, let the Lord whisper the word into the hearts of the people. Let the Lord guide the congregation in the great work that lies ahead. Leave it to God. Depend upon the Lord. Trust in the Lord. Look to the Lord. One word from the Spirit will do more than all of the ingenious schemes that we can devise, just one word from heaven.
That was Moses; he looked to the Lord and left it with God, and the Lord came down in glory and in power. Now let’s see how the Lord did with this insurrection. First of all, the Lord said to Moses—and there it is again:
And the Lord spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying,
Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.
And they fell upon their faces, and said, O Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin, and wilt Thou be wroth with all the congregation?
There again Moses is standing in the breech. “O Lord, the people have sinned in this terrible insurrection. But shall one man’s sin, and will God destroy all of the people?” [Numbers 16:22]. So Moses stands in the breech.
When I read that, I thought of the intercession of Abraham for Sodom. “Will the Lord destroy the righteous with the wicked? That be far from Thee, said Abraham, to destroy the righteous with the wicked. Peradventure there be fifty righteous. And the Lord said, I will not destroy this city if there be fifty righteous. Peradventure there be forty, thirty, twenty, ten” [from Genesis 18:23-32]. Why did he stop at ten? Why, Abraham thought that surely Lot’s family would have counted for God; there should have been ten, for the lack of ten, for the lack of ten [Genesis 18:32].
“Will the Lord destroy the congregation because of one man’s sin?” [Numbers 16:22]. Not if there’s an intercessor. And Moses was that intercessor. And he prayed for the people and the Lord spared them [Numbers 16:23-27]. “The Lord,” now the rest of the story here is the destruction of the insurrectionists [Numbers 16:28-35]. Now may I close?
You would have thought that after the terrible destruction when the earth opened up its mouth and swallowed the insurrectionists, and a fire came out from the Lord and consumed those men [Numbers 16:31-33], you would have thought that these people would have been so awe struck in the presence of God that they would not dare to have lifted up their voices again. “But on the morrow,” look at the forty-first verse, “But on the morrow all the congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron, saying, Ye have killed the people of the Lord” [Numbers 16:41]. And once again there came out a judgment from God. Now the chapter closes with:
And Moses called Aaron, and said, Take a censer . . . and go among the people of the congregation, and make atonement for them: for there is wrath gone out from the Lord; the plague is begun.
And Aaron took as Moses commanded, and ran into the midst of the congregation with the censer; and behold, the plague was among the people: and he put on incense, and made an atonement for the people.
And he stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stayed.
When I read that, it came into my heart that that is a picture of our Lord Jesus. The plague is among us. We are a dying people, but the Lord stands between the dead and the living with the prayers of intercession going up day and night before God’s throne [Hebrews 7:25]. And to those who will look in faith to Him, the plague is stayed [Numbers 16:48].
Look and live, my brother, live!
Look to Jesus Christ and live;
‘Tis recorded in his word, Hallelujah!
It is only that you look and live.
[“Look and Live,” William A. Ogden, 1887]
Is there somebody you who would do that this morning, look and live? As God might lead the way, would you come? Is there a family to come? Is there one somebody you to come? Coming by letter, coming by statement, coming by baptism, coming on a confession of faith, in this balcony around, on this lower floor, while we sing this song, while we make this appeal, into the aisle and down here to the front, “Pastor I give you my hand. I give my heart to Jesus” [Romans 10:3-13]. Or, “We’re coming into the fellowship of the church and here we are, a whole family of us” [Hebrews 10:24-25]. Or just one somebody you, if the Lord bids you here, would you make it now? If you’re lost, He calls. If you’ve never given your life in repentance and faith to Christ [Acts 20:21, Ephesians 2:8], this is the accepted time. God bids you come. Humbly, devoutly, reverently, obediently, believingly, “Here I come, pastor, and here I am.” Would you make it now, while we stand and while we sing?
FAITHFUL UNDER REPROACH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1. Thirty eight years of wandering is mostly a blank
2. Holy Spirit speaks very little of those years
3. Sin is everywhere especially with us hence the falling short of Israel
II. What Moses did
1. No hesitation to rise up against Dathan and Abiram
2. Left the decision about Korah in God’s hands
III. What God did to maintain the levitical priesthood
1. swallowed up all three
2. One king of Judah who tried to usurp the levitical priesthood got leprosy