The Rewards of Kings and Prophets

Whoever receives you, receives me

Israel had been in the wilderness for 38 very long years. They had wandered–seemingly without end–through some of the harshest terrain the world has to offer, living in tents, driving their herds before them. They had suffered internal and external violence, fire from heaven, and the earth opening beneath their feet. Finally, they were on the border of the Promised Land. They could walk north through a short stretch of territory belonging to Edom before crossing the Jordan to their new home. Just a few more miles.

That was the plan, at least, but no plan ever goes quite the way we intend.

At the border of Edom, Moses sent messengers to the king asking for permission to cross. Israel would not stray from the main road and would pay for any resources used, even for water. The king refused them passage, and they had to walk months and many miles out of their way.

After Israel had gone around Edom, they encountered King Arad, who not only refused them passage, but attacked them unprovoked. King Sihon, the Amorite, and King Og of Bashan, followed suit. Their hostility to the Hebrews is unexplained in Scripture. Their land wasn’t within the boundaries that God had originally described, so until they attacked Israel (or, as in the case of Edom, simply refused to cooperate), they had no cause to worry about this vast horde descending from the wilderness.

Not only did they have no cause to attack, but they had every reason to be friendly. Every nation in the area must have known what happened to Egypt. Why weren’t they afraid? Each of these kingdoms suffered a worse fate than the one before. Edom lived in Israel’s shadow for many centuries until they were ultimately destroyed as a nation and partially absorbed into Judah. Arad’s people were devoted to future destruction. King Sihon’s Amorites were dispossessed, and their land was occupied by the Israelites. Finally, King Og and his people were destroyed, men, women, and children.

Imagine how different Edom’s place in history might have been if they had helped Israel instead of hindering them? If they had been willing to trade with Israel, they could have established a very profitable relationship that might still exist today.

When preparing the twelve disciples (How many tribes of Israel are there, again?) for their evangelistic missions, Yeshua said “Whoever receives you, receives me.” Then he extend this principal to all people who are anointed by God to perform a mission.

One who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward.

I believe he was specifically thinking about these episodes in Numbers 20 & 21 when he said this, and here is the clincher:

Whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.

He told twelve men that those who provide aid–a cup of water, even–to them while on a God-ordained journey will receive a reward. The parallel to the twelve tribes being denied a cup of water by Edom is hard to escape. Indeed, those who will not extend a cup of cold water to them will receive their reward as well, but they might not like it very much.

Just ask King Og.

There are a number of reasons why someone might attack one of God’s anointed: hatred of God, jealousy of their anointing or position, pride, etc. It’s no different today. Whatever motivated Edom and Arad still motivates people today. Anyone who boldly speaks out against precipitously declining morals will be attacked. It doesn’t matter how polite they are about it. The truth is hateful to people who are desperate to believe a lie.

Everyone in God’s Kingdom has a job to do, and all of our jobs are important no matter how big or small they appear in our own eyes. King Og was a giant of a man–Deuteronomy 3:11 says his bed was about 13 feet long–but he was a gnat before God’s little ones. Don’t be afraid to put your hand to your plow or to your cross. (The two are very often one and the same.) You might not be a prophet or pastor, but whatever God has given to you is important, and the rewards for obedience are great. We are all anointed for one task or another and we all have opportunities to aid one another along the way.

It’s even possible that the job God has given you is to stand at the side of the road with a cup of cold water like Phoebe did for Paul. (Romans 16:1) Don’t dismiss service and kindness as inconsequential. Edom could have saved millions of people months of hardship just by standing aside and giving a little water. Instead, they are gone, erased from history as a people, remembered only for what they did wrong.

Be who God made you to be and don’t stand in the way of others who are also about God’s business. You will by no means lose your reward, and when you aid others in God’s service, your reward will be all the greater.

“If you love me, keep my commandments.”

Numbers 20:10-12 And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said to them, Hear now you rebels. Must we bring water for you out of this rock? (11) And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he struck the rock twice. And the water came out plentifully, and the congregation and their animals drank. (12) And Jehovah spoke to Moses and Aaron, Because you did not believe Me, to sanctify Me in the eyes of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.

John 19:34 But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a lance, and instantly there came out blood and water.

We are meant to see a parallel between this rock and the Messiah, and Paul points it out in 1 Corinthians 10:4.

…they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.

There are several traditions concerning this rock that may or may not be true. For example, some say that the rock actually followed the Israelites around the desert and that it really was a pre-incarnate appearance of the Messiah. Others say that Moses’ first strike drew blood from the rock. Only his second strike drew water. Make of that what you will.

I had another thought while reading this passage. There are two ways in which Yeshua’s people strike him: legalism and licentiousness. Both attack him through disobedience. Legalism replaces God’s commands with man’s or elevates the words above the one who gave them through Moses (which is essentially the same thing since the greatest commandment of all is to love the Lawgiver with all your being). Licentiousness simply dismisses God’s commands as irrelevant, elevating the subject above both the words and the master.

In one way or another, we are all probably guilty of both. Some say that anyone who works on Sunday or drinks alcohol or smokes cigarettes is a degenerate sinner destined to burn in hell. Others say that Jesus set us free from all the old rules, that now it’s all about following your conscience. Consider what Yeshua and Paul had to say about these two nomological errors:

Mark 7:7-9 However, they worship Me in vain, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” (8) For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men, the dippings of pots and cups. And many other such things you do. (9) And He said to them, Do you do well to set aside the commandment of God, so that you may keep your own tradition?

Romans 6:1-4 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin so that grace may abound? (2) Let it not be! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? (3) Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? (4) Therefore we were buried with Him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father; even so we also should walk in newness of life.

It doesn’t matter if you wander too far to the left or to the right. Either way, you will still end up in a ditch. Whether we replace God’s laws with man’s traditions or with rules of our own making, we still sin. Yeshua told us plainly what he expects of us: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment.” At another time he said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.”

If we love God, we will obey his commandments. That is not just a commandment on it’s own. It’s a statement of fact: If you love God, you will obey God.

Matthew 5:19 Therefore whoever shall relax one of these commandments, the least, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of Heaven. But whoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of Heaven.

Yeshua’s words should send chills down the spine of today’s Christians and Jews. They have good reason to be afraid. Fortunately, God is merciful and forgives those who repent. Obeying God’s Law (aka Torah) isn’t very complicated, but it can take a long time to learn it and to break old habits. Fortunately, Yeshua gave us a very good starting point: The second greatest commandment is very like the first. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” John wrote some very practical advice along these lines:

1 John 4:20-21 If anyone says, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar. For if he does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? (21) And we have this commandment from Him, that he who loves God should love his brother also.

To learn how to love your brother (Don’t presume that you already know! Our culture hides many hateful things under the guise of love.), I suggest you first read the Letter that James wrote to the exiles of Israel. (James 1:1-5:20) After that, go back to Moses. He wrote several books on the subject.

Legalism replaced God's Law with man's. Obedience to God's Law is not legalism.
Legalism replaces God’s Law with man’s, while licentiousness ignores God’s Law. Reject both. Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.

Update July 1, 2009: As the rock gave water even when Moses disobeyed God’s instructions, to an extent, so too does God give his Spirit to both legalists and antinomians. Yeshua said that those who do not keep Torah or do not teach others to do likewise will be called the least in Heaven, implying that they would at least still be there. Walking in a roadside ditch will still get you to the right place. It will just be a slower and more difficult journey.