Elders' Training, Book 10: The Eldership and the God-Ordained Way (2), by Witness Lee

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Now I would like to point out to you the turmoils among the children of God in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.

Turmoil among the Children of Israel
in the Old Testament,
as Recorded in the Book of Numbers

Immediately after the children of Israel were formed into a nation through the building up of the tabernacle and the raising up of the priesthood with its service for their worship of God, that is, after their theocratic government was established, they began to journey in the wilderness (Num. 10:12-13). After only three days (v. 33) they had their first occasion of turmoil, in Taberah, where the children of Israel were murmuring evil (11:1-3). After this murmuring, the mixed multitude lusted exceedingly for flesh to eat (v. 4). Later, Miriam and Aaron, Moses’ elder sister and brother, rebelled by speaking against Moses because he had married a Cushite woman (12:1-15). Because of their rebellion, Miriam became leprous and had to be quarantined for seven days so that this leprosy would not spread. Not long after this turmoil, they journeyed to Paran (12:16), and the problem of unbelief arose. At this juncture, the children of Israel wept, cried, and complained concerning entering the good land. They considered that if they entered into the good land, they would become prey for the giants (13:32-33; 14:3). They even wanted to return to Egypt (14:4). They had forgotten the tyranny and slavery that they had suffered in Egypt.

Numbers 15 is a very peaceful chapter, having no record of any turmoil. But in chapter sixteen, Korah, Dathan, and Abiram rose up with two hundred fifty leaders of the assembly to oppose Moses (vv. 1-3). This was a great turmoil. The peace of chapter fifteen did not last very long. Prior to this rebellion, a certain amount of fermentation had taken place among the leaders. The punishment for this rebellion was threefold. First, God caused the earth to open up and swallow up the three leaders with their families (Num. 16:32). Thus, they were the first ones in history to go down alive—body, soul, and spirit—into Sheol (v. 33). Second, fire came forth from Jehovah and consumed all two hundred fifty leaders (v. 35). This kind of burning could have been accomplished only by God Himself. Third, a plague came in and killed fourteen thousand seven hundred in one day (vv. 46-49). Following this threefold punishment, God commanded each tribe to bring a rod, and He commanded Moses to lay them before the testimony (17:1-5). The man whose rod budded would be the man whom God had chosen. The next day Aaron’s rod not only budded but also brought forth almonds (v. 8). This was a miracle of resurrection. Nevertheless, even this threefold punishment with the miracle of resurrection did not subdue the rebellious people (vv. 12-13).

The following chapters in Numbers contain turmoil after turmoil, problem after problem. It is no wonder that a man such as Moses, of whom the Lord testified that he was the meekest man on the earth (12:3), became angry, calling the children of Israel rebels (20:10). Although it is understandable why Moses became angry, his word and attitude toward the children of Israel, issuing from his anger, offended God. When the Lord spoke to Aaron and Moses, He said that the two of them had rebelled against His word (v. 24). Because of this failure, Moses and Aaron had no share in entering the good land. What a tragedy!

The last big turmoil and failure in the book of Numbers occurred when the children of Israel committed fornication and idolatry corporately (25:1-3) by the snare of Balaam’s teaching (31:16) with Balak’s plot. Because of this failure, twenty-four thousand died by a plague (25:9). After this failure, God came in to renumber the children of Israel in Numbers 26. After forty years of purging, purifying, and filtering, 601,730 were numbered in the second numbering. This number is only 1,820 less than that of the first numbering. The primary difference between the first numbering and the second numbering was that those numbered in the second numbering were altogether new. Although Moses helped to renumber the children of Israel, he was not renumbered. Of those who were numbered in the first numbering, only Joshua and Caleb were renumbered. By the time of Numbers 26, God had gained a new people, a people who had been purged by God’s judgments through His divine dealings. Thus, they were purified. This is the history of the Old Testament. Through all the turmoil in the wilderness, the children of Israel were fully purged, purified, and filtered.

(Elders' Training, Book 10: The Eldership and the God-Ordained Way (2), Chapter 1, by Witness Lee)