Day 17 – Numbers 25
As we explore the next account of Israel’s time in the wilderness, we move a bit deeper into trust as we examine the issue of intimacy. The word intimacy itself elicits various emotions and thoughts. Perhaps fear and confusion or perhaps longing and anticipation. Maybe curiosity. No matter your initial response, may you grow in your responsive to the Lord’s invitation to move from isolation to intimacy.
Once again, in the wilderness, the people of Israel struggled to trust God with their hearts … to follow Him in the dry, desolate desert. Specifically, Paul alludes to an episode from Numbers 25 as he challenges the Corinthian believers with: “we must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.” (1 Cor 10:8) Before looking at Numbers, it is helpful to understand that the religious climate of Corinth in the first century included worship of false gods that mixed worship and sexual expression. In Corinthian temples, worship which included sex with prostitutes was a temptation and was seducing followers of Christ.
In Numbers 25:1-3, we read that something very similar occurred with significant consequences: “While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel.” The word “whore” in verse 1 and “yoked” in verse 3 speak to the sexual immorality that was occurring, and it was occurring in a religious context. The people were attaching themselves through ritual, sexualized worship of false gods.
Before you tune out and wonder about the relevance of a discussion like this, hang in there for a few more minutes. While there is much that could be said about the context and design for sexual activity in general, the specific context in both 1 Corinthians and Numbers is worth noting. What is being addressed is the mixture of sexuality with worship. Again, you may wonder about the relevance. Certainly, in today’s world, we don’t seem to be tempted in quite this same way. However, the connection with worship might actuality be pointing to something more significant about sexuality than we might perceive at first blush. In fact, understanding the link with worship might open our eyes to the beauty and gift of sexuality in transformative ways.
If we look at the broader context in 1 Corinthians, we see that a discussion of sexuality is laced throughout the pages of the letter. In particular, 1 Corinthians 6:13-20 uses the phrase sexual immorality (as in 10:8) several times and also draws some helpful distinctions that can help us see the relevance to our lives:
“’Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food’—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, ‘The two will become one flesh.’ But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
Note the statement: “food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food.” This was a common saying in that first century context, and a metaphor for saying “It’s a natural function of the body to engage in sexual activity.” The response was not to say that sex is unnatural or not a part of our design, but that we need to direct our gaze a bit higher. Our bodies and sexuality have to be understood in the context of our relationship with God. Specifically, our body is designed to be enjoyed and experienced “for the Lord.” Even more specifically, our body is a temple (a dwelling place) of the Holy Spirit. Our body is a place designed to glorify God.
To glorify something is to extol its essence. To glorify God is to bring honor to who He is. Another way we might say it is that to glorify God is to reflect His image, His essence. Our bodies were made to reflect His essence, and, of course, there are so many things we could say about the essence of God but perhaps the most relevant in this context is the connectedness of God. God, existing in three persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, lives in eternal relationship and connection. This is why we can say that God is love. (1 John 4:8) What all of this points to is that perhaps the most significant way to glorify God is to experience a connectedness in our bodies. The immorality of the ancient people of Israel is that they were connecting/attaching with false gods. God desires that we connect with Him.
In the wilderness, as we look for comfort, love, and connection because of the disconnection and isolation we feel, the temptation is to look toward sex to dispel the disconnectedness. However, immorality results because this reverses the order of divine and human relationships. The sexualized worship of these Biblical passages presents a pattern which is all too common in our world today: use sex to attempt to find intimacy and ultimately become connected to something other than God. The divine pattern is finding intimacy, love, and connection with God which becomes the context for all other relational connections with others. When our experience of love is rightly ordered, sexuality (and really any relational connection) is a beautiful gift that points us back to the love of God and is also an expression of God’s love.
So, our exploration this week is an invitation to search our hearts … to examine our feelings of disconnection and isolation and also to consider how intimacy finds its fullest realization. How do we bond with God in ways that are a fulfillment of our created design?
Questions for reflection: what is standing out to you in this movement from isolation to intimacy? Are you noticing any resistance to exploring the issue of intimacy?
Prayer: Lord, I acknowledge the messiness and confusion that often surrounds sexuality. Give me ears to hear what You desire to say to me this week and provide deepening insight into the ways that my body can connect with You. Amen.