God says there is a time when we can truly be “dumb as an ox,” but it has nothing to do with intelligence. How can understanding what really happened at the Cross help us overcome our own tendency toward foolishness and stupidity and, instead, help us grow in wisdom?
Numbers 31 & 32
“Could you be acting ‘dumb as an ox’?”
“Whoever loves instruction loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid.”
The word translated “stupid” comes from a word meaning “to graze.” One who hates to be corrected is unteachable like an ignorant animal, like the old saying goes, “dumb as an ox.” Not a very flattering picture.
Teaching and correction are part of God’s means of grace to help us grow and mature as believers. A refusal to accept correction reveals an attitude of pride.
However, those who “love instruction” and submit themselves to correction are co-operating with God’s means of grace. They are able to learn from the wisdom of others instead of suffering the consequences of foolishness and poor choices.
But criticism, especially when it seems unjustified, can be so difficult to receive.
Why, when we’re criticized, do we so quickly become defensive? Because we believe something much bigger is at stake, our reputation. We’re often so convinced of the need to prove ourselves right in the eyes of others that we’re willing to damage relationships to do so (Jas. 4.1-4).
Alfred Poirier in his little booklet Words that Cut from Peacemaker Ministries, says:
In short, our idolatrous desire to justify ourselves fuels our inability to take criticism, which, in turn, is the cause for much conflict. It is the reason that many marriages and family members split, factions form, and relationships grow cold. And it is the reason we so desperately need the direction provided in Scripture to begin forming a redemptive, godward view of criticism.
Proverbs repeatedly shows us the importance of being able to receive rebuke, correction and criticism.
Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser;
Teach a just man, and he will increase in learning (Prov. 9.9).
The way of a fool is right in his own eyes,
But he who heeds counsel is wise (Prov. 12.15).
By pride comes nothing but strife,
But with the well-advised is wisdom (Prov. 13.10).
He who disdains instruction despises his own soul,
But he who heeds rebuke gets understanding (Prov. 15.32).
Rebuke is more effective for a wise man
Than a hundred blows on a fool (Prov. 17.10).
And in Psalm 141.5 David said:
Let the righteous strike me;
It shall be a kindness.
And let him rebuke me;
It shall be as excellent oil;
Let my head not refuse it.
Is that how you respond to criticism? I know I don’t. I fight the tendency to respond like a stupid ox! And lately, God has given me some excellent opportunities to see just how much of that tendency I still have!
So how can I (and possible some of you) become more like David?
The answer is in understanding just what God said about us at the cross.
At the cross God criticized, in fact, judged us as sinners whose only just punishment was death (Rom. 3.10-18, 23, 6.23). Alfred Poirier says:
In light of these massive charges against us, any accusations launched at us are mere understatements about who we are and what we’ve done!
To claim to be a Christian is to claim to be a person who has understood criticism. The Christian is a person who has stood under the greatest criticism–God’s criticism–and agreed with it! As people who have been “crucified with Christ,” we acknowledge, agree, and approve of God’s judgments against us. We confess, “I am a Sinner! I am a Lawbreaker! I deserve death!” Do you see how radical a confession that is?
But the good news is that God has not only judged us, He has justified us. When we realize that it’s not about our righteousness. We don’t have to boast or defend our goodness or performance. Now we boast in Christ’s righteousness.
But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1.30-31).
And instead of becoming defensive when criticized, the wise realize there is value in it. Remember what David said, “Let the righteous strike me; It shall be a kindness.”
If we remember we’re sinners, we can accept the fact that we have blind spots and, even when criticism is unjust, we can look for what God might be teaching us or exposing in our hearts. All criticism, ultimately, comes from the hand of our Sovereign God.
So, how do we get there?
First, we need to look honestly at our responses. Do we pout, shift blame, point out the other person’s flaws or go on the attack? Or are we able to accept criticism and correction?
Second, we need to pray and ask God to give us the desire to be wise instead of foolish.
Third, we need to focus on the cross. How can we say we agree with the criticism of the cross if we can’t accept the criticism of others? If we believe we have to justify ourselves, how can we say we believe God has already justified us?
One More Takeaway
There is one more important truth we need to take away. As we understand our own struggles with criticism, it should make us more aware of how we give criticism. Even, the most loving criticism is sometimes hard to receive, so that should help us to be merciful and kind when we need to correct others.
May God help us to have a teachable spirit and drive us to the cross and a deeper appreciation for the gospel.
TODAY’S OTHER READINGS:
The War Rages On
Here in chapter 31 God ordered the destruction of a nation by ordering the killing of all the males and women of child-bearing age. This would prevent them from becoming a nation again and trying to curse Israel as they did with Balaam (Num. 22-24).
It would, also, prevent them from drawing the Israelites into idolatry and sexual immorality as they did in Numbers 25. The Israelites who had participated in those acts had already been put to death and now Divine justice was carried out on the adulteresses themselves and the ungodly nation as a whole.
It’s hard to read some of these Old Testament passages without a clear understanding
of God and His essential goodness. The Scripture says, “… God is light and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 Jn. 1.5). There is no evil in God. What He declares is always right.
We must also remember that there has been a war going on since the Garden of Eden. Satan has been trying to destroy the Seed of the woman and God has been protecting His godly line and carrying out His plan to save all those who would eventually trust in Him. Throughout the Old Testament and the New we see the effects of this war.
The Book of Esther shows us what happens when God’s commands in this area are not carried out. It tells the story of one man, Haman, a descendant of Agag, king of a tribe God had commanded King Saul to destroy. Saul disobeyed God and allowed some of them to remain alive. In the Book of Esther their descendant Haman tried to wipe out all the Jews living in Persia.
That battle still rages as Satan tries to prevent the seed of God’s Word from being implanted in the hearts of those who are not saved. And with those of us who are, He does all He can to keep us focused on ourselves, in strife with others, or caught up in the affairs of this life, so we’ll be unfruitful for the Kingdom of God.
Your Sin Will Find You Out
One last thought from our Old Testament reading, there’s a great verse in chapter 32:
“But if you do not do so, then take note, you have sinned against the LORD; and be sure your sin will find you out” (v. 23).
Moses is addressing the tribes of Reuben and Gad concerning their intention to help their brothers conquer the Promised Land, but it is a universal truth. When we try to cover our sins, God uncovers them, but when we confess and forsake them, God in His mercy covers them.
The Weapons of Our Warfare
In this Psalm David asks for God’s intervention and help.
2 Corinthians 10.4-5 says, “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.”
And Ephesians 6.12 says, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
Like David we, too, need to call on Divine help and let our weapons be spiritual ones: prayer and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God!
For Him or Against Him
How like us Peter was. He had seen too much truth to completely walk away. But his fear and confusion kept him from admitting that he believed in Jesus. So he hung back and watched from a distance (vv. 66-72). But that was a no-win situation for Him just as it is for us. Sooner or later we must take a stand, either for Him or against Him!
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