If you read the blessings of obedience in Deut
28 you see promises of great provision and at the beginning of that
chapter the overall promise: “If
you fully obey the LORD your God and carefully follow all his commands
I give you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the
nations on earth.” (Deut 28:1)
from Israel's side we have seen twice it was to “fully obey” God.
The reward for that would be that they would be elevated above all
other nations. The peak of this in the period of the kings was clearly
in Solomon's reign and that is born out at the Queen of Sheba's visit
(see 1 Kings 10). Prosperity and abundance abounded.
come back to the Ten Commandments and we have ten instructions that
could apply to any people anywhere on the globe, apart from the fact
that they are given to Israel in the context of being God's people
who have known His miraculous deliverance.
of Honouring (and revealing) God
first four of those ten commands are
about honouring God – having no other gods, never making idols
for worship, never taking God's name in vain and always remembering
Him once a week at least on this day referred to as the Sabbath: “Remember
the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and
do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your
God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or
daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor
the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens
and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on
the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made
it holy.” (Ex 20:8-11)
word Sabbath comes from the Hebrew word, shabat , meaning
‘to rest'. It was thus a day of rest on which you would remember that
God is the almighty Creator God who made all things for us.
might note in passing that they were to be used in the ways He prescribed,
for failure to do that means self-destruction, e.g. over eating =
gluttony = health breakdown; over drinking alcohol = addiction and
health breakdown; sexual promiscuity = unfaithfulness, relational
breakdown, unwanted pregnancy, and sexual diseases. It is quite obvious
that abuse or misuse of any of the good things God has given for our
enjoyment, results in heath or social breakdown.
it comes to the Sabbath rest, we may not see the sense in it (although
health professionals have accepted the wisdom of not working more
than six days at a stretch, and social workers might accept the wisdom
of creating family time every seven days, and so on) but God knows
how He has designed us to work and if He says work six days and then
stop, that is wisdom we ignore at our peril.
the end of all this, the big question is will we accept that God knows
best. A study of the laws given through Moses shows a large number
of them are for regulating life within the community to ensure peace
and order and blessing.
keep Israel on track we thus find that there are at least twenty laws
requiring the death penalty and, although our present perspective
will almost certainly struggle with this, it does show the importance
that the Lord gave to each of the issues to which the death penalty
was applied. So, although collecting sticks does appear a trivial
offence to our eyes today, at that point in time it was a direct challenge
to the covenant which agreed to abide by all the laws God gave them
– including resting on the Sabbath (our Saturday). It ultimately was
an act of rebellion that said, I don't care about God or His rules
or us supposedly being a special people.
Holding to a standard
to consider the aspect we have spoken of before, it is worth considering
what would be the effect of this act going on without any response?
One has to say that it would create the impression that these laws
don't really matter and so if you can disregard this one you can disregard
others and therefore do your own thing, and that will create a self-centred
community – just the same as any other nation – which can be led astray
into pagan practices observed in other nations and abhorred by civilized
shocking but necessary. Remembering what we said about a parent bringing
sharp discipline: you do it once and it doesn't need doing again.
The fact that these laws were clearly being upheld by the Pharisees,
at least, in Jesus' day, indicates that although there were occasional
lapses, in general they were upheld throughout that nation's history
– at least when the nation was seeking to be right with God.
Grumblings about Hardships
& Judgment: Part 1
the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the
LORD, and when he heard them his anger was aroused. Then fire from
the LORD burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the
camp. When the people cried out to Moses, he prayed to the LORD and
the fire died down. So that place was called Taberah, because fire
from the LORD had burned among them.
have in recent pages reflected on
- Aaron's casual sons,
- the man in a temper blaspheming
- the man collecting sticks on the
we lumped those three together because they were all examples of people
who were blatantly disregarding the Law. We now move on to consider
the judgments that fell on Israel in their time between Sinai
and the Promised Land. In the trek from Egypt to Sinai,
we noted that although Israel grumbled again and again, the Lord did
not bring any form of judgment on them. That now changes considerably
and one of the questions we must ask, is why did it change?
what took place here at this time: “Now
the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the
LORD, and when he heard them his anger was aroused.” (v.1)
They have been travelling a mere three days (10:33) This echoes what
happened on the first trek when three days into their exit from Egypt
they started grumbling because of lack of clean water (Ex 15:22-25).
reminds us that we saw Israel grumbling on that first trek (between
Pharaoh coming after them and the Amalekites attacking) three times
– about unclean water, about lack of food and about lack of water.
On each occasion the Lord simply provided for them – and that was
just a year back.
that intervening time they
- came to Sinai, saw the signs of
God's presence on the mountain,
- over seventy of them had actually
had a vision of the Lord,
- they have gone through the Golden
Calf incident and a number had died as a result of it.
would have thought that they might have learned something of the Lord
by now – that He was a miraculous deliverer, that He was a miraculous
provider, and that He was holy and held sinners accountable.
Lord's anger at their complaining is an indication that He expected
them to have learned to trust Him in the light of all that
He has done for them in these past couple of years. They are complaining
about their “hardships”; simply they don't like trekking through the
desert, but the Lord expects better of them.
nature of the judgment (i)
that expectation comes accountability, He is a God who continues to
teach His people and so the judgment that we see occurring is “fire
from the LORD” which
“burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp.”
(v.2) But note that there is no record of anyone being
killed, simply that fire came to the outer regions of the camp presumably
destroying tents etc. It is a clear and obvious lesson and the result
is that the people cry out, Moses prays and God stops the fire.
& Judgment: Part 2
then it happens yet again and we read, “The
rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites
started wailing and said, "If only we had meat to eat!”
(v.4) Now some suggest that “the rabble” refers to hangers-on who
came out of Egypt with them but there is no indication that this was
so and anyway it is the Israelites who now start wailing.
remember back to what it had been like in Egypt: “We
remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost--also the cucumbers,
melons, leeks, onions and garlic.” (v.5) and they completely
forget that they had been slaves! Indeed now they are even fed up
with God's miraculous provision, the manna: “But
now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!"
negative attitude soon loses perspective and the truth soon leaves.
The fact is that they should only be in this desert a short time before
they get to their destination, the Promised Land. In the previous
verses we saw that the Lord's anger “was
aroused” which suggests it was slowly stirring, but now
we read, “The LORD became exceedingly
angry.” It seems a competition to see how fast they can
forget what has gone before! But it should not be like this! This
is just the sin of mankind bursting to the surface yet again.
in what follows we find Moses complaining to the Lord that the job
is too hard and instead of rebuking him, the Lord says he is to gather
seventy leading elders and He will place His spirit on them to share
the load (11:11-17). But what about the meat problem? Very well, says
the Lord, you want meat? I'll give you meat and you can have it for
the next month until you are fed up with it (11:19,20)
The nature of the judgment (ii)
happens but we find, “But while the
meat was still between their teeth and before it could be consumed,
the anger of the LORD burned against the people, and he struck them
with a severe plague.” (11:33) Now the volume of the
quail falling on the camp was so great they were three foot deep all
around and the people “spread them
out all around the camp.” (v.32)
is probable that there was so much dead meat lying around that it
soon went off and it was probably through this that the ‘plague'
came. What we find therefore is judgment through abundance.
The Lord gave them what they wanted – in abundance but abundance,
in the hot climate, caused a problem, and they thus suffered for it.
back to our earlier question: why did God judge them now when he had
not done it on the first trek? The answer comes with something Jesus
said: “From everyone who has been
given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted
with much, much more will be asked.” (Lk 12:48) In other
words if you have been given much revelation – as Israel had in these
last two years – much more is expected of you, and accountability
involves correction, discipline and even judgment. Israel are a different
people than from say three years ago. Now they are a people who know
and have experienced the Lord. They have no excuses for their bad
anger of the LORD burned against them, and he left them. When the
cloud lifted from above the Tent, there stood Miriam--leprous, like
snow. Aaron turned toward her and saw that she had leprosy; and he
said to Moses, "Please, my lord, do not hold against us the sin
we have so foolishly committed.
now we come to another of God's judgments that did not involve death
but which obviously came as a sharp lesson in discipline. The story
starts as follows: “Miriam and Aaron
began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had
married a Cushite.” (Num 12:1) The apparent
cause of their criticism was the fact that Moses had a wife from an
area in the southern Nile valley in Egypt. Moses first wife Zipporah
had been a Midianite and so presumably after she died he took another
wife (who may have been one of those who had come out of Egypt with
Israel, an Egyptian who later history shows us would be now considered
part of Israel).
that isn't their only criticism for they continue: “Has
the LORD spoken only through Moses?" they asked. "Hasn't
he also spoken through us?" (Num 12:2) For some
reason they allow the enemy (we suggest) to nudge them in this temptation
to challenge Moses' leadership. They are basically saying, ‘Aren't
we as good as Moses, shouldn't we be seen as main leaders as well?'
folly of this, of course, is that Moses was very obviously God's chosen
servant (Ex 3 & 4) and even though he initially used Aaron as
a mouthpiece in confronting Pharaoh, there was no doubt that, observing
all the happenings at Sinai, Moses was THE number one leader of this
then we read, “And the LORD heard
this.” (v.2c) Of course He did, He hears everything,
but it simply means He took note of what they were saying. Note carefully
what follows: “Now Moses was a very
humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.”
(v.3) The implication is that Moses did not respond –
but the Lord did! “At once the LORD
said to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, "Come out to the Tent of Meeting,
all three of you.” (v.4) The Lord does not delay but
somehow communicates (possibly through Moses) His desire to meet with
them at the Tent of Meeting outside the camp. There He explains that
mostly He reveals Himself to His people through dreams and visions
but that is not so with Moses: “But
this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house.
With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees
the form of the LORD.” (7,8) In other words He makes very
clear to them His thinking. Moses is special and they are foolish
not to realise this.
we see, “The anger of the LORD burned
against them, and he left them. When the cloud lifted from above the
Tent, there stood Miriam--leprous, like snow. Aaron turned toward
her and saw that she had leprosy;” (v.9,10) The Lord's
anger is an indication of their wrongness. The leprosy is a result
of His judgment.
is interesting is that it is only Miriam and not Aaron who is afflicted.
He is the high priest and he has got to just carry on and perform
his priestly daily duties while being aware of the state of his sister
and we see “he said to Moses, "Please,
my lord, do not hold against us the sin we have so foolishly committed.
Do not let her be like a stillborn infant coming from its mother's
womb with its flesh half eaten away.” (v.11,12) Thus
Moses cries to the Lord on her behalf and he is told to have her put
outside the camp for seven days and Israel 's progress is halted while
they wait for her to be cleansed – which happens. Thus we find this
is a temporary judgment, a strong act of discipline.
what was so wrong in this situation. Essentially Aaron and Miriam
are challenging Moses' authority and in so doing they are challenging
God. Moses is God's man and, as we've noted, everything about his
recent few years shouts that. The testimony of the Bible is that God
stands up for His servants' they are special and those who stand against
them have God to answer to.
The Rejection of Canaan
night all the people of the community raised their voices and wept
aloud. All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the
whole assembly said to them, "If only we had died in Egypt! Or
in this desert! Why is the LORD bringing us to this land only to let
us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder.
Wouldn't it be better for us to go back to Egypt ?" And they
said to each other, "We should choose a leader and go back to
plan for Israel which was declared over four hundred years back was
that they should take and clear the land of Canaan and make it their
own home. As they approach the boundaries, the Lord tells Moses to
send in twelve spies, one from each tribe to check that the land is
as God described it (Num 13:1,2). When they return they acknowledge
that it is as good as God had said but ten of them focus on the people
there who create fear in them (Num 13:27-29) but one of them, Caleb,
silences the others with the declaration that they can do it. Nevertheless
the majority persist and the result is that they undermine the confidence
of the people and, as we see above, they grumble again against Moses
and Aaron and refuse to go in.
we believe the Lord's response was to test Moses, nevertheless it
was a fair response: “The LORD said
to Moses, "How long will these people treat me with contempt?
How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miraculous
signs I have performed among them? I will strike them down with a
plague and destroy them, but I will make you into a nation greater
and stronger than they.” (Num 14:11,12) Indeed as we
noted in the previous study the people of Israel have seen so much
of the Lord's activity that they should now have confidence in Him.
rightly pleads for them and so we then see, “The
LORD replied, "I have forgiven them, as you asked. Nevertheless,
as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the LORD fills the
whole earth, not one of the men who saw my glory and the miraculous
signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert but who disobeyed me
and tested me ten times-- not one of them will ever see the land I
promised on oath to their forefathers. No one who has treated me with
contempt will ever see it.” (Num 14:20-23)
judgment is that this present generation (which would have been counted
as all those over the age of twenty – see Num 32:11,12), with the
exception of Caleb and Joshua, will not enter the land but die in
the desert. The ten men who brought a bad report and undermined Israel
died of plague (Num 14:36-38).
keep the story short, the people then appeared to repent and decided
they would go in and take the land but when they tried they were fiercely
repulsed (Num 14:39-45); the Lord did not fight for them and enable
them to enter. The die had been cast and His judgment on them remained.
Thus over the next forty years all those over the age of twenty at
the beginning of that period died off in their travels around the
a form of judgment, although frustrating perhaps, at least Israel
were not slaves and they still had God's provision which kept them
throughout the forty year period of waiting so that the next generation
was preserved. During that time many children would have been born
and a complete new generation who had never known the experience of
Egypt raised up, but all they knew was that they were God's people
waiting for the appropriate time to take the Promised Land.
The youngest of those destined not to enter, would have been 21 at
the start and would have died off before reaching sixty. The oldest
of the younger generation were 20 at the start and would have been
sixty at the time of entering the land. Thus most of those who could
be considered warriors would have been younger at the start or were
those born in the desert. It was in many ways ‘starting with a clean
the overall history of Israel, each of these current judgments are
clearly designed to motivate the present and future generations and
act as a brake on their sin and unbelief. Every additional judgment
was an additional experience of the Lord. This may appear a very negative
time for Israel but hanging over them as a future reward is the anticipation
of taking this land that is flowing with milk and honey. As we said
just now, there must have been a sense of frustration at having to
wait but as every year passed there was an increased anticipation
that it is getting nearer and nearer.
summarise the judgments we have observed in this chapter:
the Sabbath laws
around the outskirts, plague from birds
to enter the Land
in the desert over next 40 years
first of these, the casual disregarding of the Sabbath
laws by going out and picking up sticks, we noted appears at first
sight serious overkill for a mundane disregard for the Law, but when
we think about it we see that the Law underpinned the whole of the
relationship between Israel and God and to have done nothing about
it would have encouraged what would turn out to be a complete breakdown
of the life of Israel as God's special people who were to reveal Him
to the rest of the world. The seriousness of it, threatening the very
future of Israel and their task before God, was accentuated by the
means of the individual being executed by stoning by the people.
second of these, the people complaining against
God, produces a very mild response, the fire around the outskirts
with no one actually being recorded as dying. It is therefore a mere
warning from God, almost like God clearing His throat to draw their
attention to their drifting off track! But then this was a double
sin plus judgment for the people carried on complaining and when they
persisted, demanding meat, the Lord gave it to them in abundance,
so much so that they were not able to consume it all, some of it went
off and caused a plague.
third of these again does not involve death but
bring a short sharp shock to Aaron and Miriam. Again it is almost
as if God was clearing His throat in a threatening way but without
going the whole way. The fact is that the two of them had challenged
not only their brother Moses but God's choice of leader. The fact
also was that Miriam was clear of the leprosy and had to suffer seven
days of disgrace outside the camp while the whole nation no doubt
gossiped about it! Yet it was a remarkably restrained act of discipline.
fourth of these, the refusal to enter the Promised
Land, is both remarkably restrained and yet incredibly serious. The
sin is blatant refusal to obey God and threatened he entire future
of Israel. The judgment is simply that this present generations over
the age of twenty will live out their lives in the desert regions
until they have all died off naturally.
cannot emphasise enough that all of these judgments we have seen in
Numbers, and the remaining ones we will see in the next chapter, are
all about issues that go to the root of the very existence of Israel.
Three things stand out in this respect:
were chosen by God to be a special people
To live by the Law demonstrating God's alternative,