18: The Judgments of Numbers (2)
a) Korah b) Foolish Grumbling c) Moses d) Snakes
More foolish grumbling
Grumblings get to Moses
Judgment of Snakes
The Folly with Moab
the previous chapter we observed the first judgments found in Numbers
and in conclusion highlighted why these judgments in respect of Israel
were so important. We continue with the remaining judgments in Numbers:
son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and certain Reubenites--Dathan
and Abiram, sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth--became insolent and
rose up against Moses. With them were 250 Israelite men, well-known
community leaders who had been appointed members of the council. They
came as a group to oppose Moses and Aaron and said to them, "You
have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them,
and the LORD is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the
are times when you read the history of Israel that you wonder about
either the level of communication or their memories – until we look
at ourselves and realise that it is so easy to receive encouragement
and blessing from the Lord one month and then a month later be feeling
low and under pressure and negative (as we noted in the Conclusion
in the previous chapter). Nevertheless the charge to us is to remain
faithful whatever we are feeling.
mention the matter of communication because you wonder had Korah and
company heard about what happened to Miriam when she and Aaron had
moved against Moses previously, yet the truth is that the whole camp
had come to a standstill for a week while she was outside the camp
in shame and waiting for cleansing. You would have thought that they
would remember what had happened to Miriam – and why – and that would
have made them hesitate before acting in this manner. However sin
is deceptive and makes fools of all of us and so presumably they worked
themselves up in such a manner that they thought their complaint was
just, forgetting all that has gone before.
is a Levite and as such is a worker involved with the Tabernacle.
He seems to want more and so, together with three other men, stirs
up 250 community leaders to all band together against Moses. When
it was just Aaron and Miriam, Miriam suffered leprosy for a week,
but this is almost a corporate rebellion against Moses' leadership.
the Aaron and Miriam case the Lord had pointed out that He spoke with
prophets through dreams and visions etc., but with Moses He spoke
face to face (Num 12:7,8). One might have thought that this had been
conveyed to the wider people but if it has then Korah and company
have forgotten it. Nevertheless it has been said and the Lord has
already publicly defended Moses so these men should know the truth
and therefore they have no excuse for their behaviour.
response is to pray (v.5) and having prayed he has heard God's instructions.
He points out their folly: “He has
brought you and all your fellow Levites near himself, but now you
are trying to get the priesthood too. It is against the LORD that
you and all your followers have banded together. Who is Aaron that
you should grumble against him?" (v.10,11) There
is still time to repent.
were Levites but only Aaron's household could be priest – that is
just how God has laid it down, so this is ultimately a rebellion against
God. Moses then summons two of the ring leaders but they refuse to
come (v.12-14). So Moses turns to Korah and basically says, “Very
well, you want to be priests; turn up here tomorrow morning with censers
and incense and we'll see whose the Lord will accept.” (v.16,17).
Thus next morning they are all there and God's glory appears and He
speaks to Moses about destroying all these rebellious men (v.18-21).
the order of what happened:
Moses pleads for the Lord to spare the
wider group and only deal with the ringleaders who led the rest astray
The Lord tells Moses to get the people
to move away form the tents of the three main ringleaders (v.23-27).
Moses catches a sense of what is about
to happen and makes clear the possibilities – they are spared, in
which case Moses is a false leader, or the ground will swallow them
up and he will be justified (v.28-30).
As soon as he finishes saying this there
appears a massive cracking of the ground and the
three ring leaders are consumed alive and all who belonged to them
Moreover fire came from heaven
and burned up the 250 others who dared to offer unholy incense
(v.35). Despite Moses' earlier pleading for them God decreed that
nevertheless they had rebelled and as leaders they were held accountable.
the end of the day you would have thought that there would have been
an awesome sense of the holiness of God among the people. Think again.
bear in mind as you consider these things, all we said at the end
of the previous chapter about these things being a threat to the very
existence of Israel .
More Foolish Grumbling
next day the whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and
Aaron. "You have killed the LORD's people," they said. But
when the assembly gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron and turned
toward the Tent of Meeting, suddenly the cloud covered it and the
glory of the LORD appeared. Then Moses and Aaron went to the front
of the Tent of Meeting, and the LORD said to Moses, "Get away
from this assembly so I can put an end to them at once." And
they fell facedown.
is difficult at times to comprehend the shear stupidity of Sin. The
day before, the most amazing and scary judgment had fallen first on
Korah and his two henchmen and then on the other 250 leaders. They
had all died, and now the people grumble about it. Did they think
that Moses was some sort of magician like Darren Brown or David Copperfield
today who can perform amazing deceptions? They say to Moses, “YOU
Have killed the Lord's people.” No Moses was simply the messenger
boy! Did you not see the ten plagues in Egypt ? Did you not see the
fire come down on Aaron's two older sons? Have you not realised that
this is Almighty God and He's trying to remind you of the covenant
you entered into with Him?
again the order of what happened:
The glory of the Lord appeared yet again.
Had they grown over familiar with the cloud of glory that guided them
by day and the pillar of fire that guided them at night, these sign's
of God's presence? And now His glory covers the tabernacle.
This is a time for quick repentance,
especially when the Lord starts talking about destroying this people.
Yet again Moses falls on his face before
the Lord and presumably intercedes for mercy. And suddenly he knows
what to do. This is what the rules of worship and ceremony are all
about. He has to offer incense on behalf of the people as a sign of
their repentance, even in accordance with Lev 16:12,13. Whereas the
use of the censers in the wrong hands brought the wrath of God, the
censers in the hands of the high priest, used at the behest of God's
appointed leader, brings a halt to the plague that has appeared among
The Opportunity behind a plague
such a plague starts is unclear, merely that it comes from God. Who
it afflicts first of all we are not told but the thing about such
a sickness is that it does allow the sick person time to repent of
their sin. Unlike fire which comes down and destroys immediately,
‘plague' acts more in a disciplinary manner and gives the sinner opportunity
to repent. Perhaps this is a new facet in our understanding of the
different forms of judgment that God brings, although we have touched
on in it in the previous part about the types of judgment, direct
or indirect and their purposes.
must not let this point go for it is important to see it. When plague
came upon the people at large, it is as if God is giving them the
opportunity to turn back to him. No doubt if they failed to come to
their senses they would end up dying but again and again the scriptures
attest to the truth that repentance brings salvation and deliverance
from any judgment being imposed by the Lord. Perhaps we would do well
to remind ourselves of something we noted very early in these studies,
the Lord's word through Ezekiel that came three times: “Do
I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign
LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and
live?” (Ezek 18:23,32, 33:11)
we note that afresh, it challenges us to consider that those times
when people DO die in a judgment from the Lord, it must therefore,
be an occasion where the Lord sees a) no sign of repentance in the
person either now or in the future and b) the consequence of leaving
this person to do what they have been doing, would have seriously
destructive effects on the lives and even very existence of Israel.
Threat to Israel
rebellion can lead more and more astray and even undermine the very
existence of the nation. Associated with the first of those two things
– there is no sign of repentance in the person either now or in the
future – must come the reminder that there was really no excuse for
the behaviour of someone like Korah because the record shows that
again and again they have had the most amazing revelation of God,
unique in the history of the world so far. Their actions now would
confirm the assessment that their hearts are set hard against the
Lord and His authority and leadership, and thus such people find themselves
in the same category of Pharaoh in Egypt for whom the future could
only be in one direction – down.
is an interesting little follow-on to this incident. The Lord told
Moses to get the leaders of the twelve tribes to take and name their
staff and they were to be placed before the ark in the Tabernacle
and see which one God chose to bless.(Num 17:1-5) Note the reason:
“The staff belonging to the man I
choose will sprout, and I will rid myself of this constant grumbling
against you by the Israelites.” (v.5) This must be seen
as yet another way the Lord tries to help the people understand and
not fall into sin.
next day Moses went in and Aaron's staff “had
not only sprouted but had budded, blossomed and produced almonds.”
(v.8) All the staffs were brought out and returned to
their owners but “The LORD said to
Moses, "Put back Aaron's staff in front of the Testimony, to
be kept as a sign to the rebellious. This will put an end to their
grumbling against me, so that they will not die." Moses did just
as the LORD commanded him.” (Num 17:10.11) In other words
this staff would be a visual reminder and hopefully would cut back
and do away with the constant grumblings. God's grace sought to help
them NOT sin.
Grumblings get to Moses
Pressure on Moses
there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition
to Moses and Aaron. They quarrelled with Moses and said, "If
only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the LORD! Why
did you bring the LORD's community into this desert, that we and our
livestock should die here? Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to
this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates.
And there is no water to drink!"
come now to an incident where we might expect judgement but there
isn't, but then a further incident where we perhaps would not expect
judgment but there is. Remember from early on, we defined a judgment
as God's assessment of a situation where He concludes with negative
action. So the people of Israel in their wanderings arrive in the
Desert of Zin and stayed at Kadesh (v.1) but unfortunately there is
no water for them there.
you might have expected, after all their previous encounters with
the Lord, that they might have learned by now and might simply say
to Moses, “Will you talk to the Lord because we seem to have a problem
and He's good at overcoming problems,” but they didn't. Instead they
had a go at Moses and Aaron and really wound themselves up to have
a rant about the negatives of living in the desert (forgetting that
it is their own fault that they are still there!) It is at this point
that you might expect judgement to fall on this foolish people who
are grumbling yet again and yet again criticising Moses' leadership.
But nothing like that happens.
why did it happen like it did? The answer, very simply, is that there
is indeed a need of water supply and so it is legitimate to ask the
Lord for that. The way they went about it was bad and that might be
the cause of disciplinary action, but instead the Lord tells Moses
to simply take his staff (as a sign of authority) and simply speak
to the rock and water will come forth. End of story.
we don't know why Moses acted like he did. Previously he's been described
as the meekest man on the earth and we have seen him time and time
again fall on his face before the Lord, seeking the Lord's mercy.
Now whether he's just feeling low or he's just had enough we don't
know but he fails to act with the grace he is called to have leading
this groups of failures. Instead we find, “So
Moses took the staff from the LORD's presence, just as he commanded
him. He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock
and Moses said to them, "Listen, you rebels, must we bring you
water out of this rock?" Then Moses raised his arm and struck
the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community
and their livestock drank.” (Num 20:9-11) Oh dear, we
have a threefold failure here by Moses:
“ You rebels”? Well yes they
are but he's not called to call them names.
“Must we bring water out of
this rock?” Woah! Moses it's God's job not your power!
He strikes the rock twice. Hold on,
you were only told to speak to it and so it would be clearly seen
to be a miracle, but now the people might think his act of hitting
it split it and released the water. Woops! In three ways Moses blows
it! It's the first and only time he lets go, but he is held to a
very high level of accountability.
Judgment on Moses
so we see God's judgment: “But the
LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not trust in me
enough to honour me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will
not bring this community into the land I give them."
(v.12) This was fulfilled (Deut 34:1-8). Moses saw the land from the
mountainside but never actually went into the land. Why was the Lord
so hard on him?
first we have to say that as God's representative he should never
fail to accurately represent God - without rebuke. The people had
to see that he was always spot on when it came to his leading and
so the one time when he departed from that, it meant he would be held
to account and, most importantly, they would see and know. All future
leaders would know (or should know) that they were accountable to
the Lord for the way they led His people.
might note, second, that he was now 120 which is a good old age and
probably not the best age to lead a people into battle. To be called
home at that age is really no great disgrace, but it does still send
the message, “Leaders, be careful, you are accountable to God for
the way you represent Him!” Thank goodness for the Cross!
before we finish, we might wonder if in fact the reason judgment did
not fall on the people as a whole at this time was because the Lord
saw something in Moses which needed confronting. Even great leaders
fall off their platform and have to be held accountable for the sake
of the church and for the onlooking world. Although we see premature
death as a punishment, in respect of 120 year old Moses it may be
more of a relief, but for the onlookers it was still premature death
and as such, still a warning – leaders you will be help accountable
– and so will any of the people of God (and the rest of the world!)
Judgment of Snakes
travelled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around
Edom . But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against
God and against Moses, and said, "Why have you brought us up
out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no
water! And we detest this miserable food!" Then the LORD sent
venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites
Design and Intent
if we eat too much we become obese. If we drink too much alcohol we
get drunk and may suffer liver damage. If we have sex outside marriage
contrary to God's design then we create unfaithfulness and a whole
host of other repercussions. Although most people are blind to this
in their sin and under the dominion of Satan, nevertheless God has
so made us that living contrary to the way He has designed us to live
means that we ‘break down'.
Israel the Lord made this very plain through the blessings and curses
of Deuteronomy 27 and 28 and the clear implication is that when they
obeyed Him and lived according to His design He would bless them and
make sure everything went well for them, but if they disobeyed Him,
and rejected His design for them, He would ensure things went badly.
doing this He accentuated the whole design feature of His world. In
its simplest terms, to use a very common example, if you buy a car
you get a manufacturer's handbook which tells you when to have it
serviced and so on. You are not surprised (or shouldn't be) if you
fail to have it serviced and it eventually breaks down. That is true
of a lot of things in life from the looking after plants to the care
of anything live or mechanical or electronic. We expect things to
work in a specific way and when we do not use them in the proper manner
we are not surprised when they break down. Sometimes that breakdown
is gradual and as it starts to function less well, that should be
a wakeup call to us that something is wrong and we need to reconsider
how we are using it.
our verses above are all the more surprising because in the three
verses before, the Lord had given their enemies into their hands.
Now whether it was battle fatigue or something else, we come to this
amazing condemnation of Israel: “the
people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against
Moses.” The new generation (the older generation having
gradually died off in the desert) are impatient to move into the Promised
Land and rashly speak against the Lord (presumably for keeping them
there for so long) and against Moses as His representative. They complain
about lack of provisions and have clearly grown fed up with the manna;
they are ready to go in but their attitude is not what it should be.
have lost the sense of the Lord's holiness and probably forty years
have dulled their memories or the memories of the stories told them
by their parents,
of the things that happened in Egypt,
lifted up back to heavenly rule
are the fundamental beliefs
for the new believer. The initial lifting on the Cross is probably
the feature that nearest matches the snake on the pole. Jesus hanging
on the Cross carrying our sins is what we have to come to and believe
in. That is the doorway for our salvation.
there in the desert, God's judgment was one that came gradually but
obviously and brought repentance and then the means for healing. God
was not wiping out His people but using it as a means to bring them
back as a people to himself.
The Folly with Moab
The Sin (1)
Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual
immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices
to their gods. The people ate and bowed down before these gods. So
Israel joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor. And the LORD's anger
burned against them.
is no doubt that from today's perspective there are some things in
the Bible that make us pause up and question and require us to take
hold of specific truths to come to understanding about things which
otherwise seem pretty horrendous! In what follows the verses above,
this is so. We will cover here two sins, first by many of the men
and then later by one man.
of all for this general sin there is God's command: “The
LORD said to Moses, "Take all the leaders of these people, kill
them and expose them in broad daylight before the LORD, so that the
LORD's fierce anger may turn away from Israel."
(v.4) Now although it is not mentioned early in the account, it becomes
obvious that the Lord sent a plague for later we read, “Then
the plague against the Israelites was stopped; but those who died
in the plague numbered 24,000.” (v.8,9)
as well as His direct action the Lord has required there to be executions
within the ranks of the pagan worshippers: “So
Moses said to Israel 's judges, "Each of you must put to death
those of your men who have joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor."
yet the folly of these Israelites, which we shall consider further
in a moment, becomes absolutely blatant: “Then
an Israelite man brought to his family a Midianite woman right before
the eyes of Moses and the whole assembly of Israel while they were
weeping at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting,” (v.6)
is left to a zealous priest to do something about it: “When
Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, saw this, he
left the assembly, took a spear in his hand and followed the Israelite
into the tent. He drove the spear through both of them--through the
Israelite and into the woman's body.” (v.7,8) It is in
response to that that we read, “Then
the plague against the Israelites was stopped; but those who died
in the plague numbered 24,000.” (v.8,9)
understand the extent of the folly and the extent or severity of the
judgment, we need to remind ourselves of certain facts concerning
First they were a people who had whole-heartedly
entered into a covenant with the Lord at Sinai,
They had witnessed His wonderful deliverance
of them as a nation from the slavery of Egypt,
they had witnessed the wonder of His
gracious provision for them in their travelling across the desert
were what they were – freed slaves – because of Him and they knew
His ongoing provision. Thus they had entered into a binding agreement
with Him that they would obey Him and He would bless them and give
them a land of their own.
But then there had come the fiasco of
the Gold Calf and deaths that followed that.
This had been followed by their refusal
to enter the Promised Land and the judgment of being kept in the desert
until the entire generation over the age of twenty had died off –
which had taken forty years.
are now at the end of that forty years and it is the new younger generation
that is being prepared to enter the Land. Already they have
had victory over Canaanites at Hormah
they had defeated Sihon king of the
Amorites (Num 21:23-26) and
also Og king of Bashan (Num 21:33-35).
takes place next we see as “the Israelites
travelled to the plains of Moab and camped along the Jordan across
from Jericho.” (Num 22:1) There the king of Moab gets
nervous of their intentions and hires Balak to curse then – which
he refuses to do (Num 22-24) but he did apparently counsel the king
to turn Israel from the Lord by the use of their women (see Num 31:16).
Thus what happens in our verses above appears to be a specific enemy
ploy to bring down the people of God – sending their women to seduce
the Israelite men (in need of comfort after their hard desert wanderings
and battles!!!) and then lead them to worship their idols.
Threat to Israel and God's Plans
are a number of times in the Old Testament when the very future of
Israel is in doubt and this could have been one of those. We are talking
about a special people with a special calling and part of that calling
is not to blend in with other people but to remain pure and unique.
Only in such a way can they remain true to the Lord.
it is such a critical situation we find this double judgment – plague
from God and executions of those who have gone over to the Midianites.
Now of course those men could have fled Israel and avoided death but
the key point is that having abandoned the Lord, they have forsaken
the covenant and are no longer part of Israel . The case of the Israelite
bringing in a Midianite woman to have sex with her in his tent – right
in front of the repenting people at the Tabernacle – is the most blatant
act of rebellion against God, Moses and indeed faithful Israel and,
although the action against him and the woman is shocking, it is nevertheless
deserved in the circumstances.
to take action to stop this behaviour would indeed have been opening
a door to allow anything to happen and for the whole of the enterprise
of taking the Land to fall apart. In a military as well as spiritual
sense it is likely to bring the downfall and end of Israel . The Lord's
action deals with the sinners but leaves the majority to ponder on
these things and ensure they are not repeated. There seems little
alternative to what happened in these embryonic days of this new nation,
especially as it is a new generation who now stand before the Lord
and will be taken into the Land by Him.
is easy for us to stand at this distance in history and decry what
went on until we really and fully understand the crucial issue at
stake here – the very future of Israel and all that that meant. No
Israel means no further revelation of God, no further relationship
with the Lord, no nation into which He will bring His Son to die for
is the last of the judgments in Numbers. There is the case of the
chastising by Moses of the soldiers for not entirely wiping out their
Midianite enemy but that is more a war strategy thing than a judgment
of God and we will therefore not cover it here.)
in chapter 17
the Sabbath laws
around the outskirts
to enter the Land
in the desert over next 40 years
in Chapter 18
against God & Moses
of all concerned
about what had happened
entering the land
about lack of resources
by plague & sword
in Moabite publicly
the judgments we have observed in this chapter there are:
- 4 corporate sins, i.e. involving
more than one person in Israel
- 2 individual sins
- That of Moses
- That of the sexually rebellious
- They all involved death in some
- One of them (Moses) involved a deferred
- One of them involves immediate execution
(the man with the Moabite woman)
- Two of them involved double judgments:
- being swallowed by the ground
(Korah & family & supporters) and others killed by the
fire from heaven (the 250 supporters)
- death by plague and sword for
consorting with the Moabites
- Two of them appear to have brought
potentially lethal consequences although repentance would have allayed
- plague coming on the grumblers
- snake bites coming on the complainers
reiterate the significance of these various judgments is in the fact
that they come in the fairly early days of the life of the nation
of Israel and they work to counteract the potentially destructive
nature of the sins involved.
they have received so much encouragement from the Lord, what hangs
in the balance throughout these times is whether Israel can be kept
on the straight and narrow by these judgments so that they do not
disintegrate into an ill-disciplined rabble who care little about
keeping to God's design for them and, for that matter, for the whole
earth, and fall into the ways of the other superstitious idol worshipping
nations around them, complete with all their barbaric practices. THAT
is what this is all about.
can only be the love and mercy of God that prevents Him destroying
them outright and then subsequently destroying the whole of mankind.
Israel are to be purveyors of hope, even if most of the world is blind
to it, but that is the nature of Sin. God nevertheless, in His love,
perseveres to overcome that Sin and reveal Himself and His love and