Daily Bible Studies
|Series Theme: Studies in Numbers - "Desert Grumblings"|
Introduction to Numbers
An overall breakdown of the book shows us just what took place at this point of Israel's history. Exodus took them to Sinai where they received many laws from the Lord. Numbers records:
If you want to go to the end table (CLICK HERE) you will see that we will only be covering the historical narrative parts of the book and will omit the census at the beginning and the one near the end, as well as all of the references to the Law or legal requirements.
Having said this, the following is the breakdown that we will be using in these studies:
Timing in the book of Numbers
When we come to study Numbers and glance at various bits of it, we may assume that it includes accounts of Israel 's years of wandering in the wilderness after the Exodus, but this isn't so. In fact, the only reference to this really in this book is in God's condemnation of Israel for having failed to have the faith to go in and take the land. We find this in chapter 14. At the end of that chapter we find Israel being repulsed by the Canaanites so that they have to remain in the wilderness to the south of Canaan .
The next reference to time and geographical location is at the beginning of chapter 20, when they arrive again at Kadesh, prior to their travels around Edom and up to the Plains of Moab to the east of the Jordan . Shortly after, later in that same chapter, we are told about Aaron's death and in chapter 33 of the book we find reference to that (33:38) where it is identified as happening 40 years after leaving Egypt . Thus between chapter 14 and chapter 20 there is a period of 38 years!
To confirm this time scale, Israel were still at Sinai 2 years after leaving Egypt (Ex 40:17) and Moses was instructed there to take the first census (Num 1:1) and also to celebrate Passover (Num 9:1-3), after which they set off from Sinai (10:11,12). Also Moses recounted in Deuteronomy that they had been wandering for 38 years (see Deut 2:14 ), and thus it was that they came to the Promised Land 40 years after leaving Egypt .
Thus we simply note again that the time scale is as follows:
Part 1 : "Guidance & Grumblings"
In this first part we will first see the Lord's provision to show Israel the way ahead. His help is clear and unambiguous. Unfortunately the people are not spiritually very bright, and so have a job understanding that the Lord's intent is to bless them? Sound familiar?
Chapter: Numbers 9
Passage: Numbers 9:15-23
A. Find Out:
1. What was the sign of the Lord's presence? v.15,16
2. What principle decreed when they moved? v.17,18
3. How did this vary? v.19-22
4. So how is this summed up? v.23
1. Why do you think the sign changed from, day to night?
2. What was the principle of moving out?
3. What was the principle of staying?
In these opening verses of this set of studies we simply see the general principle that operated for Israel throughout their time in the wilderness. The tent that had been created on God's instructions (Ex 26), to house the Ark of the Covenant, was the place where God made His presence manifest. When this tent had been completed, God's glory filled it (Ex 40:34,35). Now that glory manifested itself as a cloud over the tent (tabernacle) during the daytime and as fire at night. Both were representative of the Lord's presence, each suiting the time of day so as to be clearly visible to all the people.
How did Israel decide when to move and where to go? It was very simple: they simply watched the cloud and the fire. From the record here it would seem that it didn't move at night (the Lord is considerate!), but when it did start moving they were to follow it. We have here in this historical picture (for it did happen, it wasn't just something figurative) a picture of what divine guidance and the believer is all about – when God moves we move.
Jesus was to say, “The Son can do nothing by himself; he can only do what he sees his Father doing” (Jn 5:19 ). Paul was later to write, “Let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal 5:25 ), i.e. as He moves, we are to move. Thus this very graphic picture of Israel being led by the Lord, from the moment they are constituted as a nation at Sinai, is very real for us too. The New Testament pictures the church as Jesus' body and that responds to the head, Jesus (Eph 1:22 ,23) as he leads us.
1. Jesus is my head. I am to follow him.
2. He's given me His Spirit. I am to respond to Him.
Chapter: Numbers 10
Passage: Numbers 10:1-10
A. Find Out:
1. What did God tell Moses to do? v.1,2
2. What was the difference between one or two being blown? v.3,4
3. What further uses of the trumpet blasts were made? v.5,6
4. Who were to be the trumpet blowers? v.8
5. When also should the trumpet be blown and why? v.9
6. What further time was the trumpet to be blown and why? v.10
1. How was the trumpet call used within the camp?
2. How was it used to break camp?
3. How was it to be used in the future?
We have just seen the general way that Israel were guided throughout their time in the wilderness, by the glory of God moving them on. But now we have additional guidance from God on how they were to operate. Two trumpets were to be made, presumably with different notes to distinguish them. If there needed to be a ‘camp meeting' with God, whereby all the tribes should attend, then both trumpets would be blown together, presumably continuously until the tribes started gathering. If only one was blown, it was a sign that Moses was calling only the leaders. Spread over a very large area, the call could thus be heard easily as the sound carried.
To ensure order of movement, presumably following the start of the move of the glory over the tabernacle, the indication for the first side of the camp to get under way was a trumpet blast. When the time came for the other half of the camp to follow, the trumpet blew again. Again a clear indication across a large area. Throughout their time in the wilderness the trumpet call would be associated with the move of the Lord, and so in future years the trumpet sounded, before going into battle or before the start of a celebration, would remind the people of the Lord and would bring focus to what they were doing. Thus the Lord gave them yet another reminder of His presence with them.
1. The Lord showed Israel how to move together. We need to learn this.
Chapter: Numbers 10
Passage: Numbers 10:11-36
A. Find Out:
1. What happened on what date? v.11
2. How long did they travel and arrived where? v.12
3. Yet why did they travel? v.13
4. To whom did Moses say what? v.29
5. Why did Moses exhort him to come with them? v.30-32
6. How long did they travel on this first leg of the journey? v.33
7. How did they travel? v.33b-36
1. What was the sign of the divine Presence guiding them?
2. What human guidance was involved?
3. How do you think the two worked together?
These verses reveal to us a combination of divine and human guidance. In terms of when to set out and where to go, it was the Lord's glory that guided them, as we saw previously, and that is reiterated in this passage (v.34). Yet they also have with them Moses' brother-in-law (Reuel is another name for Jethro – Ex 3:1). Judges 1:16 seems to indicate that the family of Moses' father-in-law had gone with them into the land and now is the time when Moses asked his brother-in-law to stay.
Jethro had come to them (Ex 18) prior to Sinai and presumably when he returned home his son had stayed with his brother-in-law. Because he is a tribesman (a Midianite) he knows the desert area well. Moses asks him to stay with them once they start moving to become their eyes who can tell them all about the land that the Lord is leading them through. The Lord leads and Hobab explains the land they are passing through, thus adding a measure of security to their travels.
It is a nice picture of the divine-human guidance equation. Thus today we, as Christians, have the Lord's word (the Scriptures) and also the Holy Spirit with us to teach us and apply it to our present circumstances. He knows the way, He knows the detail and He conveys understanding to us as we go along the way.
1. Hobab needed encouraging to stay. The Holy Spirit likes being asked.
2. Hobab brought understanding. The Holy Spirit brings understanding.
Chapter: Numbers 11
Passage: Numbers 11:1-15
A. Find Out:
1. What happened with the people first of all? v.1-3
2. What did the people then complain about? v.4-6
3. What provision did they have at that time? v.7-9
4. What was the Lord's response to this? v.10
5. What six questions did Moses ask of the Lord? v.11-13
6. What did Moses feel about it all? v.14,15
Perhaps we sometimes don't notice some of the words we read in Scripture. For example, the people were travelling through the ‘desert' or ‘wilderness', which means it was a very inhospitable land, and they do not cope very well at all. In fact they grumbled about it, and more than that, they grumbled when they were near the Tabernacle, and were basically blaming God – and this from a people who had experienced the miracles of the Exodus, and had encountered the Lord at Sinai in ways that had made them tremble. They have short memories and the Lord is angry and so burns up some of the outskirts of the camp – perhaps as mere warning. The people realise what is happening and cry out and Moses speaks up for them and the Lord holds back.
You would think that that would be the end of it, but sin makes people stupid and so some of the more stupid people start complaining now because they are bored with the daily provision of manna. They can't realise that it is a miraculous short-term provision just while they are in the desert, until they get to their destination. Again the Lord is angry, but He seems to be holding back. Moses, however, doesn't hold back with his questions. He pours them out to the Lord. He basically is saying, Lord, this is all beyond me – I can't do anything about this. I've failed this people; you might as well kill me off right now. Watch this space!
Chapter: Numbers 11
Passage: Numbers 11:16,17,24-30
A. Find Out:
1. Who did the Lord tell Moses to bring? v.16
2. What did He say He would do and why? v.17
3. What happened when they gathered? v.24,25
4. What happened back in the camp? v.26
5. What was Joshua's response? v.27,28
6. What was Moses' reply? v.29
1. What had Moses seen as his problem in the previous verses?
2. What, from these verses, does the Lord consider the problem to be?
3. How does He resolve that problem?
The apparent problem, observed in the first part of the chapter, was that there were grumbling people because of self-centred concerns. Because Moses knew this grumbling clearly upset the Lord, Moses reacted with a sense of failure and suggested death, but the Lord has other ideas. The Lord knows that single leadership produces feelings of isolation when things go wrong, and so the answer is not to remove Moses but to add to him. So God's instruction is to chose seventy of the top men from the tribes, and bring them to meet with the Lord at the Tent of Meeting. Moses duly calls these men, but for some reason two of them are delayed and remain in the camp. As soon as the other sixty eight gather at the Tent, the Holy Spirit comes on them and they all start prophesying. – a mini day of Pentecost!
Now the Lord is not bound by geography and so the two chosen leaders back in the camp also start prophesying at the same time. It is simply a sign that they ARE part of the leadership team. Joshua feels that spiritual things should only happen at the Tent, but Moses wishes that everyone was prophesying! The presence of the Holy Spirit in power is a sign of God's equipping of these leaders. Before the Lord addresses the problem of food, He considers the problem of supporting Moses in the ministry to be a bigger need to be addressed. That is what this is all about.
1. Leaders are to be Spirit-anointed, Spirit-led men.
2. Leadership is about God's calling, not personal desires.
Chapter: Numbers 11
Passage: Numbers 11:18-23, 31-35
A. Find Out:
1. What did the Lord tell Israel to do? v.18
2. How long would He provide this for them? v.19,20
3. What is Moses' query? v.21,22
4. How did the Lord's provision arrive? v.31,32
5. Yet what also came with it? v.33
1. Why do you think the Lord told the people of the provision first?
2. How does Moses' query show the extent of the miracle?
3. How do you think the miracle and the plague are linked?
The Lord sometimes gives us what we ask for, even when it's not the best for us. Sometimes He gives it as discipline – but our sinful stupidity cannot see it! The people have complained against God. They want the super-abundance of provision – as they remember it – that they had received in Egypt (forgetting the slavery). So the Lord gives them super-abundance which goes bad under their feet. Note what happened.
First the Lord told them what was about to happen – they are going to have meat, in abundance. He tells them first, we suggest, because the manner of provision could appear natural, could appear a fluke, but it's not, it's God! Moses can't believe it. How can the Lord provide enough for this great number of people? Suddenly all these birds arrive on the wind, exhausted and are easily taken. Suddenly they have meat in abundance and so they gorge themselves. The only trouble is that there is so much dead meat that they can't eat it all at once and so it goes off and disease spreads rapidly. Well perhaps that is how it happened, but it is the Lord's purpose.
If we dare question the Lord's wisdom, then He, as He disciplines us, will allow us to have what we want – and the consequences that go with it! You want an over abundance of meat (because that is what they had desired!)? Fine you can have it and see how it goes wrong. Perhaps you will learn eventually that God's provision is good – the best!
1. What ever is God's provision for you – be thankful.
2. Understand that God knows best. Be careful what you ask for!
A. Find Out:
1. Who started saying what about Moses? v.1,2
2. How is Moses described? v,3
3. Who did the Lord tell to do what? v.4,5
4. How did the Lord say Moses differed from God's prophets? v.6-8
5. What happened to whom and what did Aaron plead? v.9-12
6. What did Moses ask and what did the Lord instruct? v.13-15
1. Why do you think Miriam & Aaron grumbled about Moses?
2. What do you think is the significance of verse 3?
3. What does this all tell us about Moses' relationship with the Lord?
A wilderness is a place that brings the worst out in people. Perhaps it is why the Lord allows us to go into such dry times sometimes, so that the bad in us can be revealed and dealt with. For some reason that is not explained, Moses' brother and sister now fall to the temptation of criticism. There is an air of jealousy in this, an acknowledgement that Moses has a status that they don't have. They first focus on his foreign wife as if to imply she made him less than them and then they try to put themselves on Moses' level in terms of revelation.
Verse 3 implies that because Moses was so humble he made no reply. Humility is about knowing exactly who you are. Because Moses knew the Lord, he knew his own smallness and weakness. He says nothing and leaves it to the Lord. The Lord calls them all to the Tent and points out to the erring couple that He has a particularly close and intimate relationship with Moses, and it is that which they are challenging. They are thus challenging the Lord Himself. Somewhat foolish! The consequence is that Miriam is left with leprosy, which would rather suggest she is the instigator of the complaining. Aaron's pleas go unheeded, as if to prove a point, while Moses' plea received a response from the Lord.
1. Recognise who you are before the Lord. Be humble.
2. Never challenge those in close relationship with the Lord.
RECAP - "Guidance & Grumblings" - Numbers 9-12
In this first group of 7 studies we have seen :
- The way Israel were guided (9:15-10:36)
- fire by night, cloud by day (9:15-23)
- the use of the silver trumpets (10:1-10)
- leaving Sinai (10:11-28)
- Hobab asked to stay (10:29-32)
- the first 3 days travel (10:33-36)
- Grumbles in the desert (11:1-12:16)
These chapters have terrible contrasts. In chapters 9 and 10 we have the presence of God guiding Israel . This is clearly a divinely supernatural provision as the Lord makes His presence known to them in the way He leads them. Chapters 11 and 12 show the folly of sin in the human race, even in those who have had the closest of divine encounters and who should have known better. With each grumbling comes the discipline of the Lord, in a very restrained manner. If it had been you or me we'd probably have wiped them all out and gone to look for another nation and start again, but the Lord is gracious and merciful and therefore the judgements are strictly limited. Amazing grace!
1. Close encounters with God result in a high level of accountability.
2. When life gets difficult, seek the Lord for His help.
3. Accept the measure of God's grace in your life and be at rest.
Thank the Lord for His good provision in your life, even in the midst of what can be trying times.
PART 2 : "Failure to Enter the Land"
In this next Part we see the folly of Israel yet again as they fail to move in faith and instead let difficulties overwhelm them and crush any possibility of faith rising up. Strong lessons here!