Numbers 20-21 are two more accounts where the people of God; Israel are still the stiff-necked people. The change in their hearts has not been made. Time after time the people will rebel and then when things go haywire, they cry out in distress for the LORD to deliver them. One would think that after so many times of rebelling and failing that after the Lord delivered them, the people would get a clue. Wait a second, this sounds like how many believers live their lives out! The Book of Judges is reflective of the roller-coaster ride many professing Christians experience. The on and off dedication to the Lord is cause for so much agony and heart ache. Chapter 20 starts out with Miriam dying, the older sister of Moses. So at Kadesh, after refusing to enter the Promised Land, the people start singing the same song about “why have you brought us out here to die, would that we stayed in Egypt.’ If we think about this a bit; if the spies had just brought the glowing report of food and sustenance about the Promise Land, then the people had to be satisfied with the Manna and Quail now; I’m sure we would complain a bit too. However, this complaining has its effect on the Leader. Now leaders are human beings too; but that doesn’t give us excuse. In the heat of the conflict, Moses gets angry and instead of “speaking to the Rock” he strikes the Rock twice. The water comes forth from the Rock – but the event of rebellion against God has its consequences. Moses will not be allowed to enter in the Promised Land when the time comes. In Deuteronomy Moses is not sick, or blind, in good health, but taken up the Mountain that overlooks Jericho, Moses sees the picture of “what could have been.” Joshua will lead the people across. Now I have to admit I was a little ticked about the harsh punishment Moses received because he disobeyed God. I thought of all the ways that the people behaved, and felt that God should give him another chance – in fact Moses addressed the punishment with God – and the Father got ticked “what I have said, I have said – no more talk about it!” Only until I was reminded of how close Moses was allowed to get to God and the privileged position he was in did I understand that if anyone should have gotten it right – Moses would have been it. Speak to the Rock, don’t strike it. The is a metaphor of Jesus – Jesus only needed to be struck/die once. We do not need to repeatedly re-crucify Him. Also Moses struck in anger at the people. I wonder how many times have we struck out at God when people made us angry?
The second event is the Snakes – The same song is sung “why have you brought us here” – this time the complaining of the people to Moses draws the ire of God. He sends a plague of fiery snakes on the people. The people start dying because of the snake bites. Moses begins to intercede for the people to the LORD; God gives the cure to the people – don’t look at the snakes on the ground look at the standard with the bronze serpent on it. Jesus uses this metaphor about Himself – just as Moses lifted the serpent up in the wilderness, even so the Son of Man must be lifted up. As the people “looked and lived” by believing [faith] the serpent standard would heal; so it is with people who look to Jesus who was lifted up on the Cross. Healing from sin and death is a result of our faith looking. The symbol of the medical field is one similar to the Nehushtan. As the people of Israel were plagued with the fiery serpent that caused death, so are we people who are plagued by sin and death [Satan the serpent] the cure then and now is to Look and Live. Look at the Savior and live. For all the healing mankind needs is found not with a snake on a standard, but the Son of God on the Cross.
I find that Numbers 13/14 to be some of the saddest chapters in the Bible. After having camped at Mt. Sinai for a year, the nation of Israel is finally on its way to the homeland – the Promised Land. The blessing of God that was promised to Abraham all the way back in Genesis 12/14/17/22 is finally coming to a crescendo; but the lack of faith by the generation appointed to enter the land results in children wandering in the wilderness for forty years, watching their disobedient parents die. The tribes of Israel had been witness and recipient to the power of Yahweh for the last 18 months. They had tasted of His provision of manna, water and quail. The people had personally received the mercy of God during their rebellious behavior [Exodus 32]. Each tribe afford the privilege to send out a scout to see the Land of Promise and bring back a report. The orders were to “spy out the Land; investigate the cities and people of the Land and bring back some fruit from the Land.” For 40 days the spies enjoyed the provision of the land; all the while collecting data about the Land God said He would give them. I cannot imagine having to cut down a sapling tree in order to carry back a cluster of grapes. The question – is the Land as God said it would be? Is it a land “Flowing with milk and honey?” True enough was the report from the 12 spies. But – oh, why did there have to be a “But”? Yes the land is like the Lord promised – but the cities are fortified, and there are descendants of Anak in the land [Anak or the Nephilim are ancestors of the Philistines – remember Goliath was a Giant some 9 feet tall.] Fear had gripped the 10 spies who saw the obstacles in the land not the opportunity of the land. Caleb tries to quiet the people; fear has gripped them – their thought obviously was that they would just walk into the inhabited land and take it without fighting or conflict. Just as Egypt saw the “strong hand of the Lord” so will followers by faith. The people saw their own limits and determined that even though the land was as described – they were like “grasshoppers” and would be nothing more than cannon fodder for the giants. Walking by sight says we can’t – walking by faith says we can’t but God can!
Caleb and Joshua some men who were 40 and 45 at the time relived that God could do what he said. Joshua the son of Nun had been the commander of the armies and witnessed the “battle strength” of God during the fighting of the Amalekites. [Exodus 17] For he had been part of a battle with the enemy where if Moses hands being lifted up , fighting a battle he couldn’t lose; and when Moses hands were down, fighting a battle he couldn’t win. The faith of Caleb and Joshua would be rewarded, not on this day though. The crowd or mob that was forming would win the day. FEAR won that day. Numbers 14 is just as sad – for now the people have realized no promise land, so they complain against Moses and Aaron. “Would that we would have died in Egypt” – Let’s get another leader and go back.
Moses challenges the people not to rebel and not to fear the people of the land. I wonder how many churches have not conquered their “land” because of fear of the people? We find out later that the people of the land were already gripped with fear in the story of Rahab [Joshua 2]. In Numbers 14:18-19; there is a great warning and punishment for failure to accomplish what God had set out to do through us. To know that our rebellion will be found in the 2nd – 4th generations – this is the great influence and impact that we pass on to our children and grandchildren. While that is the negative, we also know that faith expressed is a source of influence for good to the generations that follow us. After the people of Israel had been chided for disobedience; they try to go take the land in their own strength. This is a big mistake; this was the source of their fear – Not by the strength of man, but by the Power and authority of God the Land would be theirs. The change of mind and attempt to do what only God could do ended in disaster. Doing the right thing at the wrong time is still disobedience. The people of Israel and the church often have learned the difficult lesson following God. Many a church has balked at the “Promised Land” because they saw obstacles. Would that Churches today would trust more in the power of Jehovah than in the programs of men!