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Category: Numbers

Fiery Serpents

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you. Pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.
Numbers 21:4–9

As I read through Numbers this morning I saw that the Israelites were back to their old grumbling ways. Their detour around the land of Edom put them in an extended period of hiking through some unpleasant terrain and they were tired of eating the same ol’ manna every single day. They were missing the “good old days” of what life was like back in Egypt.

In response to the people speaking out against Moses and God, the Lord sent fiery serpents among the Israelites and people were dropping dead left and right. It doesn’t take the Israelites long to correlate the presence of the poisonous, deadly snakes and their grumbling against the Lord. In response they appeal to Moses to intercede on their behalf (as he has so faithfully done many times before) and ask the Lord to get rid of the snakes.

Moses, being the faithful shepherd that he is, falls on his face before God and makes his appeal for the people. The Lord, being slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, listens. Not only does He listen, but He provides a remedy to the situation. Moses is told to fashion a serpent out of bronze and place it on a staff that may be raised high. If a serpent bites someone, that person may look at the bronze serpent and live.

Some things I noticed while reading through this scripture:

  • The people didn’t acknowledge their sin until after they began experiencing the consequences of their sin. Even the consequences of sin is evidence of God’s grace. It is a gift when God, through the Holy Spirit, awakens our conscience and gives us awareness of when we have sinned. Whereas the enemy may use this awareness to shame us, the Lord does this in His kindness that we might be lead to repentance and draw near to Him.
  • After realizing the consequences of their sin, the people appeal for mercy. What an appropriate response. Sometimes our pride interferes with our ability to do this. This morning I find myself especially grateful that the curtain has been torn in two and I have been ushered in to the throne room through the blood of Christ. I do not need to go through a mediator like Moses or a high priest. 1 Timothy reminds us that “there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given fat the proper time.
  • In the midst of suffering, God’s grace is sufficient. I found it interesting that God doesn’t comply with the request to remove the serpents, the cause of the Israelite’s suffering. Rather, He provides a remedy for their suffering. God knew that the root cause of their issues wasn’t the serpents. It was the fact that they didn’t trust God and were not walking by faith. The people would still have to live with the consequence of their sin – the serpents and their venomous bites – but they now had a remedy that would allow them to survive the bites and live. It required that they exercise faith and obey God’s command by looking to the bronze serpent that was lifted high for all to see. This reminds me of a quote I captured from my pastor’s message this past Sunday; “being outside the will of God is worse than being enjoying His presence in the midst of the crucible”.

The wages of sin is death but God, in His great mercy and compassion, has offered to us a remedy. Of course we do not look to an uplifted bronze serpent. We fix our eyes upon Jesus who was uplifted on a cross to provide the remedy for our sins – once and for all. Continue to look upon Him – the author and perfecter of our faith. Amen.

Despising God

And the LORD said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?
Numbers 14:11

As I read through the book of Numbers again this morning I came upon yet another example of the Israelites demonstrating their lack of trust and faith in God and in response being disciplined by the Lord. The verse referenced above really jumped out at me. I found it interesting and insightful that when the people expressed their lack of faith, trust, and hope in what God had promised as well as a lack of gratitude, appreciation and thanksgiving for all that He had already done, God perceived it as being despised by them. I’m sure that I’ve never considered my lack of faith or trust in God as despising Him. But perhaps I need to be more aware of how He perceives it.

Sometimes we like to excuse away our lack of faith and trust in God. You know, excuses like; “I’m immature in the faith”, “I’m still learning to trust Him”, “I’m scared”, or “I’m weak”. The problem with that kind of “stinking thinking” of course is that it’s all focused on us. We shouldn’t focus on us or why we are unable to trust the Lord. Rather, we are to focus on Him and consider why He is so worthy of our trust.

God has provided every evidence of why He is trustworthy and He has empowered us to respond by obediently walking by faith. We are to simply trust and obey.

Humble and gentle in response to criticism

Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman. And they said, “Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?” And the LORD heard it.
Numbers 12:1–2

As I read through Numbers this morning I realized that I wasn’t really that surprised by the fact that Aaron and Miriam got to the point where they opposed Moses. That’s not the part that I found so scandalous. After all, it’s a pretty normal thing for people in leadership or those who are seemingly blessed beyond that which their natural abilities should yield are on the receiving end of criticism. For some reason there seems to be an inverse relationship between following and criticizing. As it becomes more difficult to remain a humble follower it becomes that much easier to become a judgmental critic.

I also wasn’t that surprised that the Lord called Aaron and Miriam on the carpet in response to them speaking out against Moses. I wasn’t really taken aback that God struck Miriam with leprosy in response to her sin. What did surprise me though was Moses’ response.

And Moses cried to the LORD, “O God, please heal her—please.”
Numbers 12:13

Try to imagine yourself in Moses’ shoes. The Lord invites you and two other people to a meeting. You show up first and God asks you to sit next to Him. The other two arrive and are instructed to sit across the table from you and God. And then God calls them out for talking behind your back and for questioning your role and authority. It would be very easy for me to imagine sitting there with my arms crossed over my chest, my jaw set firmly, and my eyes squinted a little bit as I look across the table feeling indignant and justified.

Moses doesn’t do that though. He doesn’t chew her out. He doesn’t say, “well, it serves you right” or “that’s what you get”. He’s not thinking that the punishment fits the crime. In fact, I don’t even think he’s thinking about the “crime”. Instead, his response is to cry out to God and ask that she be healed. He intercedes for her. He acts compassionately toward her. He’s just thinking about Miriam – his sister – who is need of healing and a touch from the Lord, God Almighty.

What an example and being humble and gentle in the face of criticism. What a reminder that this type of response is impossible in the flesh. What a promise that the Holy Spirit will lead us, guide us and empower us that we might bear the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in our lives. For our joy and His glory.

Cloud covering

So it was always: the cloud covered it by day and the appearance of fire by night. And whenever the cloud lifted from over the tent, after that the people of Israel set out, and in the place where the cloud settled down, there the people of Israel camped. At the command of the LORD the people of Israel set out, and at the command of the LORD they camped. As long as the cloud rested over the tabernacle, they remained in camp.
Numbers 9:16–18

It was a pretty simple formula really. If the cloud remains hovering over the area, you stay put. When the cloud lifts, you go. Recognizing the cloud and understanding what it meant wasn’t an issue for the Israelites. After all, it had lead them out of Egypt. The cloud represented God’s presence and with God’s presence came His protection and with God’s protection came His peace.

It can be easy to sit here and wish I had something so obvious to lead me in the way that God wants me to go. And then I realize that I do have something like this. While I may not have a cloud that I’m following, I do have the benefit of the Holy Spirit to lead me and to guide me. The key thing is remembering that and relying on Him. But that’s not the hard part. The hard part is waiting on Him and interpreting the signs.

Sometimes the Israelites would have to wait days on end before the cloud would lift and they could set off again. I imagine this was difficult. Not only were they anxious to arrive at their destination but they were also anxious about their enemies catching up to them. Waiting is difficult. I want what I want and I want it when I want it (which of course is always now).

Waiting. Resting. Trusting. Hoping. Obeying. So simple and yet so difficult sometimes.

My prayer is that I will continually be filled with God’s Spirit and that everything I do will be in His power. I pray that I will seek God through prayer and the study of His word and that any decision to stay put or to move camp would be submitted to Him. And I pray that when it is not clear, I will wait on the Lord. And that I will always seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.

Desiring safety and comfort more than God’s glory

Numbers 32 tells how Reuben and Gad submitted to Moses and Eleazar a request that they be allowed to settle in the land of Jazer and the land of Gilead. This would mean that they would settle down in the Transjordan while the rest of the Israelites would be on the hook for battling for the land that God has promised them. Moses reminded Reuben and Gad of what happened when their fathers did something similar – refusing to enter into the promised land because of the fear that was stoked in their hearts due to the report of ten of the twelve who had spied out the land of Cannan.

I’m not sure if Reuben and Gad’s request was motivated by fear because it was actually a pretty practical request given the fact that they had lots of livestock and the land they requested was perfect for livestock. But, while their motivation may not have been fear, it was certainly based on what seemed best for them without any consideration for how it fit into God’s will and calling. Bottom line – it was selfish. And yet, if I’m really being honest, I’m not so sure I wouldn’t have made the same request.

This caused me to wonder – do I care more about my relative safety, comfort, and rest more than I do about the revelation and manifestation of God’s glory in and through my life? Am I willing to walk by faith into unknown and uncomfortable situations in the hopes that, through my obedience, I might be an active participant in bringing glory to God and making famous the name of Jesus?

I should call out that Reuben and Gad eventually modify their request such that they build sheepfolds for their sheep and establish cities for the little ones in the land they are requesting but the men of the tribes take up arms and join in the battle with the rest of the Israelites. But I still can’t get away from the initial request and the fact that they would have been satisfied to establish themselves in the Transjordan – a land that seemed “good enough” and appeared to meet their needs and yet, was less than what God had promised.

How often have I been willing to accept less than God’s best? How often am I satisfied with the best the world has to offer in place of entering into, receiving, and enjoying the promises of God? How often have I been disobedient to what the Lord has required of me so that I might not risk the loss of some idol in my life (a good job, obedient children, a nice home)? Definitely something to meditate on the rest of this Sunday morning.

If you are interested in reading the account for yourself, you may do so here.

By command of the Lord

In the context of the Israelites exodus out of Egypt under the leadership of Moses and Aaron, Numbers 33:2 says, “Moses wrote down their starting places, stage by stage, by command of the LORD, and these are their stages according to their starting places.” What follows is a detailed summary of all the places that the Israelites traveled through and all the places they camped on their way through the wilderness on the way to the promised land.

My initial reaction was to wonder why was this information provided? What purpose does it serve? Why did God command Moses to write all this down? And then I realized, it’s pretty simple really.

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
Romans 15:4

Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.
1 Corinthians 10:11

A couple of weeks ago I was humbled to share my testimony at a men’s breakfast at my church. I shared a lot of information about my background, how I grew up, and what my childhood was like. In isolation, it may not have made much sense why I would share this type of information. But in the context of the rest of my message and in light of my goal and motivation for sharing, it was useful in revealing the testimony of God’s faithfulness in my life.

Similarly, Moses wrote down this information as part of the testimony of God’s faithfulness to His people and how He was with them in Egypt and Succoth and Etham and Jericho and every place in between. And God, in His sovereign wisdom, commanded Moses to do so in order that we might be instructed and encouraged. Which is exactly how I feel every time after reading His word.

A shepherd’s succession plan

The Lord said to Moses, “Go up into this mountain of Abarim and see the land that I have given to the people of Israel. When you have seen it, you also shall be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron was, because you rebelled against my word in the wilderness of Zin when the congregation quarreled, failing to uphold me as holy at the waters before their eyes.” Numbers 27:12-14

This is it. After all this time and after all these miles, Moses’ time is up. It’s time to be gathered to his people. A nice way of saying, you are going to die now. Your life here on earth is over. But, before you go, why don’t you climb this mountain so that you have a complete bird’s eye view of all the land that I have given to Israel. You know, the land that I have not allowed you to take possession of because of your disobedience.

First, let’s notice what Moses does not do. He doesn’t whine or pitch a fit. He doesn’t immediately break down and cry. He doesn’t start pouring out all his regrets or asking for second chances. He doesn’t exclaim how it is so unfair. No, he doesn’t do any of those things.

What he does is he reveals the true heart of a shepherd. His first concern, and his first response is this:

Moses spoke to the Lord, saying, “Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be as sheep that have no shepherd.” Numbers 27:15-17

Moses is worried about his people. Moses is worried about God’s people. His fear is that they should become as sheep that have no shepherd. Moses has always had a concern for his people (remember when he killed the Egyptian that was mistreating the Hebrew?) but here we see the fulfillment and true maturation of that concern. The type of concern that is manifested through years and years of faithful service and by humbly walking with the Lord. The type of concern that is more focused on others rather than himself.

The Lord grants Moses’ request and allows Joshua son of Nun to be commissioned by Moses. But once again, even at the end of his life, we see Moses interceding for Israel. Revealing the true heart of a shepherd.

This morning I am so thankful for the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4). I am so grateful for the blood of the Great Shepherd (Hebrews 13:20). I am so glad to know that Jesus was concerned about people being like sheep without a shepherd (Mark 6:34). And I am so full of joy that, by God’s grace, the Lord is my Shepherd (Psalm 23:1).

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