The Book of Numbers seems to continue along with the theme of Exodus and Leviticus by delving into the laws and precedents set forth for the Israelites in preparation to enter the land promised to them by God, when they left Egypt.
In the beginning Moses as per God’s instructions conducts a census. He comes up with 603,550 people, which I have to say blew my mind. I remember in Exodus it mentioned six hundred thousand Israelites exiting Egypt, but it wasn’t until they spoke about setting up tents where I tried to envision how many tents you would actually need for that many people. What was the reason you may ask for Moses doing a head count?
Well, he was trying to determine how many guys were fit for military service. After all they had lands to pillage and people to slaughter and with God’s help they still needed able bodies to complete the task. From my perspective the entire situation seems quite odd. I assumed when people reference God they say that He cares for and loves everyone equally, but here He is with His preferred group of people heading on a destructive path to kill their families and steal their land. It’s like God is a parent and is taking from one child he favors less to give to His favorite child. I feel like maybe I am missing something here.
The one common theme that keeps popping up to me is the Israelites are basically whiners, almost like spoiled children. Despite being slaves in Egypt it sounds like they led sinful lives that made them content, basically doing what they wanted when they wanted to do it. At one point they complain there is no meat to eat, and they remember in Egypt there was always fish, vegetables, and fruit readily available. During the journey to the promise land their main source of food was manna and they were sick of it.
Some people even had the balls to say they were better off in Egypt! Moses complained to God for them and of course God gets angry and who wouldn’t, when people were being so ungrateful. God proclaimed that he would give the people meat to eat everyday for an entire month. This caused Moses to question God’s power and he replied with, “Is the Lord’s arm too short? Now you will see whether or not what I say will come true for you.” God flooded the camps with quail and the greedy people spent night and day collecting as much as they could get their hands on. Before they had a chance to eat their fill of precious meat the anger of God burned them. Everyone that consumed the meat was infected with a severe plague and thousands died. From that point on this place was referred to as Kibroth Hattaavah, the place where people were buried who had craved other food. I have to hand it to God, he used the fear tactic again and it worked well. Totally severe, but after this no one else complained again about what was on the menu each day.
The show-stopper for me was in chapter 16. Some guys tried to oppose Moses and Aaron and brought along with them 250 close friends as muscle. Moses accuses the Levites of going too far and in case you don’t know, the Levites are the guys in charge of the tabernacle, which is a big deal. So far when God gets angry at his people he usually resorts to plagues, but this one threw me for a loop! Chapter 16 verse 31 states, “As soon as he finished saying all this, the ground under them split apart, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their households, and all those associated with Korah, together with their possessions. They went down alive into the realm of the dead, with everything they owned; the earth closed over them, and they perished and were gone from the community.” I remember reading this passage and thinking what the Hell just happened, and I had to go back and re-read it again. It was like something out of the movie 2012, where it was the end of the world. Could you imagine seeing your family and friends die that way?
The final surprise the Book of Numbers dropped on me was Moses got banned from entering the promise land. Yeah, you read that right! The most humble man on earth screwed up so badly that God basically took away the reward everyone had been striving for in this long strenuous journey. Chapter 20 verse 8 states:
“The Lord told Moses, ‘Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.’ 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.” The Lord was displeased with Moses’ actions: “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”
You may be wondering what did Moses do that was so disrespectful? I admit for this one I had to do a bit of research. I understood he got banned, but I needed to understand why.
“Moses disobeyed a direct command from God. God had commanded Moses to speak to the rock. Instead, Moses struck the rock with his staff. Second, Moses took the credit for bringing forth the water. Notice how in verse 10 Moses says, “Must we [referring to Moses and Aaron] bring you water out of this rock?” Moses took credit for the miracle himself, instead of attributing it to God. Third, Moses committed this sin in front of all the Israelites. Such a public example of direct disobedience could not go unpunished. Fourth, it seems that God had intended to present a type of Christ in this circumstance. The water-giving rock is used as a symbol of Christ in 1 Corinthians 10:4. The rock was struck once in Exodus 17:6, just like Christ was crucified once (Hebrews 7:27). Moses’ speaking to the rock in Numbers 20 was to be a picture of prayer; instead, Moses angrily struck the rock, in effect, crucifying Christ again. His punishment for disobedience, pride, and the misrepresentation of Christ’s sacrifice was that he was barred from entering the Promised Land (Numbers 20:12)”
All I can say is “wow!” This one had a lot more meaning than I assumed. Nothing is as simple as it appears and that’s why bible study resources are so handy! So the question I want to know is why did God’s right hand man fail in the home stretch. Perhaps all the power was going to his head and he was tired of just being God’s messenger? Was he losing his faith and doubting God’s skills? Why else would Moses deliberately disobey God’s instructions? Oh, I almost forgot to mention that for their public display of disobedience Aaron was basically marched up a mountain and told he had no choice but to hand his duties and clothes over to his son Eleazar. Just so everyone is on the same page, passing the torch on to Eleazar also meant the end for Aaron. He passed away that day and Moses was left to man the ship. So Moses was banned and his older brother died, this is the ultimate game changer for transitioning into Deuteronomy if you ask me!