Slideshow image

Year 1, Week 17, Day 1

I have a brief observation for today’s reading of Numbers 10-11.

Today’s reading prepares us for Israel’s departure from Mt. Sinai as they make their way to Paran. Numbers 10 speaks of the trumpet that would be used to signal the start of Israel’s journey: “In the second year, in the second month, on the twentieth day of the month, the cloud lifted from over the tabernacle of the testimony, and the people of Israel set out by stages from the wilderness of Sinai. And the cloud settled down in the wilderness of Paran.” (Numbers 10:11-12). The camp lines up and moves out according to the instructions stated earlier in Numbers. Numbers 10 concludes with strong imagery that conveyed that the LORD Himself would lead Israel through the wilderness as a Mighty Warrior goes before His army: “And whenever the ark set out, Moses said, “Arise, O LORD, and let your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate you flee before you.” And when it rested, he said, “Return, O LORD, to the ten thousand thousands of Israel.” (Numbers 10:35:36). As the journey begins, Numbers 11 describes Israel’s grumbling, disobedience, and lack of trust in the LORD, which will characterize a generation: “And the people complained in the hearing of the LORD about their misfortunes, and when the LORD heard it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of the LORD burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp…Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic.” (Numbers 11:1,4-5).

What struck me in today’s reading was the stark contrast that the LORD reveals between His mighty faithfulness to protect and provide for His people and His people’s ingratitude and dissatisfaction. Israel failed to grasp what the LORD was doing in the midst of His people. As the Ark of the Covenant went before Israel, God Himself was leading His people. David understood this connection many years later as the Ark was being brought into Jerusalem: “God shall arise, his enemies shall be scattered; and those who hate him shall flee before him!…O God, when you went out before your people, when you marched through the wilderness, Selah the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain, before God, the One of Sinai, before God, the God of Israel.” (Psalm 68:1,7-8). David rightly understood that the LORD’s presence provides all that is needed: “Ascribe power to God, whose majesty is over Israel, and whose power is in the skies. Awesome is God from his sanctuary; the God of Israel—he is the one who gives power and strength to his people. Blessed be God!” (Psalm 68:34-35).

But Israel, at the very moment that the LORD went out before them, did not grasp the significance of the LORD’s presence with them. This entire next section of Numbers will reveal the bad state of Israel’s distrust of and defiance against the LORD: “For forty years I loathed that generation and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways.” Therefore I swore in my wrath, “They shall not enter my rest.” (Psalm 95:10-11). Moses was weary by Israel’s grumbling: “Moses heard the people weeping throughout their clans, everyone at the door of his tent. And the anger of the LORD blazed hotly, and Moses was displeased. Moses said to the LORD, “Why have you dealt ill with your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me?…I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me. If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness.” (Numbers 11:10-11,14-15).

Moses has had it; he doesn’t know how to satisfy the complaints of the people. So Moses takes his complaint to the LORD. Moses is complaining and he wants out. Both Israel and Moses are revealing a distorted view of reality. But what I want to suggest is that we should see an important distinction between Israel’s complaints about the LORD and Moses’ complaints to the LORD. Moses cries out to the LORD while Israel cries out against the LORD. Moses, who wrote of these events years later, was not attempting to exonerate himself, he showed his ugly state; but we should learn the wisdom in differentiating between turning to the LORD in our struggles and turning from the LORD in our struggles. Moses was in a bad state, but He looked to the LORD: “I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live. The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish.” (Psalm 116:1-3). And like the Psalmist, the LORD heard Moses’ cries and provided help in multiple forms: shared leadership, equipping with the Spirit, to come alongside Moses (Numbers 11:16-30), and meat for Israel (Numbers 11:31-35).

The LORD also judged Israel for their grumbling. Ironically, the very provision from the LORD (one homer is at least six bushels), not only fed them abundantly: “And the people rose all that day and all night and all the next day, and gathered the quail. Those who gathered least gathered ten homers.” (Numbers 11:32). However, it also had an element of judgment: “While the meat was yet between their teeth, before it was consumed, the anger of the LORD was kindled against the people, and the LORD struck down the people with a very great plague.” (Numbers 11:33).

What struck you in today’s reading? What questions were prompted from today’s reading?

Pastor Joe