Imagine that you are going to the house of a friend who lives 2 hours away but that you decide not to follow Google Maps and turn wherever it seems right because in your opinion that seems to be a better route. Surely you would find yourself in the middle of very heavy traffic, in places that you don’t know, in dangerous areas and maybe instead of driving for 2 hours you would drive for 8 hours! Well, that is exactly what happened to the people of Israel. They decided to do what they thought best instead of following God’s plan. The consequences were terrible!
Numbers is another one of those books that we have all skipped because it seems arduous, boring and irrelevant. However, sister, Numbers is an incredible book that reminds us what happens when we do not follow the way God has given us. Numbers also reminds us of the discipline of the Lord. As we will see, our choices have consequences and God is good when He disciplines us because this shows His love for us.
We begin the book of Numbers right where we left Israel; on Mount Sinai. They had been there for 1 full year. God tells them how they should organize and what tribe should be established where. As you read, you can try to map it. What you will see is a wonderful formation where the tabernacle of God, His Holy Presence is in the center of their life. When God’s presence leaves the Tabernacle, they have to pack and follow God. He was going to guide them. But this, sister, required faith and obedience.
Remember that they were walking in a desert. It is hot, there is sand and girl, sand gets everywhere! There is little water, they do not have an abundance of food and apparently randomly, God leaves the Tabernacle and they have to take all their things, remove their tent which was not a pop up light tent,walk towards God knows where, with all their family, their young children, all their possessions to get to another place that seems identical to where they were before, without having reached the promised land of that they one you had heard so much about… for a whole year. God guides them and when they begin to walk they realize that this will be harder than expected and as we would do, they complain. They miss their home in Egypt, they miss food in Egypt, they want water, they want meat … so they complain and complain and even Aaron and Miriam speak badly of Moses. God in His amazing grace provides his desires and needs, but this lack of trust brings consequences that, as you will see, are quite unpleasant. Read it and you’ll see.
In one of these treks, the presence of God takes them to Paran, where God tells Moses to send 12 spies to go to see the Promised Land. It takes 40 days for these spies to explore Canaan! They return and say that the earth is all that God has promised: it is fertile and has good fruits. In fact, a grape vine is so large that it needed to be carried by two people! But according to the spies there is a problem. The men there are “too powerful and their cities are fortified and too big”! Among these spies are Caleb and Joshua and they are the only ones who say that this is not a problem. That God told them that this was their land so God will make a way. Caleb and Joshua remind Israel not to be afraid because God is with them (Numbers 14: 6-9). But then imagine, people are afraid and a riot begins, a campaign for Israel not to enter this dangerous land is launched. Such is the fear they even try to choose some leaders to take them back to Egypt! They let their fear prevent them from trusting in God’s promise! They let their disbelief start a rebellion in their hearts and a riot in the camp! And then God judges Israel and makes them wait 40 years to enter the Promised Land. Every person 20 years or older would not see the earth, except for Caleb and Joshua, since they were faithful and trusted God even when it was unpopular.
So after this stop in Paran, God leads them back to the desert and, as before, they complain about everything. Although we have seen God providing and being with them, they see what they lack and not what they have, which makes their hearts ungrateful. In this section, we see that even Moses has a moment of rebellion and that regardless of rank, disobedience has devastating consequences. That one little attack of anger disqualifies Moses from entering the Promised Land.
I think this is super important. We have to understand that sin is something we are all susceptible to: Your pastor, your husband, your Bible teacher … ALL OF US. Each of us can fail “Therefore, let anyone who thinks he is standing be careful not to fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). We need to be constantly alert not to sin, but when we sin, we can also be sure that in Christ there is the gift of forgiveness through repentance.
As you continue to read Numbers you will find a weird middle section. It is a story where Israel is bitten by snakes. The antidote for this bite was to leave their tents and look at a bronze snake that God had given Moses. Those who in faith went out and saw that the snake were healed. Jesus in John 3: 14-15 said: “And as Moses raised the serpent in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be raised, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” It wasn’t a go and touch it or take a picture of it and put it under your pillow. It was precise and easy obedience but I imagine that there was no lack of people who said: “Oh no, not again. Moses is talking crazy again. I’m not leaving my bed, I feel terrible!”. Those people, dear sister, died. This shows that disobedience and sin bring the consequence of death and that only through faith (in Jesus Christ) can we be saved. It’s not a believe in Christ as you see fit or get on your knees and go to a miraculous place or make up a magic potion and say these words. Partial obedience is disobedience and brings consequences.
In the last section of Numbers we see Israel going through Moab. King Balac wanted to weaken Israel, so he sends for Balaam, an evil prophet, and asks him to curse Israel in exchange for a great reward. Balaam wants the reward but he knows that he needs to ask God for permission to curse Israel and God basically tells him that he cannot curse Israel (Nm. 22). King Balac really wants Israel to be cursed, so he takes Balaam to a high place and then to another place to curse Israel, but once again, Balaam can’t curse Israel. In fact, instead of cursing Israel, Balaam can only bless Israel! The last blessing that Balaam pronounces is about how a victorious King will come out of Israel to fulfill the covenant that God established with Abraham. Obviously here The Bible is talking about Jesus. Because Balaam could not curse Israel, he does not receive his reward, so he goes back to his home very sad. But shortly afterwards Balaam discovers a way to get his reward by telling King Balak that the way to make Israel receive a curse is to help them fall into sin and that the easiest way to make them sin is by taking Midianite women to have sex with them. He tells King Balac that the women will not only make them sin but will also make them worship their idols. Balaam’s plan causes the people of Israel to fall and God judges 24,000 men.
We finished the book of Numbers and leave Israel in Moab. We see the disaster they have made of their lives. Most of the old generation has died and the new generation is preparing to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land.
The book of Numbers shows us the destructive effects of sin in our lives. It also shows us the responsibility we have in our disobedience and the consequences of disobedience. Once again, we see that unless God perfectly just and perfectly loving saves us, we are doomed to a life of destruction (both in this life because sin never builds up but always destroys) and in eternity. Without Christ we would have no hope of redemption. And for this reason, dear sister, the book of Numbers is so important because we need to remember the disaster we make of our lives when we decide to disobey God’s good and perfect ways.
- What does the book of Numbers teach you about the importance of obedience?
- Have you tried to approach God by obeying it your way? What was the result?
- Have you found yourself in a situation where everyone does something that you know is wrong and you are the only one who decides to obey God? What verses can you memorize to help you in those moments?
- How can you encourage or exhort a sister in Christ to obey and trust God even when she does not see or understand what God is doing in her life with what you learned in Numbers?