The Egyptian Plagues… The Pillar of Fire… The Parting of the Red Sea… Manna from Heaven…
These are just a few of the ways that God had directly shown himself to the nation of Israel. When he delivered them from Egypt, God also intended to return them to the land that he had given to Abraham and that Jacob had left when famine forced them to relocate to Egypt.
Israel, however, didn’t follow along with the the plan very well. They complained and fought against God nearly every step of the way to the point that, in our readings this week from Numbers, we see God finally having enough.
Grumbling and Complaining
Beginning in Exodus, we see a number of times that the people either complained about Moses, about God himself, or both. The instances are:
- The people complained to Moses that because of him and his talk of a promised land, Pharaoh made things worse for them (Exodus 5:1-2)
- The people complained and said to Moses “let us alone” (Exodus 14:10-12)
- The people complained about the bitter water (Exodus 15:22-23)
- The people complained about being hungry (Exodus 16:1-3)
- The people complained about being thirsty (Exodus 17:1-4)
- The people forsake the Lord and have Aaron build a golden idol for them to worship (Exodus 32:1-6)
- The people complained about their hardships and the lack of meat to eat (Numbers 11:1; 11:4-6)
- Miriam and Aaron complain about Moses’ leadership (Numbers 12:1-2)
- The people were too scared to enter the Promised Land and refused to obey God (Numbers 13:31-14:4)
- The people want to kill Moses and elect a new leader to take them back to Egypt (Numbers 14:4-10)
- Key leaders rebel against Moses (Numbers 16:1-40)
- The people accuse Moses of killing God’s people (Numbers 16:41-50)
- The people complain about being thirsty… AGAIN (Numbers 20:2-5)
- The people complain against God and Moses (Numbers 21:4-9)
We then see how God responds to each of these instances. For the first five complaints, He performs miracles to appease them, but once they make the golden idol, he starts punishing them. The idolaters are forced to drink water laced with the ground-up idol, three-thousand of them are killed, and more are struck with a plague because of the calf at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 32:19-35). After God berates Aaron and Miriam, he afflicts Miriam with leprosy for seven days (Numbers 12:4-15). Eventually, it seems that God has finally given up on them completely.
The Last Straw
After the people complain about the state of the Promised Land, God has had enough. He once again tells Moses that he will start over with him and create from Moses a new nation (14:11-12). After Moses repeats his reasoning from Mt. Sinai, God decided to instead give the Israelites exactly what they had asked for:
” The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: “How long will this wicked community grumble against me? I have heard the complaints of these grumbling Israelites. So tell them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Lord, I will do to you the very thing I heard you say: In this wilderness your bodies will fall—every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me. Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. As for your children that you said would be taken as plunder, I will bring them in to enjoy the land you have rejected. But as for you, your bodies will fall in this wilderness. Your children will be shepherds here for forty years, suffering for your unfaithfulness, until the last of your bodies lies in the wilderness. For forty years—one year for each of the forty days you explored the land—you will suffer for your sins and know what it is like to have me against you.’ I, the Lord, have spoken, and I will surely do these things to this whole wicked community, which has banded together against me. They will meet their end in this wilderness; here they will die.” (Numbers 14:26-35)
Is There Any Hope?
You may notice that there are more instances of complaining after God told them they would die in the wilderness. The next two are direct rebellions right after God condemns them and results in a lot of deaths. The incident in Numbers 20 is where Moses finally loses his temper and because he failed to obey God, he was not allowed to enter the Promised Land (20:7-12)
The last recorded instance is in Numbers 21. God had finally heard enough griping from his people and he sends venomous snakes to kill them. Through Moses’ petition, God says that if they gaze up at a bronze snake on a pole, they would be healed.
Sadly, this scenario plays out with each of us today. So many of us say, “God, let me do it my way” or “God, just leave me alone.” If we continue to rebel, God will eventually tell us, “Fine. You can have it your way” and we will be lost forever. Thankfully, we have been given a path to redemption:
“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” (John 3:14-21)
Jesus himself says that, just like the bronze snake, he would be lifted up and be the agent of salvation. Just as in the Old Testament, it is trust in God that redeems us to him.