“But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘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.” Numbers 20:12
What’s Going On?
Chapter 20 picks the story up forty years later with relatively little mention of what has gone on during these years. We know that the generation of Israelites who came out of Egypt have died and a new generation will begin preparing to enter the Promised Land. After reading that Miriam has died, we learn that there is still an awful lot of grumbling and complaining going on, even though God continues to provide for their every need. Unfortunately Moses has just about had enough of their bad attitudes and in an angry fit he asks the thirsty people, “Must we (meaning Moses and God) bring water out of this rock?” Uh oh. Moses has been tirelessly pointing to God throughout this whole journey and right here at the end, he shows how very human he was. Not only did Moses and Aaron not follow Gods instructions to speak to the rock, their sin includes pride and taking credit for God’s work (Pride goeth before a fall Prov 16:18.) Aaron will die shortly after this and his son Eleazar becomes High Priest after him. When the king of Moab sees Israel camp outside of town, he calls on a medium to curse them. God, however, instructs him not to curse the Israelites but to bless them instead. It seems that with the help of a talking donkey, God’s will can be done through the most unlikely characters. The rest of the book of Numbers is like a tennis match. On one side we have “Blessings for Obedience” and on the other side, “Curses for Disobedience.” The message is clear. Where there is dependence on God, there is victory. Where there is grumbling and complaining there is destruction. A new census is taken and there are now 601,730 men of Israel, plus the Levites. Everyone who came out of Egypt, except Moses, Joshua, and Caleb, has died. Instructions are given from God through Moses to the people about what to do when they get into their new homeland as Joshua and Eleazar prepare to take over as Israel’s new leaders. Two tribes, Reuben and Gad, plus half of the huge tribe of Manasseh claim land on the East side of the Jordan River although they agree to go with all Israel as they prepare to cross over Jordon and begin claiming the land of Canaan, with its boundaries clearly defined in chapter 34. The final instructions include how the Levites are to be dispersed throughout the other tribes, a portion of land should be reserved as cities of refuge, and what to do when there is no male heir to claim the family inheritance.
When and Where Are We?
It is now about 1400 BC and the people have been wandering in the desert and waiting for the next generation to be raised up. Israel will request passage through the land of Edom, the descendants of Esau, but it will be denied. The stages of the journey are recorded very specifically in chapter 33. The story ends outside of Canaan in the land of Moab, across from Jericho.
- Eleazar – Aaron’s son, the new High Priest. His son is Phinehas, the next High Priest
- Sihon – king of the Amorites
- Og – king of Bashan
- Balak – king of Moab
- Balaam – a pagan diviner/fortune teller/seer who speaks in oracles
- Baal of Peor – a false god of fertility
- Zelophehad – from the tribe of Manasseh, his daughters inherit his share because he has no sons
- Joshua – the leader who will follow Moses and bring the people into the Promised Land
“Then Moses laid his hands on Joshua and commissioned him as the Lord instructed.” Numbers 27:23
Weekly Reading Assignment:
Monday: Deuteronomy 1-3
Tuesday: Deuteronomy 4-6
Wednesday: Deuteronomy 7-9
Thursday: Deuteronomy 10-12
Friday: Deuteronomy 13-15
Saturday: Deuteronomy 16-18