Numbers: God Shepherds His People
Today we're going to cover the Book of Numbers. Fourth book in the Bible. The title of the message is, “God Shepherds His People.”
Did you know that some of the most famous New Testament verses have Numbers as their context? So the context of John 3:16, for instance (probably the most famous verse in the Bible, by far) starts out like this, [beginning in John 3:14-15] “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” And then verse 16 [John 3:16-17], “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
I don't want you to miss the context here. Not just about Numbers, but about God's love. See, in this context, “For God so loved the world…,” we see that in Numbers, the relationship of God to his people was about love as well. It was about their heart. And I think you're going to see that as we go through this. Many misunderstand the Mosaic Covenant, the covenant given to Moses, that you will be My people, and I will be your God. And they think that the Mosaic Covenant was not a gracious covenant. That it was just a covenant of do's and don'ts of laws and regulations. But it was not a means of salvation, the Mosaic Covenant. But it was the God intended way for Israel to show its love and commitment to God. And if you get that wrong, you're going to miss understand all of Scripture, and I hope to prove this to you today, not as the main theme, but just as an understanding that the covenants were always about the heart of the people. And we see that explicitly in the New Testament, which we will read later.
The Greatest Commandment says this [Matthew 22:36-39], “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
But what's the next verse? Do you know? Because it proves the point that all of the covenants, all of the Law and the Prophets are about the heart and about love. It says, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” [Matthew 22:40]. All the Law and the Prophets depend on the two laws, which say the greatest is to love God with everything that you are. And the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. And the last couple years, right, the whole country is trying to love other people. They're trying to define what that looks like. And they're giving their own definitions and leading people away from God's definition. But it's not easy sometimes to love people is it? I mean, other people, you guys are really easy to love. Okay, but other people, just think people not here this morning. Right? Those people are hard to love sometimes, right?
Well, Moses has probably 3, in my estimate, to 5 million people to love. Okay, he's their one leader, okay. And he walks with them. He gives them directions from God, and he tells them how to live and how to know and worship God. And he is supposed to be the representative of God's love to the people through the Law and the Prophets, through the commandments. And he's supposed to tell them, Here is God, he is steadfast and loving and kind and gracious and merciful.” And yet Moses has to demonstrate that. And as you already know, he did so very well.
Though Israel promised to obey Exodus 24:1-8, the biblical record demonstrates that Israel disobeyed God and faced curses for breaking the Covenant. In addition to continually violating the law, Israel perverted the Law in two main ways. First, the Jews wrongly twisted the covenant to become a covenant of works righteousness. Right, the Law doesn't save anyone. You can see that in Romans 9:30-32. And second, many emphasized the external rituals of the Covenant at the expense of the heart of love. And you can see that in Micah 6:6. Okay, what does God desire? Does he desire all these continual vain sacrifices? They're not offering them out of a heart of love. He says, “no.” Right. A broken and contrite heart have I desired. So I just want to kind of lay that out there, because what you're going to see today is Israel, they've got a flint forehead. They just go after sin with all abandon. And they have seen amazing things from God. Right, the presence of God was continually at this point on the tabernacle. And when it wasn't there, when it was lifted. That's how they knew to break camp and to move somewhere else. Okay, so the presence of God was there for them to see in a way that you and I don't see.
So what have we believed about God so far? We've learned many things. Let me just review a couple of things as we launch into Numbers, because you need to keep all this in mind as we're moving forward. One, we've learned about Creation. What does that tell us about God? Right, it tells us about his unmatched power, and his sovereignty, his purposeful creation, that we saw that he's a cloud by day and a fire by night, that shows us that God leads his people. He gave them manna and water and quail. We'll learn about the quail today and some of the details that we'll talk about before lunchtime here. Where God guides, God provides, that's what you learned by manna, water and quail, right? There's millions of honey wafers everywhere to feed all these people.
We see that God defeated the Egyptian army, tells us that God protects us. Just seeing millions of Israelites is part of the proof of him fulfilling the Abrahamic Covenant, that God keeps his word. Right, because he told them, you will be fruitful and multiply. They were slaves for 400 years. Right? How can you be fruitful and multiply if you’re slaves, right? Well, they were. Because of God's covenant keeping promise!
We saw the tabernacle and tent of meeting. We learned that God wants to abide with his people. He wants them to worship him. And we saw the Ark of the Covenant. Two main things that we learned from that. One, is that God provides atonement for sin, right? The mercy seat over the Ark, it’s sprinkled with blood, represents the cleansing, of the setting aside of God's wrath, it's called propitiation in the New Testament, it sets aside God's wrath until the fulfillment of all those things through Jesus Christ. The second thing, is that it requires holiness. You remember, well, in Numbers 17, we probably won't get to it today. But that's where Aaron staff buds and that's God's saying, “Hey, I chose you, Aaron, to help lead these people.” You know why they put it in the covenant, in the Ark of the Covenant? It’s to remind the people who God's chosen leaders were. Lest we forget one more time who they are. That's why that was put in the covenant.
So God provides atonement for sin and he requires holiness. But we're lied to all the time by culture, aren't we? The world tells us, probably one of the biggest spiritual lies, they say, “If I could see God with my own eye…,” right? It's like when you're trying to figure out who to marry, “God, just write it in the sky for me so I can know who I'm supposed to marry.” You say, “then I’d believe, just tell me Lord God, show me yourself that I may believe.”
Sometimes we Christians think this too. Or we think, if you just show me a miracle, just one big miracle that’s undeniable, then I will believe. We tell ourselves these things all the time. Some even build their theology on miracles, even though all of the health and wealth gospel leaders fail to help the country through COVID. God addresses this in Numbers 14, and we'll see this in Numbers over and over again. Numbers 14:11 says this, “And the LORD said to Moses, ‘How long will this people despise me?’” Don't think when people despise you, that it's all about you, they've got their own set of issues? Right? They despise God, himself. Okay? So, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?” [Numbers 14:11]
They've rejected all these signs, they won't follow God fully, no matter what he did, they were wayward. So just to kind of put this aside, let's not think that if we were them we would have done something different if we would have seen all these signs and miracles and wonders or if we see them today that that makes us somehow have an ability of our heart to follow God. We would live the same way.
But yet God said in 1 Corinthians 10:11, “… these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction…” And I just want to tell you that one of the things you're going to see throughout Numbers is that it's all in or not in. Okay? The people are all in and following God or they're not in, they have to follow everything he has said, or it's like following nothing he said, Okay, and this is not a do and don't book, it's remember, it's a heart issue. But if we rebel against the clear direction of God, how could we expect an abundant joyful life? We should expect the discipline of God. You see, the discipline of God is to bring us back in line with him, not merely as punishment. Numbers gives us numerous stories for our instruction.
If you look in your outline here, look at the themes there, you'll see kind of an overview of what we're going to cover: That God rewards faithfulness; that God punishes disobedience; that God keeps his Word. And then the grand setting of the story is just the wilderness wanderings. So we're going to follow an outline here that you don't have. But you can follow along and see what chapter we're in using the chapter overview there, and also the chapter events. So I think I can help us get a big idea of what Numbers is about. And the first thing is under the heading, “Camp.” Okay, so the first nine chapters of Numbers, they basically, they get to where they're going, okay, they're there at the foot of Mount Sinai, and they are going to set up camp. And so through the first nine chapters, God is basically getting them ready to have the Passover.
So let me ask you a question. If they're going to have the Passover, how long have they been in the wilderness now? Right? A year, right? Because they're supposed to keep the Passover every year. So they've been there a full year now since they left Egypt. So they keep this Passover. And Moses he's like 80 years old. So if you're under 80, you can't say wow, I could not do this. Okay, so Moses is an 80 year old guy, and he's leading these millions of people in the desert. And Moses, yes, is a real person. He's a real human being. Just to set that aside. He's not some mythical figure. He's mentioned 852 times in over 35 books in the Old and New Testament over the course of 1500 years. Okay, so it's not like there's just one, two, or three books that talk about Moses. So over a 1500 year period, they're still talking about him. So he is a real person. And if you want to see what they call Jabal Musa, I'm sure I just slaughtered that Hebrew, forgive me. But you can look that up, there's pictures of it back on the table back there, where you can see where their wanderings went. And there's a mountain that they call the Mountain of Moses, right, over near Israel. And you can see pictures of this back on the table back there. Okay, so we're talking about a real people, in a real setting, and a real wilderness. And I just think we need to keep that in mind.
When he goes up on the mountain. It's over 7,000 feet he has to go up, okay? This is not like a little day hike. This is a serious climb to get up there to meet with God. And I can't cover obviously all he did and said, but we're going to look at the last 40 years of his life today. So they're one year, look at Numbers 1:1. And yes, it took us 10 minutes to get there. “The LORD spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt…” So they take a census of all the people, and this is important. And you'll see why in a little while, but there's 603,000, plus, men of war, right? So about age 20, and up every single man who could fight. So if every man has a wife, and however many kids, remember, they were prolific. So this isn't the one or two child household. This is a lot of children. So you're talking about millions of people. That's how we get that number, by the way. So they take a census of the people. And this doesn't include the Levites or the women and children 603,000 people out in the desert, doing the setup/teardown church thing, right? It's not a church, but they're setting up and tearing down the tabernacle over and over and over again.
Grace Bible Church, if you were here, for the first six years, we were the setup and teardown church. We have a little bit of setup and teardown now, right. But the Israelites did that as well. They were told to keep the Passover, in the first month, and that comes from Exodus 12. That's when it was originally given. And we see here that God is preparing them to continue to remember him. What does it take for us to continue to remember God? I mean, how quickly do we get distracted? Right? Oh, four times already in this sermon so far. Right? We get distracted, easy, and our minds drift and we think, wow, God, where are you? How did I get here? Lord, where did you go? Right? And so he's preparing them, “I want you to keep the Passover.” “Yeah, but we're in the wilderness, God.” “You still got to keep the Passover, you still have your livestock, you still have the ability to do this, but I want you to keep it.” And this is a gracious thing that God has given them.
But even in the Passover, there were provisions of grace. And not to read all of these things. Chapter nine around verse 11, talks about two provisions that if you weren't there to keep the Passover in the first month, for two specific reasons, if you were unclean, that as you touched a dead body, or if you were on a long journey, I don't know if that's permanent foreshadowing, they're going to be on a 40-year journey soon. But what it means is, if you're not around, then you can keep it in the second month. Even in the thing that God says you shall keep as a memorial before me forever, grace is built in. There is no such thing as the law without grace. There's no such thing as the Law of God without his love without his mercy, without his compassion. He builds that in to the greatest festival that they need to keep, the Passover.
Well, that kind of summarizes their camp experience there through the first nine [chapters] and the second kind of heading that we're going to use in chapters eleven to twelve, they start complaining. You see God's presence would start to lift over the tabernacle, and that was their sign that they needed to move to a new place. He didn't tell them why, he didn't tell him where they were going. He just said, “it's time to set out.” You thought it took a lot of effort to get your family here this morning. Just imagine, probably 20 miles. I don't know how, how small of an area, you can fit a bunch of people who aren't crammed together and little houses. 10 miles, five miles, I don't know. Just imagine miles of people, and they all have to pack up. Right? And then they all set out in waves to go, somewhere. Right? That's what's happening here. And I guess you could think of it as a road trip. Right? The parents know where you're going but maybe the little kids don't know. So what do the little kids start to do on road trips? Right? They start to complain. And we've devised all kinds of things to fix these solutions, right? Don't cross the seatbelt line. Right? That's what it was for me when I was growing up. Don't, this is your sister side, this is your side, don't cross when we can of course, throw stuff across, right? Throw words back and forth. So the people do what we all do, they started to complain. They got weary on the way. And God heard they're complaining. God is present. And we're complaining about God's plan. So, he gets angry. And he sends fire and plague among them, for complaining. Let that sink in a little bit.
Nothing divides a church more, than complaining. You think, “oh well, theology divides a church.” No, theology sets the right course. Complaining about the theology or the doctrine or the whatever, is what normally divides a church. And you all have been in churches, and you've seen this happen. And God hear literally rains fire upon them, for simply complaining.
Well they go through this pattern over and over and over again, where they sin and complain, and God judges them and then restores them or they die. And they go through this pattern over and over again. Why go through that pattern? We're going to answer that at the end of the message. But as we go through these, I want you to just see, how long would your patience last if you were Moses? And how long would your patience last? See, Moses isn't making the game plan. He's following God's game plan. And when you follow God's game plan and somebody complains to you, they're really complaining about God. Right? So in Numbers 11:1, they're complaining about moving. And then in Numbers 11:4, they're complaining about food. All they had was manna. So right, the bread grocery store was all around them. And when they dew fell, it says, the manna fell with it. And it was like little honey wafers. And they picked it up, and they were making all kinds of stuff, right? You can imagine if all you had was manna over and over again, you'd make 100 meals out of manna. So they had all kinds of stuff, but they wanted meat.
Now, Moses is tired of their complaining a little bit by this point. And in verse 12, he starts talking to God. He's like, “God, did I birth these people? Why’d you give them to me? They're not mine, they're yours. Let me just, you take them, right.” God doesn't want them. God's already sent fire down on them. He's had enough. Right? This is the God of the universe, who's got more patience than anyone. So what do we do with these people? Well, they're the covenant people of God. So God is not going to go back on his covenant and wipe them out. Although at one point he tells Moses, let me wipe them out and I'll start over with you, I’ll just make you into this numerous nation. He's like, no thanks. But what do we do with these people? He says, this burden is too heavy if you will treat me like this. Just kill me now. Just kill me now. Numbers 11:15.
Have you ever felt like that? I can't take your plan, God. I can't handle it. And they tell you in counseling, you know, when anybody says this, the red flags go off immediately, right? Because there's some kind of thought process there about it. And you want to see how far along that thought process they are. Do they really mean that? Well, because of this, God had compassion on them. And God raised up more leaders for Moses, 70 of them. And you think, wow, that's a lot of leaders. Actually, I was telling Gary and Adam this morning, we've got a better leadership ratio than they did. Right. We've got three leaders for 100. And they had 72, Moses and Aaron plus the 70, right for four or 5 million, right. So we're doing pretty good on the leadership front. But God provides more of them and gives them his blessing and gives them a portion of the spirit of Moses.
But look at verse 31. God doesn't forget the complaining. He doesn't just brush it off. And we're going to kind of go through the story a little bit so that you can kind of see what we're dealing with. And Numbers 11:31-33 says, “Then a wind from the LORD sprang up, and it brought quail from the sea and let them fall beside the camp, about a day’s journey on this side and a day’s journey on the other side, around the camp, and about two cubits above the ground. 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. [I’m sure we are all familiar with that] And they spread them out for themselves all around the camp. 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.”
God sent millions of quail, right quail, little tiny bird, little fat body, little tiny wings, they run on the ground. It's a general reference to a bird of that type in the desert, but you would catch them, they would catch them in nets. This is like easy to catch. So when it says there that they were two cubits above the ground deep, so that's three feet of quail on the ground, a day's journey. How long does it take you to walk a mile? 15 minutes if you're going slow, 20 minutes if you're going really slow. So if you go a day, walk in at 20 minutes, 20 minute mile pace, right three miles an hour. Let's say you walk eight hours. And that's 24 miles in one direction of quail. 24 miles in the other direction of quail three feet deep. I don't think the Jews till this day like quail, I'm kidding. I don't think they were being pleasing to God. They lusted over food. They were gluttons. It says those who had the taste, before all the quail was gone, “Yahweh struck down the people with a very great plague.” And it says in verse 34, that they were gluttons, that they had the craving. I have this craving. Not like a pregnant woman that wants pickles and ice cream. But they had this idea that they just had to have this specific food. They needed it. They wanted it. God what you're giving us is not good enough.
So this plague I read some articles about what they think that might be. And let's just say that there are a lot of options. These birds carry specific diseases, all that kind of stuff, no matter how the disease got to them, or the infliction got to them, it was from the Lord. No matter how the wind brought the quail in, God sent the wind and brought them in, okay, they migrate. They don't migrate in packs or groups big enough to feed millions of people. We don't see that anywhere on the planet. So there's so many of these birds all around and they start eating day after day after day after day. And it's coming out of their nostrils. Normally, we don't want food to come out of our nostrils on purpose. Right? No matter how much we eat, you get the picture. This was not a planned response. This was part of the sickness. Do you think that would be enough to cause you, when you're eating what God had sent, to follow God? Well, they didn't learn their lesson.
Chapter 12. Moses, the most meek man ever [Numbers 12:3], his sister and brother speak up against him. And this pattern is seen over and over and over again. That when the people sin, God's chosen leader, Moses has to pray for them on their behalf, that God’s plague, that God's punishment will stop. If you wanted to know how to be humbled, that's it. Right there. How do you live as someone who's humble, you pray for those who persecute you. You pray, God will bless their lives, Lord, remove this plague from them. I beg you God, when he's praying for his sister, she's got leprous hands. She's like, white flakes all over. It's the judgment, immediate judgment of God. And Moses says, “please, please heal her! Please God!” The one who just wanted me to lose all the leadership, the one who wanted to take over my leadership, and Aaron, the one who has done this, I have to pray for them. And he doesn't just do it reluctantly, he does it willingly. He has a loving heart that is so huge, that he can immediately pray for those who are causing him the most pain. Believer, can you do that? That is the power of God!
Moses is a good shepherd to them. And then 11 and 12. They complain over and over and over again. And like the Egyptians with the plagues on them, as soon as the plague was gone, they go back to their old ways. Right, millions of frogs among all the Egyptians and not a single frog among the Israelites. And as soon as they're gone, they go back to the way they were. That's how we all are at times. So I want you to ask yourself this question as we go through these next sections. What was it… because you know eventually this first generation, all these people, right, age 20 or so and up, none of them enter the promised land. They all have to die in the wilderness. Right? We all know the story, the whole first generation, the older generation, the one who was supposed to bring the wisdom. God is so upset with them that he doesn't let them enter the land. Why? Why? What's the main reason? We'll get to it explicitly in a little bit.
Chapters 13 to 14 we can put under the heading Canaan. So we've got the camp, we've got Complaining and now we've got Canaan. Okay, so Canaan, you can look on the map back there on the table. That's the Promised Land. So if you picture the Dead Sea, north of that is the Jordan River, great name. And then above that is the Sea of Galilee. Okay, to the west side of that all the way to the Mediterranean Sea, about 200 miles and then it flows over to the east a little bit. That's the promised land. Okay, it's full of giants and it's full of milk and honey and fruit and everything's working really well. It's a very fertile region. So at this point in chapter 13, he sends the spies into the land of Canaan tells them go spy out the land. God wants them to do that. They're camped at Kadesh-Barnea. You can look that up on any Google map or any map system and see exactly where that is. You can see where they're camped. It's about 20 miles south and west of the Dead Sea.
And as you know, 12 spies go into the land, 12. They are gone for 40 days. You can see this, I’m skimming over chapter 13. And only 2, as you know, come back and say, let's take it. The other 10. It's not like they were lying. The other 10 said, “the people are like giants, we’re like grasshoppers in their sight. They're going to kill us. They're going to kill our families and take our children and our women, They're going to plunder us. This is going to be the end of us. We should not go into the land.” And they convince all of Israel not to go into the land.
Two people Joshua, whose name was changed. He is the assistant of Moses, by the way, Joshua and Caleb came back and said, “yeah, let's take it. They're huge, but God is on our side. If God is pleased with us, he will give us the land.” They chose not to go into the Promise Land. They chose. God gave them a year, to know him. To get his ordinances, his offerings, to get the tithes all set up. Like they're in the wilderness, they were living in Egypt. Not in that fertile region that you see, but over in the land of Goshen. Probably a mix of good and bad land, that was the worst land, so they give it to the Israelites. So they're used to this arid country. And when they're in the wilderness for a year, God is establishing who he is with them, how they are to act with a holy God. That's what the sacrifices are for, to provide forgiveness to provide this atonement that would have to come year after year. If you want to make a peace offering, here's how you do it. If you want to give a tithe, if you want to give of something you own, here's how you do it.
So over the last year, they've gotten to know God, and in ways they never have before. And he did all that around Mount Sinai. Okay, they get the 10 commandments. They set apart Moses and Aaron. The people say, “you know what? This looks hard. This looks actually too hard to go into the land. And we're out.” What are they going to do? Go back to being slaves, live in the desert? I think there's times in our lives where we know what God wants. But we are just digging our heels in. And we're unwilling to obey God. We make God's laws and rules about a do and don't society, when God wants to make it about the heart. If you love me, here's what I have for you. You have to trust me though in this. And we set aside this part of what God wants. And we say, I don't like that part. I'm not doing that part. We set this side apart. I don't like that part there. I'm just going to take this part here. Right. That didn't work out so well. So God punishes them. He punishes them, and he tells them that they're not going to go into the Promise Land.
Look at Numbers14:33-34. And ever wondered why they were in the wilderness 40 years? Was that just some random number God picked? Verses 33 to 34 answer that question, “And your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years and shall suffer for your faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness.” They had crossed the line. Verse 34, “According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, a year for each day, you shall bear your iniquity forty years, and you shall know my displeasure.” The spies were in the land of Canaan for 40 days. God said for each of the days they were in there, you're going to be in the wilderness now. One year for each day.
All along friends, look at verse 18 in chapter 14, Numbers 14:18, Moses is constantly reminding them, “Yahweh is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but will by no means clear the guilty….”
You see, we like the love part. But we don't like the, he's going to bring justice on us. So they turned from there. And this is the next section, the fourth section, where they're all “Cleansed.” Chapter 16 to 25. Chapters 16 to 25. So we have the “Camp,” then we have “Complaining,” then we have “Canaan,” and now they're going to be “Cleansed.” And this is where the old generation is literally going to be swallowed up by the Earth. They're all going to be put to death. They've had their chances to live for God, and they've rebelled and rejected all that. And instead of now living for the next 40 years, for God's pleasure, to worship God, they're going to continue to rebel.
Chapter 16 is Korah’s rebellion. They all come against Moses and Aaron. Remember Moses and Aaron and Eleazar, and Nadab and Abihu (who became burnt crisps). Those guys were the priests. So Korah’s family, they were part of the Levites. The Levites had charge over the tabernacle, they were the ones they were the setup/teardown crew, they were also the guards, they would guard the people from coming into the Holy Place or the Holy of Holies, which they themselves weren't allowed to go in.
So they said, “Look, we're just as holy and set apart as you are Moses, Aaron. We, too are the man.” So yeah, 14,700 of them got killed as they were trying to take over God's plan and get rid of the head of everyone, Moses. See, when God gives us good things, we need to pursue this word called, “contentment.” It's fleeting, isn't it? Contentment is really hard to come by. I mean, you saw Moses like, “did I birth these kids?” So it gets to him too. Right and Aaron, I can't take it. Right Aaron, as you know, followed their leadings to make a golden calf when Moses was gone for a while, and so he fell too. But contentment is, is truly being satisfied with who God truly is. Being satisfied with who God truly is. See, they weren't satisfied. They weren't satisfied that their food was brought to them. Remember the sacrifices provided for them? They were even given a tithe of the people. Remember, they took plunder from the Egyptians. They're like all lugging around pounds of gold and silver and bronze and all kinds of stuff. And they're giving a tithe to God, to the tabernacle, which then pays for all the things the Levites need to do. Right, the old bartering system and whatnot. So their food was given to them. Their money was given to them for what they were doing. They were also called to make a tithe of the tithe. That's why pastors continue to tithe on what is already tithed. They weren't content.
Listen, discontentment in life breeds many sins and its end is unhappiness. Its end is not glory to God. When God provides for us, He provides his Word. He's provided Jesus Christ. He's provided complete unabated forgiveness of sins. But I want that new TV. Right? I want that new home. I want an addition on my new home. Right? I want the riding lawnmower, the zero turn. I'd like those. We get attached to all these worldly things. We’re not content, there's always something else to buy. There's always something else to want. So Korah and all his people, the Levites. They come against, and they separate out their three clans, and say get away from them because God's going to judge them and God does judge them, and everybody who did get away gets to save their life. And they start to learn that God continues to bless Moses and Aaron.
But discontentment would even strike those two. In chapter 20, even after Aaron’s staff blossoms in chapter 17 and God continues to show himself. And God himself intercedes between the people who want to at times stone Moses and Aaron, that'd be a lot of stones to dodge. God himself comes between them with his glory and chooses them. And in chapter 20, Moses has finally had it. He's finally had it.
Numbers 20:10-12, “Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock [they’re complaining again about food and water], and he said to them, ‘Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?’ And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.’”
The most humble man on the planet, gave way to discontentment. Moses was supposed to speak to the rock, not slam his staff on it twice, like he had the power to bring water out. He was taking the glory of God for himself. Had he not learned the holiness that God requires? Had he not seen what God did to those who profaned his name or his sacrifices or came against his people? Did he forget all those things and think he was above the rules just because he was the leader? No.
The people would continue to reject, get punished, repent or die; and God's people and plan would move on. Now, this sounds kind of harsh. It normally means that we want to water down holiness in life. We don't want real holiness. We don't want to know the real God. We want to know God of our own making. They would continue to go on, and many of the stories we won't cover this morning, like the fiery serpent, right? They're complaining again, they've got war with other nations. At this point in chapter 21, they start to go on the east side of the Dead Sea. They didn't just stay in the Sinai Peninsula, that little triangular shaped thing, right? The Dead Sea is up here, I guess for you guys it’s over here. They went on the east side of that, and they made war with all the nations among there, up through Hebron, the Moabites, the Edomites, remember the name, Edom, they got the wrath of the Israelites over and over and over and over again. So did the Moabites. Right, the Moabites got so scared they hired Balaam to speak for them? And the question comes up, remember Balaam and he speaks for God and he prophesized oracles of God, true, right, accurate oracles of God. Balaam, is he a believer? Is he someone who trusts in God? Can someone who doesn't believe in God still speak oracles of God? Can that happen? Right?
Because today we have lots of people who say, “Oh, I heard this from the Lord, or I did this, or this happened, and this miracle, I must be a Christian. I must be saved.” Balaam spoke for God. Well, so did his donkey. And his donkey was no child of God. Let's just leave it right there. Okay, I think that kind of settles it. Balaam spoke to try and, he was hired to bring curses, against the people of Israel. But he said, “all I can do and speak and say is what God has told me to say.” He would later be destroyed, along with the Moabites. So they got fiery serpents sent among them. Balaam’s, the whole issue there, that was a successful time for the people of Israel. And then in chapter 25, lest you think all they were just kind of grumbling and complaining. They started becoming immoral with the Moabites. They started mixing in with the Moabites. They began to worship and to sacrifice to their gods.
After all this. It's not just that they didn't want to do their own sacrifices, right? Because they went and sacrificed more… now they're sacrificing to the gods of the Moabites. I think it's fair to say that the Israelites learned the hard way. You know, people like that, right? Some people, you say, “this is a bumpy path, don't take it.” “I believe you,” and they take the right path. Other people. They just hit pothole after pothole after pothole their whole life. They do not ever choose the right way, and then they're bitter. And they wonder why life is so difficult. Why can I never get past these things? After all, that the Israelites had seen, their hearts were not changed. They even worshipped foreign gods.
Well, they all got cleansed. And in chapter 26, the reason why we call it the Book of Numbers, there's two… there's a census taken twice of the people, one early on, and one here. And there’s a census of the new generation in chapter 26. There's 601,730 men now. Notice they didn't grow in number, the first time in 400, and some years. Joshua in Numbers 27:22, is chosen to succeed Moses, and this is kind of the chosen era, chapters 26 through 36, it's the chosen people of God and they're, they're going to move into position to take the land of Canaan.
So in Numbers 27:22, “And Moses did as the LORD commanded him. He took Joshua and made him stand before Eleazar the priest and the whole congregation, and he laid his hands on him and commissioned him as the LORD directed through Moses.”
So now they have a new leader, right? Moses is going to see the Promise Land, but he and Aaron because of what they did at the rock, they are not allowed to go into the Promise Land. God holds his leaders to a higher standard, do not long for their position. Chapter 36, you know, they're in this wilderness. Right, another 39 years. 40 years total. It's been called the longest funeral march in history.
So what do we learn from Numbers? Remember, I asked you at the start, “why were they not allowed to go into the Promised Land? Why were they not allowed to go?”
Turn in your Bibles if you would to Hebrews chapter three. See, Hebrews chapter three and four is a commentary that answers those questions for us, on the people of Israel when they were going through the wilderness. And once again, before we answer that question, their hearts become the focus Hebrews 3:7, “Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says…” And in the first six verses, they're comparing Moses to Jesus, Moses was the head of one house, and Jesus is the head of God's house. So Jesus is better than Moses. Hebrews is all about the supremacy of Jesus. Okay?
So in Hebrews 3:7-9, “Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years.”
What do we learn from Numbers? God will keep his Word. We will have to give an account of our lives to him. But it's about the heart, “do not harden your hearts,” verse eight. Look in verse 12, Hebrews 3:12, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.” They refused to fully obey God. So why did they not get to enter the Promise Land? Think about it for a minute. Was it that they didn't want to go to war with the Canaanites? Right? They said, “they're too big. We don't want to fight them. We're not going in,” that's what they said. Was that the issue? Was it the worshipping of other gods? Right, “you shall have no other gods before me,” that's in the Ten Commandments. They broke his law specifically. Was it refusing to follow Moses? Moses, you represent me. Exodus chapter three. Right? “Tell them I am Yahweh, I have sent you.” Was it not keeping the Sabbath, there’s so much made of the Sabbath? Was it not keeping the Sabbath? That they didn't get to go into the Promise Land or the commandments? Keep these and you'll live? Do not keep these in your what? Die of plague, of serpents, of all kinds of stuff. We saw that already? Was it of not offering correct sacrifices? Nadab and Abihu died because they offered unauthorized fire on the altar? They were the priests. Was it because of that? Did they somehow sin in a way that wasn't prescribed? And so they weren't allowed to go into the Promised Land? What was it?
Verse 19, Hebrews 3:19, “So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.” Unbelief is a matter of the heart. Right? It's a matter of the heart. Their hearts lacked faith, to trust in God. They had sacrifices to atone for sin. If they sinned, even unintentionally, God made provision for their sin to be cleansed so that they could still relate with a holy God, even out in the wilderness. So it wasn't a specific sin. God knew they would sin.
They tried to overthrow God's plan. They tried to overthrow God's man, Moses. But ultimately, it was a lack of faith in God's promise. “The Promise Land. I will give you this land. I'm going to hand it over to you. All you've got to do is go in and take it.” Right? “I want you to spy it out and see what I'm talking about. I want you to go in…” And they brought back this giant cluster of grapes, right? This land is flowing with milk and honey and grapes. It's fertile. There's plenty of pasture land for us. All of this area there's rivers flowing. It was fed by springs. Look up the word springs in the first five books of the Bible. You see how many springs there are? They still feed into the rivers. But the people said, “No God, not your plan. My plan, or no plan.”
That was Israelites. They didn't believe God would fulfill his promise. They thought they would die by the sword and not be able to conquer the people of the land. Ultimately, it was a lack of faith in God's promise and that led to their disobedience. Hebrews 4:6, it was disobedience, right? As a result of their lack of faith. Wow, Dave, that's kind of heavy.
Look in verse 16. What do we do with all this? I just, I beg you, I beg you to put verse 16 into practice. [Hebrews 4:16] “Let us then with confidence draw nearer to the throne of grace…”
Enjoy the provision of God. Enjoy the body of Christ. Enjoy fellowship with believers. Enjoy prayer and communion with God. Enjoy knowing his Word, all of it. Enjoy praying for others and asking God, as you abide in Christ, and John 15 says, you know, “If you abide in me, ask me and I will give you anything.” John 15:7, right. But you have to abide in Christ, enjoy that life more than whatever else leads you away from God. If you're a parent with children, teach your children this promise. And I would encourage you, stop rebelling against the Lord in any area! As the Israelite’s testimony shows, we don't, we're not promised tomorrow. We always think we might get hit by a car. Right? God is drawing us to him. Draw near with confidence. He has provided everything you need in the sacrifice, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ to draw nearer to God. Do it!
What's the promise if we do? The end of verse 16 [Hebrews 4:16], “… that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” That friends, is a promise you can enjoy.
Lord God, gives us the courage to draw near to you, to love you, Lord. To put off sinful ways that we coddle. And to embrace the love that you bring. just the tidal wave of love and mercy and grace Lord that is ours in Christ.
Friends let's just take a moment right now and ask God to help us to draw near to his throne.
Father, thank you for your sweet mercy. Shower us with your grace. Help us to draw near. That we may worship you with a pure heart. Amen.
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