Num 10:11 - The Israelites finally depart from Sinai.
Moses is very optimistic about the future (Num 10:32).
There is a sense of confidence each time the ark sets out and comes to rest (Num 10:35-36).
But them comes Number 11-25 and things turns bad.
The main themes
(similar to Exodus 15:22-17:16)
1. Complaints about the conditions the people encounter on their journey - it reveals a failure to trust God.
2. Rebellion against those exercising authority.
3. Divine punishment of those at fault.
4. Moses and Aaron as mediators on behalf of the people.
Num 11:1-3 - Taberah = “burning” - sets the mood
1. God’s anger is roused against the people because of their complaints (Num 11:1; 11:30,33;12:9;21:5)
2. They are punished (Num 11:1; 11:33;12:20;21:6).
3. Moses prays to the Lord on behalf of the people (Num 11:2; 12:13; 14:13-19; 21:7);
4. The punishment is limited (Num 11:2; 12:13-15; 21:8-9);
5. A name, reflecting what happened, is given to the place (Num 11:3; 11:34; 20:13).
Craving for Egypt - Num 11:4-5.
It reflects their lack of gratitude for all that God has done for them in the past,
And the latter displays their lack of faith regarding all that God will do for them in the future.
After all they are going to a land “flowing with milk and honey”.
God interprets this complaint as his rejection (Num 11:20).
God gives them food but also sends a plague.
The name is called “graves of craving” (Num 11:34).
The spies and their report
1. The land is good (Num 13:27);
2. But its inhabitants are powerful (Num 13:28).
3. Num 13:30 - Caleb and Joshua - positive; but Num 14:6-9 - the other spies negative about any chance to enter the land.
4. And so people decide to return to Egypt (Num 14:1-4).
5. The Lord is so angry that he wants to destroy them (See Ex 32:10).
6. Moses prays on their behalf and God relents but:
None of the people who left Egypt will enter the Promised Land and the children will be subjected to 40 years in the desert - one year for each of the forty days that the spies spent in the land.
7. The spies who discouraged the people died (Num 14:36-38);
8. The people repented and tried to enter the land of Canaan, but it is presented as a further act of disobedience against what the Lord said about the 40 years. And so there are defeated (Num 14:39-45).
Korah and his followers (Num 16)
Num 16:3 - challenging Moses’ authority.
Num 16:41 - the people blamed Moses and Aaron for the death of Korah and his followers.
The plaque kills 14,700 (Num 16:49).
Lack of water (Num 20:1-13)
The people wished to be dead (Num 20:3).
Apparently, striking the rock twice and making a comment, Moses and Aaron dishonour God (Num 20:10).
Num 21:5 - no water again, no bread, and people are tired of the Manna.
The snakes attack the people and the people for the first time acknowledge their sins.
Then the remedy comes (Num 21:6-9).
Exodus and Numbers
Ex 15:22-17:7 - God tests the people’s faith and obedience (Ex 15:25-26; 16:4; 20:20).
But, then the people test God (Ex 17:2; Num 14:22).
Ex 15:26 - if the people obey God, He will not bring on them any of the disease which came on the Egyptians.
But, in Numbers (Num 11-25), God “strikes” the Israelites many times.
By longing to go back to Egypt, the Israelites bring on themselves the same suffering that earlier afflicted the Egyptians when God struck them with signs and wonders (Ex 7:25; 9:15; 12:12-13).
Challenges against those in authority
1. Miriam and Aaron challenge Moses
Aaron - a high priest;
Miriam - a prophetess (Ex 15:20)
They have authority, but Moses has a special statues (Num 12:8).
A result - Miriam gets sick. Moses intercedes but for seven days she remains outside the camp (Num 12:15).
It is surprising that they challenged him.
Moses shares his authority with others (Num 11:24-30).
And He is humble (Num 12:3).
2. Korah - 16
Num 16:2 - Korah was a Levite and a member of the council.
They seemed to challenge the hierarchical structure introduced by God (Num 8:5-26).
Korah also seems to want a priestly statues - he is not satisfied with being a Levite (Num 16:8-11).
Num 16:3 - the basis of the challenge - “the whole community is holy”.
Dathan and Abiram
Num 16:12-15 - for them Egypt, not Canaan is the “land flowing with milk and honey”.
They think that Moses just want to lord over the people.
The three families, of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram are swallowed by the earth;
250 supporters are consumed by fire.
The staff of Aaron - Num 17
Num 17:8 - the budding of the staff of Aaron shows his unique position among the other tribes.
Num 17:10 - the staff should remind the others about it and stop challenging Aaron’s authority.
Aaron and Levites - relationship
Num 18:6-7 - the Levites are a “gift” to Aaron.
The priests and the Levites, both are divinely appointed to fulfil their specific role.
So, it is wrong for others to usurp their position.
Water for cleansing
Num 16:3 - the whole community is holy - Korah.
But Num 19 - the ritual involving the water of cleansing highlights the special mediatorial role of priests.
It also shows that anyone who commits sins becomes unclean and needs to undergo a process of purification.
Religious apostasy (Num 25)
The people worship the Baal of Peor - apostasy;
And have relationship with Moabite women - sexual immortality.
And again 24000 people died in a plague.
1. Num 25:6 - people show repentance;
2. Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron, is commended for killing a fellow Israelite who ignores God’s commandment.
Moreover, it is presented as an act of atonement - the plague stopped after it.
Phinehas gets “a covenant of a lasting priesthood” (Num 25:13).
3. This incident apparently marks the death of the last of the Israelites who left Egypt as adults.
Destination - the promised land
Despite all those failures, the aim remains the same - the Promised Land.
And they slowly move towards it.
Numbers 21 - the three kings that stands on their way are defeated:
The Canaanite king of Arad (Num 21:1-3); Sihon king of the Amorites (Num 21:21-31) and Og king of Bashan (Num 21:33-35).
Num 14:45 - there is a defeat till Hormah, but in Num 21:3 - there is a victory in that place.
Balaam son of Beer - Num 22-24.
God does not allow him to curse but ‘forces’ him to bless Israel (Num 23:7-10,18-24; 24:3-9,15-19).
Num 23:10 relates to Gen 13:16; 28:14.
Num 23:21 relates to Gen 17:8.
Num 24:9 relates to Gen 12:3
Num 24:17 to Gen 17:6, 16; 49:10.
Thus, despite their sin and God’s anger, God’s promise remains.
They shall inherit the land promised to their patriarchs.
New Testament Connections
Jesus’ temptations (Mt 4:1-11; Lk 4:1-13);
Israel failed, Jesus, as the new Israel, succeeds.
John 3:14-15 - Num 21:4-9 - Life comes through the Crucified Christ.
John 6:25-29 - Jesus and the manna.
John 6:47-51, 58 - Jesus gives eternal life, manna could only sustain this life.
John 6:41,43 - many grumbled, like in Num 21:5.
Interestingly, the talk about the bread of life happens just after the miracle with bread (John 6:1-15).
1 Cor 10:6-10 - the wilderness experience as a warning for the Christians.
After all God provides help (1 Cor 10:13)
1 Cor 10:4 - Jesus as the “spiritual rock” (Deut 32:4, 15, 18, 30-31; cf. 32:37).
Christ is the source of the drink - John 7:37-39.
Hebr 3:7-19 - quotes Ps 95:7-11.
The people did not enter the promised land “because of their unbelief” (Heb 3:19; 8:9).