Numbers 19-20, John 1

Belief and Obedience.

Numbers 19-20, John 1

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:12 ESV

In this section of the book of Numbers, the events have been fast-forwarded, bringing us to the close of the 40 years that God had said the people would spend wandering in the wilderness as a result of their failure to enter into the land of promise. Their disbelief had caused them to disobey, and brought God’s divine discipline. Now they found themselves headed back to the border of the land of Canaan In the four decades that had passed, the older generation had slowly died off. But they had successfully passed on their sinful characteristics to their children. “Now there was no water for the congregation. And they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. And the people quarreled with Moses and said, ‘Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord!  Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle?  And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink’” (Numbers 20:2-5 ESV). For Moses, this had to have had an eerily similar feel to the events that had taken place years before when the people had arrived in the wilderness of Sin. There the people had also complained about the lack of water and God had graciously given them water from a rock. Now decades later, the people are complaining again. Same people. Same God. Same problem. But their problem was NOT a lack of water. It was a lack of faith in God. They believed in God. They knew He existed. They couldn’t deny the reality of His existence. But they could disbelieve the validity of His will for their lives. Notice how many times they question, “Why?”

Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness?

Why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place?

They didn’t like their circumstances. In fact, they wished they had died when God had stricken their ancestors with the plague 40 years earlier. They thought they would be better off dead than living in the will of God. It wasn’t that they failed to believe in God. It was that they failed to believe that He knew what was best for them.

What does this passage reveal about God?

In the book of John, there is powerful imagery used to convey Christ’s coming into the world. He is portrayed as light and He entered into the darkness of this world. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness had not overcome it” (John 1:5 ESV). “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:9 ESV). Light speaks of His purity, truth, and righteousness. Jesus was the Son of God. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 ESV). He was God incarnate – God in human flesh. He was Immanuel – God with us. God revealed Himself to man in human form. The Light of God penetrated the darkness of human sin and hopelessness. “Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17 ESV). And yet, John tells us, the world did not know him. “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11 ESV). They couldn’t deny His existence, but they refused to believe that He was God’s will regarding their salvation. Just as in the days of Moses, God revealed Himself to man. He made His presence known, but mankind refused to believe that God knew what was best. Only a handful of people in Jesus’ day seemed to recognize Jesus for who He claimed to be. Andrew told his brother Simon, “We have found ‘the Messiah’ (which means Christ)” (John 1:41 ESV). Philip told Nathanael, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45 ESV). Nathanael said to Jesus, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:49 ESV). God had revealed Himself to men through His Son, and only a handful of individuals seemed to believe that Jesus represented the will of God for mankind.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Belief requires obedience. It didn’t matter how much the people of God said they believed in the Law of God, as long as they failed to obey it. It didn’t matter how much Moses believed in the reality of God if he was unwilling to obey His word. Later on in the gospel story, we know that there came a time when Nathanael, Andrew, Philip and the rest of the disciples were forced to put their belief into action by answering Jesus’ invitation to follow Him. They were going to have to take a risk and obey. If they truly believed He was who He claimed to be, they would need to prove it by leaving everything else behind and following Him – in spite of their doubts and fears. In the book of Numbers, we see Moses having to deal with the disbelief of the people once again. They find themselves lacking water and so they lash out at Moses and question the will of God for their lives. And as He had done before, God miraculously provided water from a rock. He commanded Moses to “tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle” (Numbers 20:8 ESV). But instead, “Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice” (Numbers 20:11 ESV). Not only that, Moses prefaced his actions with a small speech: “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” (Numbers 20:10 ESV). Moses was angry. He was put out with the people. He was tired of their whining and complaining. We get an insight into what was going on in Moses’ heart from Psalm 106. “They angered him at the waters of Meribah, and it went ill with Moses on their account, for they made his spirit bitter, and he spoke rashly with his lips” (Psalm 106:32-33 ESV). Moses was angry, and in his anger, he failed to listen to what God had told him to do. Rather than “tell the rock,” he struck it. He simply did what he had done decades earlier. But that was not what God had commanded Him to do. He disobeyed God’s command. Yes, Moses believed in God, but he failed to obey the word of God. “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’” (Numbers 20:12 ESV). Sounds harsh, doesn’t it? But God was making a point with Moses and Aaron. Moses’ actions in front of the people, motivated by anger and characterized by a failure to listen to the word of God, treated God with contempt. Moses failed to do God’s will, God’s way.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

John writes, “He came to his own,  and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:11-13 ESV). Most of the people failed to receive Jesus as the Son of God and their Messiah. They could see Him, but they would not believe in Him. But those who did receive Him and believed in His name, they became children of God. They received the gift of eternal life through the Son of God. They believed and obeyed. They heard the Word and received it. They recognized Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who  takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29 ESV). Their belief in Jesus as the Son of God took the form of obedience to the will of God. They accepted God’s plan for their lives and willfully submitted to it. It really doesn’t matter how often or how vigorously I claim to believe in God, if I fail to accept His will for my life. It doesn’t matter how vocal I am about my faith in Christ, if I fail to listen to and obey His commands regarding how to live my life. Belief and obedience are to go hand in hand. They are inseparable. Disobedience and disbelief are also inseparable. To disobey is to reveal our disbelief. We doubt God’s will. We disbelieve that He knows what is best. We think we know better. Moses did it his way and suffered the consequences. The people of Israel complained about their lot in life, and in doing so, revealed their lack of faith in God. They failed to trust the One in whom they said they believed. And that tendency is a constant threat for every follower of God today.

Father, I want my faith in You to show up as trust in You. I want my belief in You to reveal itself by obedience to You. Never let me separate those two. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men