A Case of Worst-Case Scenario

Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the people of Israel. And Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes and said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.” 10 Then all the congregation said to stone them with stones. But the glory of the Lord appeared at the tent of meeting to all the people of Israel.

11 And the Lord said to Moses, “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? 12 I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.” – Numbers 14:5-12 ESV

We all suffer from it on occasion – worst-case-scenario syndrome. The symptoms are easily recognizable: fear, doubt, a growing sense of panic, and visions of all kinds of disasters happening – one bad thing leading to another. Usually, it starts with a fairly pedestrian situation, one that is negative, but not catastrophic. But before we know it, we’ve conjured up images of mishap and mayhem. Our minds begin to play tricks on us, causing us to imagine all kinds of negative outcomes as we conjecture what is going to happen next. We start playing out a variety of circumstances in our heads, wondering what will happen if…

That’s exactly what the Israelites suffered from in this story – as they stood on the edge of the promised land, weighing out the two disparate reports given by the 12 spies. When these men had returned from their investigatory trek through Canaan, they had delivered a report that was equal parts good news and bad news. The land was wildly abundant and fertile, and they had even brought back samples as proof. But while Canaan was bountiful and rich, it was also filled with “giants” who would surely pose a formidable threat to the Israelites. This land that God had promised to Israel as an inheritance was already occupied and its current residents would be far from pushovers. They were powerful, plentiful, well-armed, and well-protected in their fortified cities.  And that part of the report was all the people of Israel heard.

Ten of the spies were convinced that any attempt to conquer the land of Canaan would end in disaster, so they launched a campaign of misinformation, blowing the negative elements of their report out of proportion and drawing conclusions that were NOT based on fact. Instead of trusting God, they decided to trust their very fertile imaginations. They stirred up the people with outlandish claims and false accusations against God Himself.

“Why is the Lord taking us to this country only to have us die in battle? Our wives and our little ones will be carried off as plunder! Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?” – Numbers 14:3 NLT

In a matter of minutes, these people had turned a bit of bad news into a forecast of complete disaster. And they had actually accused God of attempted murder. These men had whipped themselves into a frenzy of fright and faithlessness and infected the entire community. Suddenly, the God who had freed them from slavery in Egypt through a series of miraculous plagues, and who had cared for them all throughout their journey to the promised land, was too weak to take care of them anymore. Their troubles were greater than their God. And the symptoms of worst-case-scenario syndrome began to appear throughout the camp.

Yet, Moses, Aaron, Caleb, and Joshua begged the people to trust God and not rebel against Him.

“The land we traveled through and explored is a wonderful land! And if the Lord is pleased with us, he will bring us safely into that land and give it to us. It is a rich land flowing with milk and honey. Do not rebel against the Lord, and don’t be afraid of the people of the land. They are only helpless prey to us! They have no protection, but the Lord is with us! Don’t be afraid of them!” – Numbers 14:7-9 NLT

But the people continued to respond with fear and anger, even threatening to stone Moses, his brother, and the two spies. Consumed by their lurid visions of wanton destruction, they refused to listen to what Moses and the others had to say. So, God intervened.

Then the glorious presence of the Lord appeared to all the Israelites at the Tabernacle. – Numbers 14:10 NLT

God showed up in all His glory, and He was far from pleased. He informed Moses that He was determined to wipe out the entire nation and start all over again. Despite all He had done for them, they had dared to treat Him with contempt. They had hurled accusations against Him, declaring Him to be uncaring and unsympathetic to their plight. They had displayed a staggering degree of ingratitude for all His past mercies and miracles.

“How long will these people treat me with contempt? Will they never believe me, even after all the miraculous signs I have done among them? I will disown them and destroy them with a plague. Then I will make you into a nation greater and mightier than they are!” – Numbers 14:11-12 NLT

God had run out of patience with these ungrateful and disobedient people. So, He vowed to destroy them and start all over again with Moses. He would simply make for Himself a new nation. And He would have been perfectly just and right in doing so. After all, He had been the one who had chosen them in the first place. They had done nothing to earn His favor or to deserve His affections. God had set them apart as His people, not because they were a great and powerful nation, but because He was a covenant-keeping God. According to Moses, their unique relationship with God was totally undeserved and fully God’s doing.

For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His prized possession out of all peoples on the face of the earth.

The LORD did not set His affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than the other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But because the LORD loved you and kept the oath He swore to your fathers, He brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. – Deuteronomy 7:6-8 BSB

God had miraculously delivered them from their bondage in Egypt. He had led them across the wilderness and brought them safely to the shores of the Jordan River. He had kept their sandals from wearing out. He had supplied them with water, manna, and quail to eat. He had guided and protected them along the way. But now that it was time for them to do their part of entering and conquering the land, they had reneged on their end of the agreement. Moses had made their God-ordained instructions perfectly clear.

When the LORD your God brings you into the land that you are entering to possess, and He drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you – and when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you to defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. Make no treaty with them and show them no mercy.  – Deuteronomy 7:1-2 BSB

But they had decided to reject God’s command and go with their guts. They had determined that they knew better than God and believed a return to Egypt was preferable to a certain defeat in Canaan.

When we face difficult times, it is easy to succumb to worst-case-scenario syndrome. It’s almost natural. We begin to doubt and fear. We blow things out of proportion. Our vision gets blurry. Our memory gets sketchy. We tend to forget things – like God’s history of goodness in our lives. We become weak and prone to fear, instead of faith. Worry replaces worship. Even little things get blown out of proportion. And the usual result is rebellion.

We refuse to believe, trust and obey God, and so we fail to experience His power in our lives. We miss out on the blessings. Like the Israelites, we stand on the edge of the promises of God but never get to enjoy them. But there is a cure for worst-case-scenario syndrome. It’s called trust. Trust is putting our belief into action. It is stepping out and relying on God’s goodness. It is resting on His power even in the presence of problems. God doesn’t promise us a life free from problems. But He does promise to see us through them. He promises us strength. He promises us joy and contentment. He promises us His presence. He will see us through.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

I’ve Got Good News and Bad News

25 At the end of forty days they returned from spying out the land. 26 And they came to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the people of Israel in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh. They brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land. 27 And they told him, “We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. 28 However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there. 29 The Amalekites dwell in the land of the Negeb. The Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the hill country. And the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and along the Jordan.”

30 But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.” 31 Then the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.” 32 So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. 33 And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.”

Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” Numbers 13:25-14:4 ESV

For 40 days, the people of Israel anxiously awaited the return of the 12 men who had been sent to reconnoiter the land of Canaan. And each passing day must have fueled their growing doubts and concerns. The longer the delay, the more they must have wondered whether the spies had met an untimely demise at the hands of the land’s current occupants. Had they been captured and enslaved? Worse yet, had they been tortured and forced to disclose the location of Israel’s camp in the wilderness of Paran? Was a heavily armed force headed their way with plans to annihilate the rest of the Israelites before they could cross the Jordan River?

But much to the relief of the Israelites, the spies eventually returned, bearing news and “the fruit they had taken from the land” (Numbers 13:26 NLT). Rumors of their return spread quickly through the camp and soon everyone had gathered to hear their long-anticipated report. And as the people stood in breathless silence, they heard the spies deliver their findings.

“We entered the land you sent us to explore, and it is indeed a bountiful country—a land flowing with milk and honey. Here is the kind of fruit it produces. – Numbers 13:27 NLT

The spies had not returned empty handed. According to verse 23, they had gathered tangible evidence of the land’s fruitfulness and now used these props as a kind of show-and-tell.

When they came to the valley of Eshcol, they cut down a branch with a single cluster of grapes so large that it took two of them to carry it on a pole between them! They also brought back samples of the pomegranates and figs. – Numbers 13:23 NLT

It was as if the spies knew that their words would not be enough. Any attempts they made to describe the land’s abundance would fall short and be met with skeptical ears. So, they brought proof. And it was like nothing the Israelites had ever seen before. A single cluster of grapes had to be carried on a pole between two men. This land was super-abundant and more than adequate for meeting the physical needs of the Israelites. It’s interesting to remember that, just recently, the Israelites had been reminiscing about the wonderful cuisine they had enjoyed in Egypt.

“We remember the fish we used to eat for free in Egypt. And we had all the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic we wanted. But now our appetites are gone. All we ever see is this manna!” – Numbers 11:5-6 NLT

While their memories of the food they enjoyed in Egypt were probably a bit cloudy and far-from-accurate, they couldn’t argue with the evidence right before their eyes. Canaan was a virtual cornucopia of culinary delights. And it was just across the river Jordan.

But before the Israelites had time to take in the wonderful news about the fruitful land of Canaan, the spies poured a bit of cold water on their enthusiasm. They delivered the bad news.

“But the people living there are powerful, and their towns are large and fortified. We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak! The Amalekites live in the Negev, and the Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites live in the hill country. The Canaanites live along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and along the Jordan Valley.” – Numbers 13:28-29 NLT

If the size of the grapes had been enough to make their mouths water, this news must have made them sick to their stomachs. It was the last thing they wanted to hear. After all, what good was a fruitful and abundant land if it was filled with frightful and dominant enemies?

As soon as the Israelites heard the downside of the spies’ report, they went into a panic. And Caleb, one of the 12 men who had seen the land with his own eyes, tried to calm them down. He didn’t attempt to dismiss or discredit the presence of enemies in the land. He didn’t refute their existence or diminish the report of their superior power. Instead, he simply encouraged the people to do what God had commanded them to do.

“Let’s go at once to take the land,” he said. “We can certainly conquer it!” – Numbers 13:30 NLT

The spies had done exactly what Moses had instructed them to do.

“Go north through the Negev into the hill country. See what the land is like, and find out whether the people living there are strong or weak, few or many. See what kind of land they live in. Is it good or bad? Do their towns have walls, or are they unprotected like open camps? Is the soil fertile or poor? Are there many trees? Do your best to bring back samples of the crops you see.” (It happened to be the season for harvesting the first ripe grapes.) – Numbers 13:18-20 NLT

They had returned with a report and samples. But at no point were their findings intended to play a role in whether or not the Israelites entered the land. Their mission had been a fact-finding one. And when their report turned out to be a combination of good news and bad news, it should have had no bearing on God’s plans for Israel. It provided proof that the land was fruitful. But it was also provided evidence that the land was already occupied. While the first fact was encouraging, the second was disheartening. But both were intended to remind the people that God was their provider. Not only had He given them a land, but He would also give them victory over its more formidable occupants.

But for ten of the spies, the thought of the Israelites defeating the Canaanites was a pipe dream. There was no way a rag-tag army of former shepherds and slaves was going to conquer a land filled with “giants.” The Israelites would find themselves up against Amalekites, Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites, and Canaanites. They would be out-numbered and under-equipped for the task. And the ten spies made their views plainly known.

“We can’t go up against them! They are stronger than we are!” – Numbers 13:31 NLT

These men were more than scared. They were absolutely petrified and determined to convince the people to disobey God’s command to enter the land of Canaan.

“The land we traveled through and explored will devour anyone who goes to live there. All the people we saw were huge. We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak. Next to them we felt like grasshoppers, and that’s what they thought, too!” – Numbers 13:32-33 NLT

Notice how they conveniently leave God out of the picture. It was all “us-versus-them.” It was giants against grasshoppers, the powerful against the weak. The odds were completely lopsided and any hope of victory was wishful thinking.

And their words had the desired effect. The people were devastated and demoralized. They wept and mourned. They regretted ever having left Egypt. And any encouragement they may have received from the sight of oversized fruit was crushed by the prospect of annihilation at the hands of their enemies.

Fueled by the disheartening rhetoric of the ten spies, the people railed against Moses and Aaron, questioning why they had ever left the land of Egypt in the first place.

“If only we had died in Egypt, or even here in the wilderness!” they complained. “Why is the Lord taking us to this country only to have us die in battle? Our wives and our little ones will be carried off as plunder! Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?” – Numbers 14:2-3 NLT

They had regrets. And they suffered from a severe case of good-old-days syndrome. When confronted with the less-than-ideal option of entering the land of Canaan, they began to long for their days back in Egypt. They preferred slavery to possible slaughter at the hands of the Canaanites. Their view of the promised land was anything but promising. Filled with pessimism and fueled by fear, they lashed out at Moses and Aaron. And then, anxious to derail any plans these two men may have had to lead them into Canaan, the people began to plot their overthrow.

“Let’s choose a new leader and go back to Egypt!” – Numbers 14:4 NLT

Little did they know that they were thumbing their noses in the face of God Almighty. They were rejecting the gift of an inheritance that He had promised to Abraham. The land was theirs by right. But now, they were declaring their intention to return to slavery rather than obey the word of their gracious deliverer. They were rejecting the will of the One who had redeemed them from captivity and refusing to believe that He could provide them with victory over their enemies. And they were about to learn just how deadly their decision would be.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Faith Over Facts

1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel. From each tribe of their fathers you shall send a man, every one a chief among them.” So Moses sent them from the wilderness of Paran, according to the command of the Lord, all of them men who were heads of the people of Israel. And these were their names: From the tribe of Reuben, Shammua the son of Zaccur; from the tribe of Simeon, Shaphat the son of Hori; from the tribe of Judah, Caleb the son of Jephunneh; from the tribe of Issachar, Igal the son of Joseph; from the tribe of Ephraim, Hoshea the son of Nun; from the tribe of Benjamin, Palti the son of Raphu; 10 from the tribe of Zebulun, Gaddiel the son of Sodi; 11 from the tribe of Joseph (that is, from the tribe of Manasseh), Gaddi the son of Susi; 12 from the tribe of Dan, Ammiel the son of Gemalli; 13 from the tribe of Asher, Sethur the son of Michael; 14 from the tribe of Naphtali, Nahbi the son of Vophsi; 15 from the tribe of Gad, Geuel the son of Machi. 16 These were the names of the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land. And Moses called Hoshea the son of Nun Joshua.

17 Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan and said to them, “Go up into the Negeb and go up into the hill country, 18 and see what the land is, and whether the people who dwell in it are strong or weak, whether they are few or many, 19 and whether the land that they dwell in is good or bad, and whether the cities that they dwell in are camps or strongholds, 20 and whether the land is rich or poor, and whether there are trees in it or not. Be of good courage and bring some of the fruit of the land.” Now the time was the season of the first ripe grapes.

21 So they went up and spied out the land from the wilderness of Zin to Rehob, near Lebo-hamath. 22 They went up into the Negeb and came to Hebron. Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, the descendants of Anak, were there. (Hebron was built seven years before Zoan in Egypt.) 23 And they came to the Valley of Eshcol and cut down from there a branch with a single cluster of grapes, and they carried it on a pole between two of them; they also brought some pomegranates and figs. 24 That place was called the Valley of Eshcol, because of the cluster that the people of Israel cut down from there. Numbers 13:1-24 ESV

After a brief seven-day delay in which Miriam was punished for attempting to lead a coup against her own brother, God led the people to Kadesh-Barnea. They were now on the edge of the land of Canaan. This had been their destination all along. It was the place that God had promised to give them as their inheritance and now they stood on the banks of the Jordan River, ready to cross over and begin their conquest of the land.

But before they could enter into the land that God had promised to give them, He instructed Moses to select one man from each of the twelve tribes and send them on a clandestine mission to spy out the enemy’s strength and to verify the agricultural quality of the land itself.

“Go north through the Negev into the hill country. See what the land is like, and find out whether the people living there are strong or weak, few or many. See what kind of land they live in. Is it good or bad? Do their towns have walls, or are they unprotected like open camps? Is the soil fertile or poor? Are there many trees? Do your best to bring back samples of the crops you see.”  (It happened to be the season for harvesting the first ripe grapes.) – Numbers 13:17-20 NLT

According to Moses’ account of this event, recorded in the book of Deuteronomy, the sending of the spies had actually been the peoples’ idea.

“But you all came to me and said, ‘First, let’s send out scouts to explore the land for us. They will advise us on the best route to take and which towns we should enter.’

“This seemed like a good idea to me, so I chose twelve scouts, one from each of your tribes. They headed for the hill country and came to the valley of Eshcol and explored it. They picked some of its fruit and brought it back to us. And they reported, ‘The land the Lord our God has given us is indeed a good land.’”  – Deuteronomy 1:22-25 NLT

They petitioned Moses to send in spies and God went along with the plan. But it appears that God had a different agenda than the people did. Their reason for sending in spies was to determine whether there was any hope of defeating the nations that already occupied the land. But God agreed to send in spies so that they might give witness to the truth concerning the abundance and fruitfulness of the land. In other words, as far as God was concerned, this was a fact-finding mission. This was not a specially formed committee to determine or decide whether or not to go into the land. That was not an option. The conquest of the land was not up for debate.

So,the spies went and they saw. And when they returned they reported the facts just as they had witnessed them. They even brought back physical evidence of the land’s long-rumored fruitfulness: grape clusters so large that they had to be carried on a pole between two men.

When they came to the valley of Eshcol, they cut down a branch with a single cluster of grapes so large that it took two of them to carry it on a pole between them! They also brought back samples of the pomegranates and figs. – Numbers 16:23 NLT

But the 12 men who went in to spy out the land returned with two different opinions about the land. The majority affirmed its fruitfulness, but also said it was filled with giants and an abundance of well-armed foes living in fortified cities. Their conclusion? “We can’t attack those people; they’re way stronger than we are” (Numbers 13:31 MSG).

Everything they said was true. The land was filled with giants. There was an abundance of well-armed people living in fortified cities. And they were far stronger than the Israelites. But in reporting what they had seen, these men left out one important fact: God was on their side, and He had promised to give them this land.

He had never told them it was going to be easy. From day one, He had warned them that the land would be filled with other inhabitants (Exodus 3:8, 17). He had told them that they would have to remove those inhabitants from the land. But He was going to give the victory.

“For my angel will go before you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites, and Jebusites, so you may live there. And I will destroy them.” –Exodus 23:23 NLT

God had never told them that this was going to be a cake-walk. But He did assure them of their victory – as long as they obeyed Him.

But it seems that, of the 12 spies, only Caleb and Joshua believed God. They saw the same things the others had seen. They didn’t deny the fact that there were giants in the land and fortified cities occupied by well-armed people. But their conclusion was very different: “Let’s go at once to take the land, we can certainly conquer it!” (Numbers 13:30 NLT).

We can do this! In spite of the odds, we can accomplish what God has told us to do. Faith can trump the facts. We can trust God because He promised us this land! It is as good as ours!

Every day we are faced with all kinds of facts that seem to contradict the faithfulness of God. Unpaid bills, financial uncertainty, illness, relational problems, job pressures, etc. We look around us and wonder if this is what God really promised us. And we lose heart. We let the facts determine our faith, instead of the other way around. We give in and give up. We fail to step out in faith in the face of the overwhelming facts and watch Him work.

God did not tell us the Christian life would be easy. He just promised to be with us. He gave us His Holy Spirit. He provided us with His Word. And He assured us of victory. We will have trials. We will face enemies. We will run into “giants” in the land. But God will go ahead of us. He will provide for us and protect us. We will still have to do battle, but He assures us of victory in the end. Like Caleb and Joshua, we must say, “We can do this, because God is with us!”

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Painful Price of Pride

1 Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman. And they said, “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?” And the Lord heard it. Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth. And suddenly the Lord said to Moses and to Aaron and Miriam, “Come out, you three, to the tent of meeting.” And the three of them came out. And the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the entrance of the tent and called Aaron and Miriam, and they both came forward. And he said, “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” And the anger of the Lord was kindled against them, and he departed.

10 When the cloud removed from over the tent, behold, Miriam was leprous, like snow. And Aaron turned toward Miriam, and behold, she was leprous. 11 And Aaron said to Moses, “Oh, my lord, do not punish us because we have done foolishly and have sinned. 12 Let her not be as one dead, whose flesh is half eaten away when he comes out of his mother’s womb.” 13 And Moses cried to the Lord, “O God, please heal her—please.” 14 But the Lord said to Moses, “If her father had but spit in her face, should she not be shamed seven days? Let her be shut outside the camp seven days, and after that she may be brought in again.” 15 So Miriam was shut outside the camp seven days, and the people did not set out on the march till Miriam was brought in again. 16 After that the people set out from Hazeroth, and camped in the wilderness of Paran. Numbers 12:1-16 ESV

Moses was the God-appointed leader of the nation Israel and Aaron, his brother, had been set apart by God to serve as the high priest. And even when God had agreed to provide His chosen leader with administrative assistance, God poured out His Spirit on 70 men who would serve directly under Moses. They were not to replace him or to assume they served on an equal standing with him. These men were supposed to assist Moses in his oversight of the nation, wisely administering justice and handling disputes among the people so that Moses would not become overwhelmed.

Yet, this chapter introduces a new form of leadership struggle that rose among the people and it started with those who were closest to Moses – his own family. It seems that his brother and sister took issue with a marriage arrangement he had agreed to with a Cushite woman. There is some debate as to the identity of this woman, but it would appear that she was of a foreigner of Ethiopian descent. It could be that Moses’ first wife, Zipporah, had died some time during the last year, and he then married this Ethiopian woman. But whatever the circumstances, Miriam and Aaron took issue with the marriage and used it as an excuse to question Moses’ qualifications to lead the nation.

They saw the marriage as evidence of Moses’ lack of discernment and questioned whether he was really hearing from God. In fact, they claimed to be on an equal standing with Moses when it came to divine insight.

“Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Hasn’t he spoken through us, too?” – Numbers 12:2 NLT

Miriam was older than Moses and had been the one who helped secure his safety when Pharaoh had ordered the murder all the male babies born among the Israelites living in Egypt (Exodus 1:15-16). Miriam had arranged with the daughter of Pharaoh to have the infant, Moses, nursed by one of the Hebrew women, who just happened to be her own mother (Exodus 2:7-9). Exodus 15:20 refers to Miriam as a prophetess of God, and Micah 6:4 lists her as one of the three individuals whom God appointed to lead the nation of Israel from Egypt to the land of Canaan.

“For I brought you up from the land of Egypt
    and redeemed you from the house of slavery,
and I sent before you Moses,
    Aaron, and Miriam.” – Micah 6:4 ESV

But in Numbers 12, Miriam attempted to convince her brother, Aaron, to join her in staging a coup against Moses. It seems rather odd that she would target Aaron for participation in this little insurrection because he was already second-in-command and served as the high priest of the people. Even before Moses had successfully led the people of Israel out of Egypt, Aaron had served as his second-hand man. God had appointed him as Moses’ mouthpiece.

“What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he speaks well. And look! He is on his way to meet you now. He will be delighted to see you. Talk to him, and put the words in his mouth. I will be with both of you as you speak, and I will instruct you both in what to do. Aaron will be your spokesman to the people. He will be your mouthpiece, and you will stand in the place of God for him, telling him what to say.” – Exodus 4:14-16 NLT

But Miriam and Aaron had decided that they were just as qualified as their brother to serve as the de facto leaders of Israel. After all, they too had been born into the tribe of Levi and had every right to serve in a leadership capacity. And it didn’t help that Moses was a very humble individual who had no desire for the limelight. Of his own admission, he was far from charismatic or overly eloquent.

“O Lord, I’m not very good with words. I never have been, and I’m not now, even though you have spoken to me. I get tongue-tied, and my words get tangled.” – Exodus 4:10 NLT

His lack of self-esteem made him an easy target for Miriam’s attacks. She believed that Moses had been a poor choice by God and the Cushite marriage agreement had proven Moses’ lack of discernment. But God disagreed with their assessment and ordered the three siblings to meet Him at the tent of meeting, located just outside the camp.

And the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the entrance of the tent and called Aaron and Miriam, and they both came forward. And he said, “Hear my words…” – Numbers 12:5-6 ESV

God wanted a word with these dissatisfied siblings and, when He was done, they were going to wish they had never opened their mouths against Moses. The first thing God cleared up was His divine right to choose whomever He wanted as His leader. Miriam may have been a prophetess of God, but that did not put her on equal footing with Moses. In fact, God seems to be taking a dig at Miriam’s prophetess status when He states, “If there were prophets among you, I, the Lord, would reveal myself in visions. I would speak to them in dreams” (Numbers 12:6 NLT).

Miriam had experienced no dreams or visions from God. Her demand for equal status was a figment of her own overactive imagination and over-inflated sense of self-worth. And to make sure she understood the vast difference between His relationship with her and the one He shared with Moses, God declared:

“Of all my house, he is the one I trust. I speak to him face to face, clearly, and not in riddles! He sees the Lord as he is.” – Numbers 12:7-8 NLT

That had to have hit Miriam like a brick to the forehead. God’s words stung and burst the bubble of her own sense of self-importance. And, to make matters worse, God demanded to know why she had shown no fear to criticize Moses. Who did she think she was?

Having stated His case against Miriam and Aaron, God departed from them. But He left an unsettling reminder of His displeasure. When Aaron turned to look at Miriam, he was shocked to discover that her entire body was covered with leprosy. And fearing that he was next, he called out to Moses to intervene on their behalf.

“Oh, my master! Please don’t punish us for this sin we have so foolishly committed.” – Numbers 12:11 NLT

The sudden and unexpected sight of his sister covered with leprosy must have reminded Aaron of another day when something similar had happened to Moses. Back when God had called Moses to be the chosen deliverer of the people of Israel, He had given him a series of signs that were intended to prove to the people of Israel that Yahweh had sent him.

“Put your hand inside your cloak.” And he put his hand inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous like snow. Then God said, “Put your hand back inside your cloak.” So he put his hand back inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, it was restored like the rest of his flesh. – Exodus 4:6-7 ESV

Now, more than a year later, Moses and Aaron were staring at their sister, Miriam, whose entire body was covered with this hideous disease. But this time, there was no quick fix. Moses desperately pleaded for her immediate healing.

O God, please heal her—please.” – Numbers 12:13 ESV

But God refused to grant his request. Instead, He graciously announced that her punishment would not match the gravity of her crime.

“If her father had done nothing more than spit in her face, wouldn’t she be defiled for seven days? So keep her outside the camp for seven days, and after that she may be accepted back.” – Numbers 12:14 NLT

In essence, God is declaring that Miriam had defiled herself through her actions. And while God could have left her to suffer from the hideous effects of leprosy for a lifetime, He mercifully restricted her period of suffering to only seven days. But she would be required to spend the entire time on the outskirts of the camp, suffering the indignity of the disease and the social stigmatization of ceremonial impurity. She was to be treated as unclean and unwelcome among the people of God – until God had healed her. And during the seven days of her punishment, the entire nation of Israel was forced to delay their journey to the land of promise. Everything came to a halt because Miriam had decided to question the will of God and the authority of His chosen leader. And this painful punishment from God should have served as a powerful reminder to the entire nation that no one was immune to God’s discipline against disobedience. Even the sister of Moses.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

God Meted Out Meat and Judgment

31 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. 32 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. And they spread them out for themselves all around the camp. 33 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. 34 Therefore the name of that place was called Kibroth-hattaavah, because there they buried the people who had the craving. 35 From Kibroth-hattaavah the people journeyed to Hazeroth, and they remained at Hazeroth. Numbers 11:31-35 ESV

The Israelites got what they wanted and, unexpectedly, exactly what they deserved. They had grown sick of the manna that God miraculously provided for them and began to express their craving for the more varied diet they had enjoyed back in Egypt.

“Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” – Numbers 11:4-6 ESV

This craving or deep longing (אָוָה ‘āvâ) for Egyptian cuisine had begun among “the rabble that was among them” (Numbers 11:4 ESV). This appears to be a reference to the non-Jews who had joined the Israelites in their exodus from Egypt. In the book of Exodus, Moses recorded that a “rabble of non-Israelites went with them” (Exodus 12:38 ESV). This mixed multitude likely consisted of Egyptians as well as individuals who haled from other ethnic backgrounds. After having endured the ten plagues that the God of the Israelites had brought against Egypt and then witnessed the devastating deaths of all the firstborn, these people had chosen to align themselves with Moses and his powerful deity.

Many of these people were probably slaves just like the Israelites or were from the lower classes of the Egyptians. They had seen the exodus as an opportunity to escape their impoverished conditions and improve their prospects for the future. But after a year of traveling through the wilderness alongside the Israelites, they had begun to question their decision and long for their former lives back in Egypt. It seems unlikely that their prior circumstances had been quite so enjoyable as they recalled. While the Nile would have provided them easy access to fish and the fertile soil of the Nile Valley produced an abundant supply of fruits and vegetables, the lower-class status of this “rabble” would have made most of delicacies unaffordable and inaccessible.

Yet, they couldn’t stop thinking about the “good life” of Egypt. Their cravings and desires got the best of them and their growing dissatisfaction with God’s provision slowly infected the rest of the community. Before long, the people of Israel were all expressing their desire to return to Egypt.

“Who will give us meat to eat? For it was better for us in Egypt.” – Numbers 11:18 ESV

At the core of their complaint was a distrust of God. They were declaring their doubt in His ability to provide for their needs. In their minds, God was incapable of providing the fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic they had enjoyed in Egypt. In a sense, they were suggesting that Egypt and by extension, Pharaoh, had done a better job of meeting their needs. They were demanding that God accomodate Himself to their wants and desires. He needed to get with the program and give them what they wanted: Meat with all the fixin’s.

And God agreed to give them exactly what they asked for. He informed Moses to tell the people, “the Lord will give you meat, and you shall eat. You shall not eat just one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, but a whole month, until it comes out at your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have rejected the Lord who is among you” (Numbers 11:18-20 ESV).

They had allowed their physical desires to get the best of them and, driven by their cravings for temporal delights, they had rejected the providential plan of God. The apostle Paul provides an apt description for this kind of materialistic-minded outlook.

Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth. – Philippians 3:19 NLT

They had lost sight of the prize. Rather than patiently waiting on God’s promise of a land flowing with milk and honey, they fixated on the apparent deprivations of the moment and refused to place their hope in the future blessings to come.

And the last five verses of chapter 11 describe how God gave them what they desired as well as what they deserved. A wind (רוּחַ rûaḥ) blew from the southeast that carried with it an abundance of quail. These migratory birds were miraculously blown off course and divinely directed to this very spot. And when they came to rest, the text states that they were as far as the eye could see, stretching as far as one day’s journey on either side of the camp.

So the people went out and caught quail all that day and throughout the night and all the next day, too. No one gathered less than fifty bushels! They spread the quail all around the camp to dry. – Numbers 11:32 NLT

It was like shooting fish in a barrel. Everyone was able to gather as much quail as they could possible crave or desire. There were no limits imposed by God. So, driven by their greed, the people spent all day and night hoarding as much quail as they could possibly catch. And Moses records that they let their appetites get the best of them.

But while they were gorging themselves on the meat—while it was still in their mouths—the anger of the Lord blazed against the people, and he struck them with a severe plague. – Numbers 11:33 NLT

The people showed no sign of awe or respect for God. They displayed no gratitude for His gracious provision. Instead, they gorged themselves on the quail. Perhaps, in their greed, they even ate the meat raw, and in doing so, violated God’s prohibition against consuming blood (Leviticus 7:26). But whatever the case, their blatant display of ingratitude and unbridled, animal-like cravings brought down the judgment of God.

It was like a feeding frenzy. The rapacious actions of the people revealed the lustful hearts of the people. They ate as if they were starving. But God had been providing for their physical needs all along the way. There had always been enough manna to meet their dietary requirements. But their gorging down of the quail had less to do with hunger than gluttony. And that fact is revealed by the name given to the place where God poured out His anger on His rebellious and rapacious people.

So that place was called Kibroth-hattaavah (which means “graves of gluttony”) because there they buried the people who had craved meat from Egypt. – Numbers 11:34 NLT

While not everyone died that day, the entire nation of Israel was guilty of forsaking God and worshiping their appetites. It’s likely that some gathered the quail and set it aside for future consumption. Rather than greedily gorging themselves, they gratefully collected what they needed, recognizing it as just another gift from God.

God knew the needs of His people. He was fully aware that food was a non-negotiable necessity for their survival. And He had provided more than enough to sustain them all along the way. But their demand for something better proved to be an affront to God’s sovereignty and providence. They were questioning His integrity and goodness. They were expressing doubt in His providential care. And they were displaying their inordinate desire for the things of this earth. Unwilling to wait for the inheritance God had in store for them, they demanded immediate gratification of their physical appetites. And God obliged them. But He also repaid them for their blatant display of ingratitude and disturbing demonstration of uncontrolled gluttony. He meted out meat and justice at the same time. He gave them what they desired and exactly what they deserved. They had enjoyed the momentary pleasure of gorging themselves on quail but, as a result, they also encountered the more permanent experience of God’s holy and righteous judgment.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

An Appetite for Disobedience

16 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Gather for me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them, and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you. 17 And I will come down and talk with you there. And I will take some of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them, and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you may not bear it yourself alone. 18 And say to the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat, for you have wept in the hearing of the Lord, saying, “Who will give us meat to eat? For it was better for us in Egypt.” Therefore the Lord will give you meat, and you shall eat. 19 You shall not eat just one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, 20 but a whole month, until it comes out at your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have rejected the Lord who is among you and have wept before him, saying, “Why did we come out of Egypt?”’” 21 But Moses said, “The people among whom I am number six hundred thousand on foot, and you have said, ‘I will give them meat, that they may eat a whole month!’ 22 Shall flocks and herds be slaughtered for them, and be enough for them? Or shall all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, and be enough for them?” 23 And the Lord said to Moses, “Is the Lord»s hand shortened? Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not.”

24 So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord. And he gathered seventy men of the elders of the people and placed them around the tent. 25 Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. And as soon as the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied. But they did not continue doing it.

26 Now two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the Spirit rested on them. They were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. 27 And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” 28 And Joshua the son of Nun, the assistant of Moses from his youth, said, “My lord Moses, stop them.” 29 But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” 30 And Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp. Numbers 11:16-30 ESV

Moses was feeling a bit overwhelmed by his responsibilities as the leader of Israel. From the very first moment he had introduced himself to them as their God-appointed deliverer, he had run into opposition. Even when he had successfully led them out of Egypt and across the Red Sea, they proved to be far from compliant and quick to complain. He had been forced to deal with their rebellion at Sinai, when they had begun to worship the golden calves while he was on the mountaintop receiving the Ten Commandments from God.

They were incessantly complaining about everything, from the quality of the food to the scarcity of water. There were those who questioned Moses’ leadership skills and tried to displace him. There were others who tried to mount an insurrection and orchestrate an immediate return to Egypt. Hardly a day went by when Moses wasn’t having to deal with a disgruntled Israelite or face another round of searing criticism. And he had reached the limits of his patience. So, in a state of frustration and self-pity, he decided to turn in his resignation to God.

I can’t carry all these people by myself! The load is far too heavy! If this is how you intend to treat me, just go ahead and kill me. Do me a favor and spare me this misery!” – Numbers 11:14-15 NLT

But God wasn’t going to let Moses off the hook quite so easily. He had more for His servant to do. And God was aware that the Israelites were stubborn people who could be disobedient, disrespectful, and ungrateful. Even on a good day, they were difficult to manage. But when things didn’t go the way they expected or desired, they could be virtually ungovernable and intolerable to deal with.

So, God instructed Moses to choose 70 men from among the elders and leaders of Israel. These hand-picked individuals would serve as Moses’ assistants and provide him with much-needed help in managing the day-to-day affairs of the nation. To ensure their capacity for godly leadership, God promised to anoint them with His Spirit. And to prove to the people that these men had been appointed by God, they would receive the gift of prophecy.

“Prophesying here does not refer to prediction or even to proclamation but to giving (in song or speech) praise and similar expressions without prior training (see the comparable experience of Saul in 1 Sam. 10:9-11)” – Eugene H. Merrill, “Numbers.” In The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, pp. 215-58.

Their ability to prophesy would testify to their status as God’s chosen messengers. These men were already recognized as leaders among their people, but now they would be seen as God’s messengers and Moses’ co-administrators.

“They will bear the burden of the people along with you, so you will not have to carry it alone.” – Numbers 11:17 NLT

Having dealt with Moses’ complaint about feeling overworked and overwhelmed, God turned His attention to the peoples’ criticism of the cuisine. They had expressed great displeasure with God’s culinary skills, citing their distaste and disgust for the manna He had provided. They were sick of it and demanded a change in diet. They wanted meat.

“Oh, for some meat!” they exclaimed. “We remember the fish we used to eat for free in Egypt. And we had all the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic we wanted. But now our appetites are gone. All we ever see is this manna!” – Numbers 11:4-6 NLT

So, God informed the Israelites that He was going to give in to their demand.

“Purify yourselves, for tomorrow you will have meat to eat. You were whining, and the Lord heard you when you cried, ‘Oh, for some meat! We were better off in Egypt!’ Now the Lord will give you meat, and you will have to eat it. And it won’t be for just a day or two, or for five or ten or even twenty. You will eat it for a whole month until you gag and are sick of it. – Numbers 11:18-20 NLT

The old adage, “Be careful what you wish for” applies here. In demanding that God give them meat to eat, the people were rejecting the provision of God. They had turned up their noses at the manna He had graciously and miraculously provided. Driven by their physical appetites and controlled by their senses, they had dared to question God’s goodness and began to dictate that their own will take priority over His. They knew what was best.

And God promised to fulfill their wish – in abundance. For a solid month, they would consume nothing but meat. Their chosen diet would soon become repugnant to them. They would come to the point where they longed for the manna of God but would only find more meat on the menu. And this novel 30-day diet plan was God’s way of punishing them for their rejection of Him. This was not about food choices but about their unwillingness to submit to God’s will for them. At the heart of their demand for meat was their rejection of God’s entire redemptive plan for them.

“For you have rejected the Lord, who is here among you, and you have whined to him, saying, ‘Why did we ever leave Egypt?’” – Numbers 11:20 NLT

God was attempting to move them forward – toward Canaan – but they were constantly looking backward – toward Egypt. They refused to trust God’s plan for them. They disliked His chosen path for their lives and wanted to return to the “good old days” of Egypt. But their memories were clouded and their faith had been contaminated by a fear of the unknown and the unpleasant. Their journey to the promised land had not turned out to be a walk in the park. It had been a year since they left Egypt and there were still wandering in the wilderness with no clear end in sight. But the blessings of God required obedience. If they wanted to enjoy His presence, power, and provision, they would have to trust Him. They would have to submit to His will. But for the next 30 days, they would have to submit to His discipline in the form of a meat-only diet.

But when Moses heard what God planned to do, he immediately questioned the logic and logistics of it all. He couldn’t fathom how God intended to provide enough meat to feed that many people. Even if they slaughtered all their livestock and emptied the rivers and streams of every fish, they wouldn’t have enough meat to feed all the people for a month. So, Moses informed God that His plan was impossible. But God reminded His doubting deliverer that He was fully capable of carrying out His plan.

“Has my arm lost its power? Now you will see whether or not my word comes true!” – Numbers 11:23 NLT

God didn’t tell Moses how He was going to accomplish His miracle of the meat. All Moses needed to worry about was selecting the 70 men and bringing them to the tabernacle for their anointing by the Spirit. Which Moses did. And God fulfilled His promise, pouring out His Spirit upon the men whom Moses had chosen and empowering them to prophesy. For some reason, two of the men never made it to the tabernacle. Yet, even though they had remained in the camp, the Spirit of God descended upon them, and they too experienced the gift of prophecy. And when Joshua heard about these two men, he demanded that Moses put a stop to what he believed to be an unauthorized display of divine power. Yet, Moses refused to do so, instead expressing his desire that every single Israelite would receive the same anointing of God.

“Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit upon them all!” – Numbers 11:29 NLT

For whatever reason, Eldad and Medad had stayed behind in the camp. Yet they had been chosen by Moses and were therefore anointed by God. Their proximity to the tabernacle was not essential to their calling. Their distance from the rest of the 70 men had no impact on their eventual anointing by God. Sixty-eight men ended up prophesying at the tabernacle while two prophesied in the camp. But all 70 displayed the Spirit’s power and God’s approval of their role as His servants. And Moses wished that all the people of Israel could experience that same degree of divine endorsement.

While the people would not receive the anointing of the Spirit, they would have a different kind of blessing poured out upon them. God was going to fulfill His promise of meat on a grand scale. And Moses and the rest of the Israelites would learn that God’s arm had not lost is power – to provide and to punish.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Forgetfulness and Faithlessness

1 And the people complained in the hearing of the Lord about their misfortunes, and when the Lord heard it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp. Then the people cried out to Moses, and Moses prayed to the Lord, and the fire died down. So the name of that place was called Taberah, because the fire of the Lord burned among them.

Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”

Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its appearance like that of bdellium. The people went about and gathered it and ground it in handmills or beat it in mortars and boiled it in pots and made cakes of it. And the taste of it was like the taste of cakes baked with oil. When the dew fell upon the camp in the night, the manna fell with it.

10 Moses heard the people weeping throughout their clans, everyone at the door of his tent. And the anger of the Lord blazed hotly, and Moses was displeased. 11 Moses said to the Lord, “Why have you dealt ill with your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? 12 Did I conceive all this people? Did I give them birth, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing child,’ to the land that you swore to give their fathers? 13 Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me and say, ‘Give us meat, that we may eat.’ 14 I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me. 15 If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness.” Numbers 11:1-15 ESV

The people of Israel were on the move. After nearly a year encamped near Mount Sinai, they had watched as the cloud of God’s presence departed the tabernacle, indicating His desire for them to break camp and continue their journey to the land of Canaan. They had followed His instructions and methodically made their way to the wilderness of Paran where the cloud had come to rest.

But it wasn’t long before the obedient children of God became disgruntled and obstinate. Their willingness to follow God’s leading came to a quick end as soon as they encountered any kind of discomfort or dissatisfaction. And this was not the first time they had expressed their displeasure with God. A year earlier, when they were leaving Egypt after their 400 years of captivity, they found themselves in an unexpected and highly uncomfortable predicament. After Pharaoh had finally agreed to release them, they followed Moses into the wilderness and found themselves on the shore of the Red Sea.

When Pharaoh finally let the people go, God did not lead them along the main road that runs through Philistine territory, even though that was the shortest route to the Promised Land. God said, “If the people are faced with a battle, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led them in a roundabout way through the wilderness toward the Red Sea. Thus the Israelites left Egypt like an army ready for battle. – Exodus 13:17-18 NLT

God had led them to that very spot. It had been His will that they arrive on the banks of the sea just as Pharaoh and his army were bearing down on them. It seems that Pharaoh had experienced a change of heart and decided to force the Israelites back into slavery. So, when the people found themselves with their backs to the sea and the army of Egypt bearing down on them, they responded to Moses in anger.

“Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness? Weren’t there enough graves for us in Egypt? What have you done to us? Why did you make us leave Egypt? Didn’t we tell you this would happen while we were still in Egypt? We said, ‘Leave us alone! Let us be slaves to the Egyptians. It’s better to be a slave in Egypt than a corpse in the wilderness!’” – Exodus 14:11-12 NLT

Yet, despite their complaining, God miraculously delivered them. He had Moses part the waters of the Red Sea and they crossed over on dry ground, and the cloud of God’s presence kept the Egyptians at bay until the very last Israelite had made it to the eastern shore of the sea. Then, as Pharaoh’s army attempted to pursue them, “the waters returned and covered all the chariots and charioteers—the entire army of Pharaoh. Of all the Egyptians who had chased the Israelites into the sea, not a single one survived” (Exodus 14:28 NLT).

Their miraculous crossing and the destruction of the Egyptians made an impact on the Israelites.

When the people of Israel saw the mighty power that the Lord had unleashed against the Egyptians, they were filled with awe before him. They put their faith in the Lord and in his servant Moses. – Exodus 14:31 NLT

Now, more than a year later, it appears that their faith had run out. Once again, they find themselves struggling with discontentment concerning God’s will for them. They were not happy with their circumstances and so they began to complain to Moses once again.

Soon the people began to complain about their hardship, and the Lord heard everything they said. – Numbers 11:1 NLT

Their year-long hiatus at Mount Sinai had made them lazy and unprepared for the difficulties of traveling through the wilderness. So, the journey from Sinai to Paran left them disgruntled and dissatisfied with God’s plan for them. They were unhappy and more than willing to voice their displeasure. But again, this was not the first time the Israelites had become disenchanted with God’s will for them.

Three days after their miraculous crossing of the Red Sea, they found themselves in the desert of Shur, a barren place where water was scarce. When they finally discovered an oasis, its water was contaminated and undrinkable. This disappointing outcome led the people to direct their anger at Moses.

Then the people complained and turned against Moses. “What are we going to drink?” they demanded. – Exodus 15:24 NLT

But God directed Moses to a particular piece of wood that, when thrown in the spring, “made the water good to drink” (Exodus 15:25 NLT). Having temporarily satiated the thirst of His dissatisfied people, God then led them to another oasis “where they found twelve springs and seventy palm trees” (Exodus 15:27 NLT). He provided for all their needs. And He even “set before them the following decree as a standard to test their faithfulness to him” (Exodus 15:25 NLT).

“If you will listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in his sight, obeying his commands and keeping all his decrees, then I will not make you suffer any of the diseases I sent on the Egyptians; for I am the Lord who heals you.” – Exodus 15:26 NLT

All God required of His people was that they remain faithful and obedient. In return, He promised to provide for and protect them. They would never go without. That doesn’t mean they would never experience difficulties along the way. But by trusting God, they would get to see His providential hand providing for their every need.

Yet, a year later, they exhibited the same stubborn tendency to grouse and complain at the slightest inconvenience, and God heard everything they said. As a result, “his anger was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp” (Numbers 11:1 ESV). It’s unclear whether anyone actually died in this conflagration or whether it was only meant to get their attention. Whatever this “fire” was, it had its intended effect, producing fear in the hearts of the Israelites.

…the people screamed to Moses for help, and when he prayed to the Lord, the fire stopped. – Numbers 11:2 NLT

But while the fire died down, their complaining did not. It wasn’t long before another round of grievances made their way to the ears of God. It seems that the foreigners who had chosen to accompany the Israelites when they left Egypt had grown disenchanted with the manna that God had provided for them. One month after the Israelites departed Egypt, the people had expressed their displeasure to Moses and Aaron over the lack of food.

“If only the Lord had killed us back in Egypt,” they moaned. “There we sat around pots filled with meat and ate all the bread we wanted. But now you have brought us into this wilderness to starve us all to death.” – Exodus 16:3 NLT

But God heard their complaints and responded in grace and mercy. Rather than sending fire as a punishment for their ungratefulness, He determined to shower them with manna.

“I have heard the Israelites’ complaints. Now tell them, ‘In the evening you will have meat to eat, and in the morning you will have all the bread you want. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’” – Exodus 16:12 NLT

God fed them. He miraculously met their physical needs with spiritual food. No one knew exactly what manna was. But it provided them with the strength and stamina to continue their journey to the land of Canaan. And God would provide it every day for over 40 years.

So the people of Israel ate manna for forty years until they arrived at the land where they would settle. They ate manna until they came to the border of the land of Canaan. – Exodus 16:35 NLT

Yet, just a year after having left Egypt, the people were complaining about the monotonous menu of manna.

“Oh, for some meat!” they exclaimed. “We remember the fish we used to eat for free in Egypt. And we had all the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic we wanted. But now our appetites are gone. All we ever see is this manna!” – Numbers 11:4-6 NLT

They returned God’s grace and mercy with ungratefulness and dissatisfaction. They didn’t like God’s culinary skills. They wanted a more varied and appetizing selection of menu options. In their faulty imaginations, they recalled enjoying a much more diverse and appealing range of food choices back in Egypt. They conveniently forgot the part about slavery and making bricks without straw. They left out the persecution and pain they had experienced during their 400 years of captivity. Driven by their physical appetites, they conjured up memories of their halcyon days in Egypt – which were nothing more than figments of their imaginations.

And, once again, their complaints reached the ears of Moses and God.

Moses heard all the families standing in the doorways of their tents whining, and the Lord became extremely angry. – Numbers 11:10 NLT

But this time, it’s Moses who displays his anger with the people and expressed his frustration with God.

“Why are you treating me, your servant, so harshly? Have mercy on me! What did I do to deserve the burden of all these people? Did I give birth to them? Did I bring them into the world? Why did you tell me to carry them in my arms like a mother carries a nursing baby? How can I carry them to the land you swore to give their ancestors? Where am I supposed to get meat for all these people? They keep whining to me, saying, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ I can’t carry all these people by myself! The load is far too heavy! If this is how you intend to treat me, just go ahead and kill me. Do me a favor and spare me this misery!” – Numbers 11:11-15 NLT

Moses was not a happy camper. For more than a year he had been attempting to lead a people who were inflexible and incorrigible. Nothing seemed to make them happy, and he was at his wit’s end. He had had enough of their constant complaining and expressed his frustration to God. The burden of caring for these people had taken its toll and he boldly conveyed his frustration to God. In fact, Moses seems to blame God for the whole state of affairs. He shakes his fist in the face of God and, essentially, accuses Him of abandonment. According to Moses, God had placed all the burden of leading the nation of Israel on his back, and he was overwhelmed by it all. He was tapped out and ready to throw in the towel.

Moses was suffering the same condition as the people he claimed to be leading. He had taken his eyes off of God. He no longer recognized the sovereign hand of God over his life and had lost sight of God’s provision for all his needs. As a result, he had wrongly assumed responsibility for the well-being of God’s people. Moses had ceased to be a conduit of God’s blessing and had begun to believe he was expected to be the source of blessing. But when God had given the people the manna to eat, He had told them it would be a sign of His power and provision.

Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.” – Exodus 16:12 NLT

Yet, Moses and the people had lost sight of that fact. The people had made a god out of food, and Moses had mistakenly placed himself in the place of God. But God was about to correct those mistakes.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Moving Day

11 In the second year, in the second month, on the twentieth day of the month, the cloud lifted from over the tabernacle of the testimony, 12 and the people of Israel set out by stages from the wilderness of Sinai. And the cloud settled down in the wilderness of Paran. 13 They set out for the first time at the command of the Lord by Moses. 14 The standard of the camp of the people of Judah set out first by their companies, and over their company was Nahshon the son of Amminadab. 15 And over the company of the tribe of the people of Issachar was Nethanel the son of Zuar. 16 And over the company of the tribe of the people of Zebulun was Eliab the son of Helon.

17 And when the tabernacle was taken down, the sons of Gershon and the sons of Merari, who carried the tabernacle, set out. 18 And the standard of the camp of Reuben set out by their companies, and over their company was Elizur the son of Shedeur. 19 And over the company of the tribe of the people of Simeon was Shelumiel the son of Zurishaddai. 20 And over the company of the tribe of the people of Gad was Eliasaph the son of Deuel.

21 Then the Kohathites set out, carrying the holy things, and the tabernacle was set up before their arrival. 22 And the standard of the camp of the people of Ephraim set out by their companies, and over their company was Elishama the son of Ammihud. 23 And over the company of the tribe of the people of Manasseh was Gamaliel the son of Pedahzur. 24 And over the company of the tribe of the people of Benjamin was Abidan the son of Gideoni.

25 Then the standard of the camp of the people of Dan, acting as the rear guard of all the camps, set out by their companies, and over their company was Ahiezer the son of Ammishaddai. 26 And over the company of the tribe of the people of Asher was Pagiel the son of Ochran. 27 And over the company of the tribe of the people of Naphtali was Ahira the son of Enan. 28 This was the order of march of the people of Israel by their companies, when they set out.

29 And Moses said to Hobab the son of Reuel the Midianite, Moses’ father-in-law, “We are setting out for the place of which the Lord said, ‘I will give it to you.’ Come with us, and we will do good to you, for the Lord has promised good to Israel.” 30 But he said to him, “I will not go. I will depart to my own land and to my kindred.” 31 And he said, “Please do not leave us, for you know where we should camp in the wilderness, and you will serve as eyes for us. 32 And if you do go with us, whatever good the Lord will do to us, the same will we do to you.”

33 So they set out from the mount of the Lord three days’ journey. And the ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them three days’ journey, to seek out a resting place for them. 34 And the cloud of the Lord was over them by day, whenever they set out from the camp.

35 And whenever the ark set out, Moses said, “Arise, O Lord, and let your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate you flee before you.” 36 And when it rested, he said, “Return, O Lord, to the ten thousand thousands of Israel.” Numbers 10:11-36 ESV

The orders had been given. Detailed instructions had been carefully communicated to the people of Israel. They knew exactly what they would need to do when God decided it was time for them to leave Mount Sinai and, now, that time had come. Their encampment at the base of Sinai had been their home for almost a year, but God had never intended it to be their final destination. According to Exodus 19:1, they had arrived there two months after leaving Egypt.

Exactly two months after the Israelites left Egypt, they arrived in the wilderness of Sinai. After breaking camp at Rephidim, they came to the wilderness of Sinai and set up camp there at the base of Mount Sinai. – Exodus 19:1-2 NLT

Now, just ten days short of the one-year anniversary of their arrival in Sinai, they were instructed to pack up and leave.

In the second year after Israel’s departure from Egypt—on the twentieth day of the second month—the cloud lifted from the Tabernacle of the Covenant. So the Israelites set out from the wilderness of Sinai and traveled on from place to place until the cloud stopped in the wilderness of Paran. – Numbers 10:11-12 NLT

In Numbers 10, Moses indicates that the day came when the cloud of God’s presence ascended from above the tabernacle and made its way into the wilderness. And, as God had instructed them to do when the cloud moved, they began to break camp and move out in an orderly, prearranged manner.

the people of Israel set out by stages from the wilderness of Sinai. – Numbers 10:12 ESV

Due to the large number of Israelites involved in this mass migration, God had provided them with strict instructions regarding their movements. It was not to be a free-for-all, with everyone moving at once and according to their own agenda. With 12 tribes involved, consisting of what has been estimated as more than two million people, this was a major undertaking that required precision and careful planning. Tents must be taken down. Herds and flocks must be rounded up. The tabernacle must be dismantled and prepared for transport to the next destination. And, according to Numbers 10, the people went about their duties obediently. Everyone did their part and carefully followed the instructions of the Lord.

When the cloud made its way into the wilderness, the people knew it was time to move. At the sound of the two silver trumpets (Numbers 10:1), they had gathered together and seen the sight of the cloud making its way into the wilderness. God had made the decision to relocate their camp and move them close to their final destination: The land of Canaan.

Under normal circumstances, the trip to Kadesh-Barnea should have taken 11-days (Deuteronomy 1:2), but with the numbers involved and the need for an orderly and well-regimented evacuation process, it took them three days to arrive at the wilderness of Paran. The cloud had come to rest in that region, signifying that it was there that they were to set up camp.

“The Desert of Paran is a large plateau in the northeastern Sinai, south of what later would be called the Negev of Judah, and west of the Arabah. This forms the southernmost portion of the Promised Land, the presumed staging area for the assault on the land itself. The principal lines of assault on the land of Canaan are from the southwest, following the Way of the Sea from Egypt, and from the northwest, following the Way of the Sea from Phoenicia. Israel’s staging for attack in the Desert of Paran was a brilliant strategy. In this way they would avoid the fortified routes to the west, presumably under the control of Egypt. This unusual line of attack from the south would stun the inhabitants of the land. They would come like a sirocco blast from the desert, and the land would be theirs, under the hand of God.” – Ronald B. Allen, “Numbers.” In Genesis—Numbers. Vol. 2 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary

Verses 13-28 provide the details concerning the departure of Israel from Sinai. The tribe of Judah led the way, with each of the other tribes moving out according to a prearranged plan. Some of the tribes would have started the process long before the tabernacle was completely dismantled and ready for transport. And the lengthy procession would have stretched out for miles as the Israelites made their way into the wilderness, following the cloud of the Lord.

They marched for three days after leaving the mountain of the Lord, with the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant moving ahead of them to show them where to stop and rest. As they moved on each day, the cloud of the Lord hovered over them. – Numbers 10:33-34 NLT

God was guiding them, just as He had promised to do. He was leading them further away from Egypt and ever closer to their new home in Canaan. The land He had promised to Abraham as an inheritance would soon be theirs. But they would have to continue to follow His leading and trust Him for their provisions along the way. The journey would not be easy, but Moses knew that, as long as they followed God’s will, they would be blessed. He even tried to convince his brother-in-law to join them.

“We are on our way to the place the Lord promised us, for he said, ‘I will give it to you.’ Come with us and we will treat you well, for the Lord has promised wonderful blessings for Israel!” – Numbers 10:29 NLT

It’s interesting to note that Moses asked his brother-in-law to serve as a scout or guide for the people of Israel.

“You know the places in the wilderness where we should camp. Come, be our guide. If you do, we’ll share with you all the blessings the Lord gives us.” – Numbers 10:31-32 NLT

Perhaps Moses knew that Hobab was familiar with the wilderness terrain and could help them choose the best places to camp. But this seems to contradict the idea that the cloud of God was to serve as their guide. It is unclear whether Moses’ request was out of step with the will of God. But he evidently convinced Hobab to join them. Judges 1:16 indicates that the descendants of Moses’ father-in-law were still traveling with the Israelites long after they made it into the land of Canaan.

When the tribe of Judah left Jericho—the city of palms—the Kenites, who were descendants of Moses’ father-in-law, traveled with them into the wilderness of Judah. They settled among the people there, near the town of Arad in the Negev. – Judges 1:16 NLT

Hobab and his family may have ended up traveling with the Israelites, but his services were not required. God was going to lead His people and He did so through the cloud that rested over the Ark of the Covenant.

They marched for three days after leaving the mountain of the Lord, with the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant moving ahead of them to show them where to stop and rest. As they moved on each day, the cloud of the Lord hovered over them. – Numbers 10:33-34 NLT

The priests carried the Ark of the Covenant at the head of the process and the cloud of the Lord hovered over the mercy seat on top of the Ark. All along the length of the process, the people could see the cloud rising up into the sky and know that they were headed in the right direction. And when the Ark came to rest, the people knew it was time to stop for the night.

Each time the Ark and the cloud set out, Moses would utter a prayer or blessing.

“Arise, O Lord, and let your enemies be scattered! Let them flee before you!” – Numbers 10:35 NLT

And when the cloud ceased to move and the priests set down the Ark of the Covenant, Moses would pronounce another blessing.

“Return, O Lord, to the countless thousands of Israel!” – Numbers 10:36 NLT

Moses knew that the people of Israel were completely dependent upon God. Without Him, this entire journey would be a disaster and any hope they had of conquering the land of Canaan would be hopeless. Little did he know what awaited them in the wilderness. In his mind, they were on their way to the land of promise and preparing to occupy the inheritance promised to them by God. But this chapter, marked by its description of the peoples’ orderly procession from Sinai, is setting up an unexpected disaster awaiting them in the days ahead.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

When God Leads, Follow

1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Make two silver trumpets. Of hammered work you shall make them, and you shall use them for summoning the congregation and for breaking camp. And when both are blown, all the congregation shall gather themselves to you at the entrance of the tent of meeting. But if they blow only one, then the chiefs, the heads of the tribes of Israel, shall gather themselves to you. When you blow an alarm, the camps that are on the east side shall set out. And when you blow an alarm the second time, the camps that are on the south side shall set out. An alarm is to be blown whenever they are to set out. But when the assembly is to be gathered together, you shall blow a long blast, but you shall not sound an alarm. And the sons of Aaron, the priests, shall blow the trumpets. The trumpets shall be to you for a perpetual statute throughout your generations. And when you go to war in your land against the adversary who oppresses you, then you shall sound an alarm with the trumpets, that you may be remembered before the Lord your God, and you shall be saved from your enemies. 10 On the day of your gladness also, and at your appointed feasts and at the beginnings of your months, you shall blow the trumpets over your burnt offerings and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings. They shall be a reminder of you before your God: I am the Lord your God.” Numbers 10:1-10 ESV

God was leading His people. In chapter nine, Moses recorded how God had chosen to manifest His glory and presence in the form of a pillar of cloud that would rest over the tabernacle. It was to serve as a visual reminder of God’s presence among them and as a means by which God directed their journey through the wilderness.

…when the cloud lifted in the morning, they set out, or if it continued for a day and a night, when the cloud lifted they set out. – Numbers 9:21 ESV

But in the opening verses of chapter 10, Moses records a secondary source of divinely ordained directional aid: Two silver trumpets.

Now the Lord said to Moses, “Make two trumpets of hammered silver for calling the community to assemble and for signaling the breaking of camp.” – Numbers 10:1-2 NLT

“The last directions given at Sinai deal with the manufacture and use of two silver trumpets to co-ordinate the movements of the tribes on their march through the wilderness. Though they were to be guided by the cloud, more precise means of control were necessary if the people were to march in the tight-knit formations envisaged in chapters 2-3.” – Gordon J. Wenham, Numbers, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries

From the moment God delivered the Israelites from their captivity in Egypt, He had directed their path. He had gone before them, guiding their every step along the way, and providing for their every need. But they had to follow. They couldn’t veer to the right or the left. They couldn’t go off in another direction. If they did, they would suffer the consequences.

God’s leadership required faithful followers. It reminds me of the chorus of the classic old hymn, Where He Leads Me I Will Follow. It simply states, “Where He leads me I will follow; I’ll go with Him, with Him, all the way.”

The people of Israel had spent nearly a year camped at the base of Mount Sinai. During that time, God had given them His law and provided them with the construction plans for the tabernacle. He had given them the sacrificial system as a means of atoning for and receiving forgiveness for their sins. There at Mount Sinai they enjoyed God’s presence and provision, but Mount Sinai was not their final destination. They were not where God wanted them to be. So “In the second year, in the second month, on the twentieth day of the month, the cloud lifted from over the tabernacle of the testimony, and the people of Israel set out by stages from the wilderness of Sinai. And the cloud settled down in the wilderness of Paran” (Numbers 10:11-12 ESV).

God led and the people followed. The trumpets blew and the people gathered to receive their marching orders. As the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, it signaled that it was time to break camp and follow wherever God led.

God had a purpose behind everything He did. In order to get the people of Israel all the way through the wilderness, He knew it was going to require much more than which direction to go. He could lead them, and they could follow – but they would have to follow according to His terms. Their following would have to include faithful obedience to His righteous rules and divine requirements. They would have to follow obediently.

God could have miraculously transported them straight to the promised land. He could have eliminated the need for a journey altogether, but instead, He took His time. He gave them rules of conduct. He painstakingly provided them with instructions as to how they were to live as they followed Him. The wilderness wanderings were going to be a time of testing, to see if they would live set-apart lives, faithfully following God’s prescribed plan for His people. God didn’t just expect the people to follow, but to do so faithfully. In other words, they had to follow according to His terms. They had to keep His laws. They had to celebrate His festivals. They had to keep the Sabbath. They had to regularly sacrifice for their sins. They had to deal with impurity in their midst. Their journey from Mount Sinai to the land of Canaan was to be marked by obedience. When the silver trumpets sounded, they were to heed the call and follow God’s lead.

Following God requires faithful adherence to His commands. From our vantage point this side of the cross, it is sometimes easy to look back at the Israelites and wonder how they could have failed to realize just how good they had it. They seem to have been slow to comprehend just how blessed they were to have God’s actual presence living among them. They got to see incredible miracles and witness amazing acts of provision, such as manna that came from the sky and water that flowed from a rock. They wore sandals and clothes that never wore out. But in spite of all this, they continued to disobey Him by disregarding His commands.

The psalmist writes, “How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness, and insulted him  in the desert! They again challenged God,and offended  the Holy One of Israel” (Psalm 78:40-41 ESV).

But before we point our fingers in accusation and derision, we need to realize that their story is far too often our story. We too are on a journey. We’re walking through this life on our way to another “land” that God has promised to give us. He has chosen us as His own. He has given us the indwelling presence of His Spirit. He leads and directs us. He speaks to us through His Word. He has called us to live lives that reflect our unique standing as His children. He has demanded that we live holy lives. And yet, we struggle with faithfulness.

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” – 1 Peter 1:14-16 ESV

For the Israelites, Mount Sinai held special meaning. It was there that they received God’s law. It was there that they were given His plan for the sacrificial system and the hope of atonement for sin. But they were not meant to stay there. They had to move on. They were on their way to somewhere else. For many of us as Christians, we bask in the glory of our salvation story. We camp on that day we placed our faith in Jesus Christ as our personal Savior and remain content to dwell on that special moment as the most significant day of our lives. But we must move on. We must recognize the fact that our salvation is the beginning, not the end. There is life to be lived – in Christ. He is to followed, not just believed in.

Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24 ESV). There is a cost and commitment to following Christ. It is a daily event that requires faithful obedience to His will and His way.

Jesus had many followers when He walked this earth. But when things got tough, and they discovered that His journey was going to include suffering and even death, the majority of his followers fled. Believing in Christ was easy. Following Him would prove to be difficult and sometimes risky. His 12 disciples would learn this.

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were thought to be faithful followers of God. But Jesus repeatedly condemned them for their hypocrisy and self-righteousness. He compared them to their ancestors who had killed the prophets of God because they didn’t want to hear the message of God. These men were followers of God in name only. They lived by their own set of standards. They put on a facade of faithfulness, but were actually blind to the will of God for their lives. Highly knowledgeable of God’s Scriptures, they were unable to recognize the Word of God standing in their midst. And they refused to acknowledge Him as their Messiah and Savior.

Following is not easy, especially when we are prone to going our own way. Even after salvation, we are constantly tempted to take our lives into our own hands and determine our own destiny. But God has a plan for our lives. He has a path for each of us to take. We are on a journey from salvation to our ultimate glorification. The Kingdom is to be our future home. Yet we find ourselves wandering through this wilderness called earth.

We are living in what Paul Tripp calls “the gospel gap.” Our salvation is in our past. The eternal Kingdom is in our future. And, for now, we live in that in-between time where our sanctification takes place. We are in the process of being transformed into the image of Christ as we faithfully follow His example of love, obedience, humility, and service. It is during our time on this planet that we are to live out our salvation in tangible and practical ways that emulate the nature of Christ. We do so by allowing the indwelling Spirit of God to powerfully flow through us, producing a lifestyle that is radically different than the world around us. Our faithful following of Christ is to result in our reflection of His nature to the world around us. It is as we walk with Him, living in obedience to Him, that we become increasingly more like Him.

The silver trumpets were to be used to call the people to action. Whether they were a signal for gathering, celebrating, traveling, or going to war, the trumpets were to be obeyed. God was leading and He expected His people to follow. He was declaring His will and they were to submit to it – willingly and faithfully.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Guided By God

15 On the day that the tabernacle was set up, the cloud covered the tabernacle, the tent of the testimony. And at evening it was over the tabernacle like the appearance of fire until morning. 16 So it was always: the cloud covered it by day and the appearance of fire by night. 17 And whenever the cloud lifted from over the tent, after that the people of Israel set out, and in the place where the cloud settled down, there the people of Israel camped. 18 At the command of the Lord the people of Israel set out, and at the command of the Lord they camped. As long as the cloud rested over the tabernacle, they remained in camp. 19 Even when the cloud continued over the tabernacle many days, the people of Israel kept the charge of the Lord and did not set out. 20 Sometimes the cloud was a few days over the tabernacle, and according to the command of the Lord they remained in camp; then according to the command of the Lord they set out. 21 And sometimes the cloud remained from evening until morning. And when the cloud lifted in the morning, they set out, or if it continued for a day and a night, when the cloud lifted they set out. 22 Whether it was two days, or a month, or a longer time, that the cloud continued over the tabernacle, abiding there, the people of Israel remained in camp and did not set out, but when it lifted they set out. 23 At the command of the Lord they camped, and at the command of the Lord they set out. They kept the charge of the Lord, at the command of the Lord by Moses. Numbers 9:15-23 ESV

When the people of Israel had been released from their captivity in Egypt, they had begun their journey to the land of Canaan under the leadership of Moses. But they had also been blessed by the visible manifestation of God’s presence.

But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea.…And they moved on from Succoth and encamped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people. – Exodus 13:18, 20-21 ESV

This miraculous demonstration of God’s presence and power was intended to bring the Israelites comfort and security. It was visible proof that He was not only among them but was guiding and directing their every step. Just before God parted the Red Sea so that His people could cross over on dry ground, He had placed Himself between the camps of the Israelites and the Egyptians.

The pillar of cloud also moved from the front and stood behind them. The cloud settled between the Egyptian and Israelite camps. As darkness fell, the cloud turned to fire, lighting up the night. But the Egyptians and Israelites did not approach each other all night. – Exodus 14:19-20 NLT

God protected His people. He illuminated their lives with His glory and assured them that He would always go before them, no matter what they faced along the way.

Years later, Moses would set up a tent on the outskirts of the Israelite camp, where he would meet with God. This “tent of meeting” was a place of communion and communication between God and His chosen leader.

When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the Lord would speak with Moses. And when all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise up and worship, each at his tent door. Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. – Exodus 33:9-11 ESV

Once the people had finished fabricating all the pieces that would form the new tabernacle, they dedicated it to God. This new facility would become the new tent of meeting and God confirmed His approval of this “house” by consecrating it by the manifestation of His divine glory.

On the day that the tabernacle was set up, the cloud covered the tabernacle, the tent of the testimony. And at evening it was over the tabernacle like the appearance of fire until morning. So it was always: the cloud covered it by day and the appearance of fire by night. – Numbers 9:15-16 ESV

Every time the people of Israel stopped for an extended period of time, they set up their camp with the tabernacle strategically located in the center. The 12 tribes would then pitch their own tents around the circumference of God’s dwelling place. And as long as the pillar of cloud or fire remained above the tabernacle, the people would know that they were to remain in that spot until further notice.

Whenever the cloud lifted from over the sacred tent, the people of Israel would break camp and follow it. And wherever the cloud settled, the people of Israel would set up camp. In this way, they traveled and camped at the Lord’s command wherever he told them to go. Then they remained in their camp as long as the cloud stayed over the Tabernacle. – Numbers 9:17-18 NLT

Here in chapter 9, God reveals how He chose to lead the people of Israel. He appeared to them in the form of a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. God’s presence would hover over His dwelling, signifying that He was with them. As long as the cloud or pillar of fire was there, they were to remain right where they were. But as soon as the cloud or fire moved, they were to pack up and head out. It didn’t matter if the cloud was there for two days, a month, or a solid year. As long as God’s presence remained, they stayed put. It was a pretty simple system. Or so it would seem.

But think about it. They were at the complete mercy of God. Sure, there was comfort in the fact that they could look up at any moment, day or night, and see the manifest presence of God, but they also had to be prepared at any moment, day or night, to pack up and head out – no matter how comfortable they may have felt in their present location.

And setting up camp would not have been an easy or enviable task. The tabernacle alone would have been a chore to reconstruct every time they relocated. And if they got to a site and spent all night getting everything arranged, and then God’s presence moved, they were expected to pack up everything and follow.

This was about obedience; not their comfort or convenience. The lifting up of the cloud was intended to be a clear sign from God that it was time to break camp and follow His lead to the next destination. The Israelites didn’t need to ask what God’s will might be, they simply had to keep their eyes on the cloud and follow it wherever it led.

The truth is, that most of us already know God’s will for our lives, but we choose to ignore or avoid it. The real issue is that we don’t want to obey it because we find it inconvenient or impractical. I think there had to be times when the people became impatient with God, wondering why He hovered over one spot for so long. They wanted to get to the promised land, but for some reason, He had decided to stop in some obscure spot in the wilderness. And as long as He stayed, they were stymied. They couldn’t move without Him.

There were probably other times they got comfortable right where they were, only to have God’s presence pick up and move. This had to have frustrated them as they wondered, wondering why God kept disrupting their comfort with His constant wanderings. But when God moved, they were to follow – obediently.

While the Bible doesn’t make it clear, there had to be some kind of system established for the people to know when God was moving. So they probably had sentinels set up to watch the sky over the tabernacle 24/7. Someone had to warn the people when it moved, so they could react. The people were kept in a constant state of uncertainty, never knowing from one day to the next what their next move might be or when it might occur. So, they were obliged to hold themselves in constant readiness to march on a very short warning. But isn’t that how we should live our lives? Constantly waiting on God. Waiting on Him to direct our paths. Looking for His presence in our lives and seeking to know when He is moving and where He might be leading us.

God’s will is that we seek Him. God’s will is that we live for Him. God’s will is that we obey Him. We are to look for His movements in our lives. We are to seek His direction by watching Him. Today, rather than a tabernacle, we have His Word. We can spend time in it, seeking to meet with Him and waiting for Him to direct our paths. But too often, we get comfortable and find His will for our lives inconvenient, so we ignore it. We hear Him speaking. We see the handwriting on the wall, but we refuse to do what it says. The Scriptures speak to us, but we tend to rationalize away what they have to say, deeming their content as impractical or impossible. But God calls His people to obedience. He doesn’t ask us to obey when it’s convenient or pleasant. He expects us to move when He moves – day or night – willingly, obediently, faithfully.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.