Plague Number Six

And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Take handfuls of soot from the kiln, and let Moses throw them in the air in the sight of Pharaoh. It shall become fine dust over all the land of Egypt, and become boils breaking out in sores on man and beast throughout all the land of Egypt.” 10 So they took soot from the kiln and stood before Pharaoh. And Moses threw it in the air, and it became boils breaking out in sores on man and beast. 11 And the magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils, for the boils came upon the magicians and upon all the Egyptians. 12 But the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them, as the Lord had spoken to Moses. – Exodus 9:8-12 ESV

Following Pharaoh’s latest demonstration of hard-heartedness, Moses and Aaron are given further instructions from God. This time, the judgment that God brings upon the Egyptians will be unannounced and bring with it an increased level of physical pain and suffering. With each successive plague, God was upping the ante and revealing yet another aspect of His power and authority over kings, nations, creation, and all the mythical, man-made gods of humanity.

These assignments would have served as tests for Moses and Aaron, determining the depth of their faith and the level of their faithfulness. It must not have been easy to stand before one of the most powerful men in the world and issue demands from an unseen God. And many of the things God commanded Moses and Aaron to do were outside the pale of human reason and required a great deal of trust. Each new directive from Jehovah took them into unexplored territory and required them to exhibit an increased level of faith in His ability to do the impossible.

In this case, God commanded His two servants to take ash from a kiln and disperse it into the air. And for some reason, it was Moses who was to take the lead in carrying out this latest supernatural sign. When Moses tossed the ash into the air, it would turn into a fine dust that would spread throughout the land of Egypt, “causing festering boils to break out on people and animals throughout the land” (Exodus 9:9 NLT).

It’s likely that this “kiln” or furnace was used in the manufacture of bricks. This would have tied the ashes to the suffering of the Israelites.

…the Egyptians worked the people of Israel without mercy. They made their lives bitter, forcing them to mix mortar and make bricks and do all the work in the fields. They were ruthless in all their demands. – Exodus 1:13-14 NLT

Pharaoh sent this order to the Egyptian slave drivers and the Israelite foremen: “Do not supply any more straw for making bricks. Make the people get it themselves! But still require them to make the same number of bricks as before. Don’t reduce the quota.” – Exodus 5:6-8 NLT

These massive kilns would have been located all over the land of Egypt, wherever there was a state-sanctioned construction site. These furnaces would have contained the ashes of the straw that the Israelites had been forced to scavenge and knead into the clay that they formed into the bricks used to build edifices to Pharaoh’s glory. It is almost as if God was taking the unjust pain and suffering of His people and spreading it among their Egyptian overlords. And no one was spared. The rich and the poor alike would suffer the debilitating effects of this plague as the dust settled on their skin and produced boils (šiḥîn) or inflamed spots on the skin that erupted and became festering sores (‘ăḇaʿbuʿōṯ). There is no way to determine the identity of this skin disease, but it must have been extremely painful and left its suffering unable to perform even the most simple tasks. The text indicates that Pharaoh’s magicians were completely incapacitated and “unable to stand before Moses, because the boils had broken out on them and all the Egyptians” (Exodus 9:11 NLT).

These men had been able to replicate some of the previous signs that Moses and Aaron performed, but not in this case. And it seems highly unlikely that they would have wanted to reproduce this particular sign, even if they could.

As Pharaoh looked on, Moses carried out the command of God, and the king and his royal officials watched the ash turn to dust, miraculously spread over the land, and then settle back down on their own skin. But it appears that Pharaoh was exempted from the effects of this plague. Moses indicates that “the boils came upon the magicians and upon all the Egyptians” (Exodus 9:11 ESV), but he doesn’t mention Pharaoh. It seems that God was sparing Pharaoh and preparing him for the final plague that was designed to bring judgment right to his doorstep. God had reserved something far more painful and personal for Pharaoh. He even foreshadowed this final plague when He spoke to Moses in Midian.

“When you arrive back in Egypt, go to Pharaoh and perform all the miracles I have empowered you to do. But I will harden his heart so he will refuse to let the people go. Then you will tell him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Israel is my firstborn son. I commanded you, “Let my son go, so he can worship me.” But since you have refused, I will now kill your firstborn son!’” – Exodus 4:21-23 NLT

But for now, Pharaoh was forced to stand back and watch the God of Israel demonstrate His sovereign power through a nationwide pandemic that brought intense pain but not death. And like all the other plagues, this one was a direct attack on the gods of the Egyptians. It only makes sense that those suffering from this disease would have called out to their gods for deliverance and healing. They would have sought relief from one of their many deities.

In the Egyptian pantheon of gods, Serapis was a lord of healing and of fertility. Interestingly enough, this god’s cult was celebrated in association with that of the sacred Egyptian bull Apis, which we looked at with the last plague. The priests and priestesses associated with Serapis would have been expected to call upon their god for healing. But, like the magicians, they would have found themselves unable to perform their priestly duties because of the very malady they were hoping to eliminate.

They called out, but no one answered. They begged for relief, but none came. The sores erupted on their skin but no miracle was forthcoming. It was as if their gods had grown silent or apathetic about their plight. But It is simply a demonstration of the truth that the psalmist would later articulate.

Our God is in the heavens,
    and he does as he wishes.
Their idols are merely things of silver and gold,
    shaped by human hands.
They have mouths but cannot speak,
    and eyes but cannot see.
They have ears but cannot hear,
    and noses but cannot smell.
They have hands but cannot feel,
    and feet but cannot walk,
    and throats but cannot make a sound.
And those who make idols are just like them,
    as are all who trust in them. – Psalm 115:3-8 NLT

When Separis proved impotent, they must have turned to Imhotep, the god of medicine and the guardian of healing sciences. This particular god had actually been a man who had served as the second king of Egypt’s third dynasty. After his death, he was deified and worshiped by the Egyptians as the god of medicine.

But he too proved helpless before the God of Israel because he was a fraud and a fake. None of their gods were real and, therefore, they had no hope of delivering the people of Egypt from their pain and suffering. These so-called gods were the figments of men’s imaginations, just as Jeremiah the prophet later wrote.

“Their gods are like
    helpless scarecrows in a cucumber field!
They cannot speak,
    and they need to be carried because they cannot walk.
Do not be afraid of such gods,
    for they can neither harm you nor do you any good.” – Jeremiah 10:5 NLT

So the ash went up, the dust rained down, the boils broke open, and the people cried out. But no relief was in sight. And Pharaoh remained unmoved by what he saw. At this point, he stood aloof and distant from the pain of his people. He was not having to share in their suffering, so he was unmoved by their plight. Moses indicates that “he did not listen to them, as the Lord had spoken to Moses” (Exodus 9:12 ESV). But this time, it was God who hardened Pharaoh’s heart.

Anywhere along the way, God could have miraculously moved in Pharaoh’s life and softened the hardened condition of his heart. But He continued to allow the king to display the natural evidence of his sinful disposition. Rather than intervene, God allowed Pharaoh’s inherent wickedness to take its normal course. This demonstrates the way that God has always worked with fallen mankind. Paul describes it well in his letter to the Romans.

Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! – Romans 1:22-25 ESV

Pharaoh stood his ground. But he was up against far greater and more powerful than he could ever imagine. All the plagues should have served as a wake-up call but God exactly what it was going to take to open Pharaoh’s eyes and break the hardened callouses of his heart. But the time for that plague had not yet come.

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.

Idols of the Heart

1 Then certain of the elders of Israel came to me and sat before me. And the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, these men have taken their idols into their hearts, and set the stumbling block of their iniquity before their faces. Should I indeed let myself be consulted by them? Therefore speak to them and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Any one of the house of Israel who takes his idols into his heart and sets the stumbling block of his iniquity before his face, and yet comes to the prophet, I the Lord will answer him as he comes with the multitude of his idols, that I may lay hold of the hearts of the house of Israel, who are all estranged from me through their idols.

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: Repent and turn away from your idols, and turn away your faces from all your abominations. For any one of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn in Israel, who separates himself from me, taking his idols into his heart and putting the stumbling block of his iniquity before his face, and yet comes to a prophet to consult me through him, I the Lord will answer him myself. And I will set my face against that man; I will make him a sign and a byword and cut him off from the midst of my people, and you shall know that I am the Lord. And if the prophet is deceived and speaks a word, I, the Lord, have deceived that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand against him and will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel. 10 And they shall bear their punishment—the punishment of the prophet and the punishment of the inquirer shall be alike— 11 that the house of Israel may no more go astray from me, nor defile themselves anymore with all their transgressions, but that they may be my people and I may be their God, declares the Lord God.” Ezekiel 14:1-11 ESV

After exposing the lies of the false prophets and pronouncing judgment upon them, God turns His attention to the religious and civic leaders of Israel. A group of these men showed up at Ezekiel’s house with the likely intention of confronting him about his pessimistic messages and the negative impact they were having on the exiles. It seems apparent from the text that they had come to ask Ezekiel to tone down his rhetoric and to have the prophet intercede with God on their behalf. They sensed that He had a direct line to the Almighty and could do something to assuage His anger. But before they could utter a word, God spoke up and dressed them down. He knew why they were there and was not going to give them an opportunity to express their grievances or put in a request for Ezekiel’s intercession. Instead, God warned the prophet to see these men for who they really were: Idolatrous hypocrites who had no intention of giving up their false gods and returning to Him.

“Son of man, these leaders have set up idols in their hearts. They have embraced things that will make them fall into sin. Why should I listen to their requests? – Ezekiel 14:3 NLT

With this statement, God exposes the true source of Israel’s problem. It wasn’t that they had erected shrines, altars, and high places all over Judah and even in the remote environs of Babylon, it was that they had made a home for these false gods in their hearts. They had developed a deep and abiding affection for “logs, blocks, and shapeless things.” That is what the Hebrew word גִּלּוּל (gillûl) means. The chosen people of God had fallen in love with shapeless and lifeless blocks of wood. And that was true of those men sitting in Ezekiel’s home preparing to request his intercession with the one true God. Their own hearts had become the shrines at which they bowed down and worshiped their false and formless gods.

The prophet Isaiah used biting satire to expose the ridiculous nature of idolatry.

How foolish are those who manufacture idols.
    These prized objects are really worthless.
The people who worship idols don’t know this,
    so they are all put to shame.
Who but a fool would make his own god—
    an idol that cannot help him one bit? – Isaiah 44:9-10 NLT

The Hebrew word גִּלּוּל (gillûl) could actually be translated as “dungy thing” and was anything but a compliment. Idols were worthless because they were powerless. They were little more than blocks of wood, bits of stone, and chunks of metal formed by human hands to represent non-existent deities. And Isaiah describes with thinly veiled scorn the transition of a block of wood to a worship-worthy idol.

Then the wood-carver measures a block of wood
    and draws a pattern on it.
He works with chisel and plane
    and carves it into a human figure.
He gives it human beauty
    and puts it in a little shrine.
He cuts down cedars;
    he selects the cypress and the oak;
he plants the pine in the forest
    to be nourished by the rain.
Then he uses part of the wood to make a fire.
    With it he warms himself and bakes his bread.
Then—yes, it’s true—he takes the rest of it
    and makes himself a god to worship!
He makes an idol
    and bows down in front of it!
He burns part of the tree to roast his meat
    and to keep himself warm.
    He says, “Ah, that fire feels good.”
Then he takes what’s left
    and makes his god: a carved idol!
He falls down in front of it,
    worshiping and praying to it.
“Rescue me!” he says.
    “You are my god!” – Isaiah 44:13-17 NLT

What seems readily apparent is that the men sitting in Ezekiel’s home had most likely called upon their false gods to rescue them from the wrath of God Almighty. These “idols of the heart” had probably gotten an earful from their fearful admirers but, as the psalmist points out, “They have mouths but cannot speak, and eyes but cannot see. They have ears but cannot hear…” (Psalm 115:5-6 NLT). Their gods had failed to answer them so they were hoping Ezekiel might have better luck with Yahweh.

But the truly sad thing is they couldn’t see the futility and foolishness of their situation; a point that Isaiah expresses quite well.

Such stupidity and ignorance!
    Their eyes are closed, and they cannot see.
    Their minds are shut, and they cannot think.
The person who made the idol never stops to reflect,
    “Why, it’s just a block of wood!
I burned half of it for heat
    and used it to bake my bread and roast my meat.
How can the rest of it be a god?
    Should I bow down to worship a piece of wood?”
The poor, deluded fool feeds on ashes.
    He trusts something that can’t help him at all.
Yet he cannot bring himself to ask,
    “Is this idol that I’m holding in my hand a lie?” – Isaiah 44:18-20 NLT

God was personally offended by their actions. They had the audacity to replace the One who had created them with gods they had made with their own hands. And to make matters worse, when their false gods failed to deliver, they had shown up at the prophet’s house expecting Yahweh to do them a favor.

“The people of Israel have set up idols in their hearts and fallen into sin, and then they go to a prophet asking for a message.” – Ezekiel 14:4 NLT

But the message they received was not what they were hoping to hear. God gave them an ultimatum: They would have to repent. If they wanted to hear from Him, they would have to abandon their idols and return to Him in humble obeisance and faithful obedience to His commands.

“Repent and turn away from your idols, and stop all your detestable sins.” – Ezekiel 14:6 NLT

And if they refused to do, the consequences would be sorrowful and severe.

“I will turn against such people and make a terrible example of them, eliminating them from among my people.” – Ezekiel 14:8 NLT

This was not the message Ezekiel’s guests had hoped to hear. God’s non-negotiable call to repentance was repellant to them. They couldn’t fathom the idea of giving up their idols of the heart. God was asking too much. They viewed His requirement of unwavering, faithful devotion to Him alone as too restrictive and repressive. And God knew that when they heard His conditions, they would make a beeline to one of the false prophets in hopes of getting a more favorable response. But God warned that the lies of the false prophets would do nothing to thwart His sovereign will.

False prophets and those who seek their guidance will all be punished for their sins. In this way, the people of Israel will learn not to stray from me, polluting themselves with sin. – Ezekiel 14:10-11 NLT

Fake gods and false prophets would prove helpless and hopeless in the face of God’s judgment. Idols of the heart would disappoint. The popular prophets would be punished for promoting lies. But when the dust settled, everyone would know that Yahweh alone was God. That was always God’s purpose and plan. His blessings had always been intended to demonstrate His existence as the one true God. But His curses were meant to accomplish the same thing. When He poured out His wrath on the rebellious and unrepentant, it would serve as a wake-up call to the rest of the nation. His punishment of the wicked would serve as a powerful incentive for His chosen people, prompting them to return to Him in humility and brokenness. And when they did, God would restore them, just as He had promised.

“…if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.” – 2 Chronicles 7:14 NLT

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.

Disobedience Always Brings Discipline

1 The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, you dwell in the midst of a rebellious house, who have eyes to see, but see not, who have ears to hear, but hear not, for they are a rebellious house. As for you, son of man, prepare for yourself an exile’s baggage, and go into exile by day in their sight. You shall go like an exile from your place to another place in their sight. Perhaps they will understand, though they are a rebellious house. You shall bring out your baggage by day in their sight, as baggage for exile, and you shall go out yourself at evening in their sight, as those do who must go into exile. In their sight dig through the wall, and bring your baggage out through it. In their sight you shall lift the baggage upon your shoulder and carry it out at dusk. You shall cover your face that you may not see the land, for I have made you a sign for the house of Israel.”

And I did as I was commanded. I brought out my baggage by day, as baggage for exile, and in the evening I dug through the wall with my own hands. I brought out my baggage at dusk, carrying it on my shoulder in their sight.

In the morning the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, has not the house of Israel, the rebellious house, said to you, ‘What are you doing?’ 10 Say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God: This oracle concerns the prince in Jerusalem and all the house of Israel who are in it.’ 11 Say, ‘I am a sign for you: as I have done, so shall it be done to them. They shall go into exile, into captivity.’ 12 And the prince who is among them shall lift his baggage upon his shoulder at dusk, and shall go out. They shall dig through the wall to bring him out through it. He shall cover his face, that he may not see the land with his eyes. 13 And I will spread my net over him, and he shall be taken in my snare. And I will bring him to Babylon, the land of the Chaldeans, yet he shall not see it, and he shall die there. 14 And I will scatter toward every wind all who are around him, his helpers and all his troops, and I will unsheathe the sword after them. 15 And they shall know that I am the Lord, when I disperse them among the nations and scatter them among the countries. 16 But I will let a few of them escape from the sword, from famine and pestilence, that they may declare all their abominations among the nations where they go, and may know that I am the Lord.”

17 And the word of the Lord came to me: 18 “Son of man, eat your bread with quaking, and drink water with trembling and with anxiety. 19 And say to the people of the land, Thus says the Lord God concerning the inhabitants of Jerusalem in the land of Israel: They shall eat their bread with anxiety, and drink water in dismay. In this way her land will be stripped of all it contains, on account of the violence of all those who dwell in it. 20 And the inhabited cities shall be laid waste, and the land shall become a desolation; and you shall know that I am the Lord.” Ezekiel 12:1-20 ESV

While God had given Ezekiel assurances that a remnant of the people would one day return to the land of Judah, He was not overly optimistic about the spiritual condition of the prophet’s fellow exiles. The Lord described them as “a rebellious house, who have eyes to see, but see not, who have ears to hear, but hear not” (Ezekiel 12:2 ESV). Even though they had experienced God’s judgment and were living as prisoners in the land of Babylon, their less-than-ideal circumstances had failed to cause their repentance. They remained stubbornly committed to their idolatrous ways. And they maintained their misguided belief in Jerusalem’s invincibility because of the presence of the temple. They firmly believed that God would never allow His house to fall into the hands of pagan hordes. Their deportation was a fluke; nothing more than an aberration that would never happen again – or so they thought.

To expose the error behind their thinking, God gave Ezekiel yet another parable-in-a-play to enact. This time he was to dramatize the next siege of Jerusalem and the subsequent events that were to follow. God instructed Ezekiel to hastily pack a bag as if he were attempting to escape for his life. Then he was to dig a hole in the wall of his house or the surrounding garden wall and carry his belongings to the other side. And he was to do all of this in broad daylight, in full view of his fellow exiles.

Do this right in front of the people so they can see you. For perhaps they will pay attention to this, even though they are such rebels. – Ezekiel 12:3 NLT

This little demonstration was intended as a wake-up call to the Jews living in Babylon. It was God’s way of informing them about the devastating future in store for their beloved city and its inhabitants. Each day, Ezekiel would stage a small drama intended to dispel any hopes that Jerusalem would be spared. God’s instructions to Ezekiel were quite clear.

Dig a hole through the wall while they are watching and go out through it. As they watch, lift your pack to your shoulders and walk away into the night. Cover your face so you cannot see the land you are leaving. For I have made you a sign for the people of Israel.” – Ezekiel 12:5-6 NLT

Ezekiel was assigned the role of the rebellious Israelite, suffering within the walls of the besieged city of Jerusalem. His daily dramatic performances were intended to bring to life God’s words of warning. And his actions would have served as a painful reminder to his audience of their own hasty departure from Jerusalem years earlier.

But God’s stage directions to Ezekiel contained important details that probably escaped his stunned onlookers. God’s command for Ezekiel to cover his eyes as he crawled through the hole he dug provided a vital hint concerning the fall of Jerusalem. The author of 2 Kings provides a more detailed description of what actually happened when Nebuchadnezzar’s forces broke through the city’s defenses.

By July 18 in the eleventh year of Zedekiah’s reign, the famine in the city had become very severe, and the last of the food was entirely gone. Then a section of the city wall was broken down. Since the city was surrounded by the Babylonians, the soldiers waited for nightfall and escaped through the gate between the two walls behind the king’s garden. Then they headed toward the Jordan Valley.

But the Babylonian troops chased the king and overtook him on the plains of Jericho, for his men had all deserted him and scattered. They captured the king and took him to the king of Babylon at Riblah, where they pronounced judgment upon Zedekiah. They made Zedekiah watch as they slaughtered his sons. Then they gouged out Zedekiah’s eyes, bound him in bronze chains, and led him away to Babylon. – 2 Kings 25:3-7 NLT

Ezekiel’s little dramatic presentation was prophetic in nature. He was revealing the fate of Zedekiah, the king of Judah. After 11 years on the throne, this godless king would be forced to attempt a nocturnal escape through a hole in the wall of the city. But he would be captured and forced to watch the execution of his own sons. Then before he was dragged away to Babylon, his eyes would be gouged out. The last thing he would remember seeing was the gruesome deaths of his boys.

God knew that Ezekiel’s actions would raise questions among the exiles. So, He provided His prophet with a scripted response.

“Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: These actions contain a message for King Zedekiah in Jerusalem and for all the people of Israel.’ Explain that your actions are a sign to show what will soon happen to them, for they will be driven into exile as captives.” – Ezekiel 12:10-11 NLT

Without giving all the gruesome details, God predicts Zedekiah’s fateful end.

“Zedekiah will leave Jerusalem at night through a hole in the wall, taking only what he can carry with him. He will cover his face, and his eyes will not see the land he is leaving. Then I will throw my net over him and capture him in my snare. I will bring him to Babylon, the land of the Babylonians, though he will never see it, and he will die there.” – Ezekiel 12:12-13 NLT

Ezekiel was playing the part of the defeated king trying to flee his fallen city. But rather than escape with his life, Zedekiah would be blinded, bound, and carted off as a prisoner to Babylon, where he would join Ezekiel and the rest of the exiles.

And God predicts that some within the walls of Jerusalem will manage to get away, fleeing to other countries in an attempt to preserve their lives. And the author of 2 Kings records the fulfillment of this prophecy.

Then all the people of Judah, from the least to the greatest, as well as the army commanders, fled in panic to Egypt, for they were afraid of what the Babylonians would do to them. – 2 Kings 25:26 NLT

The fall of Jerusalem was inevitable and unavoidable. God would completely destroy the city and its grand temple. Many of its inhabitants would die from disease and starvation during the lengthy siege. Many more would die by the sword when the Babylonians broke through the walls. Some would escape to other countries, while others would become captives in Babylon. And God told Ezekiel that the few who remained alive would be spared for a reason.

I will spare a few of them from death by war, famine, or disease, so they can confess all their detestable sins to their captors. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 12:16 NLT

When the fall of Jerusalem finally happened, there would be no doubt as to its cause. Its demise would be due to the sins of the people. They would pay dearly for their failure to obey God. And all those living as exiles in Babylon would learn the painful lesson that disobedience always brings God’s discipline.

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.

No Shortcuts to Holiness

14 Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom: “Thus says your brother Israel: You know all the hardship that we have met: 15 how our fathers went down to Egypt, and we lived in Egypt a long time. And the Egyptians dealt harshly with us and our fathers. 16 And when we cried to the Lord, he heard our voice and sent an angel and brought us out of Egypt. And here we are in Kadesh, a city on the edge of your territory. 17 Please let us pass through your land. We will not pass through field or vineyard, or drink water from a well. We will go along the King’s Highway. We will not turn aside to the right hand or to the left until we have passed through your territory.” 18 But Edom said to him, “You shall not pass through, lest I come out with the sword against you.” 19 And the people of Israel said to him, “We will go up by the highway, and if we drink of your water, I and my livestock, then I will pay for it. Let me only pass through on foot, nothing more.” 20 But he said, “You shall not pass through.” And Edom came out against them with a large army and with a strong force. 21 Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through his territory, so Israel turned away from him.

22 And they journeyed from Kadesh, and the people of Israel, the whole congregation, came to Mount Hor. 23 And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron at Mount Hor, on the border of the land of Edom, 24 “Let Aaron be gathered to his people, for he shall not enter the land that I have given to the people of Israel, because you rebelled against my command at the waters of Meribah. 25 Take Aaron and Eleazar his son and bring them up to Mount Hor. 26 And strip Aaron of his garments and put them on Eleazar his son. And Aaron shall be gathered to his people and shall die there.” 27 Moses did as the Lord commanded. And they went up Mount Hor in the sight of all the congregation. 28 And Moses stripped Aaron of his garments and put them on Eleazar his son. And Aaron died there on the top of the mountain. Then Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain. 29 And when all the congregation saw that Aaron had perished, all the house of Israel wept for Aaron thirty days.  Numbers 20:14-29 ESV

The Israelites were nearing their final destination and as they approached the borders of Canaan, God was cleaning house. Chapter 20 opens with the death of Miriam. But the end of the chapter records the death of her brother, Aaron, the high priest of Israel. He too was disciplined by God for his part in the affair at Meribah. God had accused both Aaron and Moses of treating Him disrespectfully before the people.

“Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” – Numbers 20:12 ESV

While Moses had been the one to strike the rock three times in anger, Aaron had done nothing to stop his brother from disobeying God’s command. God had clearly communicated His orders to both men.

“You and Aaron must take the staff and assemble the entire community. As the people watch, speak to the rock over there, and it will pour out its water. You will provide enough water from the rock to satisfy the whole community and their livestock.” – Numbers 20:8 NLT

But Moses and Aaron were fed up with the constant bickering and complaining of the people. Despite what God had ordered them to do, they were going to use this God-ordained miracle as an opportunity to teach the people a lesson.

Then he and Aaron summoned the people to come and gather at the rock. “Listen, you rebels!” he shouted. “Must we bring you water from this rock?” Then Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with the staff, and water gushed out. So the entire community and their livestock drank their fill. – Numbers 20:10-11 NLT

Moses, speaking on behalf of himself and his brother, tried to leave the impression that they were the ones who would meet the Israelite’s needs by providing water from the rock. In essence, they tried to rob God of glory. Then, by striking the rock rather than speaking to it, Moses violated the command of God. And God would hold both men accountable for their actions.

It was on the southern border of the land of Edom that God delivered the devastating news to Aaron and Moses.

“He will not enter the land I am giving the people of Israel, because the two of you rebelled against my instructions concerning the water at Meribah.” – Numbers 20:24 NLT

In a rather sobering ceremony atop Mount Hor, Moses took the priestly robes off of Aaron and gave them to Aaron’s son, Eleazar. It appears from the text that Aaron did not get to live out the rest of his life wandering in the wilderness, but died on top of the mountain while Moses and Eleazar looked on. They descended the mountain without him and the people of Israel mourned his death for 30 days.

Now Moses was alone. For nearly 40 years he had led the people of Israel with the help of his brother and sister, but their deaths had left him with the sole responsibility of getting the people of Israel to the land of Canaan. But Moses knew that he was never going to set foot in the land because of his role in the affair at Meribah. Like Aaron, he would be denied access to the land of promise and breathe his last breath in the wilderness.

But Moses continued to fulfill the duties God had given to him some four decades earlier. He mourned the loss of his brother but then set about leading the people of Israel to the border of Canaan. To do so, he had attempted to take a shortcut through the land of Edom.

Edom was located on the southernmost border of Canaan and was occupied by distant relatives of the Israelites. The Edomites were the descendants of Esau, the firstborn son of Isaac and the twin brother of Jacob. When Esau had been cheated out of his birthright by Jacob, he decided to relocate his family to another part of Canaan.

Esau took his wives, his children, and his entire household, along with his livestock and cattle—all the wealth he had acquired in the land of Canaan—and moved away from his brother, Jacob. There was not enough land to support them both because of all the livestock and possessions they had acquired. So Esau (also known as Edom) settled in the hill country of Seir. – Genesis 36:6-8 NLT

Once there, Esau’s descendants prospered and developed a thriving kingdom. During the four centuries that the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt, the Edomites lived under a long line of kings (Genesis 36:31) and enjoyed a measure of peace and prosperity.

So, when Moses sent emissaries to the king of Edom seeking permission to pass through their territory, he expected a favorable response.

“This is what your relatives, the people of Israel, say: You know all the hardships we have been through. Our ancestors went down to Egypt, and we lived there a long time, and we and our ancestors were brutally mistreated by the Egyptians. But when we cried out to the Lord, he heard us and sent an angel who brought us out of Egypt. Now we are camped at Kadesh, a town on the border of your land. Please let us travel through your land. We will be careful not to go through your fields and vineyards. We won’t even drink water from your wells. We will stay on the king’s road and never leave it until we have passed through your territory.”– Numbers 20:14-17 NLT

The kingdom of Edom covered a large swath of land and without the right of safe passage through its territory, Moses and the people of Israel would be forced to take a much longer route around it. But no matter how hard Moses pleaded, the king of Edom refused to grant access to their land. He even threatened them with war if they tried. He even “mobilized his army and marched out against them with an imposing force” (Numbers 20:20 NLT). 

Rejected by their own kin, the Israelites were forced to reverse course and take the long detour around Edom. What’s interesting to consider is that the Israelites had always been led by the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. God had used these two phenomena to guide His people throughout their four-decade-long journey. So, was Moses’ attempt to go through Edom an unauthorized decision on his part? Had the cloud led him to this point or was the negotiations with Edom something he had come up with on his own? Was Moses trying to shorten the distance to Canaan by taking an unauthorized path through the land of Edom?

It seems unlikely that God would have chosen to use the Edomites to help His chosen people reach the land He had promised to provide for them. These two nations remained in constant conflict with one another long after Israel conquered and occupied the land of Canaan. And the book of Obadiah describes God’s anger against Edom for the way it took advantage of Israel’s later misfortunes when the Babylonians conquered them and left the land desolate and depopulated.

“Because of the violence you did
    to your close relatives in Israel,
you will be filled with shame
    and destroyed forever.
When they were invaded,
    you stood aloof, refusing to help them.
Foreign invaders carried off their wealth
    and cast lots to divide up Jerusalem,
    but you acted like one of Israel’s enemies.

“You should not have gloated
    when they exiled your relatives to distant lands.
You should not have rejoiced
    when the people of Judah suffered such misfortune.
You should not have spoken arrogantly
    in that terrible time of trouble.
You should not have plundered the land of Israel
    when they were suffering such calamity.
You should not have gloated over their destruction
    when they were suffering such calamity.
You should not have seized their wealth
    when they were suffering such calamity.
You should not have stood at the crossroads,
    killing those who tried to escape.
You should not have captured the survivors
    and handed them over in their terrible time of trouble.– Obadiah 10-14 ESV

The Israelites received no assistance from their distant relatives and were forced to travel southeasterly toward the Arabian desert. This unexpected setback must have disappointed Moses and it’s clear from the next chapter that it left the people of Israel far from pleased.

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. – Numbers 21:4 ESV

God was not done teaching them the lessons they needed to learn. They were not yet ready to enter His rest. So, God continued to purge their leadership and purify their hearts in preparation for the day when He would lead them into their promised inheritance.

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 Danger of Doubt and Disobedience

1 And the people of Israel, the whole congregation, came into the wilderness of Zin in the first month, and the people stayed in Kadesh. And Miriam died there and was buried there.

Now there was no water for the congregation. And they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. And the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord! Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink.” Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. And the glory of the Lord appeared to them, and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.” And Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as he commanded him.

10 Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” 11 And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. 12 And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” 13 These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the Lord, and through them he showed himself holy. Numbers 20:1-13 ESV

Nearly 40 years have passed since the Israelites first arrived at the border of the land of Canaan but refused to obey God’s command and take possession of it. Due to their rebellion, they had spent the last four decades wandering through the wilderness between Egypt and Canaan until that generation died off. God was not going to allow them a second chance to take possession of their inheritance. That privilege would be passed to their sons and daughters.

Ever since the Israelites had been delivered from their captivity in Egypt, they had shown a propensity for complaining and, ultimately, rebellion. They had a habit of viewing everything from a negative perspective. And this problem went all the way to the top.

This chapter opens up with the death of Miriam, the elder sister of Moses and Aaron. And what is significant about the timing of her death is its location. She takes her last breath on earth in a place called Kadesh.

This had been a regular camping point for the people of God during their days in the wilderness. They had been here before, years earlier, and had proven their penchant for rebellion and refusal to obey God’s commands.

“You also made the Lord angry at Taberah, Massah, and Kibroth-hattaavah. And at Kadesh-barnea the Lord sent you out with this command: ‘Go up and take over the land I have given you.’ But you rebelled against the command of the Lord your God and refused to put your trust in him or obey him. Yes, you have been rebelling against the Lord as long as I have known you.” – Deuteronomy 9:22-24 NLT

Kadesh was located near the southern borders of Canaan and it came to represent a kind of stop sign in the lives of the nation of Israel. It was as if this spot was as far as they could force themselves to go in their quest to occupy the land that God had given them. And it would be in Kadesh that Miriam’s life would come to an end. She would never set foot in the land of promise. And all because she had chosen to question God’s will by attempting to wrest leadership from the hands of her own brother. This less-than-flattering scene from Miriam’s life is recorded in Numbers 12. She and Aaron joined forces to demand equal billing when it came to leading the nation.

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

There weren’t content in their roles and desired to share the leadership responsibilities with their brother. But God did not agree.

“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. – Numbers 12:8-9 ESV

For her part in the attempted coup, Miriam was struck with leprosy. But Moses interceded for his sister and begged God to heal her, which He did. But while Miriam was spared the pain and social ostracization that comes with leprosy, she would be denied entry into the land of Canaan. She paid dearly for her rebellion.

And the story of her death is followed by yet another example of rebellion on the part of the people. The people found themselves in Kadesh once again and, more specifically, at a place called Meribah. That name had a special significance to the people of Israel – for both good and bad reasons. It was at Meribah that God had performed a miraculous sign by providing them with water out of a rock.

All the way back in Exodus 17, we have recorded this first encounter with “the rock.” On that occasion, they had been fairly early on in their wilderness experience. When they came to the wilderness of Sin, they discovered that there was no water for them to drink. So the people did what they were prone to do – they complained. And Moses did what he was prone to do – take the matter to God.

God instructed him to take his rod and strike a particular rock. When he did, water gushed from the rock. In the book of Corinthians, Paul tells us something significant about this rock.

…and all of them drank the same miraculous water. For they all drank from the miraculous rock that traveled with them, and that rock was Christ. – 1 Corinthians 10:4 NLT

Now there was a legend that the rabbis taught that said the rock actually traveled with the people of Israel. There is no Scriptural basis for this theory, but in Numbers 20, the “rock” makes an appearance once again. Whether it was the very same rock or just another rock through which God provided for the peoples’ needs, Paul’s point is that the rock symbolized Christ. It was He who had been with the Israelites all the time they were in the wilderness, providing life-sustaining water for them. In fact, when God told Moses to strike the rock back in Exodus 17, that word means to “strike, beat, scourge, ravage, slay, or wound.” It’s the same word used when God “smote” the firstborn of Egypt. It paints a picture of the scourging and beating of Christ at His trials and crucifixion. Jesus would become the source of living water. During His encounter with the Samaritan woman  Jesus told her, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who I am, you would ask me, and I would give you living water” (John 4:10 NLT). Just a few chapters later in the book of John, Jesus tells the crowds, “If you are thirsty, come to me! If you believe in me, come and drink! For the Scriptures declare that rivers of living water will flow out from within” (John 7:37-38 NLT).

In chapter 20 of the book of Numbers, we have not a retelling of the story of Meribah, but another Meribah. This is one of those “deja-vu-all-over-again” type of experiences. Meribah means ” argument” or “strife.” And the names stems from the actions of the people of God because they argued or quarreled with God both times. The second time, God instructed Moses to take his rod again, but this time He specifically tells Moses to SPEAK to the rock – not strike it. Back in Exodus 17, His instructions were to strike the rock. But now Moses was simply to speak to it.

But in his anger with the people, Moses disobeys God and strikes the rock twice. His actions produce the desired result, but in disobeying God, Moses incurred His wrath. Think about it. If what Paul says in 1 Corinthians is true – that the rock is a representation of Christ, then Moses is taking out his anger on Christ. The first time Moses struck the rock, it was a representation of the death that Christ must suffer in order that we might have life. But from that point forward, Christ’s life-sustaining power was available for the asking. There was no need to “beat” it out of Him. He had provided before and He would provide again. All Moses needed to do was ask. But instead He struck the rock in anger. And this action would prevent Moses from entering the promised land. Like his sister, Miriam, Moses would die in the wilderness, having been denied entrance into the very land he had strived so long to enjoy. And Aaron would suffer a similar fate.

This is a tough passage. It seems as if Moses and Aaron got too severe a punishment from the hand of God. But in his commentary on the Old Testament, Matthew Henry sheds some helpful light on this passage.

First, They did not punctually observe their orders, but in some things varied from their commission; God bade them speak to the rock, and they spoke to the people, and smote the rock, which at this time they were not ordered to do, but they thought speaking would not do. When, in distrust of the power of the word, we have recourse to the secular power in matters of pure conscience, we do, as Moses here, smite the rock to which we should only speak, Secondly, They assumed too much of the glory of this work of wonder to themselves: Must we fetch water? as if it were done by some power or worthiness of theirs. Therefore it is charged upon them (v. 12) that they did not sanctify God, that is, they did not give him that glory of this miracle which was due unto his name. Thirdly, Unbelief was the great transgression (v. 12): You believed me not; nay, it is called rebelling against God’s commandment, ch. 27:14. The command was to bring water out of the rock, but they rebelled against this command, by distrusting it, and doubting whether it would take effect or no. They speak doubtfully: Must we fetch water? And probably they did in some other ways discover an uncertainty in their own minds whether water would come or no for such a rebellious generation as this was. And perhaps they the rather questioned it, though God had promised it, because the glory of the Lord did not appear before them upon this rock, as it had done upon the rock in Rephidim, Ex. 17:6. They would not take God’s word without a sign.” – Matthew Henry, “Numbers,” Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible

Disobedience, unbelief, and seeking glory for themselves. That was their sin. And it is the sin of many of us today. We disobey God because we do not believe God. And when we do obey, we do it in order to get the glory for ourselves. But God would have none of it from Moses and Aaron, and He will have none of it from us. He will provide, but He will have us obey. He will provide, but He will get the glory. He will provide, but He will expect us to believe. To trust Him. God is holy and demands that we treat Him as such.

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.

Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child

15 The rod and reproof give wisdom,
but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.
16 When the wicked increase, transgression increases,
but the righteous will look upon their downfall.
17 Discipline your son, and he will give you rest;
he will give delight to your heart.
18 Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint,
but blessed is he who keeps the law.
19 By mere words a servant is not disciplined,
for though he understands, he will not respond.
20 Do you see a man who is hasty in his words?
There is more hope for a fool than for him.
21 Whoever pampers his servant from childhood
will in the end find him his heir.
22 A man of wrath stirs up strife,
and one given to anger causes much transgression.
23 One’s pride will bring him low,
but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.
24 The partner of a thief hates his own life;
he hears the curse, but discloses nothing.
25 The fear of man lays a snare,
but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.
26 Many seek the face of a ruler,
but it is from the Lord that a man gets justice.
27 An unjust man is an abomination to the righteous,
but one whose way is straight is an abomination to the wicked. – Proverbs 29:15-27 ESV

The life of wisdom begins in childhood. Children are natural-born fools. They come out of the womb with a predisposition for foolishness because they are born with a sinful nature, a sad but all-too-real byproduct of the fall. Many of the proverbs of Solomon are based on the premise that “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child” (Proverbs 22:15 BSB). That’s why there are numerous proverbs dedicated to the training and discipline of children.

Train up a child in the way he should go;
even when he is old he will not depart from it.– Proverbs 22:6 ESV

Training includes exposing the child to the ways of God and encouraging him to follow the path of the righteous. But when the child fails to obey, loving discipline is required. The child must learn that disobedience comes with serious and sometimes painful consequences. Here in Proverbs 29, we find yet another wise saying that encourages the practice of loving correction so that the child will increase in wisdom rather than foolishness.

To discipline a child produces wisdom,
but a mother is disgraced by an undisciplined child.– Proverbs 29:15 NLT

But the biblical concept of discipline also includes the occasional use of corporal punishment. There will come times when a child needs to experience the painful consequences of his refusal to obey. While a “time out” may be appropriate for a very young child, that kind of behavioral correction will diminish in its effectiveness as the child matures. That’s why the Proverbs encourage a brand of discipline that includes the use of some form of physical punishment.

Those who spare the rod of discipline hate their children.
Those who love their children care enough to discipline them.– Proverbs 13:24 NLT

Some people believe in discipline, but not in physical discipline such as spanking. However, the Bible is the final word on what is truth; it is not mere opinion or theory. The word rod indicates a thin stick or switch that can be used to give a small amount of physical pain with no lasting physical injury. A child should never be bruised, injured, or cut by a physical correction. – What does it mean to “spare the rod and spoil the child?”,

Our modern culture tends to reject the concept of physical discipline, having deemed it as antiquated and a rather barbaric form of punishment. Instead, parents are encouraged to see the use of reason and logic as a more enlightened means of correction. And while there is nothing inherently wrong with appealing to a child’s intellect, it fails to adequately teach the painful consequences of sinful behavior. That is why the Proverbs are filled with repeated admonitions to not “spare the rod.”

Don’t fail to discipline your children.
    The rod of punishment won’t kill them.
Physical discipline
    may well save them from death. – Proverbs 23:13-14 NLT

And Solomon understood that the concept of loving discipline was not a man-made invention, but the will of God. It was in keeping with the way God disciplines those whom He loves.

My child, don’t reject the Lord’s discipline,
    and don’t be upset when he corrects you.
For the Lord corrects those he loves,
    just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights. – Proverbs 3:11-12 NLT

It is likely that Solomon knew the story of his own birth and its close association with the sin of his own father. David had committed an egregious sin by committing adultery with the wife of one of his own soldiers. Having discovered that his one-night stand had resulted in an unwanted pregnancy, David tried to cover up his sin by ordering the woman’s husband back from the battlefield. His plan was for Uriah to be reunited with his wife so that there might be another explanation for her unexpected pregnancy. but Uriah refused to enjoy the pleasures of his wife’s company while his fellow soldiers suffered on the battlefield. So, David ordered that Uriah be sent back to the front lines and exposed to enemy fire. In other words, David ordered Uriah’s murder.

Upon news of Uriah’s death, David took Bathsheba to be his wife. But the story doesn’t end there. God was displeased with David’s actions. And while Bathsheba eventually gave birth to the son she had conceived with David, God would not allow David to enjoy the “fruit” of his sin. Nathan the prophet delivered the painful news that David’s sin would have devastating consequences.

“…the Lord has forgiven you, and you won’t die for this sin. Nevertheless, because you have shown utter contempt for the word of the Lord by doing this, your child will die.” – 2 Samuel 12:13-14 NLT

David mourned the loss of his child, but God eventually blessed him with another son.

Then David comforted Bathsheba, his wife, and slept with her. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son, and David named him Solomon. The Lord loved the child and sent word through Nathan the prophet that they should name him Jedidiah (which means “beloved of the Lord”), as the Lord had commanded. – 2 Samuel 12:24-25 NLT

Solomon was the byproduct of God’s discipline of David. He was literally “beloved of the Lord” but he understood that his very existence was due to the loving discipline of God. Solomon’s father had committed a terrible sin against God and had paid the price. That’s why Solomon so strongly encouraged the practice of godly, loving discipline.

Discipline your children, and they will give you peace of mind
and will make your heart glad.– Proverbs 29:17 NLT

Solomon understood that instruction alone was not enough. To simply teach someone the ways of God was no guarantee that they would walk in them. Successful communication of the rules will not assure compliance because people have to make the choice to obey.

When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild.
    But whoever obeys the law is joyful. – Proverbs 29:18 NLT

That’s why physical discipline is required. Not everyone obeys. Not everyone willingly adheres to the rules. But if disobedience brings attention-getting and sometimes painful consequences, there is a higher likelihood that the sin will not be repeated a second time. As the proverb states, “Words alone will not discipline a servant; the words may be understood, but they are not heeded” (Proverbs 29:19 NLT).

Wisdom reveals that the coddling of a child or a servant will not end well. It will not produce the outcome you desire.

A servant pampered from childhood
    will become a rebel. – Proverbs 29:21 NLT

Those who go through life without the threat of discipline never learn the consequences of their sin. They become prideful and arrogant. They display disdain for rules of any kind. They become a disgrace to their parents and a blight on the community. The undisciplined end up becoming increasingly ungodly because they have never learned to fear God. Because their unrighteous behavior has gone unpunished, they never learn to fear the righteous wrath of God.

There is no guarantee that the godly discipline of your children will turn them into godly and God-fearing adults. But no discipline at all will almost always assure that your adult child will be characterized more by foolishness than wisdom.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

From Don’t to Won’t

17 Let not your heart envy sinners,
    but continue in the fear of the Lord all the day.
18 Surely there is a future,
    and your hope will not be cut off.

19 Hear, my son, and be wise,
    and direct your heart in the way.
20 Be not among drunkards
    or among gluttonous eaters of meat,
21 for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty,
    and slumber will clothe them with rags.

22 Listen to your father who gave you life,
    and do not despise your mother when she is old.
23 Buy truth, and do not sell it;
    buy wisdom, instruction, and understanding.
24 The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice;
    he who fathers a wise son will be glad in him.
25 Let your father and mother be glad;
    let her who bore you rejoice.

26 My son, give me your heart,
    and let your eyes observe my ways.
27 For a prostitute is a deep pit;
    an adulteress is a narrow well.
28 She lies in wait like a robber
    and increases the traitors among mankind.

29 Who has woe? Who has sorrow?
    Who has strife? Who has complaining?
Who has wounds without cause?
    Who has redness of eyes?
30 Those who tarry long over wine;
    those who go to try mixed wine.
31 Do not look at wine when it is red,
    when it sparkles in the cup
    and goes down smoothly.
32 In the end it bites like a serpent
    and stings like an adder.
33 Your eyes will see strange things,
    and your heart utter perverse things.
34 You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea,
    like one who lies on the top of a mast.
35 “They struck me,” you will say, “but I was not hurt;
    they beat me, but I did not feel it.
When shall I awake?
    I must have another drink.” – Proverbs 23:17-35 ESV

Proverbs 23 contains a portion of the 30 wise sayings begun by Solomon in Proverbs 22. He prefaced his list with this explanation: “I am teaching you today – yes, you – so you will trust in the Lord. I have written thirty sayings for you, filled with advice and knowledge. In this way, you may know the truth…” (Proverbs 22:19-21 NLT).

The majority of what follows are warnings from Solomon to his sons concerning all those things they are to avoid. He provides them a list of prohibitions. Don’t rob the poor, don’t befriend angry people, don’t agree to guarantee another person’s debt, etc. Solomon calls these sayings “the words of the wise.” He encourages his sons to “keep them in your heart and always ready on your lips.”

At first glance, they simply seem to be common-sense sayings that are based on good moral judgment and proper ethics. But in reality, they express the heart of God and the life of the man who knows and fears God. There are warnings against taking advantage of the poor who God cares for and will defend the disadvantaged and disenfranchised. There are warnings about allowing anything other than God to become your source of provision or pleasure. That is why he brings up dining with the wealthy, powerful, and influential. Solomon warns against doing it to gain favor, to be part of the in-crowd, or as a pathway to success? He warns his sons against becoming so obsessed with wealth that they wear themselves out in the pursuit of it.

They run the risk of making money a god, expecting it to do for them what only God Himself can do. Throughout Proverbs 23, Solomon warns his boys about the importance and danger of relationships. He talks about dining with rulers, eating with the stingy, cheating your neighbor, counseling fools, disciplining children, envying sinners, partying with drunks, and soliciting prostitutes. Our earthly relationships are a very clear indicator of the kind of relationship we have with God. The godly discipline their children; are content rather than envious of others; turn to God for assistance rather than the wealthy, powerful, and influential of this earth; practice self-control, and use discernment in living their lives.

Solomon began his list with the statement, “I am teaching you today – yes, you – so you will trust in the Lord.” Many, if not all, of his warnings, have to do with taking advantage of others in order to get ahead. They paint the picture of an individual who is obsessed with the people and things of this earth only to satisfy his needs and desires. Solomon tells his sons to choose their relationships carefully – in the fear of the Lord. He advises them to control their physical appetites for food, wine, and sex – in the fear of the Lord. He encourages them to discipline their own children and to commit themselves to godly wisdom – all in the fear of the Lord.

At the heart of all behavior should be a healthy fear of and respect for God. NOT doing certain things will NOT result in godliness. We don’t do these things because we are godly. We belong to God and we are His children. We represent Him on this earth. We refuse to live like the world. In the book of Titus, Paul writes, “For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed” (Titus 2:11-13 NLT).

We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God. That is exactly what Solomon is talking about. Our fear of, love for, and devotion to God should determine our behavior on this planet, and reflect that we are His children.

In the three dozen prohibitions found in chapters 22 and 23 of Proverbs, Solomon addresses everything from drinking to the dangers of gluttony. But why does Solomon find the need to list all these warnings and commands? Because he feared that his sons still lacked the ability to make wise decisions on their own.

The book of Proverbs is very practical, providing divinely inspired input for daily living. This is Monday-morning relevant stuff. No religious mumbo-jumbo or spiritual speak here. This is relevant counsel for real life. But if we try and apply these principles to our lives like self-help tips, we’re going to be highly disappointed. Oh, they might work for a while, because they are divine truths from the very throne of God. But we will be incapable of keeping them long-term because we really don’t understand their value and we lack the convictions necessary to stick with them. We will be like a child who knows all the rules but fails to keep them because he doesn’t understand the reasons behind them.

The key to applying the words of the wise is to understand the truth contained in them. If we simply view them as restrictions that keep us from doing the things we want to do, we will ultimately see them as roadblocks to our self-satisfaction. We may keep them for a time, out of fear of punishment, but as soon as we have the chance, we will rebel and reject them. That’s why we are told to “get the truth and never sell it; also get wisdom, discipline, and good judgment” (Proverbs 23:23 NLT).

These wise sayings are not wisdom in and of themselves. They are the byproduct of wisdom. They are wise because they have come from a wise God and have been revealed through the life experiences of wise men and women. We are told to get discipline because without it we will never be able to follow the counsel in this book. We need good judgment because without it we will never understand or appreciate the value of following the advice found on the pages of the book of Proverbs, or anywhere else in the Bible for that matter.

When children are young, one of the most common words they hear their parents say is “don’t!” Everyone is constantly telling them what NOT to do. Why? Because they are young and lack the ability to know right from wrong. They are self-centered and live in a world in which they are the only occupant. Their desires come first. If they see something they want, they simply take it. If they crave something and someone denies them access to it, they find a way to get it anyway, even if it means disobeying the authorities in their life. Kids have to hear the word, “don’t” because they don’t know any better.

But there comes a time when we no longer have to say, “don’t!” to our children as much as we used to. Why? Because they eventually grow in wisdom, discipline, and understanding. They reach a point where they understand the reason behind the restrictions. They grow wise in the ways of the world.

For some of us, reading this list of wise sayings leaves us nodding our heads in agreement because we already know the truth found in them. Others of us may read them and think, “This is hard stuff, I don’t know if I can pull it off, or if I even agree with it.”

They sound restrictive and unattractive to many of us. Because we lack wisdom. We need understanding. We are short on discernment. And all these things come from God. We need to get to know Him better. We need to know His heart so that we can see the truth contained in His Word. When our children are young and they hear us tell them “don’t,” they think we’re mean. But as they grow older and get to know us better, they realize just how much we love them and have their best interest in mind. The same is true with God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

It All Begins With God

1 My son, if you receive my words
    and treasure up my commandments with you,
making your ear attentive to wisdom
    and inclining your heart to understanding;
yes, if you call out for insight
    and raise your voice for understanding,
if you seek it like silver
    and search for it as for hidden treasures,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
    and find the knowledge of God.
For the Lord gives wisdom;
    from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;
he stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
    he is a shield to those who walk in integrity,
guarding the paths of justice
    and watching over the way of his saints.
Then you will understand righteousness and justice
    and equity, every good path;
10 for wisdom will come into your heart,
    and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul;
11 discretion will watch over you,
    understanding will guard you,
12 delivering you from the way of evil,
    from men of perverted speech,
13 who forsake the paths of uprightness
    to walk in the ways of darkness,
14 who rejoice in doing evil
    and delight in the perverseness of evil,
15 men whose paths are crooked,
    and who are devious in their ways.

16 So you will be delivered from the forbidden woman,
    from the adulteress with her smooth words,
17 who forsakes the companion of her youth
    and forgets the covenant of her God;
18 for her house sinks down to death,
    and her paths to the departed;
19 none who go to her come back,
    nor do they regain the paths of life.

20 So you will walk in the way of the good
    and keep to the paths of the righteous.
21 For the upright will inhabit the land,
    and those with integrity will remain in it,
22 but the wicked will be cut off from the land,
    and the treacherous will be rooted out of it. Proverbs 2:1-22 ESV


Proverbs 2 opens up with a father presenting his young son with a series of conditional statements. Each entails a hypothetical situation in which the father imagines his son choosing the right path over the wrong one.

if you receive my words
    and treasure up my commandments with you

ifyour ear attentive to wisdom
    and inclining your heart to understanding…

if you call out for insight
    and raise your voice for understanding…

if you seek it like silver…

if you…search for it as for hidden treasures…

The father imagines five hypothetical, yet highly probable situations that optimistically portray his son as an enthusiastic seeker of wisdom. And he eagerly predicts the outcome of his son’s decision to choose the right path.

Thenyou will understand the fear of the Lord
    and find the knowledge of God.

But upon closer examination, it appears as if this conditional statement contradicts what was stated in Proverbs 1.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
    fools despise wisdom and instruction. – Proverbs 1:7 ESV

These two proverbs seem to present inexplicable conundrum, similar to the age-old question: Which came first, the chicken of the egg?. Is a healthy fear of the Lord the pathway to wisdom, or is it the other way around? And to the author of Proverbs 2, the answer would seem to be, “Yes!” It’s both. The fear of the Lord and wisdom are inseparable. They go hand in hand. You don’t get one without the other.

Notice what Proverbs 2:5 says: “…then you will understand the fear of the Lord.”

It is not that wisdom produces or results in a healthy fear of the Lord, but that it helps us to comprehend what it means to fear the Lord. The NET Bible translates verse 5 this way: “then you will understand how to fear the Lord.”

The relentless pursuit of godly wisdom and understanding will reveal the will of God and show us how to live in a way that is pleasing to God. In other words, godly wisdom produces godliness – a lifestyle that honors and glorifies our Heavenly Father.  Jesus describes the godly life this way: “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16 ESV). And the apostle Peter put it in practical terms for believers living in the less-than-friendly environment of Asia Minor:

Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world. – 1 Peter 2:12 NLT

The fear of the Lord must show up in everyday life. It must be practical, tangible, and visible. And we learn how to model a proper reverence and awe for God through a relentless pursuit of godly wisdom and instruction. We are to treat God’s wisdom like a priceless treasure for which we search until we find it, and then risk our lives to protect and preserve.

And this pursuit of wisdom is not some shot-in-the-dark quest for the invisible and non-discoverable. It’s not like searching for hidden treasure without a map. No, the author tells us that “the Lord grants wisdom! From his mouth come knowledge and understanding. He grants a treasure of common sense to the honest” (Proverbs 2:6-7 NLT). He is the source of all wisdom and He makes it freely available to all who come to Him in humility and an honest assessment of our need for Him. 

The wisdom and insight needed to live the godly life comes from God Himself, and He reveals it through His written Word and with the enlightening power of His Holy Spirit. The apostle Peter provides us with a powerful reminder that God is the sole source of all that we need.

May God give you more and more grace and peace as you grow in your knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord.

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. – 2 Peter 1:2-3 NLT

The power is ours. But its availability to us is enhanced by our increasing knowledge of God and His Son. That’s a description of increasing wisdom or insight. As our knowledge of the Father and the Son increases, our insight into their sovereign will improves and our godliness increases. In the prayer that He prayed in the garden on the night of his betrayal and arrest, Jesus described what it means to have eternal life.

“…this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” – John 17:3 ESV

Think about what Jesus is saying. Eternal life is not just some future state in which believers will live in unending community with God the Father and God the Son. It is an actually an unveiled and undiminished awareness of the Godhead. There is a day coming when God’s children will know Him intimately and perfectly. The apostle Paul describes it this way:

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. – 1 Corinthians 13:12 NLT

In the meantime, we can grow in our knowledge of God and His Son. We can increase in our understanding of who they are and what they expect of us. The author of Proverbs 2 assures us that “you will understand what is right, just, and fair, and you will find the right way to go” (Proverbs 2:9 NLT). He makes the confident assertion that “wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will fill you with joy” (Proverbs 2:10 NLT).

We will have the ability to make wise choices and avoid evil people. Wisdom will provide practical help in escaping the allure of immorality and promiscuity. And this kind of divine assistance is critical because life can be hard. Decisions have to be made. Difficulties must be dealt with. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do or how to respond. We are bombarded by bad advice and the well-meaning counsel of friends who are just as confused as we are. So, the author encourages us to “cry out for insight, and ask for understanding. Search for them as you would for silver; seek them like hidden treasures” (Proverbs 2:4 NLT). It appears that he expects us to put a fair amount of effort into the process. He seems to believe that we must want insight and understanding bad enough that we would expend some energy in order to get them. Cry out! Ask! Search! Seek! How badly do we want these things? How hard are we willing to pursue them until we find them?

As we go through life we encounter our desperate need for insight, understanding, wisdom, and knowledge.This world can be a confusing place. We don’t always know what to do. So the first step seems to be a recognition of our deficiencies. We have to come to an understanding of our lack of understanding. We are not the brightest bulbs in the box. But the sad truth seems to be that we don’t usually reach this point of awareness until something difficult happens that leaves us at a loss. It is in those times of desperation that we tend to turn to God, and that is the key – we have to turn to the one and only source where help and hope can be found.

God alone can equip us with much-needed common sense, integrity, and the ability to understand what is just, right and fair. In other words, God gives us discernment, direction, discipline, and discretion. He provides us with all we need to live life on this planet wisely, safely, and righteously. Rather than live according to the standards of this world. we learn to live God’s way. We learn to think like He thinks, love what He loves, hate what He hates, and view life from His perspective.

This life can be hard, but God has given us everything we need to not only survive, but to thrive. With His help, we can live our lives in 4-D, exhibiting discernment, direction, discipline and discretion. He will keep us on the right path. He will help us make wise decisions. He will protect us from the temptation of this world. He will give us the ability to see life from His perspective. But first we must come to the realization that we need what He has. We must desire His  understanding, knowledge, insight and wisdom more than anything else in the world. Then we must seek after it diligently, eagerly, and relentlessly.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.


In Need of An Attitude Adjustment

1 Then Jacob went on his journey and came to the land of the people of the east. As he looked, he saw a well in the field, and behold, three flocks of sheep lying beside it, for out of that well the flocks were watered. The stone on the well’s mouth was large, and when all the flocks were gathered there, the shepherds would roll the stone from the mouth of the well and water the sheep, and put the stone back in its place over the mouth of the well.

Jacob said to them, “My brothers, where do you come from?” They said, “We are from Haran.” He said to them, “Do you know Laban the son of Nahor?” They said, “We know him.” He said to them, “Is it well with him?” They said, “It is well; and see, Rachel his daughter is coming with the sheep!” He said, “Behold, it is still high day; it is not time for the livestock to be gathered together. Water the sheep and go, pasture them.” But they said, “We cannot until all the flocks are gathered together and the stone is rolled from the mouth of the well; then we water the sheep.”

While he was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherdess. 10 Now as soon as Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother, Jacob came near and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth and watered the flock of Laban his mother’s brother. 11 Then Jacob kissed Rachel and wept aloud. 12 And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s kinsman, and that he was Rebekah’s son, and she ran and told her father.

13 As soon as Laban heard the news about Jacob, his sister’s son, he ran to meet him and embraced him and kissed him and brought him to his house. Jacob told Laban all these things, 14 and Laban said to him, “Surely you are my bone and my flesh!” And he stayed with him a month. Genesis 29:1-14 ESV

In his quest to find a bride, Jacob had traveled nearly 450 miles from Beersheba to Haran, his mother’s hometown in Mesopotamia. Upon his arrival, Jacob made his way to the local “watering hole” or a well, which would have been a natural gathering spot for the citizens of that region. In a sense, Jacob was following the example of Abraham’s servant who, years earlier, had made the same journey in search of Isaac’s wife. It had been at a well that the servant had discovered Rebekah, who would later become Abraham’s wife and Jacob’s mother (Genesis 24). And it seems likely that Jacob had heard this story many times over his lifetime. So, in an attempt to locate his mother’s kin, Jacob began his search at a local well. And he would not be disappointed.

But before proceeding to the rest of the story, it is important to compare the Genesis 24 and Genesis 29 stories. In both cases, there is a man in search of a woman who might serve as a bride for one of Abraham’s descendants. In the case of Abraham, he had commanded his servant, “go to my country and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son Isaac” (Genesis 24:4 ESV). Abraham was sending his servant to Haran to seek a suitable wife from among the household of his brother, Nahor. It was important to Abraham that his future daughter-in-law be a member of his own clan and so he warned his servant, “you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites” (Genesis 24:3 ESV). Notice that Isaac gave his son similar warnings and instructions.

You must not take a wife from the Canaanite women. Arise, go to Paddan-aram to the house of Bethuel your mother’s father, and take as your wife from there one of the daughters of Laban your mother’s brother.” – Genesis 28:1-2 ESV

Both men carefully followed the instructions they had been given and made the difficult journey to Haran. And while both began their search at a well, only Abraham’s servant invoked the aid of Yahweh.

“O Lord, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham. – Genesis 24:12 ESV

Recognizing the importance of his task, this faithful servant of Abraham sought divine assistance from his master’s God. Yet, the first words out of Jacob’s mouth were to shepherds, not Yahweh. It might be argued that Jacob had prayed his prayer all the way back in Bethel.

“If God will indeed be with me and protect me on this journey, and if he will provide me with food and clothing, and if I return safely to my father’s home, then the Lord will certainly be my God.” – Genesis 28:20-21 NLT

It could be that Jacob was operating under the assumption that he already had God’s assurance of success. After all, Jacob had received a hard-and-fast commitment from the Almighty.

“I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.” – Genesis 28:15 NLT

And as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that God was guiding and directing Jacob’s steps. Yet, one can’t help but notice the glaring absence of any vertical communication on Jacob’s part. And this will become a pattern in Jacob’s life. This self-willed and sometimes conniving individual will show a marked propensity for self-reliance. In fact, it will be more than 14 years before any communication takes place between Jacob and the God of his grandfather Abraham, and it will be Yahweh who instigates the conversation.

“Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you.” – Genesis 31:3 ESV

But as Jacob stood at the well, he seemed to harbor no thoughts of God and expressed no need of His assistance. Instead, he struck up a conversation with some local shepherds, asking if they were familiar with Laban, his mother’s brother. Much to Jacob’s surprise, the shepherds not only confessed their knowledge of Laban but also announced that his daughter Rachel was on her way to the well with a flock of sheep.

Once again, a quick comparison to the Genesis 24 account is necessary. When Abraham’s servant met Rebekah for the first time, he eagerly waited to see if she was the one for whom he had prayed.

Silently the man watched her with interest to determine if the Lord had made his journey successful or not. – Genesis 24:21 NLT

And when he discovered her to be the answer to his prayer, the servant “bowed his head and worshiped the Lord” (Genesis 24:26 NLT). He gave all the credit to God.

“Praised be the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not abandoned his faithful love for my master! The Lord has led me to the house of my master’s relatives!” – Genesis 24:27 NLT

Yet, Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, seemed to be oblivious to God’s presence and provision. The fact seems to have escaped him that his long journey had ended at a well where there just happened to be men who knew his wife’s brother. And he shows no recognition of God’s involvement even at the serendipitous appearance of Laban’s young, unmarried daughter. No prayers of thanksgiving are expressed. No praise to God flows from his lips.

In fact, the entire narrative seems to focus on Jacob’s self-reliant and fiercely independent nature, a recurring theme in his young life. Jacob had repeatedly proven his penchant for obsessive-compulsive behavior. When he saw something he wanted, he showed a powerful and unrelenting determination to do whatever it took to get it. And this occasion was no different.

As soon as Jacob learned that Rachel was Laban’s daughter, he determined to get rid of the other shepherds. He hurriedly ordered them to water their sheep and be on their way but the men insisted that were forbidden from doing so.

“We can’t water the animals until all the flocks have arrived,” they replied. “Then the shepherds move the stone from the mouth of the well, and we water all the sheep and goats.” – Genesis 29:8 NLT

Jacob was a guest in their land and unfamiliar with their local customs and laws. Yet, he had no qualms ordering these men around. And when had refused to remove the stone covering the mouth of the well, he had arrogantly taken matters into his own hands.

Jacob went over to the well and moved the stone from its mouth and watered his uncle’s flock. – Genesis 29:10 NLT

Having discovered that Rachel was his cousin, Jacob displays a self-righteous determination to seal the deal. He wants this woman to be his wife and is prepared to do whatever it takes to make it happen, even if it means disobeying local customs and violating social protocols. Overcome with joy at discovering Rachel was his cousin, Jacob kissed her. There is nothing in the text that suggests this act had sexual connotations, but it would have broken with established social etiquette. The shepherds who stood by watching this scene unfold would have had no idea who Jacob was. He was a stranger in their land. So, when they saw him kiss the young virgin daughter of one of their neighbors, they were likely appalled. This would have been unexpected and unacceptable behavior. But Jacob seems to have lived his life according to his own set of moral standards. He was a non-conformist and a rule-breaker.

As far as Jacob was concerned, he had met his future bride. But little did he know that he was also about to meet the man who would give him a run for his money when it came to deception and manipulation. In Laban, Jacob would meet his match. He would soon discover that his future father-in-law was more than a worthy challenger when it came to treachery and trickery. Jacob, the consummate deceiver, would soon find himself in the uncomfortable role of the deceived. The master manipulator would become the disgruntled and helpless victim.

Jacob was about to discover the truth behind the well-worn adage, “your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23). Yes, he was the descendant of Abraham and the heir to God’s covenant promises. But the sins he had committed against his brother would have consequences. He had received the blessing of God but that does not mean he had received absolution for his crimes. The next 20 years of his life would be marked by a strange mixture of blessing and curses, joy and sorrow. Slowly, but surely, God would lovingly whittle away the unhealthy aspects of Jacob’s life. This self-willed and self-reliant man would find himself in God’s remedial school for slow learners. And, in time, Jacob would learn the timeless truth concerning God’s loving and life-altering use of discipline.

And have you forgotten the exhortation addressed to you as sons?

My son, do not scorn the Lord’s discipline
or give up when he corrects you.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son he accepts.”

Endure your suffering as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline? But if you do not experience discipline, something all sons have shared in, then you are illegitimate and are not sons. – Hebrews 12:5-8 NLT

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