Sin in the Camp

13 “If the whole congregation of Israel sins unintentionally and the thing is hidden from the eyes of the assembly, and they do any one of the things that by the Lord‘s commandments ought not to be done, and they realize their guilt, 14 when the sin which they have committed becomes known, the assembly shall offer a bull from the herd for a sin offering and bring it in front of the tent of meeting. 15 And the elders of the congregation shall lay their hands on the head of the bull before the Lord, and the bull shall be killed before the Lord. 16 Then the anointed priest shall bring some of the blood of the bull into the tent of meeting, 17 and the priest shall dip his finger in the blood and sprinkle it seven times before the Lord in front of the veil. 18 And he shall put some of the blood on the horns of the altar that is in the tent of meeting before the Lord, and the rest of the blood he shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt offering that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 19 And all its fat he shall take from it and burn on the altar. 20 Thus shall he do with the bull. As he did with the bull of the sin offering, so shall he do with this. And the priest shall make atonement for them, and they shall be forgiven. 21 And he shall carry the bull outside the camp and burn it up as he burned the first bull; it is the sin offering for the assembly.” – Leviticus 4:13-21 ESV

The next mandatory blood sacrifice was in the case of the entire community committing an unintentional sin. It seems that it would have been a rare occurrence for the entire nation to be guilty of having committed the same inadvertent sin. How could an entire multitude of people have unknowingly participated in a violation of God’s law without knowing it? It’s difficult to imagine every single Israelite unwittingly or accidentally participating in the very same violation of God’s law.

But the Hebrew word for “congregation” carries a range of meanings that includes a family, crowd, assembly, or gathering. Yet the context of this passage would seem to indicate that God has the entire Israelite community in mind. The actual sin committed might be the work of a few within the community, but God would hold the entire nation responsible. Sin is like an infectious disease and has a way of spreading throughout the entire body if left undetected and untreated. So, even if the violation had been committed by only a handful of the Israelites, the entire nation would find itself impacted by their actions. The impurity of a few would leave the whole congregation in a state of impurity and in need of cleansing.

So, God provided a means of receiving atonement. He wanted His people to take seriously any form of sin within the camp, and there is a powerful example of this in the book of Joshua. When the people of Israel eventually entered the land of Canaan, God gave them a miraculous victory over the city of Jericho. But this was followed by an unexpected defeat at the hands of the much-smaller city of Ai. Joshua chapter 7 opens up with the statement: “But the people of Israel broke faith in regard to the devoted things…” (Joshua 7:1 ESV).

Before they began their siege of Jericho, God had given the people clear instructions concerning their post-victory celebrations.

“Jericho and everything in it must be completely destroyed as an offering to the Lord. Only Rahab the prostitute and the others in her house will be spared, for she protected our spies.

“Do not take any of the things set apart for destruction, or you yourselves will be completely destroyed, and you will bring trouble on the camp of Israel. Everything made from silver, gold, bronze, or iron is sacred to the Lord and must be brought into his treasury.” – Joshua 6:17-20 NLT

But one man decided to ignore God’s command and enrich himself with some of the plunder from the city. And yet, Moses records, “Israel violated the instructions about the things set apart for the Lord” (Joshua 7:1 NLT). God held the entire nation culpable for Achan’s actions. In fact, Moses notes that “the Lord was very angry with the Israelites” (Joshua 7:1 NLT).

Joshua and the rest of the Israelites were completely oblivious to Achan’s sin. So confident of certain victory over the smaller city of Ai, Joshua sent a contingent made up of 3,000 Israelite soldiers, but their mission ended in defeat. And Moses records that “the Israelites were paralyzed with fear at this turn of events, and their courage melted away” (Joshua 7:5 NLT). Joshua, shaken by this unexpected turn of events, called out to God for an explanation. He couldn’t understand why God had failed to intervene on their behalf against the Amorites living in Ai. But what Joshua didn’t know was that sin had entered the camp of Israel. Achan’s violation of God’s command had left the entire community contaminated and worthy of God’s judgment, and God pulled no punches in declaring the seriousness of the situation.

Israel has sinned and broken my covenant! They have stolen some of the things that I commanded must be set apart for me. And they have not only stolen them but have lied about it and hidden the things among their own belongings. That is why the Israelites are running from their enemies in defeat. For now Israel itself has been set apart for destruction. I will not remain with you any longer unless you destroy the things among you that were set apart for destruction. – Joshua 7:11-12 NLT

While Achan’s sin had been anything but accidental, the rest of the nation had been unaware of its occurrence. They were ignorant of Achan’s crime but were just as responsible before God as if they had all taken part. And God made it clear that the entire community would be considered impure and responsible for the crime until the guilty party was sought out and exposed.

“Get up! Command the people to purify themselves in preparation for tomorrow. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Hidden among you, O Israel, are things set apart for the Lord. You will never defeat your enemies until you remove these things from among you. – Joshua 7:13 NLT

Purification was part of the process. The entire community needed to purge itself of the sin that had left them contaminated and worthy of God’s judgment. The next day, God revealed the identity of the guilty party and ordered his execution.

“The one who has stolen what was set apart for destruction will himself be burned with fire, along with everything he has, for he has broken the covenant of the Lord and has done a horrible thing in Israel.” – Joshua 7:15 NLT

In this case, Achan and his entire family were stoned to death and then burned with fire. The sin was purged from their midst and the nation was spared God’s judgment. But the atonement came at a high price.

And all the Israelites stoned Achan and his family and burned their bodies. They piled a great heap of stones over Achan, which remains to this day. That is why the place has been called the Valley of Trouble ever since. So the Lord was no longer angry. – Joshua 7:25-26 NLT

When it came to the sin/purification offering, God provided a means by which the nation could receive a different form of atonement for inadvertent or unintentional sins committed among them. When someone violated one of God’s laws and it ended up impacting the entire community, there was a way to restore fellowship and receive forgiveness. But it involved a blood sacrifice. A life had to be given so that the guilty might be spared. In this case, it was to be “a bull from the herd” (Leviticus 4:14 ESV). This animal must be free from defects and in perfect health. It represented a payment of high value and illustrated the gravity of the crime committed. Atonement could not be achieved without considerable cost to the guilty party.

As representatives of the people, the elders were to lay their hands on the sacrificial animal, symbolizing its role as their substitute or stand-in. The guilt of the people was symbolically transferred to the bull, then the life of the animal was taken. Its blood was shed so that the Israelites could live and enjoy God’s forgiveness. But before atonement from sin could be enjoyed, the blood of the animal had to be taken by the priest and sprinkled on the veil that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. The people’s access to God had been impacted by their sin. The entrance into God’s presence, represented by the veil, had been contaminated by sin, and needed to be purified by the blood of the sacrificial animal. As the author of Hebrews reminds us, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV).

Having purified the veil, the priest was to take the remainder of the blood and purify the bronze altar as well as the altar of incense. This ritual cleansing of the two altars of sacrifice was intended to restore their holiness and reestablish their use for worshiping God. And by following all the details of this pre-established ceremony “the priest shall make atonement for them, and they shall be forgiven” (Leviticus 4:20 ESV).

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.

Our Proactive and Protective God

16 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 17 “These are the names of the men who shall divide the land to you for inheritance: Eleazar the priest and Joshua the son of Nun. 18 You shall take one chief from every tribe to divide the land for inheritance. 19 These are the names of the men: Of the tribe of Judah, Caleb the son of Jephunneh. 20 Of the tribe of the people of Simeon, Shemuel the son of Ammihud. 21 Of the tribe of Benjamin, Elidad the son of Chislon. 22 Of the tribe of the people of Dan a chief, Bukki the son of Jogli. 23 Of the people of Joseph: of the tribe of the people of Manasseh a chief, Hanniel the son of Ephod. 24 And of the tribe of the people of Ephraim a chief, Kemuel the son of Shiphtan. 25 Of the tribe of the people of Zebulun a chief, Elizaphan the son of Parnach. 26 Of the tribe of the people of Issachar a chief, Paltiel the son of Azzan. 27 And of the tribe of the people of Asher a chief, Ahihud the son of Shelomi. 28 Of the tribe of the people of Naphtali a chief, Pedahel the son of Ammihud.” 29 These are the men whom the Lord commanded to divide the inheritance for the people of Israel in the land of Canaan. 

1 The Lord spoke to Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho, saying, “Command the people of Israel to give to the Levites some of the inheritance of their possession as cities for them to dwell in. And you shall give to the Levites pasturelands around the cities. The cities shall be theirs to dwell in, and their pasturelands shall be for their cattle and for their livestock and for all their beasts. The pasturelands of the cities, which you shall give to the Levites, shall reach from the wall of the city outward a thousand cubits all around. And you shall measure, outside the city, on the east side two thousand cubits, and on the south side two thousand cubits, and on the west side two thousand cubits, and on the north side two thousand cubits, the city being in the middle. This shall belong to them as pastureland for their cities.

“The cities that you give to the Levites shall be the six cities of refuge, where you shall permit the manslayer to flee, and in addition to them you shall give forty-two cities. All the cities that you give to the Levites shall be forty-eight, with their pasturelands. And as for the cities that you shall give from the possession of the people of Israel, from the larger tribes you shall take many, and from the smaller tribes you shall take few; each, in proportion to the inheritance that it inherits, shall give of its cities to the Levites.” Numbers 34:16-35:8 ESV

God provided Moses with the name of one man from each of the ten tribes of Israel. These men, hand-picked by God, would assist Eleazar, the high priest, and Joshua in the distribution of the land. The tribes of Gad and Reuben were not included because they had chosen to settle outside the boundaries of Canaan. These men were well-respected leaders among their respective tribes and would help to guarantee that the land was fairly apportioned and that each tribe, regardless of its size, was treated equitably and fairly. There was to be no favoritism or any form of nepotism. The larger tribes, whose numbers would be based on the recent census taken by Moses, would be allotted more extensive land allotments. But that did not mean they would get the best land. God was giving these ten men the weighty responsibility of dividing up the Israelites’ inheritance in a way that would satisfy all the parties involved, and that would not be an easy task.

The next thing on God’s agenda was to arrange for the needs of the tribe of Levi. He had already informed Moses that the Levites would inherit no land in Canaan. He had set apart the tribe of Levi as His special possession and had dedicated them to the care and maintenance of the tabernacle. As a result, God promised to be their inheritance.

“Remember that the Levitical priests—that is, the whole of the tribe of Levi—will receive no allotment of land among the other tribes in Israel. Instead, the priests and Levites will eat from the special gifts given to the Lord, for that is their share. They will have no land of their own among the Israelites. The Lord himself is their special possession, just as he promised them.” – Deuteronomy 18:1-2 NLT

But while the Levites would be allotted no land in Canaan, they would be awarded the deeds to 48 cities located within the territories of each of the other 11 tribes (Joshua 21). Even the tribes of Gad, Reuben, and the half-tribe of Manasseh were required to provide the Levites with towns and pastureland for their flocks. God had made accommodations for the Levites.

These Levitical cities were to be strategically located throughout the nation of Israel so that every Israelite was no more than ten miles from one of them. This helped to ensure that the people of God were never far away from a member of the Levitical priesthood, whose job was to provide instruction in the ways of God. The Levitical priests served as judges (Deuteronomy 17:8-13) and teachers of God’s law (Deuteronomy 33:10). So, it was essential that every Israelite had ready access to a Levitical town and a priest of God.

Of the 48 towns awarded to the Levites, six were to be designated as cities of refuge. These were specially sanctioned zones within the boundaries of Israel where anyone guilty of committing a non-premediated murder could seek asylum. God had already declared His ruling concerning murder (Exodus 20:13), but He had Moses present a special provision for cases involving accidental homicide.

“If someone kills another person unintentionally, without previous hostility, the slayer may flee to any of these cities to live in safety. – Deuteronomy 19:4 NLT

He even had Moses provide a potential scenario in which a city of refuge would become necessary.

“For example, suppose someone goes into the forest with a neighbor to cut wood. And suppose one of them swings an ax to chop down a tree, and the ax head flies off the handle, killing the other person. In such cases, the slayer may flee to one of the cities of refuge to live in safety.” – Deuteronomy 19:5 NLT

God knew that life would happen and that deadly accidents would be a part of the Israelites’ existence in the land. Men would be killed and justice would need to be pursued. But what He didn’t want was some form of vigilante justice running rampant through the nation. Yet God knew that the relatives of a murder victim would tend to seek revenge against the guilty party and ask questions later. The cities of refuge were intended to protect the innocent while justice was being served.

Since Israel had no professional police force, these kinds of accidents could easily turn into bloodbaths where the relatives of the victim sought to avenge their loved one’s death. So, these cities, occupied by the Levites, would provide a place where the guilty party could find solace and seek a fair judgment concerning his guilt or innocence. In His plans for the land of promise, God was leaving nothing to chance. He was creating a well-designed system for dealing with the inevitable problem of sin among His chosen people. He was going to distribute the Levitical priesthood among them to provide spiritual enlightenment and He was going to create safe havens for those who unwittingly committed even the gravest of sins. God was providing for and protecting His people.

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.

Don’t Forget God

1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Command the people of Israel and say to them, ‘My offering, my food for my food offerings, my pleasing aroma, you shall be careful to offer to me at its appointed time.’ And you shall say to them, This is the food offering that you shall offer to the Lord: two male lambs a year old without blemish, day by day, as a regular offering. The one lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight; also a tenth of an ephah of fine flour for a grain offering, mixed with a quarter of a hin of beaten oil. It is a regular burnt offering, which was ordained at Mount Sinai for a pleasing aroma, a food offering to the Lord. Its drink offering shall be a quarter of a hin for each lamb. In the Holy Place you shall pour out a drink offering of strong drink to the Lord. The other lamb you shall offer at twilight. Like the grain offering of the morning, and like its drink offering, you shall offer it as a food offering, with a pleasing aroma to the Lord.

“On the Sabbath day, two male lambs a year old without blemish, and two tenths of an ephah of fine flour for a grain offering, mixed with oil, and its drink offering: 10 this is the burnt offering of every Sabbath, besides the regular burnt offering and its drink offering.

11 “At the beginnings of your months, you shall offer a burnt offering to the Lord: two bulls from the herd, one ram, seven male lambs a year old without blemish; 12 also three tenths of an ephah of fine flour for a grain offering, mixed with oil, for each bull, and two tenths of fine flour for a grain offering, mixed with oil, for the one ram; 13 and a tenth of fine flour mixed with oil as a grain offering for every lamb; for a burnt offering with a pleasing aroma, a food offering to the Lord. 14 Their drink offerings shall be half a hin of wine for a bull, a third of a hin for a ram, and a quarter of a hin for a lamb. This is the burnt offering of each month throughout the months of the year. 15 Also one male goat for a sin offering to the Lord; it shall be offered besides the regular burnt offering and its drink offering. Numbers 28:1-15 ESV

In preparing the second generation of Israelites to begin their conquest of the land of Canaan, God had ordered a census to determine the size of Israel’s fighting force and to establish each tribe’s land apportionment. He also reminded the people that the tribe of Levi would inherit no land in Canaan. For their role as priests and caretakers of the tabernacle, they would receive cities in which to live and a portion of the tithes and offerings presented by the people. God would be their portion, providing for all their needs in exchange for their service to Him. Finally, God made preparations for new leadership by handpicking Joshua as the replacement for Moses.

All was ready. The time had come for the people to obey the commands of God and begin the conquest of the land He had promised Abraham centuries earlier.

“I am giving all this land, as far as you can see, to you and your descendants as a permanent possession.” – Genesis 13:15 NLT

God had also told Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. And God gave this bit of good news while Abraham and his wife were still childless. Sarah remained barren and unable to conceive. But God had told Abraham, “you will have a son of your own who will be your heir” (Genesis 15:4 NLT). But this revelation was followed by a shocking admission from God.

“You can be sure that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign land, where they will be oppressed as slaves for 400 years. But I will punish the nation that enslaves them, and in the end they will come away with great wealth. (As for you, you will die in peace and be buried at a ripe old age.) After four generations your descendants will return here to this land…” – Genesis 15:13-16 NLT

All the promises God had made to Abraham had been fulfilled. Sarah had given birth to Isaac, and from Isaac had come Jacob. The family of Jacob had eventually fled to Egypt because there was a famine in the land of Canaan. And while in Egypt, the number of Israelites grew so significantly that the Pharaoh feared an uprising and ordered their enslavement. He even instituted a pogrom designed to eliminate all the male babies born to the Israelites. But true to His promise, God had delivered the Israelites from their captivity and led them to the border of Canaan.

Now, He called on them to keep the commands He had given them at Mount Sinai. He had been faithful to do all that He had promised to Abraham, and He fully expected them to show their gratitude by maintaining their relationship with Him.

“Give these instructions to the people of Israel: The offerings you present as special gifts are a pleasing aroma to me; they are my food. See to it that they are brought at the appointed times and offered according to my instructions. – Numbers 28:2 NLT

The offerings outlined in this chapter are mandatory and non-optional. They were annual sacrifices to be offered by the Levites on behalf of the people. As the people entered the land, they would find themselves consumed with warfare and trying to establish lives for themselves in the new land. God knew they would face a strong temptation to forget about Him.

“The real key to successful conquest of Canaan and happy living within its borders was continual fellowship with God. Hence it was that God at this time presented to the new generation by way of Moses a finalized and complete set of regulations for offerings, most of which had already been given at Sinai. Their observance would encourage an intimate worship of God by the people in the land (cf. Exod. 23:14-17; 29:38-42; 31:12-17; Lev. 23; Num. 25:1-12).” – Irving L. Jensen, Numbers: Everyman’s Bible Commentary

God was going to give them victory over their enemies. Their conquest of the land would be successful, and God knew that their success would go to their heads and tempt them to think that they had done it all on their own. That is why Moses provided them with an advance warning about the temptations they would face in the new land.

For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks and fountains and springs that flow through the valleys and hills; a land of wheat, barley, vines, fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of olive oil and honey; a land where you will eat food without scarcity, where you will lack nothing; a land whose rocks are iron and whose hills are ready to be mined for copper. When you eat and are satisfied, you are to bless the LORD your God for the good land that He has given you.

Be careful not to forget the LORD your God by failing to keep His commandments and ordinances and statutes, which I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses in which to dwell, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud, and you will forget the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. – Deuteronomy 8:7-14 BSB

God outlined the various offerings the people were required to make. He began with the daily offerings.

“This is the special gift you must present to the Lord as your daily burnt offering. You must offer two one-year-old male lambs with no defects.” – Numbers 28:3 NLT

Then He added the less-frequent but no less mandatory weekly offerings.

On the Sabbath day, sacrifice two one-year-old male lambs with no defects. They must be accompanied by a grain offering of four quarts of choice flour moistened with olive oil, and a liquid offering. This is the burnt offering to be presented each Sabbath day, in addition to the regular burnt offering and its accompanying liquid offering. – Numbers 28:9-10 NLT

Finally, God reiterated the monthly offerings.

On the first day of each month, present an extra burnt offering to the Lord of two young bulls, one ram, and seven one-year-old male lambs, all with no defects. – Numbers 28:11 NLT

On the first day of each month, you must also offer one male goat for a sin offering to the Lord. – Numbers 28:15 NLT

The list is long and includes a large number of sacrifices, including burnt offerings, grain offerings, and drink offerings. There were burnt offerings and sin offerings. Bulls, goats, lambs, and rams were to be slaughtered and their blood spilled so that sins could be atoned for and fellowship with God maintained. Burnt offerings were to be seen as a pleasing aroma to God. They brought Him pleasure. All of this was about maintaining a right relationship with God. He would be the key to their victories over their enemies. He would be the source of their strength and their rock and provider. Without Him, they would be just another nation vying for control of the land of Canaan. But as long as they maintained their fellowship with Him through obedience to His commands, they would enjoy His presence, power, and provision.

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.

Under New Management

12 The Lord said to Moses, “Go up into this mountain of Abarim and see the land that I have given to the people of Israel. 13 When you have seen it, you also shall be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron was, 14 because you rebelled against my word in the wilderness of Zin when the congregation quarreled, failing to uphold me as holy at the waters before their eyes.” (These are the waters of Meribah of Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin.) 15 Moses spoke to the Lord, saying, 16 “Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation 17 who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be as sheep that have no shepherd.” 18 So the Lord said to Moses, “Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him. 19 Make him stand before Eleazar the priest and all the congregation, and you shall commission him in their sight. 20 You shall invest him with some of your authority, that all the congregation of the people of Israel may obey. 21 And he shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall inquire for him by the judgment of the Urim before the Lord. At his word they shall go out, and at his word they shall come in, both he and all the people of Israel with him, the whole congregation.” 22 And Moses did as the Lord commanded him. He took Joshua and made him stand before Eleazar the priest and the whole congregation, 23 and he laid his hands on him and commissioned him as the Lord directed through Moses.  Numbers 27:12-23 ESV

The day Moses had been dreading had finally arrived. He had known for some time that he would not be leading the people of Israel into the land of Canaan. Because of Moses’ uncharacteristic actions in the wilderness of Zin, God had determined to ban his servant from entering the promised land.

“Because you did not trust me enough to demonstrate my holiness to the people of Israel, you will not lead them into the land I am giving them!” – Numbers 20:12 NLT

In a moment of extreme frustration with the constantly-whining Israelites, Moses had snapped and disobeyed the command of God.

“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

Rather than speaking to the rock as God had ordered him to do, Moses lashed out in anger and repeatedly struck the rock with his staff. His anger and frustration with the people had caused him to disobey and dishonor God in the eyes of the people. It appears that Moses’ real crime was that he attempted to rob God of glory by claiming responsibility for producing the miracle.

“Listen, you rebels!” he shouted. “Must we bring you water from this rock?”– Numbers 20:10 NLT

His attempt to inflate his own identity in the eyes of the people cost him dearly. While he produced water from the rock and probably gained a bit of respect from the people, his little stunt resulted in a permanent ban from the land of promise. He would never have the pleasure of entering God’s rest. Instead, he would die in the wilderness, just as Miriam and Aaron had.

So, with the Israelites on the verge of entering Canaan, God informed Moses that his days on this earth had come to an end. His debt had come due. But before taking Moses’ life, God gave His servant one more chance to see the land of promise from a distance. God led Moses up a mountain and allowed him to take in the view.

“Climb one of the mountains east of the river, and look out over the land I have given the people of Israel. After you have seen it, you will die like your brother, Aaron, for you both rebelled against my instructions in the wilderness of Zin. When the people of Israel rebelled, you failed to demonstrate my holiness to them at the waters.” – Numbers 27:12-14 NLT

For nearly four decades, this land had been the focus of Moses’ life. Ever since he had led the people out of Egypt, his life’s mission had been to guide them to this very spot. But now, as he looked out over the fertile valley below, he was doing so for the very last time. He would not be going in and it was time to turn over the leadership responsibilities to someone else.

Ever the consummate leader, Moses begged God to find the right man for the task. He knew from firsthand experience just how stubborn and headstrong the people could be and they would never make it without strong leadership.

“O Lord, you are the God who gives breath to all creatures. Please appoint a new man as leader for the community. Give them someone who will guide them wherever they go and will lead them into battle, so the community of the Lord will not be like sheep without a shepherd.”– Nmbers 27:16-17 NLT

While Moses had been required to lead the people across the wilderness, his replacement would be tasked with leading them into battle. The days ahead would be difficult and fraught with danger. The people who had made a habit of whining about the lack of food water and food would certainly find the thought of military service distasteful. So, they were going to need a man who was equal parts warrior and shepherd. He would have to be both a fighting man and a kind-hearted guide who could lead the people with patience and care.

And God already had a man in mind. He suggested Joshua, one of the two men who had been part of the 12-man contingent of spies who had reconnoitered the land 40 years earlier. Joshua and Caleb had been the voices of reason among the fearful and disheartened men who recommended that the people not enter the land of promise. They had deemed it unconquerable and, therefore, to be avoided at all costs. But Joshua and Caleb had provided a dissenting opinion:

Two of the men who had explored the land, Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, tore their clothing. They said to all the people of Israel, “The land we traveled through and explored is a wonderful land! And if the Lord is pleased with us, he will bring us safely into that land and give it to us. It is a rich land flowing with milk and honey. Do not rebel against the Lord, and don’t be afraid of the people of the land. They are only helpless prey to us! They have no protection, but the Lord is with us! Don’t be afraid of them!” – Numbers 14:6-9 NLT

And while the people rejected the counsel of Joshua and Caleb, these two men had powerfully declared their faith in God. They demonstrated a belief in God’s power and goodness and called the people to trust and obey.

Four decades later, God chose Joshua to be Moses’ successor.

“Take Joshua son of Nun, who has the Spirit in him, and lay your hands on him. Present him to Eleazar the priest before the whole community, and publicly commission him to lead the people. – Numbers 27:18-19 NLT

“This spirit was not something that now came upon Joshua, or was temporary (such as the coming of the spirit on the elders in 11:17, 25-26); it already existed in Joshua and was the basis of God’s choice of him. Deut. 34:9 applies the phrase ‘full of the spirit of Wisdom’ to Joshua, confirming the thought here.” – Timothy R. Ashley, The Book of Numbers.

Joshua was God’s man for the moment. He had been chosen by God long before this day arrived, and the Spirit of God had been preparing him for the next phase of Israel’s journey.

But God’s relationship with Joshua would be different than the one He had with Moses. While God had interacted with Moses face-to-face, Joshua would receive his instructions through the high priest and the use of “the Urim—one of the sacred lots cast before the Lord” (Numbers 27:21 NLT). This new method of communication would feature built-in safeguards, allowing Eleazar, the high priest, to act as a source of confirmation for all decisions. This would prevent Joshua from acting on his own and risking the wrath of God.

So Moses did as the Lord commanded. He presented Joshua to Eleazar the priest and the whole community. Moses laid his hands on him and commissioned him to lead the people, just as the Lord had commanded through Moses. – Numbers 27:22-23 NLT

With new leadership called and commissioned, it was time to begin the final phase of the mission. This generation of Israelites was about to do what their mothers and fathers had failed to do: Enter the land of promise. This had been the goal all along. The wilderness had always been intended to be a means to this end. It was never to have been their home. Their inheritance lay across the Jordan River and waited for them to step out in faith and take it as their own.

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.


A Second Chance to Accomplish a First

52 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 53 “Among these the land shall be divided for inheritance according to the number of names. 54 To a large tribe you shall give a large inheritance, and to a small tribe you shall give a small inheritance; every tribe shall be given its inheritance in proportion to its list. 55 But the land shall be divided by lot. According to the names of the tribes of their fathers they shall inherit. 56 Their inheritance shall be divided according to lot between the larger and the smaller.”

57 This was the list of the Levites according to their clans: of Gershon, the clan of the Gershonites; of Kohath, the clan of the Kohathites; of Merari, the clan of the Merarites. 58 These are the clans of Levi: the clan of the Libnites, the clan of the Hebronites, the clan of the Mahlites, the clan of the Mushites, the clan of the Korahites. And Kohath was the father of Amram. 59 The name of Amram’s wife was Jochebed the daughter of Levi, who was born to Levi in Egypt. And she bore to Amram Aaron and Moses and Miriam their sister. 60 And to Aaron were born Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. 61 But Nadab and Abihu died when they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord. 62 And those listed were 23,000, every male from a month old and upward. For they were not listed among the people of Israel, because there was no inheritance given to them among the people of Israel.

63 These were those listed by Moses and Eleazar the priest, who listed the people of Israel in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho. 64 But among these there was not one of those listed by Moses and Aaron the priest, who had listed the people of Israel in the wilderness of Sinai. 65 For the Lord had said of them, “They shall die in the wilderness.” Not one of them was left, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun.  Numbers 26:52-65 ESV

The census ordered by Jehovah had more than one purpose. Not only would it determine the number of men eligible for military service, but it would also provide the basis for each tribe’s land allotment once they entered Canaan. Because Moses was ordered to conduct the census tribe by tribe, the final number of each tribe’s combatants would reflect their overall population size and their appropriate share of the inheritance. Knowing that the apportionment of the land could be a potential landmine, God gave Moses strict instructions regarding its division and allotment.

“Divide the land among the tribes, and distribute the grants of land in proportion to the tribes’ populations, as indicated by the number of names on the list. Give the larger tribes more land and the smaller tribes less land, each group receiving a grant in proportion to the size of its population.” – Numbers 26:53-54 NLT

It only made sense that the larger tribes would receive a larger portion of the land. But to prevent the larger tribes from using their influence to grab the best land for themselves, God ordered that Moses use a lottery system to determine how the land was divided and assigned.

“But you must assign the land by lot, and give land to each ancestral tribe according to the number of names on the list. Each grant of land must be assigned by lot among the larger and smaller tribal groups.” – Numbers 26:55-56 NLT

Because of his role as the leader of the nation of Israel, Moses found himself in a delicate and somewhat difficult position. Not only was he responsible for convincing the people to enter the land and begin its conquest, but he would also have to determine the boundaries of each tribe’s land allotment. And even while God had ordered this task to be accomplished through the casting of lots, there was still a good chance that one or more of the tribes might be dissatisfied with the location or physical characteristics of the land they received. And it didn’t help that virtually every square inch of Canaan was already occupied by other nations that were not going to give up their land without a fight. So, Moses had his work cut out for him.

But God had sovereignly ordained a strategy that would protect Moses from accusations of self-aggrandizement or using his power to promote his particular tribe. Moses was a member of the tribe of Levi and God had already determined that this tribe would receive no allotment of land in Canaan. They were to serve as priests and the caretakers of the tabernacle. And God had already made it clear that He would be their portion in the land of promise.

“Remember that the Levitical priests—that is, the whole of the tribe of Levi—will receive no allotment of land among the other tribes in Israel. Instead, the priests and Levites will eat from the special gifts given to the Lord, for that is their share. They will have no land of their own among the Israelites. The Lord himself is their special possession, just as he promised them. – Deuteronomy 18:1-2 NLT

The tribe of Moses would not own any land, so no one could accuse him of showing favoritism to his own clan. But without land, how would the Levites feed their families, flock, and herds? God had made provision for that as well.

“You priests will receive no allotment of land or share of property among the people of Israel. I am your share and your allotment. As for the tribe of Levi, your relatives, I will compensate them for their service in the Tabernacle. Instead of an allotment of land, I will give them the tithes from the entire land of Israel.” – Numbers 18:20-21 NLT

God had arranged a way for them to have ample food to eat. And not only that, He had ordained a plan for them to have cities of their own, located throughout the tribes of Israel.

“Command the people of Israel to give to the Levites from their property certain towns to live in, along with the surrounding pasturelands. These towns will be for the Levites to live in, and the surrounding lands will provide pasture for their cattle, flocks, and other livestock. The pastureland assigned to the Levites around these towns will extend 1,500 feet from the town walls in every direction. Measure off 3,000 feet outside the town walls in every direction—east, south, west, north—with the town at the center. This area will serve as the larger pastureland for the towns. – Numbers 35:2-5 NLT

God had made ample preparations and provisions for the Levites. And in doing so, He had assured that there would be no way for Moses to use his power to reward his own tribe. God had protected him. But while the Levites were exempt from military service, they were still included in the census.

The men from the Levite clans who were one month old or older numbered 23,000. But the Levites were not included in the registration of the rest of the people of Israel because they were not given an allotment of land when it was divided among the Israelites. – Numbers 26:62 NLT

The Levites were numbered but not required to register for military service. They would continue to serve as priests and perform the duties assigned to them as caretakers of the tabernacle.

But this chapter ends with a rather somber reminder of the previous generation. Nearly 40 years earlier, God had ordered that a census be taken when the people were camped at the base of Mount Sinai. They had just recently escaped their enslavement in Egypt and were on their way to the land of promise. And God ordered Moses to conduct a census in order to ascertain their exact number.

A year after Israel’s departure from Egypt, the Lord spoke to Moses in the Tabernacle in the wilderness of Sinai. On the first day of the second month of that year he said, “From the whole community of Israel, record the names of all the warriors by their clans and families. List all the men twenty years old or older who are able to go to war. You and Aaron must register the troops, and you will be assisted by one family leader from each tribe.” – Numbers 1:1-4 NLT

And the number came to 603,550, not including the Levites. Now, nearly 38 years later, the number had not changed dramatically. They could still field 601,730 eligible men for combat duty. God had sustained their numbers all throughout the four decades they had wandered in the wilderness. But Moses points out that while the numbers were relatively the same, the names had changed.

Not one person on this list had been among those listed in the previous registration taken by Moses and Aaron in the wilderness of Sinai. For the Lord had said of them, “They will all die in the wilderness.” Not one of them survived except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. – Numbers 26:64-64 NLT

The previous generation had blown their chance to enter the land of Canaan. Thirty-eight years earlier, they had been given the opportunity to cross the Jordan River and begin the conquest of the land, but they refused. When the spies reported that there were powerful nations occupying the land, the people made the fateful decision to reject God’s offer of an inheritance and decided to return to Egypt instead. But God would not allow them to return to their former enslavement. As punishment for their disobedience, they were doomed to wander through the wilderness until every last one of them had died. The only two members of that generation who would enter the land of Canaan were Caleb and Joshua, the two spies who had tried to convince the people to trust God and obey. But their words had fallen on deaf ears.

Now, 38 years later, those two men would be the sole survivors of the previous generation who would have the privilege and honor of crossing the Jordan River and occupying the land that had been promised to them by God. They had waited four decades, but their hopes and dreams would finally be fulfilled.

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.

A Case of Worst-Case Scenario

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

11 And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? 12 I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.” – Numbers 14:5-12 ESV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faith Over Facts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Will Love Them No More

15 Every evil of theirs is in Gilgal;
    there I began to hate them.
Because of the wickedness of their deeds
    I will drive them out of my house.
I will love them no more;
    all their princes are rebels.

16 Ephraim is stricken;
    their root is dried up;
    they shall bear no fruit.
Even though they give birth,
    I will put their beloved children to death.
17 My God will reject them
    because they have not listened to him;
    they shall be wanderers among the nations. – Hosea 9:15-17 ESV

For the second time, Hosea mentions the city of Gilgal. It was located just north of Jericho on the western side of the Jordan River. Back in chapter 4, Hosea warns the southern kingdom of Judah about emulating the sinful behavior of its northern neighbor, Israel.

Though you play the whore, O Israel,
    let not Judah become guilty.
Enter not into Gilgal,
    nor go up to Beth-aven,
    and swear not, “As the Lord lives.”
– Hosea 9:4 ESV

Hosea will bring up the city of Gilgal one more time before closing out his book.

But the people of Gilead are worthless
    because of their idol worship.
And in Gilgal, too, they sacrifice bulls;
    their altars are lined up like the heaps of stone
    along the edges of a plowed field. – Hosea 12:11 NLT

Gilgal was a city that should have held special significance to the people of Israel. It was at Gilgal that Joshua built a stone memorial to commemorate the Israelite’s successful crossing of the Jordan River. God had miraculously divided the waters of the river, allowing the Israelites to pass over on dry ground. Joshua had picked one man from each of the 12 tribes of Israel and commanded them to pick up one large stone from the middle of the river bed and carry it to the western side. When they arrived safely in Canaan, Joshua built the memorial with those stones.  Then he told the people:

“‘They remind us that the Jordan River stopped flowing when the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant went across.’ These stones will stand as a memorial among the people of Israel forever.” – Joshua 4:7 NLT

Gilgal was intended to be a place of memorial, a site of remembrance. It was there that Yahweh proved Himself powerful and faithful to His chosen people – yet again. And Joshua had instructed the Israelites to pass on the meaning of the stone memorial to the succeeding generations.

Then Joshua said to the Israelites, “In the future your children will ask, ‘What do these stones mean?’ Then you can tell them, ‘This is where the Israelites crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the river right before your eyes, and he kept it dry until you were all across, just as he did at the Red Sea when he dried it up until we had all crossed over. He did this so all the nations of the earth might know that the Lord’s hand is powerful, and so you might fear the Lord your God forever.” – Joshua 4:21-24 NLT

But the Israelites had turned Gilgal into one more sacred site for the worship of its false gods. They had forgotten all about the powerful, gracious, and loving God who had rescued them from captivity in Egypt, led them across the wilderness, and provided them with the land of Canaan as their inheritance. The miracle of the crossing of the Jordan River had become a distant memory and their commitment to honor God had long ago been replaced by their infatuation with false gods.

Chapter 5 of the book of Joshua records another important aspect of Gilgal’s history that heightens the Israelites disrespectful actions there. It was Gilgal that Joshua commanded that the next generation of Israelite males be circumcised. The people had been wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, as punishment for their refusal to enter the land when they had first arrived on the shore of the Jordan River.

Those who left Egypt had all been circumcised, but none of those born after the Exodus, during the years in the wilderness, had been circumcised. The Israelites had traveled in the wilderness for forty years until all the men who were old enough to fight in battle when they left Egypt had died. For they had disobeyed the Lord, and the Lord vowed he would not let them enter the land he had sworn to give us—a land flowing with milk and honey.– Joshua 5:5-6 NLT

So, before crossing the Jordan River and entering the land of Canaan, Joshua had ordered the circumcision of all the males who had been born during the 40 year period.

Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the shame of your slavery in Egypt.” So that place has been called Gilgal to this day. – Joshua 5:9 NLT

By reinstituting the rite of circumcision, Joshua had faithfully obeyed God’s command and set apart the people of Israel as His chosen possession. This ordinance had been given to Abraham by God more than half a millennium earlier.

Then God said to Abraham, “Your responsibility is to obey the terms of the covenant. You and all your descendants have this continual responsibility. This is the covenant that you and your descendants must keep: Each male among you must be circumcised. You must cut off the flesh of your foreskin as a sign of the covenant between me and you. From generation to generation, every male child must be circumcised on the eighth day after his birth. This applies not only to members of your family but also to the servants born in your household and the foreign-born servants whom you have purchased. All must be circumcised. Your bodies will bear the mark of my everlasting covenant.” – Genesis 17:9-13 NLT

Gilgal should have been a place of memorial. Its very presence should have reminded the people of Israel about their God and the covenant commitment to remain faithful to Him. But they had desecrated this place of remembrance, proving yet again that they had no intentions of honoring their covenant commitments to Yahweh. And God delivers His ultimatum against His chosen people.

“All their wickedness began at Gilgal;
    there I began to hate them.
I will drive them from my land
    because of their evil actions.” – Hosea 9:15 NLT

Gilgal was to have been a place where the people could go and recover the rich heritage of their history. It was intended to be a visual and tangible reminder of God’s grace and power in their lives. They belonged to Him. He had rescued them out of captivity in Egypt and delivered them to the land He had promised to give to Abraham as his inheritance. God had helped them cross the Red Sea on dry ground, so they could leave the land of Egypt. Then He had repeated the very same miracle so they could enter the land of Canaan. He had given them victories over their enemies, including the nearby city of Jericho. He had provided them with kings and prophets, the sacrificial system, and His holy law. It was at Gilgal that they had celebrated their first Passover in the land of promise.

While the Israelites were camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, they celebrated Passover on the evening of the fourteenth day of the first month. – Joshua 5:11 NLT

And from that point forward, the people never had to eat manna again.

The very next day they began to eat unleavened bread and roasted grain harvested from the land. No manna appeared on the day they first ate from the crops of the land, and it was never seen again. So from that time on the Israelites ate from the crops of Canaan. – Joshua 5:11-12 NLT

Yet, the people of Israel had failed to appreciate all that God had done for them. Now, God was warning them that His patience had run out, and He described His change of relationship in startling terms.

I will love them no more…” – Hosea 9:15 NLT

These words do not indicate that God no longer loved the people of Israel. That would require a change in His character, which is immutable and unchanging. But it does indicate that God was no longer going to express His love for them in tangible ways. They would receive no more blessings from His hand. They would enjoy no more of His bounty and provision. He would remove His protection and provision. If they wanted to live as if God did not exist, they would experience exactly what it was like to no longer enjoy His many blessings.

They would learn the painful lesson of what it feels like to live without God in their lives. They would be struck down, dried up, fruitless, and bereaved of their children. The one who had redeemed them would now reject them. Rather than living in the land of promise, they would become homeless wanderers. And all because they had refused to obey their loving, compassionate, and covenant-keeping 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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson









Our Great Provider

38 And Elisha came again to Gilgal when there was a famine in the land. And as the sons of the prophets were sitting before him, he said to his servant, “Set on the large pot, and boil stew for the sons of the prophets.” 39 One of them went out into the field to gather herbs, and found a wild vine and gathered from it his lap full of wild gourds, and came and cut them up into the pot of stew, not knowing what they were. 40 And they poured out some for the men to eat. But while they were eating of the stew, they cried out, “O man of God, there is death in the pot!” And they could not eat it. 41 He said, “Then bring flour.” And he threw it into the pot and said, “Pour some out for the men, that they may eat.” And there was no harm in the pot.

42 A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing the man of God bread of the firstfruits, twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. And Elisha said, “Give to the men, that they may eat.” 43 But his servant said, “How can I set this before a hundred men?” So he repeated, “Give them to the men, that they may eat, for thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and have some left.’” 44 So he set it before them. And they ate and had some left, according to the word of the Lord. 2 Kings 4:38-44 ESV

Once again, the author provides his readers with two stories that are intended to communicate a message about the spiritual state of apostate Israel and her faithful, all-powerful God. God’s prophet, Elisha, becomes the primary means by which God reveals His power and authority among the people. In this case, Elisha will have to deal with the effects of yet another famine in the land. During the days of Elijah, God had brought a devastating famine on the land of Israel because of the sins of Ahab and Jezebel. Elijah had been forced to deliver God’s message of judgment against the apostate king and his pagan, idol-worshiping wife.

“As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” – 1 Kings 17:1 ESV

And that first famine remained on the land until God determined to lift it. But its end came only after Elijah had defeated the 450 prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. Through His prophet, God delivered a devastating and decisive blow to the false god of Ahab and Jezebel. And only after a demonstrative display of His power and authority did God relent and restore fruitfulness to the land of Israel

And in a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. – 1 Kings 18:45 ESV

Yet, despite God’s gracious act of undeserved kindness, the people remained just as committed to their false gods. Ahab had died, but his two sons had carried on his legacy of unfaithfulness, continuing to lead the people of Israel in apostasy and idolatry. As a result, God had brought another famine on the land. In doing so, He was purposefully transforming a “land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 33:3) into a wasteland. Because the people of Israel had decided to forsake God and worship the false gods of Canaan, He would withhold the rain and allow their physical conditions to mirror the state of their hearts. Fruitfulness would be replaced with drought.

It would appear that the blessing of rain brought upon the land during the days of Elijah had made little impact on the people. They continued to reject Yahweh as the one true God. So, at some point, God brought yet another famine on the land. And, this time, it was Elisha who had to deal with the effects of this divine judgment.

The scene described in these verses involves the prophets of God who have gathered at a place called Gilgal. The identity of the characters and the location are essential to understanding the story. Elijah had gathered together with other men who served as the spiritual spokesmen for God among the people of Israel. This was a conclave of committed God-followers and they were meeting in a sacred site. Gilgal is significant because it was there that Joshua had erected a stone memorial to commemorate the Israelite’s crossing of the Jordan River.

The people came up out of the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they encamped at Gilgal on the east border of Jericho. And those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal. And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.” – Joshua 4:19-24 ESV

We have no way of knowing whether the stones were still standing by the days of Elisha, but these prophets of God would have all known the significance of their surroundings. They were standing on sacred ground.

Elisha ordered his servant, Gehazi, to prepare a stew for the prophets. Keep in mind that there was a famine in the land and food would have been scarce. Even these men of God would have been experiencing the impact of God’s judgment on the land. But Elisha, as the primary representative for Yahweh, took it upon himself to care for his fellow prophets. But one of the men made an innocent, yet potentially deadly mistake. In an effort to assist Gehazi, this unidentified prophet gathered some wild gourds and added them to the stew. But the gourds he picked proved to be poisonous. This young man had tried to help but had made things worse. His ignorance proved to be potentially deadly. The prophet’s inability to recognize a poisonous gourd could have ended in a tragedy. But fortunately, his mistake had been caught, preventing any of his fellow prophets from dying as a result of his error.

The lesson here is clear. As prophets of God, these men were to know the difference between the true and the false. They were God’s spokesmen, commissioned by Him to deliver His message of repentance to the people of Israel. They were to point the people back to God. But if they failed to recognize and revere Yahweh as the one true God, they would run the risk of bringing judgment upon the nation. In a sense, the wild gourd is meant to represent the worship of false gods. The young prophet had been fooled by the apparent similarities between a good gourd and one that contained deadly poison. He had not been equipped to spot the differences and his mistake had almost cost his friends their lives. The false gods the people of Israel were worshiping were particularly deceptive because they tended to look like the real thing. They were promoted as powerful deities who shared traits similar to those of Yahweh. These gods had altars and temples. They were said to have supernatural powers and worshipers would coerce the gods to use those power on their behalf through sacrifices and offerings. But the whole point of the story is that false gods are ultimately deadly. They can’t nourish or feed the people. They are a poison that brings nothing but death and destruction.

But the rest of the prophets of God recognized the presence of the poison, warning one another of the invisible danger before any lives were lost. Then Elisha stepped in and remedied the problem. He took flour and mixed it into the poisoned stew. Just as the wild gourd represents that deadly influence of idolatry, the flour seems to stand for the purifying influence of God’s Word. The truth concerning Yahweh and His commands to worship Him as the one true God were the answer to the deadly influence of Baalism. This entire scene was intended to be a powerful reminder to the prophets of God of their indispensable role as God’s messengers. If they didn’t speak the truth, the people were doomed. If they failed to recognize the deceptive and deadly nature of idolatry, the nation had no hope of survival.

But through the actions of Elisha, God purified the pot of stew, making the poisonous contents not only edible but beneficial. And we shouldn’t miss the similarities between this miracle and one that Elisha performed earlier. Back in chapter two, we have the story of Elisha transforming the brackish waters outside the city of Jericho. He had been told by residents of the city that …the water is bad, and the land is unfruitful” (2 Kings 2:19 ESV). The city had a water source, but it was non-potable. As a result, the land was unfruitful. But Elisha quickly solved the problem, providing yet another decisive demonstration of God’s power and holiness.

“Bring me a new bowl, and put salt in it.” So they brought it to him. Then he went to the spring of water and threw salt in it and said, “Thus says the Lord, I have healed this water; from now on neither death nor miscarriage shall come from it.” So the water has been healed to this day, according to the word that Elisha spoke. – 2 Kings 2:20-22 ESV

Through Elisha, God had made the water drinkable. And He had also made the poisoned stew safe for consumption. God’s presence and power were meant to be tangible and beneficial. He wanted to bless the lives of His people. He alone could bring sustenance and salvation. He was the great provider who could meet all their needs, if only they would turn to Him.

And God gave His prophets one further demonstration of His incomparable power to provide for all their needs. An unidentified man showed up who hailed from the town of Baal-shalishah. The name of the town is significant because it means “thrice great lord.” It was a town named after the false god, Baal, yet a resident of the city was bringing an offering dedicated to Yahweh. He brought 20 loaves of bread as a sacrifice of the first-fruits of his harvest and he gave them to Elisha. The people of Israel had no access to the temple in Jerusalem, so the man had no other way to present his offering to God. When Elisha received the gift, he ordered that it be distributed among his fellow prophets. But Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, informed him that the bread was insufficient to feed the 100 prophets.

Once again, God used Elisha to demonstrate His power to provide. Elisha ordered Gehazi to distribute the bread, telling him “Give them to the men, that they may eat, for thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and have some left’” (2 Kings 4:43 ESV). And when Gehazi followed his master’s instructions, a miracle took place. All 100 prophets had more than enough bread to eat and there were even leftovers. This story foreshadows another miracle that would take place centuries later when Jesus fed the 5000 with nothing but three loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus, the final and consummate prophet of God would also demonstrate Yahweh’s power through a miracle of multiplication. And Matthew records that when Jesus had broken the loaves and the fishes, “they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over” ( Matthew 14:20 ESV). 

In the midst of a famine, God miraculously fed His prophets with stew that He had purified and bread that He had multiplied. And hundreds of years later, when the nation of Israel found itself in a time of spiritual famine, God would send His Son as the Bread of Life, to feed those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

When the People of God Become the Enemies of God

15 Now when the sons of the prophets who were at Jericho saw him opposite them, they said, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.” And they came to meet him and bowed to the ground before him. 16 And they said to him, “Behold now, there are with your servants fifty strong men. Please let them go and seek your master. It may be that the Spirit of the Lord has caught him up and cast him upon some mountain or into some valley.” And he said, “You shall not send.” 17 But when they urged him till he was ashamed, he said, “Send.” They sent therefore fifty men. And for three days they sought him but did not find him. 18 And they came back to him while he was staying at Jericho, and he said to them, “Did I not say to you, ‘Do not go’?”

19 Now the men of the city said to Elisha, “Behold, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord sees, but the water is bad, and the land is unfruitful.” 20 He said, “Bring me a new bowl, and put salt in it.” So they brought it to him. 21 Then he went to the spring of water and threw salt in it and said, “Thus says the Lord, I have healed this water; from now on neither death nor miscarriage shall come from it.” 22 So the water has been healed to this day, according to the word that Elisha spoke.

23 He went up from there to Bethel, and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!” 24 And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys. 25 From there he went on to Mount Carmel, and from there he returned to Samaria. 2 Kings 2:15-25 ESV

After Elijah’s miraculous departure, Elisha was forced to retrace his steps alone. When he arrived at the Jordan River, he used Elijah’s cloak to part the waters, then passed through the river on dry ground. Whether Elisha realized it or not, he was reliving the experience of the people of Israel when they first arrived at the land of Canaan centuries earlier, and he was playing the part of Joshua. When the time had come for the Israelites to occupy the land God had given them for an inheritance, they were under new leadership. Moses had died, and Joshua was his God-appointed replacement. Joshua had inherited the responsibility of leading the nation of Israel across the Jordan River and into the land of promise. And he was old enough to remember that, 40 years earlier, Moses had failed in his first attempt to persuade the people to take possession of the land. So, God promised to give the new leader of His people a sign that He would be with him.

The Lord said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. – Joshua 3:7 ESV

God knew that the people would be reluctant to follow Joshua. That’s why He shared the plan He had put in place to solidify Joshua’s role as Israel’s leader.

“Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is passing over before you into the Jordan. Now therefore take twelve men from the tribes of Israel, from each tribe a man. And when the soles of the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off from flowing, and the waters coming down from above shall stand in one heap.” – Joshua 3:11-13 ESV

And God’s plan worked to perfection. The waters of Jordan parted, and the people of Israel walked across on dry ground. With their new leader going before them, the nation of Israel left the wilderness behind and began the first part of their God-ordained mission to possess the land He had graciously given them.

Elisha’s crossing of the Jordan mirrors that momentous occasion. Elijah, the former spiritual leader of Israel, was gone, and Elisha, his unproven and inexperienced replacement, required evidence to prove his role as the prophet of God. In a strange case of déjà vu, Elisha found himself mimicking the actions of Joshua once again. The first city the Israelites had encountered after their crossing of the Jordan was Jericho. And that is exactly where Elisha headed. He was met by 50 prophets of God who acknowledged that a transfer of power and leadership had taken place.

…they said, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.” And they came to meet him and bowed to the ground before him. – 2 Kings 2:15 ESV

But you can sense their reluctance to accept Elisha as Elijah’s replacement. They offer to send a search party to look for Elijah. After all, the prophet had a reputation for disappearing for long periods of time and then showing up unannounced. Perhaps he wasn’t really gone for good. While Elisha tried to talk them out of this vain quest, they persisted, and their search party came back empty-handed.

It’s important to remember that the city of Jericho had been destroyed by Joshua and the people of Israel. It was the very first victory that they had experienced as part of their conquest of the land of Canaan. God had told Joshua, “See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and mighty men of valor” (Joshua 6:2 ESV). And He had given Joshua a rather bizarre strategy for conquering Jericho.

“You shall march around the city, all the men of war going around the city once. Thus shall you do for six days. Seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark. On the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. And when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, when you hear the sound of the trumpet, then all the people shall shout with a great shout, and the wall of the city will fall down flat…” – Joshua 6:3-5 ESV

But as strange as God’s tactics may have sounded to Joshua and the people, the results were hard to refute. The walls fell, and the entire city was destroyed. And Joshua placed the city of Jericho under a perpetual curse.

“May the curse of the Lord fall on anyone
    who tries to rebuild the town of Jericho.
At the cost of his firstborn son,
    he will lay its foundation.
At the cost of his youngest son,
    he will set up its gates.” – Joshua 6:26 NLT

This is an important point to consider because when Elisha showed up at Jericho, not only had it been rebuilt, but it was occupied by 50 prophets of Yahweh. They even give the city their Goodhousekeeping Seal of Approval: “This town is located in pleasant surroundings, as you can see” (2 Kings 2:19 NLT). The only problem they had with Jericho was its lack of clean water.

“But the water is bad, and the land is unproductive.” – 2 Kings 2:19 NLT

In Joshua’s day, the city of Jericho had represented the pagan nations that occupied the land of Canaan. It was well-fortified and well-defended. But it had proven to be no match for the God of Israel. He had literally leveled the entire city, and His new leader had “burned the city with fire, and everything in it” (Joshua 6:24 ESV).

Now, centuries later, the city of Jericho had been rebuilt and reoccupied. But not by Canaanites. The people of Israel had made themselves at home in the very city Joshua had cursed, and the prophets of God seemed to have blessed their decision. Yet, the city and the land around it unproductive and unfruitful. It was a town without a pure water supply. The revival of Jericho had been incomplete and insufficient. It was occupied but lacking in vitality and fruitfulness. And, once again, the city had become a symbol of all that was wrong in the land of promise.

When Elisha had crossed over the Jordan, he had entered into enemy territory, just as Joshua and the people of Israel had centuries earlier. But this time, the Israelites were the enemy and not the Canaanites. Under the leadership of wicked kings like Jeroboam and Ahab, the people of Israel had become disobedient and idolatrous. As a result, they were under a curse, having long ago replaced God, their only source of sustenance and refreshment, with the false gods of Canaan.

God, in His covenant faithfulness, led Elisha to restore their source of physical water. But He was really calling the people back to Himself. He was reminding them that He was the only viable and reliable source of salvation and sustenance. The prophet Jeremiah would later describe the spiritual condition of Israel in stark terms.

O Lord, the hope of Israel,
    all who forsake you shall be put to shame;
those who turn away from you shall be written in the earth,
    for they have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living water. – Jeremiah 17:13 ESV

Elisha purified the water source. In doing so, he made it clear to the people that this was an act of God.

“This is what the Lord says: I have purified this water. It will no longer cause death or infertility. – 2 Kings 2:21 NLT

God validated Elisha’s ministry, but, more importantly, He vindicated His own status as the One true God. The author clarifies that while the water had been made pure, the people remained stained by sin. The next event the author describes is intended to provide a stark contrast to the water’s purification. As Elisha made his way from Jericho to Bethel, he was confronted by a crowd of “small boys” (2 Kings 2:23 ESV). This description can be a bit misleading. In Hebrew, the phrase is qāṭān naʿar and carries a wide range of possible meanings. The word qāṭān can be translated as “small, little, or young.” The word naʿar was used to refer to a child, a servant, or even a young man. So, based on the rather harsh actions of Elijah, it seems much more likely that he ran into a group of young adolescent males rather than a group of small boys.

These “juvenile delinquents” confronted the prophet of God, “mocking and making fun of him. ‘Go away, baldy!’ they chanted” (2 Kings 2:23 NLT). Whether they recognized Elisha as a prophet is not clear. But their disrespectful treatment of someone who was obviously their elder was a sign of their rebellious hearts. By their actions, these young men represented the people of Israel, showing disdain and dishonor for the prophet of God. They had no fear of Elisha and no respect for his God. From the oldest to the youngest, the entire nation had become hard-hearted and resistant to the leadership of God’s anointed prophet. The next generation of Israelites had been infected by the apostasy and idolatry of their parents. And, in an act of divine judgment, Elisha cursed these young men.

Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of them. – 2 Kings 2:24 NLT

This time, there would be no gracious act of mercy from the hand of God. Earlier, Elisha had made impure water clean. But this time, he would judge the unjust actions of impure men. As the prophet of God, Elisha could be an instrument of refreshment and renewal. But he could also serve as God’s divine agent of judgment and condemnation. Yahweh wanted His people to return to Him in humility and repentance. He longed to restore and refresh His people, but He was prepared to discipline them should they refuse to repent.

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson