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This week our Bible passages are found in Numbers 19-36 which mainly takes place near the end of the forty years spent wandering in the wilderness.
As I mentioned last week, the book of Numbers begins with the Israelites camped at the base of Mount Sinai. God instructs them to take a census in advance of the conquest of the promised land of Canaan. However, the Israelites rebelled and were sentenced to spend forty years wandering in the desert instead. The last half of Numbers finds us near the end of that forty year period. There is still rebellion in the hearts of the people. Moses evens succumbs to that temptation and becomes disobedient to God. God instructs him to speak to a rock to provide water for the thirsty people, and Moses, in anger toward the people, instead chooses to strike the rock with his staff and try to make it appear that it is his actions that cause the water to come forth. This act of disobedience costs Moses the privilege of setting foot in the promised land as well.
At another point of rebellion, the people grumble against God and he sends venomous snakes among them. When they cry out to him, He instructs Moses to create a bronze replica of the snakes and lift it up on a pole. If people looked at the snake, they would be healed of the bites.
There’s also a fascinating story of a man (Balaam) hired by the king of Moab to pronounce a curse on the Israelites. He finds that he is unable to speak a curse, but is only able to speak blessing. However, he also is in rebellion to God by even trying to curse the nation and God sends an angel to bar is journey. His donkey, seeing the angel on 3 different occasions tries to stop, but Balaam beats it. Miraculously, the donkey then speaks to Balaam to explain why he’s stopping.
Much of the rest of this passage details a series of lists which stay true to the name of the book (Numbers). There are lists of the number of required sacrifices needed during a year, a second census of the new generation of fighting men, lists of cities captured east of the Jordan (the beginning of the conquest of the promised land), a listing of all the places encountered during the 40 year wandering, and descriptions of the future boundaries of the land that God is giving to them.
The big takeaway from the book of Numbers is God’s faithfulness to his promises, even to a faithless people. During the forty years, the Israelites continued to be provided for with manna for food, water where there wasn’t any before, and clothes which lasted. Their flocks prospered and grew as well. The New Testament points back to the story of the bronze snake (John 3:14), the provision of manna (John 6:30-35), and the water from the rock (1 Corinthians 10) as pictures of the salvation and sustenance available to believers in Jesus as well.
Next week we’ll look at the first part of the book of Deuteronomy.
For Further Investigation
- Numbers video from The Bible Project