Numbers Part Two: Deep Dive
The book of Numbers is a book that finds itself placed firmly in the back half of the Pentateuch, and as Walton, Matthews & Chavalas put it in their incredible work The Bible Background Commentary – Old Testament, “there are many reasons to consider the Pentateuch as a single, unitary piece of literature” and I want to emphasise that, not only concerning the Old Testament, in particular, the first 5 books, but in relation to the entire bible; the meta-narrative of God and His redemptive work. We can not afford to see these books, stories, prophecies, laws, genealogies, and covenants as isolated entities; rather they must all be surveyed within their contexts and framed within the larger context, lest we miss the insights and treasures available to be discovered within of the narrative and nature of God.
This Deep Dive, is an expose of some of the examples of covenantal affirmation by God, to the Israelites, as well as a look at why Moses himself was not permitted to enter the Promise Land.
Looking at the first major display of God’s faithfulness, as the now, nomadic nation of Israel is teetering on the edge of the wilderness, not knowing where God was leading them after a year residing at Mount Sinai, having been delivered from Pharaoh. The Lord prompts Moses to speak to his Aaron and his sons, a common Ancient Near-Eastern blessing, called today, the Aaronic Blessing. This blessing involves an increase in prosperity, protection from harm, grace, and favor upon the recipient and provision for all things necessary. This is the intentional starting point, of the journey that God takes the Israelites on, and even us today, as priests, offering ourselves as living sacrifices.
After Israel’s departing from the Wilderness of Sinai, they followed “the cloud” (potentially a reference to the Shekinah Glory cloud, mention in Exodus 40:35) from above the tabernacle they centered their lives around, into the wilderness of Paran. It is around this time, interestingly, that the chronology of the narrative is abandoned, until it is partially picked back up in chapter 20. It is three days into the journey that Israel begins to complain and crave the diet that they once were privy to in Egypt. This begins two things: Firstly, it establishes the relationship between God’s righteous anger towards disobedience and the faithless and unthankful complaining exhibited by the Israelites, in the face of all that God had done for them. Secondly, it is the beginning of a secondary set of parallels that run back and forth between Numbers, Exodus, and Genesis. (The grumbling of the people, the provision of ‘mana’ and quail, and leadership appointed to assist Moses). As circumstances intensified; the never-ending harassment by the people of Israel, both toward Moses and Yahweh, the open rebellion by the Sons of Korah, the conflict with the Canaanites and Amalekites, the opposition of Moses by Aaron and Miriam, all resulted in the Lord banishing the people from ever entering Canaan. Besides from the two spies that were sent to scout ahead and survey the Promise Land, Caleb, and Joshua. A case must be made that this was God’s judgment on what was essentially National Apostasy. It was not merely God being unfair or indecisive concerning whom He kept His promises to. God is a God who respects the free will of His creatures, and if those who choose rebellion over intimacy, disobedience over loyalty, complaining over thankfulness, He will indeed respect their choice to do so. Even if that choice results in their aimless wandering and subsequent deaths, on the edge of the land that God had prepared for them.
Turning now to Moses, and his disqualification to lead Israel into the Promise Land. This occurred towards the end of the 40-year wilderness wandering period, more precisely around the 38th year, in which Meriam has died, Aaron and is not far behind, and the people are stiff-necked as ever, symbolically, it could be said, they are complaining about having no water. So, Aaron and Moses, after seeking the Lord for provision, are instructed to retrieve Aaron’s budded rod (check out the significance of this rod back in Chapter 17) and speak to the rock in front of the assembled people. Here’s where it gets a little sticky… (No pun intended) Moses, instead of speaking to the rock alone, he speaks to the people and strikes it, not once, but twice! There is so much in this one act, but there isn’t space to unpack everything, so here is the basic reasoning from within the text. Moses had previously been instructed to strike a rock for water (Ex 17:6), this is perhaps why he did so again here at Kadesh. However, 3 out of the five instructions that God had given Moses had been followed; Rod, meeting with Aaron and the gathering of the people. It is at this moment, Moses deviates from the instructions given by God. One can only speculate as to why, but the word of the Lord says it was because of unbelief. There was a spiritual lesson at work here; God was changing the way He wanted things to be done. The power or faith, the conformity to the will of God, combined with the word of God is the example that God is setting up here.
The typology of Christ and the source of all our needs is rich here. This story is incredible but shows such an important facet of following Christ, that being faith. Without faith, an active response to belief and obedience, we also are destined to wander the wilderness and not to receive the abundant blessings, life, and prosperity God has for us. As a loving Father, teacher and Saviour, who despite our ideas, preconceived notions and limited comprehension abilities, His promises still stand and He has nothing but blessings stored up for us.
Gordon Wenham - Numbers
Timothy R. Ashley - The Book of Numbers
Jacob Milgrom - Numbers: The Traditional Hebrew