NUMBERS 10:1 – 12:16 and MARK 4:21–41
The blowing of the Trumpets is referenced in verses 1-10. The trumpets were blown for one of three purposes. 1) It was a call to war. 2) A call to assemble. 3) A call to move on in their journey. We see that Israel is now called to move onward from Sinai to the wilderness of Paran (vs 11-13). This is their first recorded journey since the giving of the Law (Exo 19-20). The estimated time that Israel had been camped here is about a year. This could also be the fulfilment of the verses seen in Deu 1:6-8 where the Lord says you have camped around this mountain long enough.
Deu 1:6 The LORD our God spake unto us in Horeb, saying, Ye have dwelt long enough in this mount:
Deu 1:7 Turn you, and take your journey, and go to the mount of the Amorites, and unto all the places nigh thereunto, in the plain, in the hills, and in the vale, and in the south, and by the sea side, to the land of the Canaanites, and unto Lebanon, unto the great river, the river Euphrates.
Deu 1:8 Behold, I have set the land before you: go in and possess the land which the LORD sware unto your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give unto them and to their seed after them.
The primary thrust of this chapter is the call to move on. This has significance because oftentimes Christians choose to camp around an experience. There are many who have come to their Pentecost, being filled with the Baptism of the Holy Ghost but miss their opportunity in going forward. The call of a trumpet is easily heard with a natural ear but our ears can become dull spiritually, prohibiting us from moving on in alignment with God. We have already seen many examples of this in previous commentaries. We do not want to miss God by becoming an old wineskin that has no ability to adapt to the new thing God is doing. Where was the Lord now taking Israel?
Their first journey lasted for three days, taking them to the wilderness of Paran. The cloud rested here signalling to Israel that it was time to stop. There was an order in how they journeyed. Judah was the tribe that went forth. We know that Jesus would come forth from this lineage as the Saviour King. There was particular care in the carrying of the holy things that was under the care of the Kohathites. They were usually a ways back from the vanguard tribes. When the cloud settled over a place it signalled that the Tabernacle was to be set up. The sons of Gershom and Merari would have opportunity to erect the Tabernacle before the holy items arrived under the care of the Kohathites. The listing of the tribes and how they were to proceed is covered in verses 14-28. The journey the Lord was about to take them on was not in a straight line or a direct course. He would lead them against certain enemies and into places where He would be able to prove what was in their heart (Deu 8:2). The same is true in our own life’s course. How do we handle those unexpected “bends in the road” that come our way? Do we still see God as faithful? How do we respond to unrealized expectations? Do we complain to God? The past one year the Lord has been in their midst; they saw God’s power, heard His voice and have had daily provisions constantly being met. Surely, there would be nothing to complain about right? We shall see!
Their journey consisted of three separate portions which were taken during three different periods. The first part of the journey was to Taberah where they continued about one month. The 2nd “days” journey was to Hazeroth where they stayed seven days and finally then to the wilderness of Paran where the cloud rested. It is probably from here where the 12 spies were sent out to spy the land (Num 13). This chapter concludes with a prayer of Moses. It was meant to be prophetic as the camp would embark on its journey. It is a prayer and a song of which we sing today. “Let God arise, and His enemies be scattered.” This song was one that David penned in Psalm 68. As we walk in alignment with God we will find such victories? It serves as a worthy exhortation for us today.
We see that it did not take long for the children of Israel to begin their complaining. The resultant punishment was God’s consuming fire (Heb 12:29). How is it possible for something like this to happen so quickly? What kind of complaining could warrant such a severe punishment? We have noted on other occasions in how the Lord moves in extraordinary judgment whenever a fresh move of God is undertaken. A fresh move serves as a precedent and is not to be mocked nor trifled with. Is it possible that some of the sojourners were taking issue in how the Tabernacle and camp went about their travels? Were they already challenging God’s appointed leaders and how they were functioning? We do not know nonetheless we do see the quick executing of God’s displeasure upon the complainers.
My primary takeaway continues to be the excessive judgment that is seen upon those who transgress God’s order at the beginning of a fresh move of God. Whether it is the sin of Achan (Jos 7), Ananias and Saphira (Acts 5) or even that of Uzzah who was a seemingly good man yet put forth his hand in trying to steady the Ark as it was about to begin its ascent towards Zion (2 Sam 6:7). It is never right to complain or transgress the commandments of God but we see a pattern of some extreme consequences for those who trespass or violate established types that God has put in order. In this case, the presence of God began to take a journey and it is not for man to violate nor interfere nor take issue in the methods that God would choose. We find a defined area of complaining in the next sequence of events.
In verses 4-9 we find the people, consisting of a mixed multitude, complaining about the provision of food. God was meeting their daily need by providing manna. This became an offense to many as they called to mind the various foods of Egypt. This group has been serving the Lord now for about one year having been freed from the bondage of Egypt but their inward appetites began to clamour for things from the old life. This is a case about satisfying a physical appetite but it clearly relates to the appetites of the heart. This is one of the most significant tests they will encounter because it demonstrates what is truly in the heart. It will demonstrate as to whether they are really thankful and mindful for all God has done and is doing for them or whether it is a short lived circumstantial experience.
This is an Old Testament passage where you can apply the parable of the sower. This group resembles those who receive the Word initially with great joy (The coming out of Egypt) but soon start complaining due to a heart that is not soft and open to God. The moment that something does not go their way they complain and revert back to former ways. What was the specific issue here? They did not like the daily provision of manna. The result was they began to hunger for the things from their former life of bondage. What does this man to us in modern day terms?
I feel it is important to understand what the meaning of the name manna implies. It can speak of grace. You have the female names of Hannah and Anna which has the connotation of grace attached to it. I feel we can make the following spiritual application to this event. Each and every day God gives you and I a portion of grace (manna) that can be appropriated. Do we embrace and receive those portions with thanksgiving or joy or do we despise and dismiss it outright?
As a single young man there was a period of time where I lived with three other single young men from our church. One would think that living with brethren who all have a love for God would always be a joyous affair. It did not take long before this arrangement brought us to the place of tension amongst one another. Thankfully, we realized that we needed to bring this matter to prayer. We discovered that the Lord was allowing these opportunities of close proximity to test us and see how we would respond. The Lord also revealed how these were opportunities where we could grow in grace. In our daily prayer times we began to appreciate these moments and to embrace them so as to grow in brotherly love for one another at the expense of selfish pursuits. After all, the Lord reminded us that we would one day be married so why not see this as a preparatory ground for this future event. The truth is we have opportunities to grow in grace each and every day. I feel the Lord is constantly bringing forth provisions of grace (manna) for our use. The question is do we receive and recognize it? Grace is often times made available to us at a moment when we really do not want it. We would rather complain or give in to inner urges and appetites instead of allowing God to enable us with His divine empowerment to overcome our weakness in the flesh.
Speaking of flesh, what was Israel really crying out for? That’s right, FLESH. They wanted meat for their lusts. They wanted to satisfy an appetite that consisted of what was really in their heart.
Num 11:13 Whence should I have flesh to give unto all this people? for they weep unto me, saying, Give us flesh, that we may eat.
I need to be careful here because I am writing this on the heels of a barbecue dinner where I consumed a hearty portion of meats and other foods. 🙂 I feel the primary issue is that the children of Israel were not thankful. If there is no other lesson learned from this episode may at least this one be understood. We need to be a thankful people. A person who is thankful will have a heart that is tender and open to the things of God. A thankful attitude is so pleasing to God because it is an acknowledgement that God is good, all the time. The true challenge and test comes in this area when things may not be going well. Are we a fair weather believer? Do we only praise God when things are always sunny? That is easy and Israel had no such problems with God when all was well. What about those times when it is hard reconciling our circumstances, when everything seems lost and hopeless? Are we still thankful?
You see it is precisely at such times when we need God’s grace (manna) that will help strengthen our resolve and ability to go onwards. This is what helped David to be the great man that he was. His attitude at Ziklag was a true defining moment for him. All was lost, his family, his possessions and even with his men, many of whom wanted to kill him. If ever a man had a reason to complain it would be David, but what did he do? He had an ability to find grace and encourage himself in the Lord (1 Sam 30:6). Grace is available in a greater abundance more than we realize but do we appreciate it and recognize it? Are we thankful for such opportunities or do we use those times to complain; allowing our heart to become indifferent and hardened? We see the dangers of an unthankful heart in the Book of Romans. In fact Unthankfulness is the first step to backsliding.
Rom 1:21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
All one has to do is read the next few verses in Romans to see the pathway of an unthankful heart. There is one final thought to bring out from this chapter that must be addressed. The Lord eventually gave in to the demands of the people, answering them according to the lust in their heart (vs 18-23). This is a scary and ominous warning for all of us. If we persist enough in crying out to God for what is really in our heart He just may eventually answer us accordingly. Initially, we might think that this is great but it is not in accordance or alignment with his ultimate purposes. Israel thought it was a good thing when God gave them Saul. There was initial success but under testing and pressure he failed. God knew this, warned Israel through Samuel against this appointment but they yet persisted.
Look, we know these stories and accounts but it does serve as warning for us today. Even as believers we hide things in our hearts. God is after our hearts and He will lead us into situations that puts our heart to the test, to see what is really at the core of our being. Do we allow God to do this deep work of ATONEMENT? If so, our heart becomes tender and responsive. If we resist by way of shielding in not allowing God to dig deep He may one day answer us accordingly. He may answer by prophets who will speak to the uncircumcised areas of heart, giving people what they truly cry out for. It happened before and it will surely happen again (Eze 14:3, 7-9, 20:25). This scares me and hopefully puts within me a cry that says Lord, search and know my heart today (Psa 139:22, 26:3). The primary lesson that can be gleaned from Numbers chapter 11 is that we learn to always be a Thankful people.
We see another issue that props up early on in their journey and it centres on the subject of authority. There is a bit of resentment being cast against God’s ordained leader (Moses). The Bible refers to his marriage to the Ethiopian woman. (More than likely referring to Zipporah) Some have speculated that Zipporah was instrumental in the choosing of the 70 elders from the previous chapter (Num 11:16-17). We also see some evidence of potential envy in Joshua who was taking issue with certain ones who were prophesying (Num 11:28-29). The Lord is going to make very clear His established authority right at the outset of this journey. It is so easy to criticize leadership, especially during perceived times of vulnerability. We saw this in the very beginning with Noah and his sons. God moves quickly in this incident and does not spare the highest rank of leadership. In this case it is with Moses own brother and sister. In essence they were challenging God; they may have felt slighted but more than likely were offended in some area of Moses leadership. We will see a similar challenge made against Moses by way of doctrine a bit later on (Num 16). The Bible at this point gives its view of Moses and his leadership.
Num 12:3 Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.
God was not pleased and quickly summons the three of them and speaks. God makes a clear and absolute distinction between true prophets and Moses. He cites prophets who hear from God either via visions or dreams. He is not discounting the office of a prophet in any way but he says of Moses that this is a man who has spoken to God mouth to mouth and one who was exposed to the literal presence of God upon the mount. In today’s language we could say the Lord said something along the lines of “How dare you speak against my servant Moses.” The Lord was very angry against Aaron and Miriam here and we must get the sense and understanding as to why.
It is God who appoints authorities and leaders. In challenging this structure we are in essence challenging God. Here is another example of a severe judgment (though not resulting in death) against those who were taking issue with leadership at the commencing of a fresh move. The fruit of meekness is attributed to Moses at this time which was one of the qualities and attributes of the Lord. It was a subject He taught on and it was a fruit that Moses possessed. Aaron and Miriam may have thought they had a case in registering their complaint but God clearly saw it otherwise. Jesus spoke of Himself as being Meek and lowly of heart (Mat 11:29) and we can assume that Moses was exhibiting meekness in his leadership role.
Mat 11:29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
Nobody has had the measure of preparation that Moses went through. Nobody has paid the price nor had the experience of coming up the mountain in being with God for 40 days. Moses received the Laws of God and had the opportunity to have the revelation of His glory and ways. How dare anyone even think of challenging Moses or taking issue with his leadership. This is a message that needs to be rehearsed and understood today.
God judged Miriam since she was the catalyst in this event. Aaron sided with her as well but did not come under the fullness of judgment. There are a few primary lessons from this chapter.
1) God establishes authority and its structure and it must be honored.
Rom 13:1 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.
Rom 13:2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.
2) God made a clear distinction amongst Leadership.
Yes, there are prophets and teachers that benefit the body of Christ but Moses was one who encountered God, seeing his ways and hearing His voice. Personally, I have seen Num 12 play out in modern day examples and it helps me to realize the importance of honouring and serving under God’s appointed Leadership structures. This applies to the church as well as to secular arenas.
Mark 4 – Read day 50 commentary