Stand Up and Be Counted
The Wilderness Wanderings of the Book of Numbers
To the Promised Land: God’s Response to Rebels /
Five Safeguards Against Rebellion
Numbers is a book about a journey. The journey begins at the foot of Mt. Sinai (where God gave the Law) and will come to the threshold of the Promised Land. In the New Testament we are told that the journey of God’s people is an “example” and a source of “instruction” for us. It states:
· 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 - Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, 2 all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. 5 But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. 6 Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. 7 And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” 8 Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; 9 nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; 10 nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer. 11 Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. 12 Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.
There are things we need to learn from what happened to God’s people on this journey.
When you study this section of the Old Testament you need to keep in mind that this history has a broader significance. Their historical walk with God symbolizes everyone’s walk with God in general. Note the following:
· Egypt = Type of the world
· Crossing through the Red Sea = Deliverance from the world by God, i.e. salvation.
· Canaan, the Promised Land = A place of victory and full blessing / The Spirit filled life (John 7:38-39)
The wilderness journey is the main focus of the book of Numbers.
There is a legitimate wilderness experience that all believers must encounter. God uses the wilderness experience to teach us to trust completely in Him, to build and purify our faith. He allows us to exhaust our fleshly resources (e.g. self-reliance; selfishness). He wants us to learn that He is dependable and faithful to His word.
God never intended the wilderness experience to be permanent. Unfortunately, some people never make it out of the wilderness. They wander about teetering indecisively between trusting in their flesh or trusting in God. This lack of full trust in God is a fatal attraction with dissatisfaction.
Dissatisfaction leads to Rebellion
The ultimate outcome of indecision or not fully trusting in God is rebellion against God. This is seen in the following attitudes and behavioral actions of rebellion:
· Complaining and dissatisfaction – 11:1, 6; 12:1; 14:1-4
· “Intense craving” – being controlled by fleshly desires – 11:4
· Selective Memory – they forgot about God’s past provisions – 11:5
· Ungratefulness – “Nothing at all except this manna!” – 11”\:6
· Grew to despise the LORD – 11:20
· Self-centeredness – 12:1-3
· Viewing life according to your limitations instead of God’s limitlessness – 13:31; 14:1-4
· Misleading those around you – 13:32-33
· Disregarding God’s plan for your life – 13:26-29
· Trying to make for or compensate for one’s sin with good works; responding to God and sin on your terms not God’s – 14:39-45
It was only because of God’s mercy that these rebels weren’t struck down by God right there (14:11-12, 19-24).
The book of Numbers is filled with rebellious acts by God’s people. Joshua and Caleb pleaded with the people not to “rebel” (מָרַד - mârad, maw-rad’ – to revolt or rebel) against God (14:9). Rebellion is characterized by the following”
1. Opposition to someone motivated by pride – Deut. 21:18; Isaiah 3:8
2. Disobedience – I Kings 13:21, 26
3. Defiance – Num. 20:24; Ps. 105:28; Lam. 1:18
4. Stubbornness – Deut. 21:18; Ps. 78:8
5. Bitterness – Septuagint translates Marad this way.
Rebellion always ends in despair (14:39).
Rebellion takes many forms such as:
· Keeping the Spirit at arm’s length for fear He will unsettle our comfort zone. Settling for religion rather than a dynamic saving relationship with God.
· Rebellion against God ordained accountability: e.g. Divorce instead of working through marital problems; marrying unequally yoked partners; choosing pleasure and personal desires over parental responsibility.
· Running from God’s plan for your life: Lunging ahead of God; Lagging behind God; refusing to go where God wants you to go or stay where He wants you to stay.
· Disregarding or rebelling against God’s word
In the middle of all the rebellion we see in Numbers is chapter 15 where we see God’s Response to Rebels / Five Safeguards Against Rebellion.
Accept that God will Accomplish His Plan
Numbers 15 - And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you have come into the land you are to inhabit, which I am giving to you,
“God’s blessing may be delayed, but His purpose cannot be destroyed” says J. Vernon McGee. God’s plans are fulfilled in spite of us. This is humbling because it means no one is indispensible. Miriam (whose name is the root word for rebellion) and Aaron found this out the hard way (12:1-13).
This truth was the source of Moses’ humility (12:3). Humility is an essential quality because it puts us in a position to receive God’s help (Prov. 3:34; James 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5-7).
God’s plans are not dependent on individuals. He chooses to work through people. If a chosen person rebels, they can be replaced. There are numerous examples of God replacing rebels (Nadab and Abihu – Lev. 10; Aaron – Num. 20:22-29; Moses – Num. 20:9-13; and Saul – 1 Sam. 15).
God is in control. This is liberating because the pressure is on God, not us to accomplish His plan. Therefore we ought to:
· Feed on God’s faithfulness – Ps. 37:1-8
· Trust in His Spirit, not your fleshly self – Zech. 4:6
· Glory in the LORD, not people – Jer. 9:23-24
· Be yoked with Jesus – Mat. 11:28-30; 16:18
That God is in control is seen in the following verses:
· Job 42:2 - 2 “I know that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You.
· Psalm 115:3 - 3 But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases.
· Psalm 135:6 - 6 Whatever the Lord pleases He does, In heaven and in earth, In the seas and in all deep places.
· Isaiah 46:9-10 - 9 Remember the former things of old, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, 10 Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things that are not yet done, Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, And I will do all My pleasure,’
· Daniel 4:35 - All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven And among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand Or say to Him, “What have You done?”
· Matthew 19:26 - 26 But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
· Jeremiah 32:17 - 17 ‘Ah, Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for You.
Appreciate God and Be Thankful
3 and you make an offering by fire to the Lord, a burnt offering or a sacrifice, to fulfill a vow or as a freewill offering or in your appointed feasts, to make a sweet aroma to the Lord, from the herd or the flock, 4 then he who presents his offering to the Lord shall bring a grain offering of one-tenth of an ephah of fine flour mixed with one-fourth of a hin of oil; 5 and one-fourth of a hin of wine as a drink offering you shall prepare with the burnt offering or the sacrifice, for each lamb. 6 Or for a ram you shall prepare as a grain offering two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with one-third of a hin of oil; 7 and as a drink offering you shall offer one-third of a hin of wine as a sweet aroma to the Lord. 8 And when you prepare a young bull as a burnt offering, or as a sacrifice to fulfill a vow, or as a peace offering to the Lord, 9 then shall be offered with the young bull a grain offering of three-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with half a hin of oil; 10 and you shall bring as the drink offering half a hin of wine as an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the Lord. 11 ‘Thus it shall be done for each young bull, for each ram, or for each lamb or young goat. 12 According to the number that you prepare, so you shall do with everyone according to their number. 13 All who are native-born shall do these things in this manner, in presenting an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the Lord. 14 And if a stranger dwells with you, or whoever is among you throughout your generations, and would present an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the Lord, just as you do, so shall he do. 15 One ordinance shall be for you of the assembly and for the stranger who dwells with you, an ordinance forever throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the stranger be before the Lord. 16 One law and one custom shall be for you and for the stranger who dwells with you.’ ” 17 Again the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 18 “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you come into the land to which I bring you, 19 then it will be, when you eat of the bread of the land, that you shall offer up a heave offering to the Lord. 20 You shall offer up a cake of the first of your ground meal as a heave offering; as a heave offering of the threshing floor, so shall you offer it up. 21 Of the first of your ground meal you shall give to the Lord a heave offering throughout your generations.
These verses contain instructions regarding the “vow” and “freewill offering” (15:3). These are offerings of thanks! God is telling His people they need to be thankful. We should never take God for granted. Unthankfulness is one of the first steps toward rebellion (cf. Psalm 92; 95; 100). We saw this in the murmuring and complaining earlier in Numbers (Num. 11:1 ff.)
Acknowledge Your Sinful Nature
22 ‘If you sin unintentionally, and do not observe all these commandments which the Lord has spoken to Moses— 23 all that the Lord has commanded you by the hand of Moses, from the day the Lord gave commandment and onward throughout your generations— 24 then it will be, if it is unintentionally committed, without the knowledge of the congregation, that the whole congregation shall offer one young bull as a burnt offering, as a sweet aroma to the Lord, with its grain offering and its drink offering, according to the ordinance, and one kid of the goats as a sin offering. 25 So the priest shall make atonement for the whole congregation of the children of Israel, and it shall be forgiven them, for it was unintentional; they shall bring their offering, an offering made by fire to the Lord, and their sin offering before the Lord, for their unintended sin. 26 It shall be forgiven the whole congregation of the children of Israel and the stranger who dwells among them, because all the people did it unintentionally. 27 ‘And if a person sins unintentionally, then he shall bring a female goat in its first year as a sin offering. 28 So the priest shall make atonement for the person who sins unintentionally, when he sins unintentionally before the Lord, to make atonement for him; and it shall be forgiven him. 29 You shall have one law for him who sins unintentionally, for him who is native-born among the children of Israel and for the stranger who dwells among them.
Offerings for sins of ignorance reveal we are by nature sinful. The Bible teaches people are born sinful (Gen. 5:3; Ps. 51:5). You don’t have to teach a child to do the wrong thing; they do it naturally! Furthermore, people live sinful (Rom. 7:18; Eph. 2:1-4). It also reveals that after the new birth of salvation the Christian struggles with the flesh or sinful nature (Rom. 7:18-23; 8:6-8).
God has provided a way to have victory over our sinful nature or flesh and that is living in full surrender to Him in the power of the Spirit (Rom. 8:1, 4, 12-13; 13:14; Gal. 5:16, 24). We have to move away from relying on ourselves or human wisdom and move toward dependence on God:
· 1 Corinthians 2:4-5 - 4 And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
· Colossians 2:6-8 - 6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7 rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. 8 Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.
Don’t be robbed! Trust the Lord and follow Him through and out of the wilderness.
30 ‘But the person who does anything presumptuously, whether he is native-born or a stranger, that one brings reproach on the Lord, and he shall be cut off from among his people. 31 Because he has despised the word of the Lord, and has broken His commandment, that person shall be completely cut off; his guilt shall be upon him.’ ” 32 Now while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. 33 And those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron, and to all the congregation. 34 They put him under guard, because it had not been explained what should be done to him. 35 Then the Lord said to Moses, “The man must surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.” 36 So, as the Lord commanded Moses, all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him with stones, and he died.
Doing things “presumptuously” (רוּם - rûwm, room) means literally to be high. The idea is to act defiantly. It means to shake a fist at God; to zealously disregard God. There can be no compromise with sin (1 John 3:4-8; Eph. 5:1-12). There is no place for sin in a believer’s life.
While it may seem severe to stone a man for picking up sticks on the Sabbath, the people’s later compromise with the sabbatical year led to their 70 year captivity (Dan. 9:1-2; 2 Chron. 36:20-21; Gal. 6:7). God was putting the beaks on something He knew would lead to great hardship and loss later in the development of His people. He sought to nip it in the bud. Unfortunately His people didn’t learn the lesson.
You may be indulging in some sin you think is “small” or no big deal, like picking up sticks on the Sabbath. But the truth of the matter is that no sin is a small sin. Sin is like cancer; one “small” cell will grow to a serious and life threatening problem if left unattended. We need to repent of all sin, confess it to the Lord and receive His forgiveness (1 John 1:9). That is the lesson we learn when we look at God’s people. Ax any and all sin in your life, before you live to regret it.
Appropriate God’s Provision
37 Again the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 38 “Speak to the children of Israel: Tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a blue thread in the tassels of the corners. 39 And you shall have the tassel, that you may look upon it and remember all the commandments of the Lord and do them, and that you may not follow the harlotry to which your own heart and your own eyes are inclined, 40 and that you may remember and do all My commandments, and be holy for your God. 41 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am the Lord your God.”
God has given us provisions to get through the wilderness. He has given us weapons to combat the world and our flesh. These weapons are:
1. Applying God’s word – 15:39a, 40 (2 Tim. 2:15; 3:16-17)
2. Alertness to our sinful inclinations – 15:39c (Rom. 13:14; Gal. 5:16, 24)
3. Factoring God into our life equation – 15:41 (2 Pet. 1:2-4)
Remember that God is for you. He loves you and wants to bless you. He wants you to make it through the wilderness learning how to depend on Him. Appropriate the tools He has given you to do that.
The true story is told of Ivan the Great who was the Tsar of all Russia during the 15th century. He brought together warring tribes into one vast empire that came to be known as The Soviet Union. Ivan the Great was a courageous fighting man. He was a brilliant general. He drove out the Tartars and established peace across the land.
But Ivan was so busy waging war that he never started a family. Without a family, there would be no heir to his throne. His advisers became concerned and told him, “You must take a wife who can bear you a son.”
Ivan told them he was too busy to search for a bride, but if they could find a suitable one, he would marry her. The counselors searched far and wide until they found the brilliant and charming daughter of the King of Greece. Ivan was so impressed with their account of her that he agreed to may her sight unseen.
The King of Greece was delighted. This marriage would serve to get his kingdom in favorable alignment with the emerging giant of the north. But there was one condition, “He cannot marry my daughter unless he becomes a member of the Greek Orthodox Church.” Ivan responded, “I will do it!”
A priest was dispatched to Moscow to instruct Ivan in Orthodox doctrine. Ivan learned the catechism in record time. Arrangements were made for the marriage to take place in Athens and Ivan accompanied by 500 of his crack troops (the palace guards) were on their way.
Ivan was to be baptized into the Orthodox Church by the traditional custom of immersion of the Eastern Church. His soldiers, ever loyal, asked to be baptized along with their Tsar. 500 priests were assigned to the 500 soldiers as they would all be baptized in one mass baptism. Crowds gathered from all over Greece.
What a sight that must have been; 500 priests and 500 soldiers, 1000 people, walking into the blue Mediterranean. The priests were dressed in black robes and tall black hats, (official garb of the Eastern Orthodox Church). The soldiers were wearing their battle uniforms with full regalia of ribbons of valor, medals of courage, and their weapons of battle.
Suddenly there was a problem. The church prohibited professional soldiers from being members. They would have to give up their commitment to bloodshed. They could not be killers and church members too!
After a hasty round of diplomacy, the problem was solved. As the words were spoken and the priests baptized them, each soldier reached to his side and withdrew his sword. Lifting it high overhead, every soldier was totally immersed – everything except his fighting arm and sword. 
Here’s the point, how many of us are still in the wilderness because we have kept a part of us from being baptized into the death of Christ, from being crucified with Christ? God has made provision for us to go through the wilderness and come into the Promised Land. What’s holding you back? What are you withholding from the Lord? Baptism is a symbol of dying to sin and the old sinful life and rising to newness of life in the Spirit. Are you holding something back from the Lord? Is there something you are allowing to live that should die? Is there something that you are allowing to come back to life that was once dead in your life? What have you not plunged under in full surrender to the Spirit? What have you allowed to resurrect in your life? You’ll never get through the wilderness unless all things that needs to die, dies and all the things you’ve let die, remain dead. Learn from Israel’s sinful ways and don’t repeat them.