* Old Testament Reading: Numbers 20 & 21
Psalms Reading: Psalm 69
New Testament Reading: 2 Corinthians 6
In Numbers 20-21 we encounter the Israelites at the end of their journey as they wrap up their years in the wilderness and prepare to enter the promised land of Canaan. Unfortunately, before they do that, we see a purging of a generation of people who had rebelled, distrusted, and quarreled with themselves and with the LORD. In Chapter 14 God had instructed them that only Joshua and Caleb would enter the promised land, and now we see God was serious. In Numbers 20:1 Miriam dies, in verse 12 Moses is told he will not be entering the promised land, and by the end of the chapter Aaron is dead. No special privileges here for being a priest, a leader, or related to a special someone who “was a really good person most of the time”.
In recent years I’ve heard more and more talk about generations. Terms like X, Y, Z’s, Millennials, Zillennials, Baby Boomers. All have their strengths and weaknesses, and since I fall right in-between two, depending where I am or what is being said, I might want to associate with one more than another. That is because there are stereotypes of generations, but none are always accurate nor are they particularly important or beneficial. No matter what, as a body of Christ, we are an intergenerational people, and research continues to show the benefits of multigenerational worship and education. The year of your birth simply does not have anything to do with who we are in Christ. What does matter is our faith in Jesus and being a follower of him. In today’s reading, we see a generation dying out who knew God, yet had managed to waste the better part of 40 years not doing much to please Him, but doing a great job finding things to fight and complain about. We are currently living in a world where fights and complaints are the norm, and also one where our life expectancy is dropping. Many people born in recent generations have a lower life expectancy than their parents did. We are on this earth for a finite time, and unless we live until Jesus returns, we will “rest with our fathers” the same way people have been doing since the days of Numbers.
But, the story of Numbers doesn’t just end with death and burials, and ours doesn’t have to either. Joshua and Caleb (and crew) did get to the Promised Land. And we see more symbolism again in this idea since Yeshua can be translated as Joshua in Hebrew (our OT character leading them to the promised land) and when translated into Greek/from Greek can be translated as Jesus (our NT character through whom we have hope of our promised land in the kingdom). There is lots more out there to learn about as far as name studies if that interests you which I’ve learned a bit more about through a friend who has “Yeshua is my king” stickered across his back window. I couldn’t help ask about that one the first time I met him!
Another thing I found interesting as I read Numbers 20-21 is that a lot of the pagan enemies they are fighting on their way to the promised land are their “relatives”. The Edomites come from Esau (who was later named Edom), the Moabites and Ammonites come through incestuous relationships through Lot, and for that matter, all of them go back to Noah’s three sons! But, it didn’t matter if you were a descendant of Abraham or a relative of someone who once believed in the one true God. The people who entered the promised land were those who trusted and relied on Him, humbling themselves to allow Him to lead. Everyone else who didn’t worship the one true God as he instructed them to, set apart and holy according to his expectations. . . they were enemies. It didn’t matter if they had heard YHWH, the God of Israel, was powerful and real and they were a little scared of him. It mattered if they honored and obeyed him, and they certainly did not. While family trees can be interesting, that is about all they are good for when it comes to things of eternal perspective. The fact that your great grandpa was an elder who walked 10 miles uphill to go to church every Sunday doesn’t matter, and whether or not your relatives called themselves Christians or you attended church as a kid does not matter for your future. What matters is that in your present, regardless of which generation you are from or how much longer you may have left on this earth, you humble yourself before God and let Him lead. The wilderness surrounds us, but the promised land to come is real.
Yesterday I ended with a verse I really liked about Jesus being the sacrifice for sins for all of us, for the whole world for all time. No more sacrifices required, and we are cleansed and forgiven. That is beautiful and true. But, the verse immediately following is too. It tells us how God expects us to respond to that gift and is a good way to wrap up our studies in Numbers this week I think.
“And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.” (I John 2:3, ESV)
- What did this Israelite generation have going for them? What were strikes against them? What most important thing did they keep forgetting?
- Right now, this week, have you been more like Joshua and Caleb – intent on trusting a great big God who saves and will lead you into the Promised Land – or the generation that will not survive the wilderness – losing sight of God’s greatness as you focus instead on complaining, arguing, living in fear and negativity and quarreling with the Lord? Are there any changes that need to be made starting today?
- What does God reveal about Himself in the passages we have read from His Holy Word today?