These next three chapters are where things start to heat up in the book of Numbers…literally. In verse 1, we see the Israelites start to complain. After all that God has done for them, I understand why He would be upset. When it says the “fire of the LORD burned among them,” this isn’t a metaphor, but instead literal fire burned throughout the outskirts of the camp. The people obviously didn’t like this fire, so they complained to Moses and Moses prayed to stop the fire. God stopped the fire, but apparently, this wasn’t enough to teach the Israelites their lesson. In verses 4-6, they complain about not having meat and nice food like they did in Egypt; all they had to eat was manna. In verses 11-15 Moses honestly lays out his heart to God to the point where he asks God to kill him. Now, to me, there is an important lesson that we can learn from this outpouring. Even the greatest among us can reach a point where we have had enough. However, we can always bring our troubles and anxieties to God. Even if the problem seems impossible, like feeding millions of people meat in the middle of the desert. God wants to deal with us in a personal way. He doesn’t want the perfect fake versions of ourselves where we have all the answers and are always composed. We can be honest with Him and show Him our true heart. God dealt faithfully with Moses when Moses came to Him with a huge problem and He will deal faithfully with us when we bring our problems to Him.
This interesting incident happens in 11:24-30. The Spirit of God comes upon the leaders of Israel much like what we see in the New Testament on the day of Pentecost. We usually think about the Spirit being a New Testament power, but it is also present in the Old Testament. After the spirit comes on the elders, two of the elders prophesy in the camp. A young man thought this was a problem, so he told Moses. Little did Moses know, God’s big plan was to give His Spirit to each of His followers in the new covenant that was coming. The elders prophesying was just a taste of what God had in mind for His people. I like how Moses doesn’t get jealous about God giving His Spirit to others, but instead trusts and respects God enough to allow Him to deal as He sees fit. I think we too should have this same attitude of trust in God.
In verse 34, Kibroth-hattaavah literally means “the graves of greediness”. They named the place after exactly what happened in that place. The names of places serve as reminders. Imagine going down the interstate and passing the exit to Graves of the Greedy Town. Chapter 11 serves as a good reminder to us about our selfishness and greediness. Do you feel like God owes you something? Are you complaining to God about the things you want? Let’s take chapter 11 as a good lesson for us today. God truly has our best interest at heart and has already rescued us from death and slavery. Let’s not be like the Israelites who are so quick to forget where God has brought them from and so quickly turn to our own desires.
In chapter 12 we read another story of disobedience. Aaron and Miriam get mad about Moses’s wife being a Cushite. This may be because she wasn’t a Jew and in the law people were only supposed to marry Jews. Regardless of the reason for their anger, they think they are justified in thinking they are better than Moses. They say, “’has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us as well?’” (11:2). Almost as to say Moses married a Cushite women and God has spoken through us as well, what makes him think He is better than us? In the way that verses 2-4 talk about the situation, I can imagine Aaron and Miriam colluding in the corner of the Tabernacle, whispering to each other about how they are better than Moses. God sets them straight in verses 5-10, even giving leprosy to Miriam for her disobedience. Even the leaders of Israel were making big mistakes and being divisive. The scope of these happenings highlight the sin nature of man. Even after God has liberated the Israelites from Egypt, with all the miracles that went into that event, they still sin and disobey God. No matter the circumstances, people can’t stay away from sin very long. The only way we can be purified and righteous before God is through Jesus. When God looks at us, He doesn’t see all the mistakes we’ve made today. He sees His perfect son who covers our sin. When I read the Old Testament, it makes me very thankful for Jesus and the role that he plays in my life.
Even though the people have continued to fight and disobey God, He still leads them to the Promise Land. In chapter 13, we see the beginnings of God’s plan to move His people into the Promise Land. God wants the people to spy out the land. However, things don’t go smoothly, even the spies are disobedient and give a bad report about the land. The only spies to come back and give a good report are Caleb and Joshua. It’s like the spies forgot what they just went through with the Exodus. Did they not see the plagues that God sent on Egypt? Did they not see God defeat the entire Egyptian army in one stroke? Did they not see the manna and quail that God provided? How can they go to the land of Canaan after experiencing all these things and not think God can take care of these people too? Where is their faith? More importantly and real to our lives, are we the same way? We know the stories about what God did. We know who God is and have seen Him work. We know that even death has no power, yet we let our faith fail when we are confronted by hard things. Are we different than the spies of Israel who gave a bad report about the land of Canaan out of fear? Is there a land in which God is leading you? We have seen how He works and He is faithful to follow through. He is powerful to complete any task which He undertakes. I want our faith to be strengthened by chapter 13 and I want us to learn a lesson from the Israelites. Let’s not forget and let’s have faith. Let’s be people who follow God through the wilderness, faithfully, so that we can walk into the place He has prepared for us.