Friday, January 8, 2010

Numbers 11-14: I Take That Back

In the very last few chapters, we saw Israel as a group of devoted followers of the LORD who were just ready and raring to go wherever He led them, right? Well, not anymore. That's right - the very next thing we read is that the people start complaining. And this time it's contagious - meaning, they're not the only whiners in this bunch. Let's see who all is guilty of it this time around:

1. The people - they complain that they don't have meat and they're sick of manna. They say, "we had it soooo great in Egypt - fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, garlic - we had it all! Now our soul is dried up."

2. Moses - that's right, the big guy complains to God that God's been picking on him, putting him in charge of all these people so that he has to baby-sit them all the time, and he doesn't have any help at all. So he says, "God, can you just kill me?"

3. Miriam and Aaron - Moses' support system, the dynamic duo get jealous of Moses (the guy who hates his job because he's all alone, remember?) and think they need more fame and glory for the work they do.

4. Ten spies - Moses handpicks twelve leaders from among the tribes, people that everybody looks up to and respects, guys that he thinks he can trust, and sends them into the Promised Land to check it out. When they come back, all but two of them have their tails between their legs because the Canaanites are tall. Dude, news flash: everyone is tall compared to Hebrews. Okay, so these happen to be legitimate giants maybe, but the spies conveniently forget that this guy called God Almighty has recently rescued them from the most powerful empire on the planet, and maybe He's got a plan for getting them into the land He promised them.

5. All the congregation, all the sons of Israel - I love that it makes a point now of saying "all," as opposed to just "the people" who were complaining earlier. They say "I wish we would have died in Egypt, or that we could just die here in the wilderness (which is what we were complaining would happen earlier) because God's leading us straight into a deathtrap!" Boo hoo.

So finally, God says to Moses, "How dense are these people? I have half a mind to do just what they want and make them all die in the wilderness." You know, whenever God says this stuff, I always wonder if He really means it, or if He's just saying it to Moses as a test or something. You know, like, "Hey Moses, you said you were sick of leading these people, so here's your chance to get off the hook. . . ." Maybe? I don't know.

So what happens with all these complaints?

1. God throws a fireball at the outskirts of camp (I guess as a warning shot), but then He gives them quail. But some of the people are so greedy that God puts a plague on them.

2. God tells Moses to get seventy elders from the people to help him out. This is, presumably, in addition to all the people Moses already appointed as judges at the advice of his father-in-law Jethro way back in Exodus 18 (see, he's not alone after all).

3. God gives Miriam and Aaron what-for, and then he gives Miriam leprosy. Moses pleads with God on her behalf, and God says fine, she'll only remain unclean for seven days (which is how long a person remained unclean for anything, as we saw in Leviticus), and then she'll be fine.

4. Caleb and Joshua say "Whatever, we can take this land because God is with us! Check out these grapes. If we lived here, maybe we'd become giants too!" (Okay, so they didn't say that last part.)

5. Moses reminds God of His promise to deliver Israel into the promised land, and says that if He doesn't, all the rest of the world will never believe that the LORD is God (which was kind of the point of doing all this stuff - so that they would all know).

6. So God decides to give the people their wish - sort of. The people who griped and complained and wished to die in the wilderness will never get to see the Promised Land; instead they're going to have to wander in the desert for 40 years until they're all dead, and their children will get to go in and take the land.

Then guess what happens? The people say, "Omgosh! We're sorry! Let's go take over Canaan right now!" So they try, and they get beaten pretty badly. No surprise.

So what can we learn from this? I think the pretty obvious lesson is, dude, just do what God says, because sin and disobedience have serious consequences. But I think there's another lesson when we compare this passage to the passage we just discussed, and that is this: when everything is going well, and everything's cool between us and God, don't get complacent. Don't just assume that because you're doing a pretty good job of following God right now, that you're always going to feel like doing what He says. Don't slack off and start wandering - you might start going in the wrong direction. That's what happened to these people.

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