Numbers 17 has God making it even more obvious what His plan is for the leadership of His people. God tells Moses to get a staff from the chief of each tribe – twelve staffs in all. “Write each man’s name on his staff, and write Aaron’s name on the staff of Levi”. Remember that one of the twelve tribes had split in half so there are 12+the priestly tribe of Levi. Moses collects the thirteen staffs and does as God instructs – “deposit them in the tent of meeting before the testimony”.
So Moses has thirteen staffs – or basically sticks that he takes to the tabernacle. God says “the staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout”. Seems like a pretty clear outcome if one of the staffs sprouts. God tells Moses that this is His plan to “make to cease from me the grumblings of the people”. God is tired of the whining and complaining. He is going to show them who he has selected to lead His people. “Moses deposited the staffs before the Lord in the tent of the testimony” and left them overnight.
The next day Moses returns to the tent and “the staff of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted and put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds”. This is more than just a sprouting staff. Overnight it sprouts, buds, blossoms and even bears fruit. God really makes it obvious that Aaron is His chosen leader to serve alongside Moses. Moses brings the 13 staffs back to all the people to see. The chiefs took their staff and examined it, but they all see that only Aaron’s staff sprouted.
God makes it clear that Moses was to “put back the staff of Aaron before the testimony, to be kept as a sign for the rebels, that you may make an end of their grumblings against me, lest they die”. God wants to save His people from themselves. He has Moses put the staff up as a sign for those who might forget who God’s selected leaders are. God does have a plan. He selected Moses and Aaron long before to lead His people. But as is often the case, the people seem to miss that fact and want to do things their way. God isn’t humored by that choice. We need to understand God’s leadership plan and make sure we follow those He puts in place!
Numbers 16 has a leadership crisis going on for Moses and Aaron. If they were on a boat you’d call it a mutiny. Korah and some other thugs decide to challenge Moses and Aaron as leaders. They gather 250 of the chiefs and come after Moses. “They assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far….Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord”? Moses was ticked off. He tells Korah and the rest that “In the morning the Lord will show who is his, and who is holy, and will bring him near to him. The one whom he chooses he will bring near to him”.
Moses can’t figure out what their issue really is. “Is it too small a thing for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself, to do service in the tabernacle of the Lord and to stand before the congregation to minister to them….it is against the Lord that you and all your company have gathered together”. Moses has led the people well. God has shown Himself to be leading Moses and the people since they left Egypt.
“Moses was very angry and said to the Lord, “Do not respect their offering. I have not taken one donkey from them, and I have not harmed one of them”. Moses takes his frustration to God. And he challenges Korah to a duel basically. He tells him to show up with the rest of his crew and let God decide who should be leading the people. “Korah assembled all the congregation against them at the entrance of the tent of meeting. And the glory of the Lord appeared to all the congregation”. This guy obviously thought he was going to come out the winner because he gathered everyone to watch. But he didn’t really think clearly or take history into account. God has been with Moses, His chosen leader, for many years.
Moses tells the people that God will decide who should lead. But he doesn’t want God to do it just by killing the adversaries in a normal way. Moses asks God to take them out by swallowing up them and their families. “And as soon as he had finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split apart. And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the people who belonged to Korah and all their goods”. God wipes out the enemy. Moses is validated as leader. Moses didn’t take the battle on himself. He let God make it obvious he was the leader.
Amazingly though, the people don’t get it. “On the next day all the congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and against Aaron, saying, “You have killed the people of the Lord”. One day after God made it very clear that Moses was His leader, these people go off the reservation again. God is planning to wipe the people out but Moses intercedes again. “Aaron took it as Moses said and ran into the midst of the assembly” but God had already began to kill people and “those who died in the plague were 14,700”. God takes leadership seriously. He stands with Moses and Aaron and removes those who try and undermine their mission to lead the People to the Promised Land.
Numbers 15 shows us just how important obedience is in God’s eyes. He begins by talking with Moses about how the people are to act when they enter their new land. The spies may have been unsure of their ability to enter, but God certainly isn’t. Twice He says “When you come into the land you are to inhabit”. In God’s eyes, it has already happened – it is a done deal – and they are moving into a new home. God defines how they are to sacrifice and honor Him when they come to their new home. And he makes it clear that this applies to everyone. “You and the sojourner shall be alike before the Lord. One law and one rule shall be for you and for the stranger who sojourns with you”.
There is a discussion with Moses about how to address “unintentional sin” for those who “do not observe all these commandments that the Lord has spoken to Moses”. The bottom line is that we can certainly miss the mark unintentionally according to this passage. We fail to follow God’s direction or do it incorrectly. The law applies to everyone and God is clear that all are under it. “You shall have one law for him who does anything unintentionally”. God doesn’t expect just obedience from His people, but all equally and all fall under the same punishment if they fail to obey.
Here is where the attitude changes. God addresses those who intentionally sin and do what they want. They choose to disobey. “But the person who does anything with a high hand, whether he is native or a sojourner, reviles the Lord, and that person shall be cut off from among his people”. If you make an intentional choice to obey God, the stakes go up considerably. “Because he has despised the word of the Lord and has broken his commandment, that person shall be utterly cut off; his iniquity shall be on him”. The penalty goes from requiring a sacrifice and some intervention from the priest if you disobey unintentionally to being cut off and punished if you disobey God with intent.
To that end, “they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day”. Sounds pretty innocent doesn’t it? But it is a direct violation of God’s law of the Sabbath. And the punishment is severe. “The man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp”. Sin carries a big price tag. We often tend to downplay it, but God doesn’t see sin that way. Our disobedience is serious business which is why He sent Jesus to the Cross for us.
So God instructs the people to find a way to remember just how important sin is in His eyes. “Tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner”. We need a reminder to keep us aware of our sin problem. God gives them a way – “it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes”. We tend to be just like the people of Israel – short memory when it comes to obeying what God has said. We are charged with the same command – to obey God. “So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God. 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”. Are you obeying God? Are you aware of His commandments and direction in your life? It’s serious business!
Numbers 14 demonstrates just how stubborn and stupid people can be. Yes, it is easy to read the story and have 20/20 hindsight, but let’s face it, this people really didn’t understand what was happening. “Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night”. They had just heard the report of the spies who went to check out the promised land. 10 of them gave a bad report which the people believed, and “all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron”. This didn’t work out well last time, so what do they do but grumble again. No memory of the last time they did it.
But it went even further. “Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt”? You have to be crazy. They want to “choose a leader and go back to Egypt”. Hello – you just fled there after being enslaved for many years. It was terrible, and now you want to return? The two spies who saw things God’s way tried to even the playing field by telling them again that “The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. 8 If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey”. There is some reason to the people.
They give a very different outlook and report. “Do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them”. Caleb and Joshua know that God is with them. The response? The people want to stone them, and would have if God had showed up. “The glory of the Lord appeared at the tent of meeting to all the people of Israel”. God is fed up and threatens to kill off the whole bunch for their unbelief. But Moses once again intercedes.
He reminds God that “The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression” and begs for God to “Please pardon the iniquity of this people, according to the greatness of your steadfast love”. God offers to let them live, but there is a very stiff price for their disobedience as God says “none of the men who have seen my glory….and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers….except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun”.
The price for that disobedience was severe as God tells them “your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years and shall suffer for your faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness”. Talk about a legacy with a price. These people sin against God and now their children will be shepherding in the wildnerness for 40 years while the entire bunch of them die off. As for those “who returned and made all the congregation grumble…. They died by plague before the Lord”.
Numbers 13 has Moses sending out men to take a look at the Promised Land that God has given them. “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel”. God instructs Moses to send one leader from each tribe, and to select one “from each tribe of their fathers you shall send a man….men who were heads of the people of Israel”. They don’t send out volunteers or anybody, but the leaders of each tribe that would be believed when they brought back their report.
Here were their names:
- “From the tribe of Reuben, Shammua the son of Zaccur
- from the tribe of Simeon, Shaphat the son of Hori
- from the tribe of Judah, Caleb the son of Jephunneh
- from the tribe of Issachar, Igal the son of Joseph
- from the tribe of Ephraim, Hoshea the son of Nun (called Joshua)
- from the tribe of Benjamin, Palti the son of Raphu
- from the tribe of Zebulun, Gaddiel the son of Sodi
- from the tribe of Joseph (that is, from the tribe of Manasseh), Gaddi the son of Susi
- from the tribe of Dan, Ammiel the son of Gemalli
- from the tribe of Asher, Sethur the son of Michael
- from the tribe of Naphtali, Nahbi the son of Vophsi
- from the tribe of Gad, Geuel the son of Machi”
These were the names of the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land.
Moses sends them with a specific set of instructions that they were to accomplish:
“see what the land is
whether the people who dwell in it are strong or weak
whether they are few or many
whether the land that they dwell in is good or bad
whether the cities that they dwell in are camps or strongholds
whether the land is rich or poor, and whether there are trees in it or not
bring some of the fruit of the land”
They went with a purpose and were to come back with their observations on what the people of God were walking into.
“At the end of forty days they returned” and brought their report to Moses and the other leaders. Here is what they described: “it flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit….the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large”. Not a very positive report. Plenty of negatives in it. “Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.” He was the one who gave a green light to go take the land. But “the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are…..they brought to the people of Israel a bad report”. Now what? We’ll see what Moses does next.
Numbers 12 has some family dynamics that rear their ugly head. “Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married”. A little brotherly interaction here as Moses choice of a bride is challenged and questioned. They begin to question whether Moses is the right person to lead God’s people. The Lord heard it and says “Come out, you three, to the tent of meeting”. God doesn’t let it brew and build up – He calls the parties together to get this resolved sooner than later.
God calls Aaron and Miriam out. He came down in a cloud and stood at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting and tells them that Moses is different than any other. God tells them that Moses is not just another prophet. “Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house”. Moses is set apart in God’s eyes because of His obedience and faithfulness. And God makes it clear that it is not ok for Aaron and Miriam to question and speak against Moses. In fact, “the anger of the Lord was kindled against them, and He departed”.
God had covered the place with His cloud. “When the cloud removed from over the tent, behold, Miriam was leprous”. God’s anger about this wasn’t just an emotion, He took action and brought leprosy upon Miriam for her questioning of Moses. God was not happy. Aaron sees that his wife is covered like snow with the disease, and he pleads with Moses to help. Now Moses really didn’t have anything to do with what God chose to do. But Moses demonstrates true leadership when he intercedes on their behalf. “O God, please heal her – please.”
The power of intercession is strong. Moses demonstrates it time and time again in his life. He gets between the people and God and seeks God’s mercy and grace. This time on behalf of Aaron and Miriam, who are questioning his authority and fitness to lead. But Moses doesn’t hold that against them. He puts self aside and seeks God’s healing. God isn’t quite so fast to set her free from her bad judgment, and so “Miriam was shut outside the camp seven days” after which she was healed of her affliction.
Numbers 11 has Moses dealing with some real leadership challenges. The first was a complaining people. “And the people complained….about their misfortunes….when the Lord heard it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp”. People whined, God responded and started to consume them beginning at the outskirts of camp. “The people cried out….and Moses prayed to the Lord, and the fire died down”. Moses sees the pain and God’s anger in full motion and intercedes. He prays and God backs off. There is power when a leader prays for his people.
The people are whining about their food. God is providing manna, but they want meat. So Moses brings his concern to God. “Why have you dealt ill with your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me”? Moses doesn’t like the situation he is in. God appointed him and ordained him to be leader of the pack. But he didn’t want it then, and he doesn’t want it now. Moses makes that clear to God who tells him to “Gather for me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them, and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you”.
Moses is told that “the Lord will give you meat….until it comes out at your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you”. There will be a lesson taught here. God is not open to complaining and whining. You want meat God says? You’ll get it, and not just some, but far more than you ever wanted. Moses challenges that word – he can’t see how God can do that. But God asks a very important question. “Is the Lord’s hand shortened? Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not.” God makes it clear to Moses that He is not limited in His ability to do whatever He chooses.
Moses does as God instructed and brings 70 elders together as God instructed. God “took some of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders”. Moses doesn’t feel any less filled with God’s Spirit. God isn’t short in that resource area. But Moses main assistant Joshua got excited when a couple of the elders were in the camp prophesying. They were cutting into Moses turf. “And Joshua the son of Nun, the assistant of Moses from his youth, said, “My lord Moses, stop them.” But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!”
Joshua wasn’t going to let anyone take the place of Moses in speaking God’s truth. But Moses has a very different take. He doesn’t hold on to that tightly but if willing to let God work through anyone He chose. Real leadership doesn’t protect turf. Especially when other competent and Spirit filled leaders are in the mix. God gave the people their wish – lots and lots and lots of quail – and some spent days gathering this meat for themselves. Did it satisfy their complaining? No because “the Lord struck down the people with a very great plague….they buried the people who had the craving”. What seemed like an answer to prayer was a prescription for death. Moses interceded the first time, but couldn’t save them from their selfish desires in the end.