Numbers 14 is filled with the reality of humankind. It starts out with people being people: “the whole community was in an uproar…wailing all night long….grumbled against Moses”. In fact it was to the point that they were wanting to go back to Egypt – short memory obviously as they were slaves there – and now want to overthrow Moses and Aaron as the leaders. “Let’s pick a new leader, let’s head back to Egypt”. My how fickle people can be. Anyone who has ever been in a leadership role knows this feeling. You work unceasingly to take your followers to a better place and along the way they question and then want to replace you and turn back. It is an all too common scenario. So Moses and Aaron call for “an emergency session” and Joshua and Caleb, two of the ten spies, address the crowd. They tell them to just shut up and look at the facts. “He’ll give it to us….Just don’t rebel against GOD…And don’t be afraid of those people”. These two guys get it. God led them here to fulfill a promise. Don’t turn and walk away from it now. We are right on the verge of receiving what God has already given to us. But the people won’t listen. In fact, the people are now talking about “hurling stones” at Moses, Aaron, Joshua and Caleb. It is getting intense. And then God gets miffed. The Message version says it this way: “How long will these people treat me like dirt”? God is not humored here at all, and in fact he is ready to wipe the people out with a plague. He is going to kill the whole grumbling and complaining lot.
Moses had to be tempted to just say ok. After all, the people have been causing him grief for a while now. It has been no cakewalk trying to lead this bunch. Scripture gives us another glimpse into this man Moses when it says “But Moses…please forgive the wrongdoing of this people”. Moses intercedes yet again for these people who just got done talking about stoning him. That is real leadership. That is real love. That is the heart of God. The 10 spies who brought the negative report did die – God wiped them. And God does let his wrath loose when He decides that rather than kill them all with a plague, He would punish them to walking around for 40 more years in the wilderness so every person over the age of 20 would die before they could go into the Promised Land (except Caleb and Joshua). God said “I’ve had my fill of complaings….grumblers and grousers”. He sends the people away from the land He has promised and tells Moses to lead them back to the wilderness. But guess what – the people now decide they are ready to go in and take the land. Moses warns them it won’t work, but they don’t listen, they attack, and they get routed by the enemy. Moses told them why they would fail: “Because you have left off obediently following GOD, GOD is not going to be with you in this”. Didn’t matter what he said – they did it anyway – but we can learn from it. Disobedience keeps God’s presence from us. We should not depend on God showing up if we are going to walk in disobedience. This chapter is filled with lessons on leadership, and certainly lessons on how to walk with God and succeed. The people really messed up a great plan for their lives by complaining, grumbling and trying to overthrow God’s leadership and plans. We must be careful not to do the same.
Numbers 13 begins again with “God spoke to Moses”. We read that in most every chapter that describes Moses and his life. He had a relationship with God. He was connected. God continues to speak to Moses because Moses listened and acted on what God said. God wants to speak to you and me too, but we often are not listening and if we do happen to catch what He says, we may or may not follow it anyway. Moses shows us how to get connected – listen and then act. “Moses sent them off to scout” – he picked one man from each of the 12 tribes and sent them on a mission to do three things:
- Assess the people
- Observe the land
- Assess the soil
The scouting team was overwhelmed by what they found. “They cut off a branch with a single cluster of grapes – it took two men to carry it – slung on a pole”. The people were also large – “everybody we saw was huge”. “Alongside them we felt like grasshoppers”. But these twelve men scoped out the land and then headed back to report in.
They were giving a glowing report on the land and just how good it was. It “does flow with milk and honey” they said. It is a fantastic place. Then came the “but” part. Isn’t that how it is often – things are really good “but”. The report then said “the only thing is….that the people who live there are fierce; their cities are huge and well fortified”. Can you read between the lines here? Yes it is an awesome land Moses, but we are talking about giants who live there now. While it might seem like we would want to go possess it on the surface based on how good things could be, we “can’t attack these people, they’re way stronger than we are”. No matter how God the promised land was, the scouts were focused on the giants who lived there. Isn’t that how we get in life? We see lots of good things but are held back from going after them by the “giants” in the way. Life is full of giants, at every turn it seems. There are always reasons why we can’t go for the good stuff that God has for us. We can’t deal with those giants, be they real or just imaginary which is often the case. Caleb interrupted the report to Moses and challenges the need to run and hide. His response was “we can do it”. He had not lost track of the reality that anyone or any group plus God makes a majority. If God is on our side, we can do it, we can do anything, and we need not be afraid. That is the reality of the world we live in. God plus one makes a victory. Everytime. Caleb keeps that perspective alive even while the others are already running in fear from the people in that land. God has a land filled with milk and honey for all of us. The question is – will we take the land with Him, or just sit back and watch because it is filled with giants? I encourage you to go with God!
Numbers 12 gives us a very vivid lesson in relationships. Miriam and Aaron begin to doubt and wonder about Moses. In fact, scripture says they “talked against Moses behind his back”. Why? Because he had married a Cushite wife and they didn’t like it. They began to ask questions like “is it only through Moses that God speaks….doesn’t He also speak through us”? Bad plan on their part – to question God’s direction – which was to lead the people through Moses. Was this a power grab? Probably not, but really what it was at the core was questioning God and His plan. It came down to them deciding they had a better understanding of things than this guy who married a woman they didn’t approve of. Scripture tells us that Moses “was a quietly humble man”. In fact, “more so than anyone living on the earth”. He wasn’t focused on his role or the power that God had given him. In fact, we see numerous times that he shared that with those around him. So God hears this discussion between Miriam and Aaron and He responds. He calls them and Moses outside the Tent and speaks to them.
God is not amused with Aaron and Miriam. In fact, “the anger of God blazed out against them”. That is not a good place to be. God explained His relationship with Moses this way: “I speak to him intimately, in person, in plain talk without riddles: He ponders the very form of GOD”. It doesn’t get any better than that. God and Moses were connected. Aaron and Miriam had stepped over the line and questioned God’s plan. And God steps in to nip it in the bud. Immediately Miriam becomes a leper and her skin turns white. Aaron immediately turns to his brother and pleads for intercession. Funny how moments earlier he had been questioning his place, and now he wants help with a problem he brought on himself. Moses response is key here. He could have been very frustrated and upset with Aaron and just sent him away. After all, there hadn’t been any real support or loyalty shown through this discussion. But Moses prays and asks God to heal Miriam. Moses doesn’t get wrapped up in the attack on his role or relationship with God. He simply hears the request of his brother and intercedes with God to heal his sister. God hears, and answers. There is still a penalty for that sin – Miriam is put out of the camp for a week in quarantine – but she has been set free from a disease that would have had her living outside the camp the rest of her life in all likelihood. God takes seriously how we relate to one another. He also will protect those whom are close to Him. God wants relationship – deep relationship – that is based on being humble and quiet in the way we relate to Him. Are you walking that way with God? Are you showing respect to those He puts in places of authority in your life? Scripture is clear that we need to submit to authority. That means we support and don’t talk behind their back. It means we are not tearing down or stopping the work they have been called to do. There is a price for violating God’s leadership through people. Are you crossing that line? Or are you walking humbly and obediently to serve God as He leads?
Numbers 11 also contains a lot of great leadership examples. Moses is overwhelmed. The people are whining and unhappy with their lives and somehow it is his fault. The weight of the entire group is on his shoulders, at least from his perspective. In fact he asks God “why dump the responsibility of this people on me”? How can this be my problem? Been there, felt that? Anyone in leadership has. It gets to be too much and there doesn’t seem to be any way to get past it. But God has a plan. He tells Moses “Gather together seventy men from among the leaders of Israel, men whom you know to be respected and responsible. Take them to the Tent of Meeting. I’ll meet you there. I’ll come down and speak with you. I’ll take some of the Spirit that is on you and place it on them; they’ll then be able to take some of the load of this people–you won’t have to carry the whole thing alone”. So God tells Moses to find the right people to help share the load, gather them in His presence, and then some of what God had given to Moses would be placed on these 70. Whoa God. You want to take from my gift and give to someone else – seventy someone elses. Unfortunately many of us would say no thanks and not bring anyone else to that party. We want to hold on to everything we think is ours. We feel like God might run out of blessing or “Spirit” and we would come up short. Leaders can’t do that. Leaders can only lead by sharing their responsibility and power with others. Moses gets that and does what God asks. So many of us fail to experience relief and ultimately the success God wants for us as leaders because we try and hold on to everything ourselves. You can’t lead that way. You have to share the load, and also the power or gift as well.
Moses had some very loyal folks in his management team that saw what was happening. Others in the camp began to prophesy as God moved some of His Spirit to these new leaders. A couple that Moses had selected were not at the main gathering, but because they were on Moses list, God still placed His Spirit on them. As they were impacted by that, “Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ right-hand man since his youth, said, “Moses, master! Stop them”. That is a natural response isn’t it. Joshua sees the power that has been totally reserved for Moses (and ultimately himself) starting to escape and be spread to others. He wants to hold on to it. Joshua tries to step in and make sure his boss doesn’t lose control. But pay close attention to Moses response. This is so critical: “Would that all GOD’s people were prophets. Would that GOD would put his Spirit on all of them”. Moses doesn’t share Joshua’s fear or concern. In fact, Moses knows the only way to deal with the issue of leading this many people is to share the load. He learned much from his earlier lesson from his father in law. Leadership requires us to not hold on tightly to the reigns, but to find those who can share the load and spread the power across those who can help us lead. Moses knew that giving up some of what God had given him would not decrease his blessing. God is not short, He is not limited in resources. As we share, God is more than able to not only keep ours the same, but to even increase it. God won’t run out. Are you leading by trying to squeeze tightly to what you have? It won’t work. You have to let go and let God!
Numbers 11 is quite a chapter. It deals with two key things, and we will deal with it in two writings as there is much to absorb here. The first is how the people were responding to their situation. This sound familiar: “The people fell to grumbling over their hard life”. They were wandering in the wilderness under Moses leadership. They were eating manna for their sustenance. And they looked back and began to wish they were in captivity in Egypt all over again. Bad decision – God was not amused – in fact “God heard…His anger flared…fire blazed up….burned the outer boundaries of the camp”. God is not into having us whine or complain. Especially when He has just finished rescuing these folks from captivity. My how short memories are for all of us. We lose track of what reality is so quickly. Part of the issue is created here by this description: “The riff-raff among the people had a craving and soon they had the People of Israel whining”. So a few, or a lot, got the rest of the people whining. Whining is a lot like sin, maybe it is sin in fact, but it seems to be contagious. If we hang around whiners we usually become one. If we surround ourselves with people who are ungrateful, then we tend to become ungrateful. What a mistake as we have so very much to be grateful for. So the people were saying “all we get is manna, manna, manna”. Hmmm – sounds like a challenge to God which is not a good strategy either.
Folks wanted meat. They were tired of eating the same thing day after day. They forgot how often they went with little or no food in captivity. So they whined and complained about getting meat to eat. Check it out: “You’ve been whining to GOD, “We want meat; give us meat. We had a better life in Egypt.’ GOD has heard your whining and he’s going to give you meat. You’re going to eat meat”. So God hears their whining and responds. Not exactly how they would have expected. After Moses tells God there isn’t enough meat to meet the need, God put a “wind in motion” and blows a few quail – actually enough to cover the entire camp three feet deep – in reponse. People picked them up with “even the slowest among them gathered sixty bushels”. That is a lot of birds. God more than met their request – and told them they would be eating meat until they were sick of it to the point of vomiting when they saw it. But the whiners in the bunch, God’s response to them after miraculously providing the quail three feet deep, was to have “God’s anger blaze…hit by a terrible plague…buried the people who craved meat”. The whiners saw God’s provision and then lost their lives. Does this mean we can’t approach God with our thoughts and feeling for fear of being killed? Not at all. God wants us to share our heart. He wants us to be honest and communicate with him. But He is not into grumbling, whining or complaining. We need to seek Him with gratitude for all He has done for us, and focus on the positive, not just whine about what we don’t have that we think we somehow deserve. Whining is to continually bring up the same thing over and over without any resolution or suggestion to make it better. It is failing to look at all on the good things, and just focus on what appears to be different than our desires. God wants us to be grateful people. He wants us to not be consumed by the stuff we don’t have but think we need, but rather live life fully with all that He has given us. Certainly here in the US we have more than enough. Are you a grateful person? Do others hear that, or just a bunch of whining? Are you telling God just how thankful you are for all He has given you? Don’t think for a moment that God isn’t paying attention. He hears…..
Numbers 10 gives us the details in how Moses was to manage leading all the people on their journey to the Promised land. They created “two bugles of hammered silver” that were to be the tools to “call the congregation together and give marching orders”. Must have been some pretty powerful horns. There were a whole lot of people that had to hear those blasts. But they were effective as “when you blow it, the whole community will meet you”. People knew what the horns were for – to call the leaders together with a “single short blast”, to call the people to march with a “long blast”, or to when it is time to go to war it was a “long blast….so God will notice” or a very long blast. They also were used in the celebration of the feasts to “keep your attention on God”. Sort of reminds me how the phones used to ring in the old days – different longs and shorts determined which house the call was for. You younger people probably don’t know about that stuff – but it is how it used to be. We didn’t have a phone in our pocket with 1000 ringtones to pick from. It was on the wall, and we actually had to be home to use it. What a concept…..
So how do you keep your attention on God? If you are like me, with an apparent dose of ADHD, it is a hard thing to do. I get distracted by shiny objects or basically any moving thing. Yet God desires that we learn to be still and know Him. He desires that we pray without ceasing, which means we have to focus on Him. He desires that we listen to His still soft voice. God wants our attention. I struggle with this. I tend to get very focused when I want or need something, and not so much or not at all when it appears to me things are under control. How about you? Has God got your attention? Or will it take a 2X4 to the side of the head like it often does for me to get me to wake up and pay attention? In this chapter, we learn the very specific marching orders that God has for how this mass of humanity was to move from point A to point B. They were to go from the “Wilderness of Sinai until the Cloud finally settled in the Wilderness of Paran”. We really are not all that different as at least I spend plenty of time wandering in the wilderness. Mostly because I don’t listen or even ask God for directions, but it is how we tend to live life. Scripture tells us that Moses and the people of Israel were wandering “because God has promised good things”. Guess what – God has promised good things for you and me as well. He tells us in Jeremiah that He has plans for us, plans for prosperity. He tells us in Romans that all things work together for our good. He has a grand plan for us. The question the becomes whether we will walk with Him to experience it. Are you listening to God’s direction? Do you know His plan? Is the horn sounding and you are just doing your own thing anyway? Take stock in how you are relating to God. Is He the center of your attention? If not, time for an adjustment!
Numbers 9 talks about celebration of the Passover. God spoke to Moses and had him be sure everyone celebrated Passover the right time – “celebrate it on schedule, on the evening of the fourteenth day of this month”. It was to be done “following all the rules and procedures”. This celebration was very structured and required a lot of things be done correctly. There were some in the group that had become unclean because of contact with a corpse, and they came to Moses to find out if they could participate. I love what Moses does. He doesn’t just spew an answer – check out what he says: “I find out what God says in your circumstances”. That is how it should work for us. We come up against something we need to make a decision on, we stop and seek God. We don’t go with our gut, or what seems right, we go with God. We ask. That would be a major change for most of us. God cares about the details and wants to give us guidance but we have to ask before we make decisions and do things. Too often we move forward and then ask God to bless what we have already done. What a different approach to stopping and asking first…..hmmm, may be a principle here. The Passover was open to anyone who wanted to celebrate as long as they followed the rules and procedures. Guess what, they would need to ask to be able to do that too. Common theme here it seems!
The last portion of the chapter talks about the Cloud. God led the people with a Cloud by day and a Fire by night. Where it was, they went. If the Cloud moved, the people packed it up and followed. If it hovered, “they honored God’s command and wouldn’t march”. Obedience? Yep – absolutely the way it worked. “They stayed in camp, obedient to God’s command”. Don’t you wish we had a Cloud or Fire to follow? We do – not in exactly the same way – but the Holy Spirit lives in us and through us to serve that purpose. God’s Word was given to us to serve that purpose. Prayer serves that purpose. So the real question is – are you taking advantage of what God has given you to lead you? Check out how the people responded to God: “the moment God issued orders they marched”. When the Cloud or Fire moved, they moved. Not tomorrow, not when they got around to it, they marched when God moved. Immediately…. and “they lived obediently by God’s orders”. Do you want to hear God’s will for your life? You have to seek, listen and most importantly obey. God is not in the suggestion business. He gives His direction to those who will hear and follow it. It isn’t for consideration, it is for action and obedience. Not when we get around to it, but when He gives it. That is the key to finding God’s will. Seek, listen and obey. Are you living that way?