Numbers 1-36 - The Bible from 30,000 Feet - Skip Heitzig - Flight NUM01
The Bible from 30,000 Feet. Soaring through the scripture, from Genesis to Revelation.
You know, you don't have to love algebra or be a mathematician or an accountant or even like math to appreciate the book of Numbers, because it's not a book about mathematics. Even though it's called the book of Numbers, and even though the Greek title for this book is [GREEK] from whence we get arithmetic, that's really not what it's about. And even though the Latin [LATIN] is the title [LATIN] which means numbers, it's really not about math or numbers or algebra, it's about taking a census. That's what the book gets its title from.
In the book, there are two times where God instructs Moses to get the leaders to take a census or a numbering of the people. Numbering, to be more specific, of the fighting men or the men available to be conscripted into a battle age 20 and above, who can fight in wars that will take place in the land that he's bringing them into.
To catch you up, the family of Jacob has grown immensely. When we closed the book of Genesis, we found them safely perched in the land of Egypt. There was a famine in the land. Joseph became the prime minister. The children of Jacob find their protection and provision in the land of Egypt. That's where the book closes.
So they have found their protection in the land of Egypt. By the time we get to the book of Exodus, it opens up where their provision turns into persecution. 400 years go by. Now, there is a pharaoh on the throne of Egypt who does not know who Joseph, the one-time prime minister, was. And frankly, he doesn't care.
He enslaves the Hebrew people because they are growing very quickly. And the Lord in the book of Exodus raises up a guy by the name of Moses to lead them out of Egypt. So the book of Exodus is an exit. That's what exodus means. They leave Egypt via the leadership of Moses. And God brings them out into the wilderness, once again protected and provided by God himself.
That takes us to the book of Leviticus, where, for one year, a little over a year, year and a couple months, they're encamped around Mount Sinai. At Mount Sinai, in the book of Leviticus, God gives them laws. He has given them the 10 Commandments, but he gives them way more than that. He gives them laws covering virtually every area of life. And God gives them a blueprint for a very interesting structure we have already noted called the tabernacle.
So they are told who to worship, they are told how to worship, and they are given a place where to worship, in the tabernacle. By the time we get to the book of Numbers, it is time for the journey to begin. That is why some people call the book of Numbers the book of Journeyings, because it is about a journey that takes place.
Others, who have read a little more carefully, don't call it the book of Journeyings, they call it the book of Murmurings, because a lot of that takes place, if you've read this book, if you're Bible students, you know that the children of Israel become really, really good at griping. In fact, they have refined it to an art form by the time we get to this book, they do it so much.
So the book of Numbers or the book of Journeyings or the book of Murmurings. I'm going to give it my own title. On the Road Again. That's the theme song of this book.
(SINGING) On the road again. Moses and I are traveling on the road again.
Because they're journeying, but they manage to take an 11-day journey and turn it into a 40-year wandering, or you might say a two-week trip into a 40-year trial, as they meander and wander in the desert. So Mount Sinai, where they are at this point, the book begins at Mount Sinai and it ends at the plains of Moab getting ready to enter the promised land. But about almost close to 40 years transpired, 38 years and 10 months, to be most exact.
So the book begins at Mount Sinai. The trip from Mount Sinai-- get this-- the trip from Mount Sinai to the entrance to the land of promise, a town called Kadesh Barnea, is an 11-day journey. That's all it takes. How do we know that? Because Deuteronomy Moses reminds them of that. Said it's really an 11-day journey. But they have managed to take an 11-day journey and move it to a 40-year march. Because that's what happens in this book, 38 years and 10 months later instead of 11 days, they come to the edge of the promised land.
As I was reading the book of Numbers this week-- and by the way, every time I read the book of Numbers, there's a little thing that happens in my mind. I think back to my family vacations. My dad loved to drive across country. And we had, at a particular time, for a lot of our vacations a white Rambler station wagon. Four-door with a hatch in the back. And Dad figured he could drive from California to Newell, Minnesota straight through. It was 2,000 miles.
Well, when you have four little kids-- I had three older brothers, I was the baby in the family. And during that trip, I acted like one. And so did my other three brothers. But it was like a gripe fest. That was a miserable time for a lot of us, and I'm sure for my parents. Are we there yet? We gotta pee. We're hungry. Da-da-da. Stop at Stuckey's. You know, just this. So that's me with three brothers. I can't imagine being Moses with three million people in his Rambler station wagon going from Mount Sinai to Kadesh Barnea. And it gets so bad. Well, you'll see it for yourself.
Now, I mentioned there are two numberings in this book, two census takings, right? Chapter one is one, chapter 26 is the other. And that's because there's one generation that is numbered. They effectively die off. You'll see why. The new generation is numbered in chapter 26. If you wanted to, you could divide the book of Numbers up that way, just in two sections. The first section being the first generation, chapter 1 through 25, the second part, chapter 26 through 36, the second census that is taken.
But I prefer to give you this outline for the book of Numbers. Chapters 1 through 4 is organization. Organization. The people are organized. God says number them. Number them by tribe, number them by leaders' names. Get them all numbered. Number the priests, as well. So it's all about organization. That's chapters 1 through 4.
The second, after organization, is disorganization. You'll see why they get so disorganized. It's their complaining that disorganizes the camp. That's chapter 5 through chapter 25. So you have organization, disorganization, and the third section of the book is reorganization. And the reorganization takes place not with the old, but a brand-new generation, those who have grown up, effectively, in the wilderness wandering. So organization, disorganization, and the last part of the book, reorganization.
Let's begin right in chapter one, with the organization of the people and the priesthood. So chapter one brings us to that first numbering, the census that has taken for fighting men in the military. Verse one, "now the Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tabernacle of meeting, on the first day of the second month in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt."
So this is two years after the exodus. This is year number two. It's the second month. And he said, "take a census of all the congregation of the children of Israel, by their families, by their fathers' houses, according to the number of names, every male individually, from 20 years old and above, all who are able to go to war in Israel. You and Aaron shall number them by their armies."
So now you know where the book of Numbers comes from. It comes from numbering the men who are able to be conscripted to fight in military as they enter the promised land. This is the first census that is taken. And so the tally is given verse 46 of that chapter. Says, "all who were numbered were 603,550 men 20 and above who are able to fight." We have a horde of about three million people in the wilderness. These are those who are able to fight.
Now, what's so great about a census? What's so spiritual about a census? I mean, this is included in the Bible. What's so great or spiritual about a census? Well, nothing, unless your name happens to be in it. If it was your name and you read it, you'd be pretty stoked. Hey, I'm in the Bible. There's a verse with my name in it. Here's the tribe I'm from.
Because there are numbers and names-- not all of the names with all of the numbers, but names of families and tribes and households that are named. Why is this important? It's important because once they were in Egypt, where they were just a number. Now, God gives numbers and names. There were just numbers in Egypt. There was an innumerable horde of slaves. That's all they were. They were seen not as individuals with names, having importance before God. They were just a number to do the work of a slave.
A few years back, several years back, a really great musician whom I've grown to love, Tommy Walker, gave a great song to the church. See if you remember it. He Knows My Name. Remember that song? He knows my name, he knows my every thought, he sees each tear that falls, and he hears me when I call. I love that song. He knows my name. The God of heaven knows my name. And if your name happens to be on the list, that's pretty exciting.
Saint Augustine said-- and we call him Saint Augustine because he's just a brother in the Lord-- back in the 4th century said "God loves each one of us as if there were only one of us to love." The love of God reaches beyond the numbers, beyond the hordes, beyond the mass, and goes to the names. And people are precious to God. Nobody gets lost in the crowd with God. He loves you more than a number.
And whenever God counts people-- mark this-- whenever God counts people, it's because people count to God. And so he counts them here, and tells Moses to get the job done. In chapters 2 and 3, the job is done. They are numbered according to tribe. There are how many tribes in the children of Israel? 12 tribes.
There's a tabernacle in the middle. They're to camp around it. How many sides are there of the tabernacle? Four, like the directions, north, south, east, and west. So they are to orient their tents. They're camping in the wilderness for 40 years. They don't know it's 40 years yet. They think it's 11 days. They're to orient their dwellings according to the tabernacle, on four sides.
And so there are effectively four camps-- north, south, east, and west. Four camps, four sides, three tribes per side, because there are 12 tribes. And each of the camps, each of the four camps has a flag or an ensign or a banner with the lead tribe's logo on it.
Now, we understand from the Jewish traditions and commentaries called the Midrash, and we're told in the Bible, by the way, who the tribes are. So there's the tribe of Judah on one side, his banner and ensign, the tribe of Ephraim on the other side, his ensign, his banner, the tribe of Dan on one side, and the tribe of Rubin. So we have four tribes, and three tribes are underneath that one tribe's banner. Judah, Ephraim, Rubin, and Dan.
According to the Mishna, the logos-- I want you to hear this, I want you to understand this-- the logo, the banner, the ensign of the tribe of Judah was a lion. You probably would guess that. The banner emblem for that tribe of Ephraim was an ox. The tribe of Rubin on one side was that of a man. And the tribe of Dan had the ensign of an eagle.
So you have a lion, an ox, a man, and an eagle. Now, if you are Bible students, things are clicking off in your heart and head right now. Am I right? Because you already know what's going on. You go, wow, we get hints of that in other portions of the Bible. In fact, I'll take a step out and say we have here a model of the throne of God. You already know the tabernacle is a model of heaven, right? The book of Hebrews says that a few places.
It's a shadow of heavenly realities. That's the tabernacle. But we have here a model of the throne in heaven. In Ezekiel chapter 1, he gets this wild vision. Remember the prophet is in Babylon at the Kebar River? And he sees this throne, this chariot throne that is being lifted up by wheels. And there are creatures. There are four creatures. And Ezekiel said each had the face of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle. Hm.
Fast forward to the book of Revelation chapter 4, there are 24 elders, and there are four living creatures. And each creature has a different face in that vision, and they are the same. A lion, an ox, a man, and an eagle. It's interesting, isn't it? It's not by coincidence. It's by design.
When we get to the gospel accounts, we discover there are four separate accounts of the life of Jesus Christ. Why four? Each tells a different story. What story? Well, they tell their unique story. Matthew, for example, is the gospel of the kingdom. He refers to the kingdom more than the other gospels. He talks about Jesus as the fulfillment of Jewish prophecy. He is, according to Matthew, the lion of the tribe of Judah.
When we get to the gospel of Mark, we see a shorter gospel, a rapidly moving gospel. The word immediately is used more than any other of the four gospels. It shows Jesus on the move. Not really resting, but getting work accomplished like a servant, or like an ox, if I can use the analogy, which was a symbol of servitude.
We get to the gospel of Luke, and he gives us the perfect humanity of Jesus, the perfect man. He uses the term the Son of Man more often. And then we get to the gospel of John, and John writes about the Son of God, Jesus in his deity. John says, "these things were written that you might believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and that believing you would have life in his name." That's the eagle. So we have, again, these representations here.
What's more, the numbers are given for the four camps that are around the tabernacle. The largest is Judah on the east. Down in verse 9, you may want to notice there are 186,400 of the fighting men conscripted for army in the first census just in the tribe of Judah. Now, if you were to count up the numbers-- we don't have time to do that, this is, after all, 30,000 feet-- I'm just circling the plane right now a few times around this little camp of Israel as we're looking down-- if you were to look down from 30,000 feet, or from an aerial view, and you were to take all of the different numbers of the tribes and put them out, this is what it would look like from the air.
Can you see that? On the bottom left, that area of Judah has more people than the others. That's numerically what it would look like. It looks like the shape of a what?
Cross. It's just interesting. And I can just see the Holy Spirit smiling, as even this foreshadows what is going to come in the culmination of God's revelation, the cross of Christ. He orchestrated all of this. This is not by coincidence.
Chapter 5 begins the disorganization phase. Chapter 5 begins with them getting ready for marching. But this section ends with meandering. They go from marching to meandering by chapter 25. By the time we get to chapters 7 through 10, we have the order of the march given by the orderings of the offerings that they are to offer in the tabernacle. By the way, chapter 7 is the second longest chapter in the Bible. 89 verses. It's quite laborious to get through. I know, I got through it this week, along with the rest of the book.
We're introduced to a strange guidance system, one that all of us would love if it were offered to us today. We would take it. We would want it. And it's a cloud and a pillar. It's a cloud by day, a pillar of fire by night.
What's interesting about this thing is it seemed to move on its own. That's what it looked like to them. God was moving it, but there were no turn signals with it. There were no brake lights on it. This cloud started moving. And when they started moving, when the cloud started moving, they packed up and they followed the cloud, at night or by day.
Chapter 9, verse 15 we read "now on the day that the tabernacle was raised up, the cloud covered the tabernacle, the tent of the testimony. From evening till morning, it was above the tabernacle, like the appearance of fire." Isn't this cool? You'd never have to question God's will or God's presence. You'd never have to go outside and go, I wonder where I should go today. Nowhere, until that thing moves. And then when that thing moves, you never have to say, I wonder where I should go today. You should follow that.
So you were always assured of the presence of God. And that would be nice. That would be easy. I've got to tell you something, we have something far better. We don't have guidance, we have a guide who lives inside of us. The Holy Spirit is resident inside us. And even though you don't know it or see it, you go, oh, it would be so nice to see it. No, it wouldn't. I mean, so what? That's easy. We live by faith, not by what? Sight. They saw it. We live by faith. But you are guided by God's GPS.
The Holy Spirit lives in you. More than guidance, you have the guide. They had the guidance. "So it was," verse 16, "the cloud covered it by day, the appearance of fire by night. Whenever the cloud was taken up from above the tabernacle after the children of Israel would journey. And in the place where the clouds settled, the children of Israel would pitch their tents. At the command of the Lord, the children of Israel would journey. At the command of the Lord," inferring the command was signaled by the presence and movement of this cloud and fire, "they would camp. As long as the cloud stayed above the tabernacle, they remained encamped."
Now, the Jews call this cloud-- I know you some of you have heard the term. Shout it out if you know it. They call this the [ARAMAIC]. That's how most of us pronounce it. [ARAMAIC] is the correct pronunciation. Impress your friends at dinner tonight after church if you're going to dinner. Talk about the [ARAMAIC]. Cover your mouth when you do it so you don't spoil the dinner or spread your cold around.
[ARAMAIC] is an Aramaic term. Not a Hebrew term, an Aramaic term. It is not found in the Old Testament at all. It is found in the targums commentaries that were written in Aramaic. The [ARAMAIC] is a word that means the residence. God is residing with them.
Must have been incredibly exciting to be in that tent, in your own tent, looking out when that thing begins to move. It's like hot dog, we're on the move. We're going somewhere. We're heading out to that promised land.
It was an adventure. You never know exactly where it's going to go, or how long you're going to be going. Well, how long do we go for, Mom? Don't know. When do we stop? Don't know. Are we turning right or left? Have no idea. It was that kind of an adventure.
Do you know that God has the right to do the same to you today? Doesn't have to tell you what he's going to do. Didn't have to give you a map. In fact, you can want one all you want. You can make a five-year plan and a 10-year plan. Ha, ha, ha. That's a Jewish proverb, by the way. Man makes plans, and God laughs.
Life is an adventure. We never know exactly where or when or how. I think following Christ is the greatest adventure in the world.
There's something about this [ARAMAIC]. It may have only covered the tabernacle, or some think-- and I tend to be among them-- that it centered over the tabernacle and spread out. Why is that important? Well, the desert of Sinai is like living in Phoenix in the summer without air conditioning. So to have a cloud that's centered on the tabernacle and would spread out, that'd be nice. That's a temperature regulator. And at night, the desert can get cold in parts of the year. So to have a fire that would warm it and light it, it's a great system.
Now in chapter 10, verse 11, "it came to pass on the 20th day--" here's where it starts-- "on the 20th day of the second month in the second year, the cloud was taken up from above the tabernacle of the testimony." So this is 20 days after chapter 1. They begin their journey, the book of Journeys. They now begin to leave Mount Sinai and move toward the promised land.
Verse 12, "and the children of Israel set out from the wilderness of Sinai on their journey. Then the cloud settled down in the wilderness of Paran." So when the cloud settles down in the wilderness of Paran, where do you camp that night? In the wilderness of Paran. Right. You get an A on the test.
"So they started out for the first time according to the command of the Lord the hand of Moses." So wow, they're off. Finally, they get moving toward the land. What they don't know is they won't get there for another 38 plus years. It's an 11-day journey. They're not going to get there. They don't know this yet. They're not going to get there for another 38 plus years. Why?
Well, Chapter 11 starts to reveal a problem among them. First one, now when the people-- what'd they do?
Complained. There's a problem. Verse 1, chapter 11. "Now when the people complained." Have you ever heard a complaint? Have you ever known a person who complains? Are you a complainer? When the people complained, it displeased the Lord, for the Lord heard it. And his anger was roused. They complained. Get used to this word. If you read the book of Numbers, it's used a lot.
Why did they complain? What is the source of the problem? Verse 4, "now the mixed multitude who were among them yielded to the intense craving so the children of Israel also wept again and said, who will give us meat to eat?" I want a hamburger. Excuse me, I want a lamb burger. Try Jewish. Not a hamburger. I want a lamb burger. And I want chicken fillets. I want with garlic and stuff. I want what we had in Egypt. All the frills, the cucumbers. I want the Happy Meal.
I don't want this unhappy manna from heaven. Even though it had protein in it. It gave them all the nutrition so that they would not get the diseases that you would get with a diet, typically, of the same thing over and over again. But they didn't like it. They wanted meat. God will answer that prayer by giving them, in the next chapter, quail to eat, more than they can even handle.
But they say, who will give us meat? Now, who is this mixed multitude? It is the product of mixed marriages, Israelites and Egyptians. Apparently, these were the offspring. They had a parent in Egypt and a parent among the children of Israel. They weren't fully Jewish. They weren't fully Egyptian. They had enough Egyptian in them to like Egypt and want that back. They had enough Jewish in them to want to go to Canaan.
But here's what happens, and here's why they complain. They start forgetting how bad it used to be. They start forgetting about their slavery. They have selective memory disorder. You know, it is that way. We look back to the old days, yeah, I remember how cool it was back then. I used to have friends who they were saved like me in that whole Jesus movement era, and I remember one night a couple of them said, gosh, remember how cool it was when we used to, like, party and stuff?
And I turned to him and I said, you've got to be kidding, right? You don't remember some of those parties probably because you were so soused, but I remember picking you up after you vomited. And you're talking about what a great party that was? You have selective memory disorder. We can get that. They got that.
They're so nostalgic talking about the good old days. Listen, the good old days is nothing more than a good imagination and a bad memory mixed together. That's what that is. Because guess what? I bet in the good old days, you complained even then. Once you look for problems, you start missing blessings.
So they complain, and the complaining spreads through the camp. It is contagious, by the way. Doubt and complaint are contagious. It spreads through the camp, even into the very home of Moses himself, with his sister and his brother infected by this complaining virus. Verse 1 of chapter 12, "then Miriam and Aaron--" these are leaders. They have seen the wonders and miracles of God. "Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married." So they're bummed out because who he chose to be his wife. For he had married an Ethiopian woman.
Now, who is this Ethiopian woman? Some think, well, this is his wife, Zipporah. We know that from the Bible, his wife was named Zipporah. Trouble is, she is a Midianite woman. Zipporah was from Midian. That's of Arab descent. This is somebody from Ethiopia, so this is probably the wife he married after the death of Zipporah. The in-laws don't like her all that much. They complain. And it says in verse 2, "and so they said--" here's their complaint-- "has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?"
They've tasted enough of leadership to think, we can be in charge. And it says, "and the Lord heard it." Mark that. Just like before, their complaints, the Lord heard it, the Lord heard it. The microphone is always on. I have a microphone right now, right here. This is me doing it right here. It's kind of fun doing it. And afterwards, I'll turn it off. Have you ever seen or heard of politicians who they don't know the microphone is on after the rally, and they say some things that kind of ruin their reputation? And what we need to realize is that the microphone is always on, in that the Lord always hears what we say and doesn't just sit by idly when we say it. He'll respond to that.
Now, verse 3 is interesting because it says, "now the man Moses was very humble, more than all the men who were on the face of the Earth." Who wrote this book? No comment. But here's the point of this. If God chose Moses-- and he did-- and the people are complaining against Moses-- and they were-- then effectively, who are they complaining against? God. They have to blame God. That's really what they're doing.
God chose him unmistakably, miraculously. In complaining against that chosen leadership, they are complaining against God. Now, David knew better. Later on, King David before he was king was being chased by Saul the king. And when he had the chance to kill him, he wouldn't do it. Remember the story? Because he said he wouldn't touch God's anointed. He had respect for the office. He wasn't a perfect man. He was a sinful man. But David respected the office enough to know you don't touch God's anointed.
Miriam and Aaron did. And they complained. The Lord heard it. And so Miriam, after the shekinah lifts, you look at her and she's white. Looked like she had leprosy. White like snow. Moses, instead of like folding his arms like a lot of us, and they'll go, serves you right, and kind of smiling and watching her get all embarrassed as she goes through the camp looking like an albino, he prayed for her. He prayed that the Lord would heal her. Graciously, he prayed, and the Lord answered his prayer.
Now, in chapter 13, God gives a directive for Moses. Remember, they're making this journey. They've had their first encampment. Now, he has an order. He is to follow chapter 13, verse 1, "the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the children of Israel. From each tribe of their fathers, you shall send a man, every one a leader among them."
The mission was to go out to the land of Canaan from Kadesh Barnea on a reconnaissance mission to determine the nature of the land, the strengths and weaknesses of those who were inhabiting the land. Is the soil good? Is not so good. What's the fruit like? How's farming? Are there cities? Are they big cities, small cities? Do they have walls? Are they unprotected? Are the people big, small? Just give us a rundown on that.
So they were sent out, the 12. One from each tribe, 12 ambassadors went out. Verse 25, chapter 13, "and they returned from spying out the land after 40 days." Go down to verse 27. "Then they told him--" they're back-- "we went to the land where you sent us. It truly flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit."
Between two men, they carried back an enormous bunch of grapes from an area called eshkol by the area of Hebron. Beautiful area down in Judea. They were massive. It took two men to carry this bunch, and they brought it back. If you go to Israel today, you will see cars driving around Israel with a sign on the side, a picture of two men carrying grapes. To this day, that is the symbol of the Ministry of Tourism for the state of Israel. Remembering this reconnaissance mission when they came back and they brought the grapes.
So they had the evidence. They brought the fruit. And now you would think, in this report, everybody's going, yes, hallelujah, hallelujah. Their faith is increasing right about now. You hear this report, you're really jazzed. But the fruit gets offset by fear. Watch this. Verse 28. "Nevertheless, the people who dwell in the land," their report continues, "are strong. The cities are fortified and very large. Moreover, we saw the descendants of Anak." The Anakeem. Large people. Gigantic people.
Verse 30. "Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it. 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."
Now, I have a question to ask you right here. Is the majority always right? Now, remember that. We live in a country, majority rules. It does. Majority rules. We live in a country that's a democracy. The majority always rules. But is the majority always right? No. They may rule, but they may be wrong in their rule.
The majority was wrong, in this case. And two of the people said, we can do it. You know, faith is contagious, but so is fear. So be around people who are filled with faith, not people who are filled with fear, or people who are filled with complaining. If you're around those people, you'll get fearful, you'll tend to complain, you'll get angry. You get narrow, you get bitter. Hang out with people who believe God can do great things. That also is contagious.
Verse 32, "and they gave the--" life's just too short to hang around grumpy people. Verse 32, "and they gave the children of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, the land through which we have gone as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people whom we saw are men of great stature. There we saw the giants. The descendants of Anak from the giants." Now, they already said that, but it's like, hey, did you know there's giants here? Yeah, you told us. Well, they're big. You know, that's just like first and foremost in their little noodle.
And look at verse 33, then. "And we were like grasshoppers in our own sight." And what's the last little phrase? "And so we were in their sight." Now, they're wrong. The first is right, the second is wrong. "We are like grasshoppers in our sight," that part is right. "And we were in their sight," that part is wrong. And I'll show you why. Hold onto that thought.
It all depends on how you look at things. They said, "we're like grasshoppers in our own sight." It all depends how you look at it. Joshua and Caleb were looking at a big God. The 10 spies were looking at big giants, big men, big God. When you look at a big God, compared to God, they're little guys. Who what? So what?
But if you leave God out of it, then on Earth, it's huge. It's insurmountable. You can't overcome it. It's too big. It's too hard. Depends on how you evaluate life.
Now, I said the first part is right, the second part is wrong. Notice that he says "we were grasshoppers in their sight." That was wrong. How do we know that? Well, 38 years, 10 months later, they get to the edge of the Jordan River. Moses dies. Next leader is Joshua. Joshua brings them through. The first city they go to is Jericho. There is a lady there who's a prostitute named Rahab. You know your Bible so well. You should just give the Bible study.
So Rahab is there. Takes two spies. Moses sent 12 spies. Joshua sent two spies. Why did he send two? Because who cares about the 10? They brought a bad report. All you need is two good ones, so just send two. So he sends two spies. They talk to Rahab, and Rahab tells them the truth. Listen to what Rahab says. "You know, the fear of you Israelis has fallen upon all of us. Our hearts are melting in terror because of you."
That's what they were really thinking. The giants and the inhabitants of Canaan were fearful at the children of Israel. Children of Israel thought it's the other way around. We're fearful because they're so big. God put terror in the hearts of the enemies. Never underestimate what God can do. When you face an enemy and you think that giant is so big, those people are so huge, this is a big trial, I can't handle it, you don't know what God put in the heart of the other guy. And God did that here. They just didn't know it.
Chapter 14. After the report comes back, it's time to make a decision. So it goes out for a vote, interestingly enough. All in favor of going into the promised land? Two. All in favor of staying back here and just, like, hanging out in the dirt? 10. Verse 1, "so all the congregation lifted up their voices and cried, and the people wept that night. And the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron." Complained, there's that word again. "And the whole congregation said to them, if only we had died in the land of Egypt, or if only we had died in this wilderness." And if I were Moses, I would have said, amen. Wish that would have happened. Be a whole lot easier.
"Why has the Lord brought us to this land to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should become victims?" This is a person of faith now using your kids as a scapegoat for your lack of faith. "Would it not be better for us to return to Egypt? So they said to one another, let's select a leader and return to Egypt."
Now, they pretend to be thinking about the safety of their kids. Actually, their complaint is a reflection on God. What they're saying is God doesn't care about our kids. That's what the complaint really says. God won't take care of our children. God won't take care of my-- he didn't care about our kids. Now they're blaming Moses for it.
So they complain because their children are vulnerable. Question, because you know your Bible so well, who entered the land? Their kids. Not them. They're all going to die in the wilderness. The kids that they're so worried about because God doesn't care, they're the ones that are going to get the land. Old folks sat there, cried, and died.
So what's the result of all this? The result is judgment, verse 27. "God said, how long shall I bear with this evil congregation who complaint against me?" God takes it personally. "I have heard the complaints, which the children of Israel make against me. Say to them, Mo--" he's talking to Moses here-- "as I live, says the Lord, just as you have spoken in my hearing, so I will do to you. The carcasses of you who have complained against me shall fall in the wilderness. All of you who are numbered according to your entire number, from 20 years old and above. Except for Caleb, the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua, the son of Nun, you shall by no means enter the land which I swore I would make you dwell in."
If only we would have died in the desert. God said, I'm writing that down. That's what's going to happen to you. You got your prayer answered. Put a name in under that, and you'll die. Now, we forget what we ought to remember and we remember what we ought to forget. Have you found that to be true? We forget the things that we should be recounting and recalling and believing. We forget them. But we remember the things we should be forgetting.
Psalm 103, the psalm that said, "bless the Lord, oh my soul, and all that is within me. Bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, oh my soul, and forget not all his benefits." He's talking to his soul. He's counseling himself. Soul, down there, I don't want you ever to forget how good God is. I don't want you ever to let go of God's faithfulness in keeping his promises. Bless the Lord. Oh, but Skip, it's so much more fun to complain.
Now, the last part of the book, the final 22 chapters, shows them going around in circles for 38 years. We're just going to look at a couple of things. Chapter 15, verse 1, "then the Lord spoke to Moses, speak to the children of Israel. Say to them, when you have come into the land you are to inhabit, which I am giving you--" now just stop right there. Notice what God said to this group of complainers that he is going to kill in the wilderness. He doesn't say if you enter the land, he still gives them the assurance that he'll keep his promise with their children. New generation.
But he says, and it's wonderful, not if, but when. You're going to make it. When you have come into the land you are to inhabit. Now, from chapter 15 on, the next few chapters, laws are given. Many of the laws that were written in the other books that we have already covered. God is reinforcing those laws. He's giving them to a new generation.
Chapters 16 through 19 speaks about the priesthood, four incidents that regard the priesthood, including one I want to just briefly touch on, a rebellion. Surprise you? More complaining, more rebellion. This time, a Levite named Cora and two Rubinites by the name of Dathan and Abiram and 248 of their buddies, chapter 16, verse 2, "they rose up before Moses with some of the children of Israel, 250 leaders of the congregation, representatives of the congregation, men of renown. They gathered together against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, you take too much upon yourselves." In other words, we think that you, as a single leader, have way too much authority. There's too much authority in one man. You take too much upon yourself. For all the congregation is holy, every one of them. And the Lord is among them. Why, then, do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?
So Moses hears it and says, OK, let's have a showdown at the OK Corral tomorrow morning. Verse 31 tells us what happens. Let me give you a little bit of background. He says, tell you what. You don't think that I'm the leader. You think you ought to be the leader. So let's do this. If you die a normal death, if you just keep going on living, and you live and you live your life, and you die like everybody else dies, and you die a normal death, then God did not speak through me. But if the Lord does a brand-new thing and opens up the earth and swallows you alive, then God spoke through me.
He might have even done that. God wasted no time at all. The earth opened up and swallowed the dissenters and their friends. It says in verse 31, "the ground split apart under them and swallowed them up." Cora was a complainer, but he was much more. He was a poser. He was a poser. He wasn't called by God. He wanted the attention that leaders get. And because they tried to divide the children of Israel, God divided the earth and swallowed up those causing division.
Galatians chapter 6 is the principal be not deceived. God is not mocked. Whatever a man sows, that he shall also reap. Chapter 20, we've just got to just talk about it move on because I want to finish the book. Moses was told by God, because the people needed water, and when they needed water and food, what did they do? They complained. They complained.
So they complain. And God says, go over to the rock. Don't hit it this time, just talk to it. Just have a conversation with the rock. Well, that's kind of strange. So hey, rock, Mo here. Do me a favor, would you? Just give these people water. That's weird.
So what he does, he gets so angry that he beats the rock. He hits it. Must we smite this rock and bring water forth from you? Who's we? You're not doing anything. God is doing the miracle. But he takes it very personally, misrepresents God. Because of that stunt, God says, I'm going to take you to a mountain overlooking the promised land, but you're going to die outside of it. You're not going to go into it. That's chapter 20.
Chapter 21 is also an incident I just have to bring up because it's mentioned in the New Testament. In chapter 21, life gets rough. And so what do the people do? Complain. You should all know the answer to that by now. They do this frequently. So what do they do? They complain. And so when they complain, this time God sends venomous snakes through the camp to bite them and kill them.
So that's not good because 24,000 die. So Moses prays to God. God says, you want to fix this? Get a pole and put a serpent on it, a brass serpent on that pole. Raise it up, and tell people to look at it. And if they look at it, they'll live. Well, that didn't make any medical sense, but it makes theological sense because it was a look of faith. It seemed dumb to look at something like that and believe that that was going to heal you of poisonous venom that is circulating through your bloodstream, but it worked. It was a look of faith. It healed them.
Jesus said, as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, the Son of Man will be lifted up. The same look of faith is the same look of faith at this time Christ on the cross that saves people. It's not by our own works. It might not-- people even ask, how does that make sense, believing in a guy who died on a cross 2,000 years ago will get you to heaven? I know it sounds weird, but it works. It works. It saves people. God has chosen by the foolishness of the gospel preached. And it's the gospel of looking at the cross by faith that saves. That's chapter 21.
Chapter 22 through 25 is bizarre, for a number of reasons. It's about a guy named Balaam, or Balaam. But I'm going to say Balaam because that's what everybody says. Why is it weird? Balaam is weird. Balaam is mentioned in the Bible 59 times. There are several chapters here. In fact, there is more said of Balaam in the Bible than Mary, the mother of Jesus, or any of the apostles of Christ. That's weird.
Who was he? He was a Mesopotamian baru. B-A-R-U, if you're taking notes. A Mesopotamian baru. Mesopotamia is the area he was from, like ancient Chaldea. A baru is an Akkadian word that means a priest, an oracle speaking priest. A diviner. He read omens and declared truths based on omens that he read.
Well, there was a local king bummed out that the children of Israel were so large and moving through the area. So his name was Balak. And he called Balaam from Mesopotamia to come and do his magic and curse them. So Balaam sets off on a donkey, apparently with the wrong motivation. The donkey sees an angel of the Lord in the path. Most of you know this story. Angel stands in the path. The donkey sees it, has enough sense to veer off the path. You don't mess with an angel with a sword. You just don't do that. Donkey knew that. Figured it out. Stopped.
Balaam got mad, beat the donkey. He did it again, beat the donkey. Did it again, beat the donkey. This time, the donkey speaks to Balaam. Miraculously God-- now, let me ask a question. Any of you here remember the show on television-- I'm giving away my age, but some of you remember the show Mr. Ed? How many of-- I want to see hands. God bless you all. Wasn't that a great show?
So Mr. Ed was this talking horse, and his owner was Wilbur. And he would come into the barn and "Wilbur." Right? Mr. Ed , I love that. So this is like the Old Testament Mr. Ed, except he's not talking to Wilbur. So chapter 22, verse 28, "then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam-- this is a miracle, obviously. The donkey says, articulating in human language, "what have I done to you that you have struck me these three times? And Balaam said to the donkey."
This is Wilbur talking to Ed. "Because you have abused me. I wish there was a sword in my hand, for now I would kill you. And the donkey said to Balaam--" they're having a conversation now-- "am I not your donkey on which you have ridden ever since I became yours to this day? Was I ever disposed doing this to you? And he said no." It's amazing that a donkey speaks. It's more amazing that the dude talks back to the donkey.
You know, we'd be going, wait a minute, donkeys can't talk. You know what's even more amazing? We talk to our pets all the time. You can't really blame this guy. You do it, and you think they understand you.
Now, I just have to bring something up before we move on from Balaam and the donkey. And I love this because, as one who is called to stand in a place of biblical authority and speak God's word, the Lord uses this story for my sake to remind me that those of us who speak for God should not get too puffed up. I speak for God. So? So did a donkey. It's good for any preacher to read this story.
Chapter 2, verse 41. "So it was the next day that Balak took Balaam, brought him to the high places of Baal--" baal worship, Old Testament, false God, from the heights-- "that from there he might observe, look down on, see the extent of the people." So Balaam looking down would see a cross. He would see the covenant people of God in the tabernacle with the shekinah the cloud and the fire. They're under God's covenant.
Chapter 23, verse 8. By the way, he gives several oracles, three main ones, several of them, though, verse 8 of chapter 23, he says to Balak, "how can I curse whom God has not cursed? And how shall I denounce whom the Lord has not denounced?" And then chapter 24, verse 5, he says, "how lovely are your tents, oh Jacob. Your dwellings, oh Israel, like the valleys that stretch out, like gardens by the riverside, like aloe plants by the Lord, like cedars beside the waters." He is unable to curse the children of Israel. He can only speak blessing.
By the time we get to the next chapter, Balaam has said this to Balak. Look, can't curse these people because God has blessed them. You heard me. God restrained me from cursing them. But you could do something where I don't have to curse them. God will curse them.
Send your women into the camp to seduce them, these young, pretty priestesses, to bring idols with them for worship, to lay down with them and have sexual relations. You just entice these young men with your women, and during that act, you bring out that worship and you make sure that those men bow down and pray to that idol. So he caused a stumbling block, the Bible later on says, for the children of Israel by this kind of counsel.
Chapter 26, verse 1, we come to the final phase of it. 26 through 36 is reorganizations, the brand-new generation. Chapter 26, verse 1, "and it came to pass after the plague." Last chapter, plague killed 24,000 people. "That the Lord spoke to Moses and Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest, saying, take a census of all the congregation of the children of Israel 20 years old and above by their fathers' houses who are able to go to war in Israel." So this is the second census. Everyone 19 years old and below is included in this census because everyone 20 years old and above has died in the wilderness. It's time for a new generation to be numbered.
The original number of the census was 603,550. Of that group, only two are left, Joshua and Caleb. The new census, chapter 26, verse 51, is 601,730, a loss, a net loss, a generational loss of 1,820 people. Statisticians would call this zero population growth. That's what all that murmuring and complaining and wandering has brought.
Chapter 31 through 36, the land is apportioned to the children of Israel. 2 and 1/2 tribes want to stay on the east. Moses says you can, as long as you go over to the other side, help the rest of the tribe settle their land, and then come back to your land.
Chapter 33, if you just look at it, you notice a whole bunch of names of places. It's a journey log of all the places they went and camped. And so that's where the cloud stopped and the pillar stopped, and then moved on and stopped and stopped during those wanderings where they camped. Chapter 34 are the boundaries given to the land. Four boundaries, north, south, east, and west.
Chapter 34, verse 13, Moses commanded the children of Israel, saying "this is the land which you shall inherit by lot, which the Lord has commanded to give to the nine tribes and to the half tribe." So there were 12 tribes, but some settled east and the rest settled west. The book ends with that new generation at the brink of the Jordan River on the plains of Moab overlooking Jericho.
Look at chapter 36, verse 13. And we will close with this verse. "These are the commandments and the judgments which the Lord commanded the children of Israel by the hand of Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan, across from Jericho." This is where their pilgrimage ended them.
Let me close with this thought. Every Christian is on a journey, a pilgrimage. Right? We make our journey through life. We are on a journey toward maturity, toward sanctification, toward service in the Lord. For some of us, it's been a pleasurable journey, but not for most of us. I think that, for most of us, we would say the journey has been marked by pain, suffering, discouragement, disillusionment, struggle. Right? Sometimes we feel like we're wandering. We read a book about a group of people who knew better, but didn't live better.
So as we make our journey through this life toward maturity and service and sanctification, what should we learn? Let me give you three quick takeaways really quick. Number one, complaining is contagious. We already discussed that. Complaining is contagious. You will ruin the whole scene if you come in and start complaining. It's contagious. It will spread.
Number two, doubting is disastrous. It was for them. Their corpses, it says in this book, shall fall in the wilderness. Can I just say, if you are bent on doing your own thing and going your own way and not letting God in, it's going to hurt a lot more than any trouble on a journey toward heaven. The Bible says, in Proverbs 29, he was often rebuked and hardens his neck, will suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy. Doubting is disastrous.
Here's the final point. Wandering-- or excuse me, walking is better than wandering. An 11 days walk would be a whole lot better than 38 months-- 38 years, 10 months, total of 40 years wandering in the wilderness. They turned and an 11-day dream into a 40-year nightmare. Walking is better than wandering.
It's always better to walk by faith than to wander by fear. If you're facing something tonight, this week, this month, it seems so big, the diagnosis seems bleak, the decision you heard from a spouse seems horrible, don't go back. Go forward. Walk forward. Walk by faith. Walk. Keep walking. Keep believing. Keep trusting. And watch what God is going to do. He's going to do something. The story isn't over yet, but don't wallow in the wilderness and wander for months and years. Keep walking. God has good things for you.
Father, we want to thank you for this book. And Lord, we do applaud because we're applauding you and your work in our lives. And I pray for anyone who maybe has been hardening their hearts against you and not letting you in to their lives, that they would put an end to that, stop that, and invite Christ to be the reigning king supreme of their present and their future, because Jesus took care of our past at the cross. We look to that cross by faith, and we pray that that faith would take us into the promised land. In Jesus' name, amen.
We hope you enjoyed this message from Skip Heitzig of Calvary Church. For more resources, visit calvarynm.church. Thank you for joining us for this teaching from The Bible from 30,000 Feet.