Israel in Paran

Most of us have been on a trip we looked forward to. Leading up to the trip, we packed, planned, and made sure we were prepared. Then comes the time to leave. We set out and go on our way, excited and ready to arrive. However, traffic jams, plane delays, and other things make the actual travel part miserable. We become impatient, tempers flare, and before you know it, if we’re not careful, the trip could be ruined by a conflict due to these circumstances. 

Israel is en route to Paran, and as they neared the area, the people began to complain (Num. 11). After God gave a solution, one might think that all is well. Now, however, there’s discord among the leadership. The High Priest, Aaron, and Moses’ sister, Miriam (a prophetess), begin to oppose Moses’ leadership. Jealousy seeped in among them, and they, first, took issue that Moses was married to an Ethiopian woman. Talk about nitpicking. Of course, when you consider the law and its command not to marry among other nations, we might see why they became frustrated. Nevertheless, rather than staying on point with finding issues in his choice of spouses, they turn to Moses’ leadership (Num. 12:1-2). 

Even more interesting is Numbers 12:3, which has led to the (wise) suggestion that the book was redacted. Otherwise, could we believe that Moses would have said that about himself? No matter, because this was said, God heard it and dealt with the issue, explaining Moses’s special relationship with Him. This resulted in a plague upon Miriam that Moses interceded on her behalf (Num. 12:6-16). 

The challenge to God’s authority figure, Moses, doesn’t end here. As Israel encamps in Paran, spies are sent to scope out Canaan. This isn’t a quick day trip. They spend forty days spying out the land (Num. 13:25). The land itself looked appealing, but it was populated with solid people. Caleb quieted the people and urged them to possess it, but those who went with him deterred the nation (Num. 13:30-33). Caleb and Joshua were the only ones of the spies to demonstrate faith in God’s ability (Num. 14:6-10). 

God, as you might imagine, is tired of Israel’s demeanor. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time they’ve misbehaved either (Num. 14:22), so their punishment is that they will not enter the Promised Land (Num. 14:23). Those who led a rebellion of unfaithfulness suggested returning to Egypt, and God judged them except for Caleb and Joshua because they had faith. After the news that they’d not enter the Promised Land, the people didn’t take this consequence well but did an about-face and mounted an assault to enter the land, but were repelled. 

The rebellion doesn’t stop there. Korah, a Levite, challenges Aaron and Moses’ authority. Everything up to this point occurred in one year, but Korah’s rebellion occurred nineteen years later. This also didn’t end well (Num. 16), so God demonstrated His chosen by causing Aaron’s staff to bud before the entire nation (Num. 17). Afterward, instructions are given regarding the Levites (Num. 18-19). Another nineteen years later, Israel sets out to continue their journey and arrive at Kadesh. Moses’ sister dies and is buried in Kadesh. 

Yet, another issue arises, demanding attention. There’s no water, and, as you might imagine, the Israelites become melodramatic once more, wishing they would die—these people. Moses has a horrible lapse in judgment too. God told Moses to take Aaron’s rod, speak to the rock, and it would give water, but Moses, in anger at the congregation, strikes the rock twice. God isn’t thrilled about this. As a result, Moses is accused of not hallowing the Lord and will not be allowed to enter the Promised Land (Num. 20:10-12).

Reading Numbers

Oxford University is believed to be the world’s second-oldest university. Some records show classes as early as 1096, but the establishment of the university isn’t altogether clear. Around the year 1230, they began appointing a vice-chancellor to run the school. In 2015, after 785 years, the first woman was nominated to be vice-chancellor, Professor Louise Richardson. Given the rise in women’s suffrage in the early twentieth century, and many laws granting women equality in the ’60s and ’70s, you might have thought that this day would have arrived sooner. Yet, as we always say, “better late than never.” Some might say, “That took longer than it should have.” 

When you think about the Book of Numbers, think, “That took longer than it should have.” From Exodus 19 all the way through Numbers 10, Israel is in Sinai. From Sinai to the Promised Land is a two-week journey, but Israel will wander in the wilderness for forty years. It takes longer than it should. The name of this book in Hebrews is not “Numbers,” but bamidbar, which translates to, “In the wilderness.” The book can be broken up into three sections: chapters 1-10 are in Sinai; chapters 13-19 are in Paran; chapters 22-36 are in Moab. The chapters not mentioned in this list are the chapters of their traveling from place to place. 

Why is it called the Book of Numbers? In the opening of the book, God orders that Israel be numbered. He even tells Moses how to organize the people in the camp. God’s presence is central to the people, His dwelling place being in the tabernacle (Num. 2:17). Surrounding him are the Levites and priests, and surrounding them are the rest of the tribes. God’s presence in the center of the nation is meant to convey that He is central to their existence. Over the tabernacle is a cloud indicative of His presence, and when the cloud moves, they move (Num. 9:15-19). The Levites break down and carry the tabernacle and the ark of the covenant (Num. 1:47-53). The ark leads the way to communicate that God leads Israel, and the tribe of Judah follows immediately behind with the other tribes in tow. 

So why did it take longer than it should have? Because Israel followed God, and God hindered them from the Promised Land. This book is about why, and the why, simply answered, is Israel’s unbelief and sin. 

Chapters 1-10

Notice, first, where we are in time. We are two years removed from the Exodus (Num. 1:1). God has Moses organize and number the entire nation, which we can guess took some time. Then, He orders for the special role of the Levites (Num. 3:5-13). From there onward, the Levites as a whole are numbered, and the various heads of the families of the Levites are given their special roles. The sons of Kohath were responsible for carrying the holy furniture of the tabernacle (Num. 4:1-20). The sons of Gershon were to carry the structure of the tabernacle (Num. 4:21-28). The sons of Merari were to carry, if you will, the nuts and bolts of the tabernacle (Num. 4:29-33). Imagine a package arrives for a new desk, but it’s one you have to build. In one bag are the nuts and bolts, then there are the actual parts of the desk, and, finally, the things you put in and on it. This is sort of the division of the Levites as it regarded the tabernacle. They were charged with maintaining the sacred space. 

God gives instructions regarding lepers, restitution, and unfaithful wives (ch. 5). Then, He gives the outline for the law of the Nazarite, a person who wanted to consecrate themselves to God for a specified period. One specific aspect of this vow, among others, was that a Nazarite’s hair was to remain uncut while keeping the vow (e.g. Samson). Aaron is given the word of the Lord as to how he can bless the children of Israel (Num. 6:22-27). Hereafter, the leaders of Israel present offerings to the Lord and they celebrate their second Passover. Afterward, God ordered two silver trumpets, shofars, made to sound to call Israel to relocate and in battle. Then, they leave Sinai. 

Everything seems to be going well. That is until Israel begins to complain only after three days of travel. These people seem to be more of a settled than moving people. They complain because they miss the land of slavery’s food, and they’re sick of manna (Num. 11:4-6). Even Moses becomes exasperated (Num. 11:11-15). Leadership isn’t always pomp and circumstance. The only time many leaders hear from people is when there are complaints. Be sure that you don’t only go to the elders of ministers when you’re unhappy. I’ll tell you now if that’s all you approach me for, it won’t be long before I actually quit listening to you and you’ll lose any effectiveness you may have. Complaining isn’t a spiritual gift, so don’t use it as one. 

God gave Moses aid in seventy elders on whom He gave His Spirit. One man shouldn’t bear the burden alone. Even seventy among the many of Israel is too little, but it’s better than nothing. Then, he listened to the people and promised to give them meat for one month, to the point that they loathed it. How quickly we go from zeal to dissatisfaction. Only because circumstances change and we aren’t as comfortable as we once were. Sometimes following God and His plan takes us out of our comfort zone and makes us move. Israel wasn’t meant to reside at Sinai, and they couldn’t see the forest for the trees. God was taking them to a wonderful land, a place better than where they were and had been. But, getting there was too hard. Don’t be afraid to put in the work. Don’t allow comfort to paralyze you. If it seems or is known to be God’s plan, trust Him and go.

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