Life of Moses
Grief and Justice…
Introduction…When someone commits an egregious act or sin, how does one balance mercy and forgiveness with truth and justice? Though this might seem like a simple question, it is far from that. Observe how both the LORD and Moses wrestle with it, each on their own terms. Can you see both the mercy and the justice? Have you experienced one of these moments lately? How does Christ’s death, as well as the Spirit’s conviction and discipline address both these issues for us as God’s children (for help, read Hebrews 10:19-12:13). Is God both merciful and just with his children? Now, for the real kicker, how might this affect our relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ?
Teacher’s Note: You might want to briefly review what has just occurred. Remember the 12 spies, one from each tribe has just returned. While Joshua and Caleb, believing God, fight to take the land, the other ten persuade the nation that taking their rightful inheritance would be too risky. Panicked that they have come all this way from Egypt for nothing, the nation wants to stone its leadership. God, feeling utter contempt, seeks to destroy Israel and renew his promises to the line of Moses.
The third book of the Old Testament and the OT Law, the book of Numbers, gets it title from a census, by tribes, of the Children of Israel, which begins the book. Ultimately, Numbers takes the Children of Israel, under Moses’ leadership, from the Sinai Penisula to the Promise Land. Along the way there are some dramatic plot twists…
Along with some of the more pivotal movements of the OT Law, including…
• Beginning with Genesis (Beginnings), the story of Creation, the First Murder, the Flood and the Construction of the Tower of Babel (Gen. 1-11)…
• Yahweh God’s choosing to bestow his magnificent blessings through the biblical patriarchs (Gen. 12-50).
• beginning with Abraham (the father of nations),
• his son—Isaac–and
• Isaac’s son–Jacob (or Israel) and
• Jacob’s twelve sons and their descendents…who will, while exiled in Egypt for over 400 years, eventually become the 12 tribes of Israel…
• Then beginning in Exodus (A Way Out), the story of Moses, including…
• Yahweh God’s calling of Moses at the Burning Bush to lead Israel out of Egyptian slavery…
• the Ten Plagues upon Egypt that Yahweh God uses to break Egypt’s grip of the Children of Israel…
• particularly, the last and most devastating Passover plague
• Yahweh God’s parting of the Red Sea to deliver Israel from Pharaoh’s pursing chariots, then
• Yahweh God returning of the Red Sea’s waters to where they were before in so doing, drown Pharoah’s charioteers…
• Moses’ return to Mt. Sinai where he was first called by God…
• Israel’s entering into a covenant relationship with Yahweh God through the Law…
• Israel’s immediate breaking of her covenant when she constructs and worships a golden calf…
• Both Yahweh’s just discipline and his gracious mercy after Israel’s disobedience…
• (And now, beginning with the Book of Numbers)
…the story of Israel’s failure at Kadesh Barnea (Num. 13) to boldly claim and take what had been promised to her—her Promise Lands—forms yet another major plot development…
…for forty years Israel will pay for her tragic indecisiveness. Two generations of Israelites will die off before the nation is allowed a second chance at claiming her Promised inheritance.
Read Passage several times…
13 Moses said to the LORD, “Then the Egyptians will hear about it! By your power you brought these people up from among them.
That God destroyed the Israelites? That they died in the wilderness?
v. 12 I will strike them (the children of Israel) down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you (Moses) into a nation greater and stronger than they.”
14 And they will tell the inhabitants of this land about it. They have already heard that you, O LORD, are with these people and that you, O LORD, have been seen face to face, that your cloud stays over them, and that you go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.
That the inhabitants of the land that they had been about to conquer, had they not balked to do just that, might here would hear from the Egyptians how Israel finally failed in the desert?
15 If you put these people to death all AT ALL ONE TIME the nations who have heard this report about you will say,
Interesting to note that Moses makes a point of the Israelites being destroyed all at once as opposed to be gradually wiped out generationally, which is exactly what will take place, and not just one generation, but two…
16 `The LORD was not able to bring these people into the land he promised them on oath; so he slaughtered them in the desert.’
In other words, YOU, YAHWEH, could not deliver the goods. You could not get them to their Promised Land. This is about your honor, glory and majesty that is at stake here, not Israel’s disobedience in the end. Note: This is the second time that Moses has desperately interceded on behalf of a disobedient Israel. The first occasion was at Mt. Sinai when Yahweh God wanted to destroy them for having built and worshiped the golden calf while Moses was up on the mountain with God receiving their Law.
17 “Now may the Lord’s strength be displayed, just as you have declared:
18 `The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.’
Moses uses God’s own character to reinforce Moses’ argument that God is both extremely compassionate, while at the same time being just and fully willing to be disciplinary. He is patient, patient, patient, but then his patience runs out, and there is pain to pay for several generations. While the Creator is patient, his glory will not be devalued…
19 In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now.”
Thank God for Israel’s having a mediator, a go-between, in Moses, between her sinful self and her righteous, offended Creator.
20 The LORD replied, “I have forgiven them, as you asked.
That was quick and to the point!
21 Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the LORD fills the whole earth,
Oh, here is where the other shoe drops. These are two sure things: he does live and his glory fills the earth.
22 not one of the men who saw my glory and the miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times–
My patience has run out. It is Spiritually or logically inconceivable that someone could have witnessed my glory and doubt that they would have not witnessed my glory again. No earthly way!
23 not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their forefathers. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it.
Contempt for God’s glory and majesty will not go unpunished!
24 But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it.
But not everyone will be punished. The few…the noble, courageous, obedient few will be honored!
25 Since the Amalekites and Canaanites are living in the valleys, turn back tomorrow and set out toward the desert along the route to the Red Sea. “
A change in plans? Back to the desert? Back towards Egypt? But the Red Sea is both south and west?
(Review of the Most Recent Events…)
• Led explicitly by the fiery cloud (the presence of the LORD), the children of Israel leave Sinai, the place where they tied the marriage knot to their spiritual groom, Yahweh God, experienced their greatest moral failure in constructing another god, the golden calf, were severely disciplined and finally received their law/contract which they will live by in the land they are traveling to. Num 9-10.
• The people begin to complain: first about their hardships, then about their food. The Lord hears both complaints. The first time he sends fire from the sky around the outskirts of camp. The second time he instructs Moses to gather 70 of the leaders from the nation to come before him so that the can place his Spirit upon them as he has done with Moses in order to help him with the burden of leading his people. Num 11.
• By not only giving Israel more than what they want in quail, God disciplines the nation for having complained against his provision and wishing they were back in Egypt. He also chastises them with a plague. Num 11.
• God defends his humble servant, Moses, from an attempted sibling coup when he strickens Moses’ sister, Miriam, with a snow white leprosy and requires her to remain outside the camp for seven days. Num 12.
• It is now time to explore the land; they explore it, but are intimidated by the size of the people. Despite Caleb’s protest they spread their report to the rest of the people. Num 13.
• Despite Caleb and Joshua’s attempts to remind them that God’s will will accomplish what he has promised for them, the disobedient children of Israel, now trusting the majority of spies, grieve the spies’ negative reports, wishes, as a nation, that they were actually dead, seek to stone Moses and Aaron and replace them with a leader that will lead them back to Egypt. God then intervenes and seeks to destroy Israel and bless Moses. Num. 14.
Summary…The LORD accepts Moses’ plea bargain for the nation. He will not destroy them, but those they have repeatedly disobeyed will never into the Land. Only his faithful servant, Caleb, will receive the Promise. Now they are to turn back towards the Sea.
Why? (What truths do I learn about God, man, people, myself, life?)
• God is our protector.
• Just as Israel had one who interceded for them so that God would not destroy them for their sin, so we have one who has interceded on our behalf so that God would not destroy us for our sin in Jesus Christ.
• Perhaps we are too intercede on behalf of others as well.
• God’s love and patience is overwhelming. At the same time he is just and will not leave the guilt unpunished.
The Cross was a demonstration of both God’s Mercy and Justice…
• Just as righteousness has long term effects, so sin’s consequences bleed over into the following generations as well. Our long-term deeds make a difference.
• God does live and his glory does fill the earth.
• Men can be stubbornly stupid, disobedient, selfish, self-centered and short-term in their thinking, fear and memory.
• God will not be dishonored. There will be a price for his dishonor.
• God rewards those who are willing to stand against the crowd and do the right thing.
• God follows through on his word….bottom line. God’s word is his decree…his will.
Thanksgiving…I am alive! Good week; challenging week filled with several “todays” that were indeed made by God and that because they were made by him, that one truth…that they were made by God and God only, caused me to dance and rejoice! One praise…I am witnessing second hand, a Spiritual reconciliation, and that is wonderful!
Struggle…My temptation to lose focus and be discouraged by my seemingly failures or weaknesses as an administrative shepherd.
Truth and Application…I cannot only imagine the failure that Moses must have felt when Israel balked at taking the Promised Land. He had to live with that moment for another forty years. I have had to live with my own for twenty years. I not only feel my own pain and the pain that Moses must have felt, but Yahweh God’s own pain, obviously in an anthropomorphic (viewing God in human terms) sense. We all want things to go so well. No problems. Everyone obedient. But we forget, the struggle is with sin, and that battle never ends. Play the game as dictated. No one fully knows the earthly decrees of the Father for his children’s individual ministries.
Joseph M. Cross
Scripture quotations, unless noted otherwise, are taken from the Holy Bible: New International Version‚ NIV‚ Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984, International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. All rights reserved.