Sunday, April 11, 2010

Old Testament Lesson #15 "Look to God and Live"

(Numbers 11-14; 21:1-9)


The name of the Book of Numbers is a reference to a census of the people.  This lesson tells about how the Lord took His census among the children of Israel, separating out those who were on His side from the faithless.

It is also a lesson about "chainbreakers."  (Teaching Tip: Have the front of the room decorated with gray or black paper chains.)  In Exodus 20:5; 34:7; Numbers 14:18; and Deuteronomy 5:9 the Lord says that He answers the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Him.  The children of Israel were an exception to this rule.  They changed from idolatrous slavery to faithful freedom in only one generation.  They were what we call "chainbreakers."


The children of Israel were freed from bondage by the Lord through Moses and Aaron, but that first generation of free men carried their slavery with them through the wilderness.  They dragged heavy spiritual chains:  fear and criticism and ingratitude.  After 400 years of slavery, they were so used to having their lives dictated to them, and being physically taken care of by their masters that freedom was very frightening.


(Teaching Tip:  Hand out the scriptures quoted in each event to class members at the beginning of class.  As a teacher, read aloud the first part of each of the following events, ask the class member to read the Israelites' statement at the appropriate time, then read the last part.)

At The Red Sea.  The armies of Egypt were in hot pursuit.  The Israelites were backed up against the Red Sea.
"Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness?  Wherefore hast thou dealt thus with us, to carry us forth out of Egypt?  Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians?  For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness"  (Exo. 14:11-12). 
The Lord parted the sea for them, and brought it down upon the Egyptians, completely destroying their army.

At Marah.  After three days of no water, they found poisoned water at Marah. 
"And the people murmured against Moses, saying, 'What shall we drink?" (Exo. 15:24)
The Lord instructed Moses to cast a particular tree into the water, which purified it.  Then, at their next stop, they found an oasis of 70 palm trees and 12 wells of water.

In the Wilderness of Sin.  The Israelites were starving.
"Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger" (Exo. 16:3).
The Lord sent manna from heaven, which was some type of grain that they could grind into flour and cook in a variety of ways.  He also sent quail.  His commandment was that they honor the Sabbath by not gathering on that day, but some went out anyway on the Sabbath, and found nothing.

At Rephidim.  Once again, they were without water.
"Give us water to drink.  Where is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?" (Exo. 17:2-3)
They were almost to the point of stoning Moses.  The Lord had Moses smite the rock in Horeb (the site of the temple mountain, Sinai) and a spring flowed from it.

At Mt. Sinai.  The Israelites became afraid when Moses went into the mountain for his 40 days' instruction of the Lord in their behalf.
The people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, 'Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we know not what is become of him" (Exo. 32:1).
They did not have the faith to believe in a God they could not see, once they thought Moses was dead, so they asked for an idol as reassurance.  The Lord withheld from them the greater law which he had given to Moses, and Moses asked, "Who is on the Lord's side?"  The Levites responded in the positive, and they then put to death 3,000 men who were rebellious.  Then Moses went back up into the mountain to offer an atonement for their sin.  There is no mention that the children of Israel asked forgiveness--just mention that Moses asked it in their behalf.

At Taberah.  The people complained.  (No explanation of why or what about.)  The Lord sent fire among them and burned a number of the camp.

At Kilbroth:  The children of Israel craved meat and vegetables.
"Who shall give us flesh to eat?  We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick; But now our soul is dried away; there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes" (Num. 11:4-6).
Moses petitioned the Lord because his burden of carrying the people was so heavy.  The Lord told him to set apart 70 more priesthood holders to help him.  As for the Israelites' complaint, he sent quail down among them, enough, he told them, to eat for a month.  All night long and all day long, the Israelites greedily gathered the quail (even though the Lord had said He would send it for a month).  The quail became diseased and the people who ate it suffered a swift and deadly illness.

At Hazeroth.  Miriam and Aaron criticized Moses because he married a Cushite.  They claimed to be of equal authority to him, and therefore able to condemn him.
"Hath the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses?  Hath he not spoken also by us?"  And the Lord heard it (Num. 12:2).
The Lord sent leprosy upon Miriam and required her to be quarantined outside the camp for seven days, at which time He healed her.

At the Borders of Canaan.  After the scouts returned from testing out the land for 40 days, ten of them falsely reported that the inhabitants were too great to conquer and that the land was barren, both of these statements in direct opposition to what the Lord had consistently said regarding the Land of Canaan, and despite their finding a cluster of grapes so huge it had to be carried on a rod between two men.  Two faithful scouts gave a positive report, but the Israelites chose to believe the ten.
And all the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night.  And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron: and the whole congregation said unto them, "Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt!  Or would God we had died in the wilderness!  And wherefore hath the Lord brought us unto this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey?  Were it not better for us to return into Egypt?"  And they said one to another, "Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt" (Num. 13:31-14:4).
Moses and Aaron fell on their faces, "an act of contrition and entreaty [to the Lord], in hopes of avoiding terrible consequences" (Harper-Collins Study Bible). When Caleb and Joshua, the two positive scouts, tried to convince them that they could easily conquer and that the land was wonderful, they started to stone them.  Only the appearance of the glory of the Lord at the Tabernacle stopped them.  The Lord told Moses that this generation would have to wander in the wilderness for 40 years, and that none of them but Joshua and Caleb would be allowed to enter the Promised Land.  (See "The Importance of the Number 40 in the Bible.")  Their little children would survive the wilderness, despite their parents' fears, and be allowed entry into the land.  All the men 20 years and older were killed by the Lord in a plague, including the ten scouts who slandered the Promised Land.

At the Mountain of the Canaanites.  The Israelites said they were repentant and that they would now go and conquer the Canaanites.  All the soldiers must have been of the younger generation, since all men over 20 had been killed by the plague, although who knows how much time had lapsed between the two events.  Moses condemned them and counseled them not to go to war because the Lord would not back them.  They ignored his command, and were badly beaten.

At the Uprising of Korah and Company.  Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and 250 Levite princes defied Moses' authority.
"They gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them, 'Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them: Where then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the Lord?  Is it a small thing that thou hast brought us up out of a land that floweth with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, except thou make thyself altogether a prince over us?  Moreover thou hast not brought us into a land that floweth with milk and honey, or given us inheritance of fields and vineyards" (Num. 16:3, 13-14).
Moses fell on his face.  He suggested that the Lord might show Moses' authority by swallowing them up with an earthquake.  An earthquake occurred immediately, and the three men and their kin were crushed in the crevice.  Then fire from the Lord burned the other 250 to death.

After the Earthquake.  The people accused Moses and Aaron of murder.
"Ye have killed the people of the Lord" (Num. 16:41).
The Lord told Moses He would consume them all.  Moses and Aaron fell to their faces.  Moses made Aaron run and take a censer from the tabernacle and hold it up as an atonement for the people's sins.  A plague had already begun.  Where he stood amid the congregation, the plague stopped, but 14,700 people were killed already.

At the Desert of Zin.  Once again, there was no water.  Miriam died and was buried there.  (She was well over 100 by this time.)
"Would God that we had died when our brethren died before the Lord!  And why have ye brought up the congregation of the Lord into this wilderness, that we and our cattle should die there?  And wherefore have ye made us to come up out of Egypt, to bring us in unto this evil place?  It is no place of seed, or of figs, or of vines, or of pomegranates; neither is there any water to drink" (Num. 20:3-5).
Moses and Aaron once more fell on their faces.  The Lord had Moses call water out of a rock again.  Moses by this time was probably very annoyed by the people's lack of trust in his authority, and understandably so.  This once he failed to give the credit to the Lord, and the Lord said that therefore Moses and Aaron would be denied entrance into the Land of Canaan.  This is a message:  No matter how great you are, nothing you do on your own authority will suffice.  You can only enter the Promised Land on the merits of Christ.

On the Journey Around Edom.  At this point, we see a change begin to take place.  Many of the original slaves were dead, if not by old age, then by the curses of the Lord.  King Arad, the Canaanite, came against Israel and fought them and took prisoners.  Rather than fearing to fight the Canaanites, or fighting them on their own, this generation covenanted with the Lord that they would utterly destroy the Canaanites as He had commanded their parents to do, if He would help.  And they did it.  After destroying the Canaanites at Hormah, they journeyed around Edom, a very difficult path.  They became discouraged and once again complained.
"Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?  For there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread?" (Num. 21:5)
They complained against God and Moses, just as they had learned to do from their parents.  The Lord sent poisonous serpents to bite them and many died.  But this generation acknowledged their guilt, and came to Moses and confessed, "We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord, and against thee."  They asked Moses to ask the Lord to take away the serpents.  The Lord told Moses to put up a serpent, as an effigy of Christ.  Rather than healing them as a group through an act of their priesthood leader, as He had done after the earthquake, this time the Lord required an individual act of faith in the atonement of Christ.  Each person had to have the faith to look upon the serpent to be healed.  Therefore, the Lord was able to select all those who exercised faith in Christ to remain alive to enter the Promised Land.

At Beer.  Now when they needed water, there is no mention that they complained of the thirst, or begged to go back to Egypt, or cursed Moses.  The Lord saw their need and freely gave water to them.  The Israelites sang in gratitude and rejoicing for the water they fully expected to receive.  The "nobles" among them dug the well themselves, following the instructions of Moses.  From this point on, the strength of the Lord was with them, and they conquered everywhere they went, until they achieved residence in the Promised Land.


When the Israelites left Egypt, there were 600,000 men, or heads of households.  After the lack of faith displayed by the Israelites repeatedly, the Lord said that those unfaithful people would not be allowed to enter the Promised Land.  So they had to wander through the wilderness, while all of them were tried and tested, and a whole generation of them died, and many more as well, before the promise of the Lord was realized.  This was a pretty hard way of separating the sheep from the goats, but it was necessary.  40 years later, as the children of Israel entered the Promised Land, the census count revealed almost no generational growth:  601,730.  The purpose of the wandering had not been to increase the size of the nation, but to improve upon the quality of its faith.  (In a very interesting article, the Old Testament Institute Manual states that many numbers in the Old Testament have been translated to be much too large, including this one.  The authors of the manual believe the number of Israelites to have been around 72,000.  However that does not change the point: that the number entering the promised land was about the same number that left Egypt.)


From the 40-year efforts of Moses and the Lord to make the children of Israel a truly free people, we learn that a certain blame for sin can be placed on the environment (slavery in Egypt), or upbringing (idolatrous parents)--things over which one has no control.  Children are very prone to commit the same types of sins as their parents did (criticism of Church authority, discontent with the blessings the Lord has given, memory loss relating to miracles).  But we also learn that the chains of sin or abuse or wrong teaching can be broken by:

1) recognizing the sin as a sin and repenting of it (Num. 21:7);
2) seeking the counsel of priesthood leadership and following it (Num. 21:9);
3) looking to Christ for healing (Num. 21:9);
4) truly changing and remaining on the Lord's side, by digging for Living Water, expressing faith and gratitude to the Lord even before blessings are received, and following the direction of the prophet (Num. 21:17-18).

Although the iniquities of the rebellious can carry to the third and fourth generations (Exo. 20:5), when the rebellious decide to change, "know therefore that the Lord thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations" (Deut. 7:9).

As for Moses, he was blessed to be translated straight out of the temple mount into the heavenly Promised Land (Deut. 32:50) after helping fit his people for their earthly Promised Land.  (Although the Bible says he died,  Deut. 34:6 JST and Alma 45:19 both say he was "taken unto the Lord," or translated.)  He was spared the battles that ensued when conquering the Land of Canaan.  At his death, he was honored and revered by this second generation.  "And the children of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab 30 days [the meaning of the Hebrew number 30 is dedication]: so the days of weeping and mourning for Moses were ended.  And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom; for Moses had laid his hands upon him: and the children of Israel hearkened unto him, and did as the Lord commanded Moses.  And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face" (Deut. 34:8-10).


Michaela Stephens said...

This is a great summary. It really does an excellent job of showing where the problems were, bringing it home, and showing how to escape the sad cycle. Great job on this post.

Nancy Wyatt Jensen said...

Thanks, Michaela.

Unknown said...

You rock the house at teaching the Old Testament principles and making them relevant today. I love it. Keep posting! So useful and powerful!

Heather Madder

Nancy Wyatt Jensen said...

Heather, that made me laugh out loud! I've never been told I "rock the house" before; I love it! Thanks for your enthusiasm.

Unknown said...

Wow! I love this and how it lays it out so clearly. Man the patience of Moses with those Isrealites gives me hope with my own complaining children.

Thank you so much for your study and knowledge.

Jamie Sagers
Hyrum, UT