Numbers 14-16; Psalm 44
So far in Numbers we've read as the Israelites made their final preparations to leave Sinai and then set off towards the promised land.
We read as God brought order to the camp just as he brought order to creation. He charges the Levites just as he charges Adam and Eve. We then got a series of seemingly random instructions. Each targeted a different mistake humans made in Genesis 3-9.
From there, we get final preparations. There was like an offering to consecrate the tabernacle, the cleansing of the Levites, and instructions for how to follow the cloud of God and guide the people with trumpets.
We read as Israel set off, established and ordered by God, only to immediately complain. They weren't happy there was no meat. Now that they should know better, God punished them harshly for their rebellion. But it wasn't just the people who complained. Aaron and Miriam, Moses' own brother and sister, challenged whether Moses was really hearing from God.
Then the Israelites arrived in the wilderness of Paran, just outside Canaan. Moses sent 12 spies to check out the land, and 10 of the 12 complain that the land was filled with descendants of the nephilim and they had no chance. Even after all this, the people still don't trust God to provide for them.
The people display their utter lack of trust in God. Rather than believe that he can lead them into victory over the land and its people, they ask why he has brought them to die and begin to choose a new leader among themselves to take them back to Egypt.
This is one step too far and God decides to destroy them. Fortunately, Moses steps in, once again reminding God of his character and appealing to God’s mercy. He chooses not to destroy them but to lay out the punishment that these people won’t enter the promised land.
They will travel the wilderness till they die. Then it will be their children who will enter the promised land. At this, they weep for what they have done and try to go out now and fight the people of the land. But obviously, God is no longer with them.
This is a story of lack of faith and disobedience. The people didn’t believe God would do what he said he would do, and so chose not to do what he told them to do. If we genuinely feel like God has spoken to us about something, we need to trust him and take him at his word, even if it seems impossible or difficult.
We then get a list of new rules that are to be followed “when they come to inhabit the land” (Numbers 15:2). This may seem strange here, but they do serve a simple purpose.
As far as God’s concerned, the Israelites will enter the promise land. It may not be these specific people, but eventually their children will. And to reassure the people of that God gives them some new commandments exclusively for when they do enter in.
But then we get another rebellion from the people. This time, led by Korah, the Levites begin to rebel against Aaron. Just like people challenged Moses’ leadership, these guys now begin to challenge Aaron’s priesthood. We’ve had the people rebel, the spies rebel, even the High Priest rebel. Now we’ve got the Levites rebelling. Every area of Israelite society is rebelling against God.
God brings swift punishment. To the key leaders of this rebellion, he opens up the ground and swallows them. To some of the lesser people involved, Moses gets them to bring their incense burners and come before the Lord.
God then consumes them all in fire and then tells Moses to take the incense burners, melt them down, and create a cover for the altar. This way, every time the people come to bring a sacrifice, they are reminded of the consequences of rebelling against God.
If that wasn’t enough, the people then rebel against Moses, blaming him for the death of the Levites. Once more, Moses has to intercede on behalf of the people. God sends a plague on the people. Aaron makes a sacrifice while Moses runs and stands in between those who are dying and those yet to be infected and the plague stops there.
Three times in today’s reading alone, Moses has prayed to God to save the people three times. In Moses, we see a man of God who stands before God to save those destined to die. When Moses eventually dies, the people we continue to look forward to someone who will be like Moses for them.
This psalm is attributed to the sons of Korah and falls into the category of lament psalm. Specifically, this psalm was recited after the nation had faced a loss in battle.
The psalm alternates between the people and their king as they work through their lament before God. On top of that the psalm is split into three sections; declarations of trust (Psalm 44:1-8), bringing their complaint before God (Psalm 44:9-22), and asking God to intervene (Psalm 44:23-26).
Psalm 44:1-3 - The people remember what God has done
Psalm 44:4 - The king declares God is the ultimate king
Psalm 44:5 - The people declare that it is God they trust
Psalm 44:6 - The king acknowledges he cannot trust in his own might
Psalm 44:7-8 - The people boast in God and give thanks
Psalm 44:9-14 - The people lament their loss
Psalm 44:15-16 - The king declares his shame
Psalm 44:17-22 - The people declare their innocence and commitment to God
Psalm 44:23-26 - Both the people and the king ask God to help them
The people have just lost a battle, but before they bring their complaint before God, they decide to ground themselves in his past faithfulness.
They remind themselves of the stories their ancestors passed down, of when God drove their enemies from the land so they could occupy it, and how it was God’s might not the strength of their swords that won that battle. The king then acknowledges that it is God who is truly the king that leads them out to battle.
The people place their trust in God. Just as it was God that won the battles of their ancestors, it will be God that helps them defeat their enemies now. The king accepts the fact that he cannot trust in his own might to win battles.
The people then remind themselves of times in their own lives where God has rescued them and defeated their enemies. Because of this, they will boast in God and give thanks to him.
Now that the people are grounded in their confidence in God, they move to their complaint. For whatever reason, God has rejected them by allowing their enemies to defeat them this time. Their enemies have looted their wealth and killed their people.
Israel has become a laughing stock amongst the nations, who now mock them. The king speaks from a personal point of view. There is such a sense of shame and disgrace on him, because he was the one that led the people out to battle, only to be defeated.
The people then defend their case before God. They have not been faithless or turned their back on God. They ask God to search them and their hearts, because they are confident in their own innocence.
Emboldened by their complaint, both the people and their king now ask God to intervene. They ask him why he seems to be sleeping or hiding himself from them. Why does he now seem to be okay with oppression? The unspoken statement here is that this doesn’t line up with who God is.
They point once more to their suffering and then ask God to save them.
Anything you think I've missed? Maybe you've got a question that still needs answering. Send me a message over on my Instagram (@brynjoslin). I'd love to talk it through with you some more.