Numbers 1:1 The Lord spoke to Moses in the tent of meeting in the Desert of Sinai on the first day of the second month of the second year after the Israelites came out of Egypt.
The book of Numbers was written by Moses for the people of God around 1406 BC. It recounts the failure of God’s people to enter the Promised Land, and the nearly forty years they wandered in the desert. It contains stories of sin, punishment, and repentance—all for our instruction (1 Corinthians 10:11).
Numbers 6:2-3 If a man or woman wants to make a special vow, a vow of dedication to the Lord as a Nazirite, they must abstain from wine.
Service at the tabernacle was restricted to the tribe of Levi (Numbers 1:50), so most Israelites never enjoyed this sacred privilege. But any Israelite who wanted to be uniquely devoted to God could become a Nazirite. That required avoiding anything from the grapevine, not cutting one’s hair, and avoiding contact with the dead (Numbers 6:3-8). The vow was normally temporary, but could also last a lifetime.
The Nazirite vow is not for Christians, however, because Christians do not need a vow to be close to God. We are already close to God through faith in Jesus Christ. [I]n Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near (Ephesians 2:3), wrote Paul.
Furthermore, knowing that we are close to God objectively, will make us want to be close to him subjectively. Come near to God and he will come near to you (James 4:8), wrote James. This does not require a vow, but only humble obedience.
Numbers 11:1 Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the Lord.
God faithfully met the needs of his people, but their lives were not always easy. They should have been thankful and content, but instead they often complained. As a result, fire from God burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp (Numbers 11:1b). From this we learn that chronic complaining can be offensive to God.
But complaining to God is not always offensive. Some of the Psalms contain complaints, but they usually end with praise (Psalm 13, Psalm 22, Psalm 71). God wants to hear our concerns, but he also wants us to be thankful. The happiest people are not those with the fewest problems, but those who trust in God.
The air-conditioning went out at a Christian youth conference where thousands had gathered for several days. It was blistering hot but the leadership found a solution. They hung a banner over the stage that read: You cannot make it hot enough for me to complain. Everyone adjusted their attitude, and the conference was a success.
Numbers 12:1-2 Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses . . . . Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? they asked. Hasn’t he also spoken through us?
God’s people often complained against Moses, but the complaints of Miriam and Aaron were more serious. Aaron was the high priest (Exodus 28:1), and Miriam was a prophet (Exodus 15:20). If they undermined Moses’ leadership, the whole nation might die in the desert. Miriam was probably most at fault, since God struck her with leprosy. But Moses prayed for her, and she was restored after seven days.
Jesus also faced opposition from within. When he spoke about his crucifixion, Peter began to rebuke him. Never, Lord! he said. This shall never happen to you (Matthew 16:22). Peter had no room in his thoughts for Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus would be king, and Peter would serve along side him. If Jesus had other ideas, he needed to be corrected.
Thankfully, Peter did not die, or get leprosy, but he did receive the strongest rebuke in the Bible. Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me (Matthew 16:23), said Jesus. Peter did not know it, but the devil was speaking directly through him, to turn Jesus Christ away from the cross. If that had happened, everyone in the world would have to die and go to hell. (Great idea Peter!)
Christian leaders might think they have better ideas than Jesus. But Jesus is greater than Moses, and we cross him at our peril.
Numbers 13:1-2 The Lord said to Moses, Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites.
Israel camped at Mount Sinai for about a year, then marched across the desert until they came to the Promised Land. God told Moses to send in a dozen men to explore the land. This would help with the conquest, and would assure God’s people that it was a land flowing with milk and honey (Exodus 3:8). The task took about forty days, and covered more than four hundred miles. The rest of God’s people waited earnestly as they camped outside the Promised Land.
Numbers 13:25 At the end of forty days they returned.
The explorers brought back a sample of fruit that was so heavy, it took two men and a pole to carry it (Numbers 13:23). The land was all that God had promised, but there was some question whether it could be conquered (Numbers 13:28-29). Most of the explorers thought the challenge was beyond for them.
Numbers 13:30 Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.
This is one of the most positive statements of faith in the Bible. The land was filled with powerful people, and fortified cities, but they were no match for God. God promised this land to his people, and he was against the occupants (Genesis 15:16). If God overcame the Egyptians, he could defeat these people as well.
Numbers 13:31-33 But the men who had gone up with him said, We cannot attack those people; they are stronger than we are. . . . We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.
The cowardly explorers took their eyes off God, and focused on their problems. The more they focused on their problems, the bigger they seemed. The less they focused on God, the smaller he seemed. Soon their problems were bigger than God, and God was no match for their problems.
Like the ancient Israelites, many have faith until they have a problem. Then they give way to fear. Joshua and Caleb overcame their fear by focusing on God.
Most of the Israelites did not share Joshua and Caleb’s faith, however, so they chose to rebel. We should choose [another] leader and go back to Egypt (Numbers 14:4), they said. Having come so far, they were willing to walk away. After all that God had done for them, they were willing to turn back.
This is hard to imagine, but some with every advantage also walk away from Christ. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace (Hebrews 6:6), says Hebrews. The consequences for rebelling against Moses were severe, but the consequences for rebelling against Christ are eternally worse.
Reflection and Review
Why isn’t the Nazirite vow for Christians?
How should believers complain to God?
How can Christians overcome fear?