Where to Look

The journey of the children of Israel through the wilderness and a Christian’s walk with God have a lot of similarities. They’re both traveling to a Promised Land through a wilderness where God is leading them through trials to bring them closer to Him.

But I feel like we have a bit of an upper hand that Israel didn’t. You see, we can look back and learn from Israel’s mistakes. There is one mistake in particular that had deadly consequences. In Numbers 21:4-9, we find a horrifying story.

Aarron had just died and the children of Israel were traveling from Mount Hor to Edom (Numbers 20:29). This means that they were in the fortieth year after leaving Egypt and probably the sixth month (Numbers 33:38). The sixth month, Elul, is equivalent to our August/September—not the coolest time for traveling. They’re traveling “by the way of the Red Sea” which was a rocky, sandy, sand-stormy route that lead they away from Canaan (Pulpit Commentary, 2010). No wonder they got discouraged.

But they let their discouragement get the best of them and we find them complaining and  speaking against God and Moses (Numbers 21:5). They even go so far as to despise the manna God was miraculously sending them every day. Miracles we see everyday will become normal to us and no longer seem like a miracle unless we take an active part in thanking God for them.

God’s response to Israel’s complaining was to send venomous snakes among them (Numbers 21:6). That seems like a hard punishment for such a seemingly small offense, but we have to look at this from God’s perspective. When we complain about where God has us in life, we are saying that God is doing it wrong.

It wasn’t until after the punishment was sent that Israel realized they had done wrong. How sad it is that we often don’t realize our mistakes until after God sends the consequences.

“And Moses prayed for the people” (Numbers 21:7). Remember, just two verses before, this the same people Moses is praying for here were speaking against him. It takes great humility to have compassion on difficult people instead of holding bitterness against them. Had is not been for the humility and forgiveness of Moses, I wonder if Israel would have ever made it to the Promised Land.

So God made a way of salvation for the people. Moses was required to make a snake statue on a pole and if a person was bitten, if they looked at this brass serpent, they would live (Numbers 21:8-9). This brass serpent is a symbol of Christ on the cross. In life, we can often get  focused on trying to fix our problems and avoid others (looking at our snake bites and avoiding the other snakes) instead of focusing on Christ (looking at the brass serpent). You have to look up to be saved. It’s terrifying to do that when your ankle is swollen to five times it’s size and another snake is slithering it’s way towards you. The poison in your ankle is already starting up our leg towards your heart. You don’t have much time. You have to decide. If you suck the poison out, the snake will bite you. If you kill the snake, the poison will be too far up your leg. Will you focus on your situation and try to save yourself in your own power? Or will you let go of control and trust God by looking up?

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Discouraging and Supporting a Spiritual Leader

In Exodus 18, Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, comes to visit him and the Children of Israel. Jethro sees Moses sitting the entire day judging the people (remember these are the people who are so good at making petty issues big problems).

In verse 14, Jethro says “What is this thing that thou doest to the people? Why sittest thou thyself alone, and all the people stand by thee from morning unto even?” Then Moses answers in verse 15: “Because the people come unto me to enquire of God: When they have a matter, they come unto me; and I judge between one and another, and I do make them know the statutes of God, and his laws.” This is what a spiritual leader is supposed to do. A pastor/father is supposed to teach about God’s words.

Moses teaching the Children of Isael

Moses and the Children of Isael

He can’t do it alone. Look at verses 17-18. Jethro tells Moses that “The thing that thou doest is not good. Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou, and this people that is with thee: for this thing is too heavy for thee; thou art not able to perform it thyself alone.” Jethro knew that pastors and leaders need encouragement and support. So Jethro askes Moses to set up a tree of responsibility. There were to be rulers of tens which were responsible to rulers of fifties, which were responsible to rulers of hundreds, which were responsible to rulers of thousands, which were responsible to Moses, which was responsible to God.

Move on to Numbers 11. In this chapter, Israel is complaining about not having meat (they had enough to eat, it just wasn’t what they wanted. verse 6). They actually got to the point of crying about it (verse 10)! Therefore, Moses goes and talks to God about it. Note: People in positions of leadership and responsibility should always encompass themselves in an intimate relationship with God. With all the complaining going on in the camp, Moses had gotten discouraged and, in turn, now complains to God (verses 10-13).

Notice what Moses says in verses 14-15 “I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me. And if thou deal this with me, kill me, I pray thee, out of hand, if I have found favor in they sight; and let me not see my wretchedness.” When people complain about their situations (which, by the way, God has put them in) and their pastor or leader hears them complaining, it discourages them immensely.

Complaining starts with one person. Have you ever been on a walk with a bunch of children? One child will get tired and start complaining; that reminds the other children that they, too, are tired. Sooner or later everyone is complaining about being tired. This is how Israel started complaining. Maybe it could have been something as simple as someone saying: “You know, manna is nice and all, but I’m kind of getting tired of it” or “I wish we could have something else to eat”. Being dissatisfied with where God has placed you or what God has given you will eventually lead to complaining which in turn will spread across the camp/family/church and eventually discourage the leader/father/pastor.

God answers Moses’ prayer, not by killing him, but by giving him support. God always sends people to support us when we need them. God tells Moses to take 70 of the elders to the tabernacle of the congregation and to stand with them (verse 16). He promises to come down and take some of Moses’ spirit, give it to them, and they will share in the burden (verse 17). Strong’s Concordance states that ‘spirit’ in this verse means ‘wind; by resemblance breath, i.e. a sensible (or even violent) exhalation’.

When Moses does as God commands in verse 25, the 70 elders began to prophesy. But look at the last part of the verse: “they prophesied, and did not cease.” The Hebrew word for ‘cease’ is ‘yâcaph’ which means ‘to add’. These prophets did not continue to prophecy—they quit. Many people will step up to help those in positions of leadership, but will eventually step back or quit when they learn how hard it is.

Holy Spirit represented by a dove

1660 Stain Glass showing the Holy Spirit represented by a dove

Two of the elders, Eldad and Medad, allowed the spirit to grow (“remained”: ‘shâ’ar’ to ‘ swell up, be redundant’) and went out to prophesy, not just in the tabernacle, but in the camp where all the people were (verse 26). When you let the Spirit of God get a hold of you, there is no way you can keep it in, but it will ‘swell up’ and spill over.

There was a young man listening to Eldad and Medad who ran to tell Moses what was going on (verse 27). When Joshua heard about it, he told Moses to “forbid them” (verse 28). This is Moses’ reply: “Enviest thou for my sake? Would God that all the LORD’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit upon them!”. Oh people of the church! Listen to me! So many of the church’s problems could be solved when people stop looking to the church for their spiritual food and start looking to God. On several occasions I have heard people tell my dad (or complain to other people) things they didn’t like about the message, the singing, or the service in general. Many times when a person walks away from a service void of God’s spirit is because they have not opened you heart to meet with God. You are responsible for your walk with God, not your pastor.

After Moses hears of the prophesying going on in the camp, he “gat him into the camp” (verse 30). I can just see Moses speeding into the camp with his heart pounding and eyes shinning in excitement. He couldn’t wait to be in the presence of the LORD with fellow worshipers. Whenever a person is swelling with God’s spirit, it refreshes, encourages, strengths, and supports fellow believers around them. I know when Moses walked away from that unplanned, non-systematic meeting he was refreshed, strengthened, and encouraged.