These were not easy times amongst the people of God. Moses was leading a generation destined to wander the desert until they all died. They were now paving the way for their children to inherit what was supposed to have been theirs.
It’s not easy leading 1-1.5million people in a desert on the best of days! But leading a generation that you know will die and will not fulfil any of their dreams can not have been easy.
Then crisis hits. The Wilderness of Zin had no water in it. This very real crisis precipitates a fresh round of complaints and the people quarrel with Moses and grumble! (vs3-5)
Moses is caught between a real crisis, a monumental problem and a discontented people who’s unbelief had blinded them to the magnificence of their God.
So, Moses and Aaron take the situation and the people’s complaint to God (vs6) falling down in His presence. What a great response!
God in His faithfulness responds to their prayer, and God intervenes – “the glory of the Lord appeared” (vs6). God then spoke to them (vs7) and provided a miraculous solution to their need; (vs8) “tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water”.
Moses and Aaron do some of what God told them to do. They gather the congregation, but Moses then goes rogue and doesn’t obey God specifically!
When they gather before him, he scolds them in his anger and frustration that has probably built up over the past year since he started leading them; “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” (vs10)
His unprocessed hurt and frustration boils over and spills out in a moment in a very public way. More than this, Moses did not do what God told him when he struck the rock twice (vs11) rather than speak to it like God had instructed him (see vs8).
We don’t have the time to unpack the reasons that caused Moses to do this thoroughly. However, what we do know is that once before, about a year prior God had provided water from a similar rock and on that day God told Moses to strike the rock once (see Exodus 17:5).
Regardless of Moses, God in his love for the people solves the very real crisis and provides for the people – so water gushes out of the rock abundantly (vs11) so that the original crisis is solved, but a new personal crisis for Moses has just begun.
God was angry with Moses and said;
Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” (vs12)
It seems to me that Moses’ anger at the people blinded him. It caused him not to trust God when God had told him to “tell the rock” to provide its water? God was displeased with the way Moses had not honoured Him before the people, and so that day, Moses lost something. That day Moses missed the Promised Land.
Crises have a way of revealing what’s really in our hearts. People are a little like oranges. When the pressures of life put their squeeze on us, eventually what’s inside comes out.
Undealt with emotions that have subsided with time from our consciousness but have not been dealt with through prayers of lament and forgiveness are a time-bomb waiting to be triggered.
Crises will come; it’s only a matter of time. And when we are faced with crises, God wants us to come to Him in prayer. But when we do, let’s commit to then do what He tells us to do. Not to do more, not less, but to do now what He tells us to do.
Who hasn’t felt the pain of being misrepresented or misunderstood? Many leaders have known the uncomfortable feeling of not being trusted or feeling confident in your leadership slip or even being challenged. Added to the pain and pressure of such moments are your own internal struggles and doubts which only get amplified by the enemy.
Times of pressure, moments when there are delays, setbacks or significant obstacles often heighten these dynamics. The context leading up to Numbers 17 was that God’s people had grumbled against God and His appointed leaders for bribing them out of Egypt, they had doubted and feared rather than trusted God, there had been internal leadership squabbles and outright rebellion and questions raised continually about who should lead.
In moments like these, it is often inappropriate and ineffective, trying to vindicate yourself. Managing the perceptions of others is not only exhausting; it is impossible in the long run. In a wise, lucid moment the apostle Paul reflecting no doubt on some situations from his own life and ministry said this with fatherly wisdom;
“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’.” (Romans 12:19)
RT Kendal reflecting on this passage advises that we often want to vindicate ourselves, take revenge, make our point, and we could choose to do so, but that is very unwise. It’s like God then says; ‘Oh you want to vindicate yourself! Go ahead and try but you’ll mess it up and end up sinning.’ Rather Kendal says God’s wisdom is to leave vengeance and the desire to vindicate oneself to Him and to His timing.
In Numbers 17, we see God doing exactly what Romans 12:19 promises He will do, as He vindicated Aaron’s ministry as head of the priesthood in a remarkable, public and miraculous way! God’s intent was to stop the discontent & grumbling which doesn’t help those leading or those following;
“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to the people of Israel, and get from them staffs, one for each fathers’ house, from all their chiefs according to their fathers’ houses, twelve staffs. Write each man’s name on his staff, 3 and write Aaron’s name on the staff of Levi. For there shall be one staff for the head of each fathers’ house. 4 Then you shall deposit them in the tent of meeting before the testimony, where I meet with you. 5 And the staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout. Thus I will make to cease from me the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against you.”
The key thing to notice here is that this is God’s initiative, God stepped in to vindicate Aaron, to silence the discontent. Moses and Aaron were not trying to vindicate themselves (although no doubt they were glad for what God was doing) – God did it. God chose how, and God chose when it would happen – and so it was effective. A right reverence returned to the camp, respect for those God had appointed (vs12).
Remember, when we try to vindicate ourselves, we are likely to mess it up! Not the least because we should be slow to think that we have an accurate perspective on ourselves, our own heads and hearts or the situation we find ourselves in.
Wisely, Paul was cautious about judging himself as he wrote to the Corinthians, some of whom were challenging his leadership;
But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. (1 Corinthians 4:3-5)
So, if it is God’s prerogative to vindicate, what ought you to do if you feel unjustly treated, misrepresented, falsely accused…?
Three things come to mind in sequential order:
- Lament – “A passionate expression of sorrow and grief” – Christina Fox. The Psalms are full of this processing raw emotions to God and leaving it with Him.
- Forgive – Because we have been forgiven much because this is the only pathway to health and not bitterness & because it honours God.
- Leave it to God – Remember that Jesus died without being vindicated! As did many of the heroes of the faith. Vindication is hardly ever on our time scale and is quite likely to be only seen in full at the return of Christ.
God judged the ten spies who had brought the bad report, and so they died instantly – a sign of God’s judgement. Then, despite Moses’ telling that generation that they would not enter the Promised Land, some still attempted a conquest to enter into it (Numbers 14:39-45)!
Unsurprisingly, this unauthorised rebellious attempt without God or Moses failed, and they were beaten back from the Promised Land to a place called Hormah by the Amalekites & Canaanites.
These were painful days. Just over a year before, they were singing songs of God’s deliverance (Exodus 15), they were in a place of faith and expectation of the imminent fulfilment of God’s promises to give them the Promised Land.
Now they were camped in the Wilderness of Zin at Kadesh-Barnea, most likely feeling bummed out – defeated & dejected. They would never enter the Promised Land, their sin of unbelief and their fear had robbed them, a life-time of Wilderness wandering awaited them.
And then God does what can seem a strange thing. He gives them some instructions (similar to the instructions for worship recorded more fully in Leviticus 1-7) for their worship and sacrifices. But why now?
After-all these instructions can’t be fulfilled by the nomadic people in the Wilderness of Zin. They don’t have vineyards for wine production or fields for grain or much livestock for offerings. So why give them? And why now?
Twice God repeats the words; “When you come into the land…” (Numbers 15:1&17).
God speaks with certainty – it’s not “if” but “when”. But God is speaking to a whole generation to whom these instructions do not apply! These are instructions for their children, the next generation who will inherit the Promised Land. So why give it now?
I believe God wanted these people to know that their children would not die in the Wilderness – like they said they would (Numbers 14:3). But that instead, they would inherit God’s promises, and they would worship God in that future moment as God had instructed this current generation to do (Leviticus 1-7). God is faithful; not one of His promises falls to the ground.
So, although they had lost all that God intended to give them. As parents, they could know that God would be faithful to His promises to bless their children.
These words from God, remind me of God’s words to a later generation who also disobeyed God continually. Until God eventually sent them away into exile in Babylon. And yet again, even while sending them into exile, God promised that He would bring them back to Jerusalem after 70yrs had passed. Even in judgement, God is faithful and merciful, pointing to future hope in His faithfulness.
God is slow to anger and abounding in love, but sin is serious and has serious consequences. However, through everything, God is always faithful to His people and His promises.
You and I only have one precious life. I urge you to use every moment of it to honour and obey God, confident in His exceeding goodness and faithfulness. After all, if this is how God treats those who He is displeased with. Then how much more will He reward and bless those who live to please Him?
At the end of the chapter God instructs His people to wear tassels on their garments to help them; “remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the Lord your God.” (Numbers 15:39-41)
God’s desire is for a people who live for Him, obeying His commands, living holy lives, set apart for Him & in relationship with Him – their God.
God promised king David (2 Samuel 7:11-16) that God would establish for David a ‘house’ (a lineage, a family, a clan or tribe) that would endure forever! In the context of the books of the Kings where king after king was overthrown some within days of their appointment as king, with whole lines of families being wiped out by successive kings more than once in Israel with the constant threat of invasion and capture from powerful nations all around – in that context these are massive promises to David.
And God kept His promise! As one reads through 1 & 2 Kings phrases like this are embedded in the storyline a total of eight times;
Yet the Lord was not willing to destroy Judah, for the sake of David his servant, since he promised to give a lamp to him and to his sons forever. (2 Kings 8:19)
God was faithful to His promise to David, because God is faithful, He cannot be unfaithful even though we are unfaithful to Him as Scripture declares;
“If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is.” (2 Timothy 2:13 in NLT)
And so here at the end of 1&2 Kings in the midst of lament and the tragedy of the siege and sacking and the exile to Babylon, there are four verses that offer a ray of hope, a glimmer of God’s eternal promise to David – which still stands.
Jehoiachin and the royal family are deported and not killed by king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (2 Kings 24:15) and then after 37yrs in prison in exile king Jehoiachin (also called Jeconiah in the NT) is released from prison by Nebuchadnezzar’s successor and is given a place of honour and provision for his family! God is faithful, God is the promise keeper, not one of God’s promises fall to the ground.
And so the line of David is preserved, the promise still stands, and in Matthew 1:12 we read of Jehoiachin/Jeconiah’s place in the storyline that all culminates in Jesus the King of kings the one who ultimately fulfills the promise made by God to David, and He is enthroned as King forever and ever.
The whole Old Testament is really about Jesus, it points to Him, shows us our desperate need of Him and anticipates His coming. As Isaiah prophesied of King Jesus;
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government
and of peace there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)
Worship, Jesus! Thank God for His unshakable faithfulness. Trust Him.
Hezekiah was a mighty man of God, yet sadly his son Manasseh did not follow his father’s example. Even worse than that Manasseh actually undid all the good his father had done and re-erected altars to Baal and Asherah, he even had altars to these false gods erected inside the Temple! He burned his own son as an offering and consulted fortune-tellers and mediums provoking the Lord to anger.
How does this happen? Father follows God incredibly, and yet his son is evil personified.
Sadly, the bible has a number of this sort of one-generational God-following.
- Eli and his sons (1 Samuel 2:12)
- Samuel and his sons (1 Samuel 8:3)
- David and Solomon (1 Kings 11)
In Deuteronomy Scripture clearly portrays God’s plan for parent to teach God’s ways to their children, to ensure that God-following, that faith is not one-generational but is passed on.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)
And yet this is dramatically not the case with Hezekiah and Manasseh. Seventy five years later Manasseh’s grandson Josiah who did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, re-discovers the Book of the Law while he was repairing the Temple. His grand-father and father had been so ungodly that when the priest gives Josiah the Book of the Law it is simply referred to in the following way;
“Then Shaphan the secretary told the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” (2 Kings 22:10)
But when Josiah heard the words of the Book of the Law he tore his clothes, humbled himself and repented. And because of this God forgave him and granted him mercy (2 Kings 22:18-20).
We then read in 2 Kings 23 that Josiah went on to reform all of Judah, leading Judah to renew their covenant with the Lord. Josiah went on to purify the temple of Baal & Asherah worship and removed false priests and broken down the high places and even finally fulfilled the prophecy God brought against Jeroboam back in 1 Kings 13:11-32 and his rebel altar at Bethel.
Lastly Josiah restores the Passover festival which has not been mentioned in Scripture since Joshua 5:10-12. And so as the epitaph over Josiah’s life is a glowing one;
Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him. (2 Kings 23:25)
Hezekiah didn’t pass on faith to Manasseh, faith was lost for essentially 75yrs in Judah and then sadly Josiah although he followed God was another example of one-generational God-following as his son, Jehoahaz turned from the Lord again.
If you’re a parent – what can you do today, and do beyond today that can ensure that your God-following is not one-generational too?
And if your parent(s) have not followed God, can you believe God that you could be like Josiah and break with the past and follow God wholeheartedly and be used by God to accomplish amazing things?
After being incredibly use by God, Elijah has a sad precipitous decline. The contrast between chapters 17-18 and chapter 19 is remarkable. The confident faith-filled Elijah who prophesied no rain, told the king what to do, called the nation together, put on display God’s awesome power, executed God’s judgement on the prophets of Baal and beckoned the rain to come again to the nation – is suddenly fearful (1 Kings 18:3) and depressed and out of gas entirely (1 Kings 18:4) all because of one person he fears – Ahab’s wife, Jezebel!
Is there someone like that for you? Someone you fear, someone who has an influence over you and over your faith in God? May you choose to not allow anyone to impact your faith in God in the way that Jezebel did for Elijah.
I love the honesty of the bible, love the way it reveals Elijah’s frailty – I can identify with him. I love the way God cares for Elijah, strengthens him, calls him out from his depressed state (1Kings 18:9&13) and re-commissions him (1 Kings 18:6-18). But in the end Elijah is never the same again. God tells him to anoint Elisha his successor.
Do you feel like running away, hiding in a cave from life, from your calling, from God & others? Know this; your heavenly Father loves you, is kind and compassionate, wants to refresh and restore faith in you! Reach out to Him in prayer and allow Him to renew you.
Chapters 20-22 recount the end of Ahab’s rule and God’s judgement on him for his many sins. Twice God sends prophets (Elijah’s belief that he was the only one left was not true, there were many others faithful to God still in his day, he had believed a lie) to Ahab with the express purpose of showing Ahab that “I am the LORD” (1 Kings 20:13 & 28). Mount Carmel, the rain being withheld and then coming, these incidents – all were designed for Ahab to believe in the one true God, they are God graciously reaching out to Ahab in spite of his gross sin.
Is God reaching out to you in some way, showing you again and again who He really is, wanting you to only believe in Him and put your trust in Him?
Ahab with his wicked wife’s help sins against an honest man who’s vineyard he is coveting – Naboth. Jezebel has him murdered and Ahab takes the vineyard and this is the final straw for God. And so, Elijah is told to go and condemn Ahab (1 Kings 21:19).
Remarkably, Ahab repents (1 Kings 21:27-29) and so God relents and decides to delay some of the punishment but Ahab will still be killed by a not so random arrow (1 Kings 22:34) as prophesied by a remarkable prophet who alone heard God correctly and was bold enough to declare it – Micaiah (1 Kings 22:14-28)!
Are you willing to obey God like Micaiah did? Even when what you’re saying is the exact opposite to what everyone else is saying God is saying! May you have courage like this one man – Micaiah.
What an introduction! There is no mention of Elijah prior to this point, we don’t know anything about him, his upbringing, his faith journey up to this point. In that sense, he is not like David who is introduced as a shepherd boy learning God’s ways and in preparation for the moment he stands before Goliath. Elijah just arrives on the scene but does so with remarkable courage and faith.
I am intrigued. What lead to this man’s remarkable faith and courage in the gift God had given him? What multiple little steps of faith had he climbed to get to this place of faith?
He goes to the despicable king of the northern tribes, Ahab and declares;
“As the LORD, the God is Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” (1 Kings 17:1)
Don’t you love that God-inspired boldness! To go before a wicked king who could kill you in a flash but to be so much more aware of God than him that you pronounce what God tells you to with conviction. This is not arrogance but godly obedience. This is God’s man declaring to this wicked king where the authority really lies – in God alone.
Baal-Hadad (or just ‘Baal’ for short) was the god of storms and rain and so people at the time were tempted to worship Baal, falsely hoping that Baal would provide the much needed rain to make the land fertile. This prophetic announcement is a direct attack on the falsehood and futility of Baal worship which is what Ahab had allowed to proliferate in Israel.
Having spoken God’s word to Ahab about the coming drought, God leads Elijah to an inhospitable ravine in the mountains with a little brook in it presumably to wait for the drought he had prophesied to begin having its effect.
But think about it. God said through Elijah that there would be no rain, and yet God sends Elijah not a city with water reserves but to a ravine in the mountains with a little stream – that then dries up! Elijah must have felt both relieved and concerned by the brook. Relieved that God had withheld the rain (1 Kings 17:7) in a display of his power over Baal – just as Elijah prophesied and yet concerned in that his life-support was drying up too.
God spoke again! ‘At last’, he might have a thought – ‘…time for a big meal and comfy room.’ However, this time God leads him to a town on the coast in the midst of Baal-worship territory (Zaraphath) where he meets his host – a widow with no food in her house who is about to eat her last meal and then die (1 Kings 17:8-12). ‘Great!’ I can almost hear him saying under his breath.
Elijah had followed God to the brook (1 Kings 17:5), Elijah followed God to a widow in Zarapheth with no food at all (because of his pronouncement of no rain). Sometimes following God leads you right into hardship or scarcity in the natural realm. We make a mistake when we assess whether we’ve been lead by God on the basis of circumstances being good/easy assuming hard/lack = not the will of God….
Why did God send Him here?
Did God send him to a foreign land to show him the extent of God’s power over not just Israel but all nations? Did God send him here to experience the stress and strain of another person and to bring relief to her as maybe she had prayed to God? We don’t know…
Elijah tells her to make a cake for him first and then for her a her son and then promises to her that God says that her little flour and her jug of oil will not run out until the drought is over because God ends it (1 Kings 17:13-14)! And so a miracle of provision is recorded because she believed the word of God through Elijah.
Faith is believing God when we can’t see, when there is no evidence but miracles reside on the ‘other-side’ of faith and obedience.
Is there something God is telling you to do, to trust him in? Do you, will you?