The title of this chapter kind of says it all as to what it’s about. The people have left Egypt, and have been given the hope of a Promised Land by God, but for the time being all they are doing is wandering.
And, like most humans do, they got bored, impatient, and tired of this so-called promise God had given them. And like that classic joke, “What did the grape say when it was stepped on?” – the Israelites let out a little wine (bah-doom-cha).
They gave a lot of blame to God for what they were going through and God wasn’t happy. And like he rewards faithfulness with blessings, he rewarded complaining, and lack of trust with terrible consequences. As the people grumbled and turned their faith away from God and into themselves, God decided to not let this generation of people enter the Promised Land. These people had been wandering the desert for around 40 years complaining, and were now forced to wander for another 40 years until there was a new generation of people to enter the Promised Land, hopefully with more grateful and faithful hearts.
This is a cycle in these people as they wander through the desert. The people forget what God has done so they complain, then God teaches them what is right (sometimes harshly), and then delivers them from the hardship, so they celebrate, and then forget, and then complain…
All through the process they are being led by Aaron and Moses who try and teach the people what God is trying to tell them even through the hardship, and also relay to God how lost and unhappy the people are.
Obstacles like giants, angry armies of men, Kings that won’t let them cross through the land and general hunger and fatigue get in the way of this journey to the Promised Land. But the biggest obstacle is their unfaithfulness, even with the new generation, and God isn’t quick to let them get away with it. Even Moses and Aaron are punished like the original group of wanderers.
The people were thirsty and desperately needed water, so when Moses brought this to God, he told him to take his staff, go to this rock, and ask this rock to flow with water. This would show that Moses trusted God and his creation enough to deliver this, and it would also give God the full credit for this miracle for these thirsty people.
But Moses is tired, and grumpy, and instead of calmly talking to the rock, he strikes it with his staff. The water flows and the people are super excited to have some water, but Moses hasn’t given God any of the credit. He’s painted himself to the people as capable of doing this impossible thing – whereas in fact, it was all God. So the consequence to Moses and Aaron is that they are forbidden to enter the Promised Land.
The striking thing about this punishment is how well the men take it. And eventually, after Aaron dies and the new generation is ready to enter the Promised Land, Moses accepts that he won’t be going with them. He knows he will die without being inside, and so God appoints a new leader – Joshua – to help the people, and finally, prepares a speech for the group.
So instead of leaving you with some questions like usual, in this blog post, I am going to leave you with some key lines from Moses’ speech to the people, and you can reflect on these in your own walk with God.
“Has any god ever tried to take for himself one nation out of another nation, by testings, by signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, or by great and awesome deeds, like all the things the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes?”
“You were shown these things so that you might know that the Lord is God”
“The Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.”
“He humbled you with, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”
“Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.
“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you. He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged.”
These words apply to us today still.
After Moses made this speech, he went to the top of a mountain and saw the Promised Land for himself, before he died. Moses’ story is one of the strongest, most faithful examples of how God can transform a shy, broken, lost man with a stutter, into a great leader of a nation who saved them from slavery, and delivered them to God’s Promised Land for them.