So far in the second movement of Numbers, the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel have rebelled against Yahweh, the people have rebelled against Yahweh, and even the Levites have rebelled against Yahweh. In fact, Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and Caleb are the only people that haven’t rebelled. So what happens when those closest to Yahweh fail to obey his word, too? In this episode, Tim and Jon talk about Moses’ rebellion, the high cost of leading God’s people, and humanity’s deep need for a more faithful representative to intercede on our behalf.
What God is after is a human partner whose heart and desire and will is the same as the divine will—a human partner for whom God’s will and their will are the same thing ... When a human partner of God will carry out the divine will, it leads to life for others. But if we don’t have that mediator, even Moses can’t rescue us, much less ourselves.
In part one (00:00-14:55), Tim and Jon review the plot of the Numbers scroll, which is composed of three movements.
In the first movement of Numbers, the Israelites get ready to leave Mount Sinai, where they’ve been camped for a year. They arrange themselves in concentric circles with the tabernacle at the center and then head out into the wilderness. In the second movement, the Israelites move through the wilderness en route to the promised land, and during that time they rebel against Yahweh seven times. Notably, the rebellions cycle through the circles of Israel’s camp, starting with the outer ring of Israel’s tribes, followed by a rebellion of the Levites, and finally ending with the inner circle and Moses himself in rebellion.
Each of these rebellions, at its root, has to do with a failure to trust God’s word. Numbers 13-25 is one large chiasm: the rebellion of the twelve spies in Numbers 13 occurs at Kadesh, which is spelled with the same letters as the Hebrew word for “holiness,” kadosh. It’s an intentional play on words to indicate that the spies are selected and sent out from God’s holy place, but they fail to trust his word and so they are excluded from the promised land. After this, the Levites rebel. When we get to Numbers 20 we’re back at Kadesh, and this time Moses rebels and is forbidden to enter the land because of his unbelief in God’s word.
Throughout the Hebrew Bible, its authors organize stories and tell them in such a way that they create repeated literary patterns so that readers will compare and contrast stories with parallel themes.
In part two (14:55-39:37), Tim and Jon begin exploring Numbers 20, which opens by identifying both Kadesh and the wilderness of Zin, the very same locations mentioned in Numbers 13, linking the two stories together. The journey to the promised land should have taken eleven days, but Israel has wandered for forty years by this point.
Conflict arises between Moses, Aaron, and the people of Israel when they once again find themselves without water. The same problem occurred in Exodus 17. The people of Israel complain against Moses and Aaron and accuse them of leading them into the wilderness just to die, so Moses and Aaron ask the Lord what they should do.
Take the rod; and you and your brother Aaron assemble the congregation and speak to the rock before their eyes, that it may yield its water. You shall thus bring forth water for them out of the rock and let the congregation and their beasts drink.
Instead of speaking to the rock, Moses strikes it (as he did in Exodus 17), but it still works and produces water. Not only does Moses do something other than what God told him to do, he suggests that he and Aaron are responsible for producing the water (Num. 20:10). While the incident may seem relatively small, the narrator is highlighting for us that Moses is standing in the tradition of Adam and Eve (and every chosen one ever since) who failed to do what God said. God’s word is life for humanity and to ignore it brings death. The way that Yahweh responds to Moses reveals that Moses’ choice was intentional rebellion, and Yahweh forbids them from entering the promised land (Num. 20:12).
The point of this story is not for us to walk on eggshells with Yahweh because he might punish our smallest mistake. Rather, it's about Moses' intentional choice to ignore God's word. Remember, Moses is not an average person. He's God's chosen representative. The closer you are to Yahweh (both metaphorically and, in Moses’ and Aaron’s case, literally), the higher the stakes of responsibility.
In part three (39:37-55:08), the guys forge ahead into a series of stories where the opposite of what we expect occurs. Instead of allowing the people to experience the consequences of their complaints and rebellion in Numbers 20, Yahweh continually blesses Israel.
In Numbers 21, Yahweh gives Israel victory over an opposing Canaanite king, he again provides water for them in the wilderness, and then he gives them another victory over two giant kings.
Numbers 22-25 is the account of the Israelites’ interaction with Balaam, a sorcerer who was so well-known he appeared in Canaanite literature as well (see “Deir Alla inscription” in Referenced Resources). The king of Moab hires Balaam to curse Israel, but Yahweh turns his curses into blessings three times. When all is said and done, Balaam pronounces seven oracles that predict a messiah-king who will come from Israel to reign over all nations.
The second movement of Numbers concludes with Balaam’s poems, pointing us once again to God’s grace for humanity. Even as the Israelites continue to grumble and wonder if God is really with them, Yahweh blesses them and promises future deliverance and blessing in the form of the coming messiah.
Show produced by Cooper Peltz. Edited by Dan Gummel, Tyler Bailey, and Frank Garza. Show notes by Lindsey Ponder. Podcast annotations for the BibleProject app by MacKenzie Buxman.
Powered and distributed by Simplecast.