Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Numbers 20 - Death, Disobedience, and Not "Picking Up the Snake"

LINK: Numbers 20


This was the 40th year of the wilderness wandering of the Israelites. We don't know what happened between the second year when Israel was sentenced to wander for 40 years (14:34) and the death of Miriam.

Even after 40 years, the Israelites were still complaining to Moses and Aaron! This time it was about the lack of water. Moses and Aaron's response was to fall face down before the LORD. Then, the glory of the LORD appeared, and they were instructed to take the staff and speak to the rock at Meribah. Moses took the staff just as the LORD commanded, but he did not speak to the rock and stuck it instead. The LORD was not pleased, and his words were swift to Moses and Aaron:
Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites,you will not bring this community into the land I give them.  (20:12)
Ancient Levant routes
By Briangotts at en.wikipedia [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons
Following this, Edom refused to let Israel pass through their territory along the king's highway. The king's highway was a route that passed from the Red Sea (Gulf of Aqabah) north to Damascus via the Edomite city of Sela (later known as Petra). See the red line on the map. 

Note that Moses appealed to the Edomites as brothers (20:14) because they were descendants of Esau who was Jacob's brother (Genesis 36). Moses' petitions were to no avail, and Israel turned away and departed from Kadesh and arrived at Mount Hor which is believed to be Jebel Harun, northwest of Petra. Since Moses did not take the king's highway, he probably went north up the Arabah fault to the southeast corner of the Dead Sea so he could bypass Edom. Here are pictures of the King's Highway.

They climbed Mount Hor where Aaron died and his garments were transferred to his son Eleazar. Remember Aaron was not allowed to enter the Promised Land because of what happened at Meribah earlier in this chapter. Israel mourned for 30 days.


Moses and the Rock

I had a long talk with God during my walk this morning knowing that I would have to comment on Moses and the rock. I do not have answers. I have always struggled with the fact that Moses lived such an exemplary life of service to God only to see one impulsive act exclude him from entering the Promised Land. It has always seemed so harsh and unfair! I'm sure most of us would say "Give the guy a break!"

My friend Brian and I wrote a song in college (really it was mostly Brian's song, and I added a few words and variations here and there) about it. One of the lines went like this: "Moses, never touched the land/Doubting in his heart, the purpose of God's plan."

God's plan was for the water to come forth out of the rock with just words, much like how He created the heavens and the earth - by His word. PERIOD. Just as we have learned thus far in our readings, His instructions were to be followed in every detail because He was holy; no variations were to be carried out. Moses was a leader and model to the Israelites. He disobeyed God's specific instructions and even indicated that he was part of the water coming out of the rock by proclaiming "Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?" There was no "we." It was only God who could bring water out of the rock.

James 3:1 says, "Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment." God's standards for Moses were very high (see Luke 12:48). So, he could not be let off.

Moses Not Choosing to Conflict with the Edomites

There is a practical life lesson in Numbers 20 when Moses chose to go another way toward the Promised Land rather than engage in a battle with the Edomites.

The timing of this passage was so providential because it comes on the heels of a discussion that I had with a friend on the way back from the beach yesterday. We were talking about when to engage in confrontation and when to just let it go (Proverbs 19:11). She used this really great analogy of a snake on the ground, and how if we pick up a snake, things can get pretty messy. She said that sometimes, she has to tell herself, "Don't pick up the snake" when it comes to potential conflict in relationships. I loved her word picture. I know some of you are conflict avoiders and run away from snakes all the time, but some of us (like my friend and I) are not conflict avoiders, and we need to learn this principle! The tricky part is to know when it is important for us to pick up the snake and when it is important for us to leave it be. We concluded that it required much prayer and listening to God!

In this situation, Moses chose not to pick up the snake.

The Life Application Bible says this about his choice:
Moses tried to negotiate and reason with the Edomite king. When nothing worked, he was left with two choices – force a conflict or avoid it. Moses knew there would be enough barriers in the days and months ahead. There was no point in adding another one unnecessarily. Sometimes conflict is unavoidable. Sometimes, however, it isn’t worth the consequences. Open warfare may seem heroic, courageous, and even righteous, but it is not always the best choice. We should consider Moses’ example and find another way to solve our problems, even if it is harder for us to do.  (Life Application Bible, p.248)

Are you following God's way in every detail? Where are "little compromises" sneaking in that inhibit your witness to those who are following you?

Are you one to pick up the snake or run away from them? Here is a wonderful tool to help you evaluate when to engage in conflict and when to "pick up the snake": The Slippery Slope

Where do you usually land on the slope in relationships?


Lord, how good it is that we can learn from both Moses' good and bad choices. Help us to learn from his life the things that You desire for us to learn today. We pray this in Jesus' name, Amen.
Post a Comment