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14 May 2019

Numbers 20

In the first month the whole Israelite community arrived at the Desert of Zin,and they stayed at Kadesh. There Miriam died and was buried.
Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. They quarreled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the Lord! Why did you bring the Lord’s community into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here?Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!”
Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the tent of meetingand fell facedown, and the glory of the Lord appeared to them. The Lord said to Moses, “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.”
So Moses took the staff from the Lord’s presence, just as he commanded him.10 He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?”11 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Watergushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.
12 But the Lord said 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.”
13 These were the waters of Meribah, where the Israelites quarreled with the Lordand where he was proved holy among them.
Edom Denies Israel Passage
14 Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom, saying:
“This is what your brother Israel says: You know about all the hardships that have come on us. 15 Our ancestors went down into Egypt, and we lived there many years. The Egyptians mistreated us and our ancestors, 16 but when we cried out to the Lord, he heard our cry and sent an angel and brought us out of Egypt.
“Now we are here at Kadesh, a town on the edge of your territory. 17 Please let us pass through your country. We will not go through any field or vineyard, or drink water from any well. We will travel along the King’s Highway and not turn to the right or to the left until we have passed through your territory.”
18 But Edom answered:
“You may not pass through here; if you try, we will march out and attack you with the sword.”
19 The Israelites replied:
“We will go along the main road, and if we or our livestock drink any of your water, we will pay for it. We only want to pass through on foot—nothing else.”
20 Again they answered:
“You may not pass through.”
Then Edom came out against them with a large and powerful army. 21 Since Edom refused to let them go through their territory, Israel turned away from them.
The Death of Aaron
22 The whole Israelite community set out from Kadesh and came to Mount Hor.23 At Mount Hor, near the border of Edom, the Lord said to Moses and Aaron,24 “Aaron will be gathered to his people. He will not enter the land I give the Israelites, because both of you rebelled against my command at the waters of Meribah. 25 Get Aaron and his son Eleazar and take them up Mount Hor.26 Remove Aaron’s garments and put them on his son Eleazar, for Aaron will be gathered to his people; he will die there.”
27 Moses did as the Lord commanded: They went up Mount Hor in the sight of the whole community. 28 Moses removed Aaron’s garments and put them on his son Eleazar. And Aaron died there on top of the mountain. Then Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain, 29 and when the whole community learned that Aaron had died, all the Israelites mourned for him thirty days.

Israel have endured difficult times (verse 2). Their extended stay in the wilderness has been hard and they are coming face to face with the consequences of their earlier rebellion (Exodus 32) – ‘this’ generation is dying; their friends and loved ones are dying (verse 3). Moses is not immune from these consequences and this trying time – his own sister has died (verse 1). These are difficult and trying times.

It is often such times that have a way of revealing what is really going on in our hearts and minds. It is during these times that our real character is exposed. And the Israelites are no exception. Earlier gratitude is replaced with ingratitude and their grumbling escalates to quarrelling. Of course, their questions to Moses are really questions to God – it is God’s goodness they are doubting; God’s purposes they are questioning!

How quickly our changing circumstances reveal the discontentment of our hearts. We quickly forget all that God has already done for us and lose sight of what He promised He will still do. Gratitude gives way to ingratitude, to grumbling, and to quarrelling – we blame god and turn away from Him.

Sadly, these times even become a struggle for Moses. Although he was faithful in seeking the Lord (verse 6), he was unfaithful in obeying the Lord. When instructed to speak to the rock in the presence of people (verse 8 – a command that would reveal God’s power and provision); Moses strikes the rock (verse 11) in an attitude of frustration and anger (probably more at the people than at God Himself – verse 10). His disobedience to God’s instruction is considered both a lack of faith and a compromise of God’s holiness (verse 12) … and will bear the consequences accordingly – he too will die in the wilderness (verse 12).

In light of God’s gracious provision of salvation, the call of God’s people is always faithful and obedient perseverance in and through all circumstances. Not just when life is easy, but especially when the circumstances are hard and not working out quite as we expected or hoped. Even at those times, we are to be marked by gratitude not grumbling; by obedience not disobedience, by the pursuit of holiness not worldliness; and always we seek to honour God as holy. 

Through the work of Jesus and with the help of the Spirit, we can!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, help us always to remember what You have already done in our salvation through Jesus and what You have promised still to do in bringing us to glory. Help us, therefore, to respond to our present circumstances – especially difficult circumstances – with thankfulness, faithfulness and obedience. Help us always to faithfully pursue Your holiness and glory, especially in a world that is moving further away from You. In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.