They traveled up from Mt. Sinai to Kadesh

The people don’t believe they can take out the giants so they wander

After the 40 years of wandering God leads them to the place where Moses will die

Chapter 6 Recap

Within days of receiving the Law, Israel began a downhill slide into all kinds of sin.  The golden calf and the accompanying immorality were just the beginning.  After spending a year at Mount Sinai, the cloud lifted and Israel began her journey toward the Promised Land.

From Kadesh Barnea, Moses sent out twelve leaders to spy out the land.  They returned with a negative report that spread fear throughout the populous.  Only Caleb and Joshua believed God’s promise to give them the land by overtaking their enemies.  God’s anger became a major motif in this chapter sparked by the sin and unbelief of His chosen people.  He punished Israel by confining them to the desert for 40 years until the unbelieving generation died out.  They would never enjoy the benefits of the Land.  Those 40 years were marked by cycles of sin and God’s anger.  We see that, from the Garden, sin leads to physical death.  Understanding the connection between sin and death helps us to understand the magnitude of Christ’s resurrection and the hope of our own.

After the old generation died in the desert, God and Moses began to prepare the new generation to enter and conquer the Land.  This new generation continued in the same cycles of sin as their fallen fathers including idolatry and immorality at Shittim.  Israelite men were indulging in immorality and Baal worship with Canaanite women.  But unlike his grandfather Aaron who willingly participated in the golden calf incident, Priest Phinehas was zealous for the LORD and put to death the idolaters.  Again, their sin was directly tied to the plague that killed 24,000.  This helps set the foundation to understand Moses’ farewell address to Israel.  We see from their example that being righteous under the Law was impossible.  This nation was far from holy.

Israel is God’s chosen nation by covenant.  They were chosen to be a blessing to all nations.  Moses had to remind the new generation of all that God had done for them since Abraham’s call.  After leading this people through the wilderness and investing his life in them, Moses imparted his God-inspired message:  Choose life.  They were to believe and obey God.  Belief and obedience carried with it covenantal benefits of prosperity and life in the Land.  Unbelief and covenantal disobedience carried with it the consequences of cursing and death.  Two choices, but only one leads to life.

There are three separate themes that run through the chapter this week. We will take each one separately. There is also some bonus material on Miriam at the end of the lesson.

Freedom vs. Familiarity

No less than six times in the chapter, the people pine for “the good old days” in Egypt:

a)      “Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the Lord” (p.57)

b)      “If only we had meat to eat!  We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost…” (p.58)

c)      “Why did we ever leave Egypt?” (p.58)

d)     “If only we had died in Egypt!” (p.61)

and 40 years later…(!)

e)      “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!”  (p.63)

f)       “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?  There is no bread!  There is no water!  And we detest this miserable food!”  (p.65)

It’s always striking to watch how people cling to the familiar, however damaging and unhealthy, over freedom from that bondage.  A poorly fitting shoe, over time, conforms to the foot so that when you try on a properly fitting shoe, it feels foreign and out-of-place.  In fact, when given an opportunity to choose health or disease, the unhealthy is often chosen because it involves far less risk and engagement.  Why take a chance on a potentially positive relationship, when a poorer choice would remove any possibility of future disappointment?

Why do we naturally long for the things of the past instead of focusing on the future?

Satan convinces us that no matter how traumatic our wounds, the sting of an antiseptic is not worth the long-term effect; no matter how heavy our baggage, we dare not off-load it.  It’s the old devil-you-know ploy that traps people in a closed, spiraling loop of faithlessness.

Wandering was this chapter’s manifestation of God’s concession to their self-absorption.  A couple of practical applications:

Who among us has not experienced an “in-between” time of aimlessness and lack of direction?  Is it possible that unbelief in God’s grand Upper Story is the source of our wandering no less than it was for the Hebrews?

Ecclesiastes, the Gospels and Romans, to name a few, all deal with retreat to the comfortable yet unhealthy.  The Bible is full of examples of the cycle of deliverance and then relapse…victory followed by defeat…freedom overshadowed by recidivism.  How great the grace of God that His salvation is perpetual, enduring, and new every morning.  Aspects of these cyclical patterns, and the power of grace over them, can be much more deeply explored. What can you do to help remind yourself of his ever-present mercy?

Leadership Issues

The chapter illustrates not just the burdens of leadership, but its pitfalls:

  • Lesson #1:  Moses, predictably, gets fed up with the whining, fussing and griping of the people.  If this is my burden, just kill me, he says.  But Lesson #1 for leaders is that even when you reach exasperation trying to “herd cats on linoleum,” trust that a) God gets no less fed up but never fails to apply mercy, and b) he will often allow the consequences of the people’s misery to be visited upon them “until it comes out of their nostrils.”  Thus, they become their own punishment, so you, as a leader, can take that off your plate and focus on mercy.
  • Lesson #2: This leadership lesson is about leading in the role God gives you.  Aaron and Miriam were leaders, but did not have Moses’ mantle.  They begin to sound a lot like James, John and their mother in the NT:  “What about us??”  Lesson #2 on leadership is to bloom where God plants you.
  • Lesson #3: The same story contains the next lesson: let God do the defending.  Moses’ humility was the key, and as far as Scripture records, he let God do all the talking – in fact, p. 59 says after the Lord heard Miriam and Aaron, “at once” the Lord jumped in the fray.  We must focus on humility and leave the defense to God.
  • Lesson #4: The the conventional wisdom of a leadership community is frequently off base.  Of the twelve spies (a leader from each tribe), ten of them responded in fear, and only two in faith.  The “road less traveled” – an out-of-the-box approach – is especially applicable to those who have the responsibility of leading others.
  • Lesson #5:  If you’re in a leadership role, God’s expectations of you go way up.  You’d think Moses’ striking the rock instead of speaking to it could have been explained by exuberance and maybe a little grandstanding…but as the leader of the people, his example sent a message that no other person’s disobedience would – and so he lost the capstone of the journey: crossing the goal line.  In the NT, Jesus talks about servant leadership, and James warns teachers (influencers) as well about the gravity of authority.  As this story demonstrates, we dare not take it lightly.
  • Lesson #6: As a final tribute to his humility and leadership ability, Moses saw the absolute necessity of Succession Planning.  Real leaders never fail to equip their people to do without them, and so his prayer on p. 67 is especially poignant:  “May the Lord, The God of every human spirit, appoint someone over this community to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.”  He knew his work wasn’t completed without ensuring sound leadership for his flock after his departure, even in the face of his punishment.  No wonder God thought so much of him.

From the list of leadership lessons to learn from, which ones are the ones you want to never forget? Which ones do you struggle with? Which ones would you leave behind?

Parting Words

This can be the most personal part of the lesson.  If you were leaving a church or a company or a family for the last time, what would you say?  What words would you want echoing in their ears long after your departure?

Read Moses’ final speech to the people Deuteronomy 33

Moses’ final words were those of great encouragement:  the Lord is God and trustworthy; love him completely; teach your family to do the same; remember his chastening; and finally, in a very Messianic tone:  as you enter into the Promise, be of good cheer, for God has overcome already.  In John 17, just before Gethsemane, Jesus said basically the same thing.

What would be your closing statement or farewell address?

Words to Live By

Identify who said these words and when:

  • Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.—John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address, 20 Jan 1961
  • Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men were created equal.  Abe Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, 19 Nov 1863
  • From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.  Sir Winston Churchill, Westminster College, Fulton, MO, 5 March 1946
  • I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.— Martin Luther King, 28 Aug 1963
  • Love always hurts.—Mother Teresa, Nat’l Prayer Breakfast, 4 Feb 1994

Few people’s words are truly, historically memorable.  Fewer yet affect true change in others.  From the 40 years that Moses led Israel in the desert, only his final speeches/sermons are recorded to live on in history, changing hearts as God’s inspired Word.

I.       Wrongdoings to die for

Israel spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness for their unbelief.  God told Israel to go into the Land that He would give them.  But they did not trust Him.

A. Israel grumbled about their hardships  ->  God’s anger burned.

B. Israel and the Egyptian rabble complained about the manna  ->  God’s anger burned.

C. Israel wanted meat so God gave them quail and a plague  ->  God’s anger burned.

D. Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses  ->  God’s anger burned.

E. Israel’s leaders brought back a bad report from the Land and refused to enter as God instructed  ->  God’s anger burned.

– Because Israel refused to go into the Land that God had given them, He disciplined them with 40 years in the desert.  The unbelieving generation would die in the desert and never enjoy the benefits of the Land given to Israel by covenant.

– The new generation would be led into the land by Joshua and Caleb, the only two leaders that believed God was able to take the Land.

F. 40 years later, the new generation was repeating the sins of their fathers.

– They grumbled for lack of water.

– They grumbled for lack of food  ->  God sent snakes.

– They worshiped Baal and indulged in immorality  ->  God sent a plague.

II.    Words to live by

A. Moses had spent 40 years investing his life into the Israelites.  He had faced down Pharaoh and seen God face to face!  He listened to their grumblings with exasperation.  He watched the old generation die in the desert with grief and frustration.  His unchecked frustration resulted in God’s discipline so that even Moses would not be permitted to enter the Promised Land.  But Moses was a faithful leader to the end.

B. Moses had begun his ministry worried about his inability to speak well.  Through his 40 years of leadership, only his final three sermons are recorded in the Bible.  (These make up the Book of Deuteronomy.  In The Story they are summarized on pp. 68-70.)

C. Knowing that he would die soon, Moses must have had a heavy burden on his heart for these people.  He needed to impart wisdom and instruction to his children.  He needed to pass on to them their own history so that they could learn from their fathers’ mistakes.  Most of all, Moses desperately needed to convey to them the work of God on their behalf and encourage their appropriate responses of trust, love and obedience.

D. The message is summarized as follows:

– There is only one God, the LORD.  He loved you and redeemed you.  Therefore, believe and obey.

– Obedience from the heart will result in prosperity in the Land.

– Loving God results in obedience; obedience results in life.

– Turning away from God results in disobedience; disobedience results in death and you will not live in the Land.

– The LORD is your life–choose life!

III. Implications and Applications

A. I should learn from the Israelites’ examples and not grumble, commit idolatry or immorality.

B. God provides for my needs.  I should be thankful.

C. There are consequences for my choices of unbelief.  I choose wisely.

D. Sin leads to death, but Christ overcame death!  I should trust Him for my life.

E. Moses’ final words were God-inspired and important.  Therefore, I should listen carefully to the message.

F. There are still only two choices, but only one leads to life.

G. I choose life when I believe and obey God.

H. Obedience is an outward expression of an inward faith.  My motivation is from my heart that loves God.

My Words to Live By

With a small group, or with a partner, share what you might say if you knew this would be your final opportunity to speak with your family and friends.

  • What would be your message to your spouse?
  • To your children?

After you have done that, consider this:

  • If this is the most important message that you could pass on, are we communicating that message now in either word or deed?
  • How could your “words to live by” help guide your priorities in the present?

Bonus material if you want some more study on a character:

Chapter 6 of THE STORY reveals Miriam as a qualified leader whom God provided, along with Moses and Aaron, to deliver His people from bondage.  But God showed Miriam that he was deadly serious when he taught her a most important lesson about his leaders.  Their relationship with Him is what matters.

I. Miriam as a leader.

1.  What do these events from Miriam’s life reveal about the kind of person she was?

Exodus 2:4- She watched her baby brother in his basket in the Nile.

Exodus 2:7- She offered their own mother to Pharaoh’s daughter as a nurse.

Exodus 15:20- Miriam was called a prophetess.

Exodus 15:20, 21- All the women followed her with tambourines, dancing, and singing.

Numbers 12:1- Miriam led in speaking out against Moses.

Numbers 12:15-16- The Israelites waited for 7 days when Miriam was confined outside of camp.

Numbers 20:1- Her death is recorded.

Micah 6:4- Miriam is named with Moses and Aaron as leaders that God sent to the Israelites.

2. Word Study:

Exodus 2:4- The term “stood at a distance” implies taking a stand, or positioning oneself.  What would that imply about how the young girl, Miriam, watched her brother.

Exodus 15:20- The word prophetess in ancient literature refers to a woman.  It can mean a poetess, or an inspired woman.  How do we know that both things apply to Miriam?

Numbers 8- Levite refers to the descendants of Levi.  This tribe was assigned by God with the task of caring for all the duties of the Tabernacle.  As a descendant of Levi, what duties did Miriam perform that might correspond to the Tabernacle worship?

II. Miriam and Aaron criticize Moses.  Numbers 12

The opposition of Miriam and Aaron to Moses came at a difficult time in the life of the Israelite nation.  Chapter 6 of The Story relates the events from Numbers 11, just preceding the challenge to Moses’s authority. The constant complaints had angered God so much that he sent fire from heaven and consumed some who were positioned at the edges of the camp.  Only Moses’s prayer on their behalf saved the rest of them.  Next they drove Moses to distraction because they were hungry for meat.  God sent such a quantity of quail that measured three feet deep around them, and then he served a plague for dessert!  The truth is they had replaced the respect and honor that they’d had for God during the building of the tabernacle with disrespect and scorn.  Even with these images fresh in mind, Miriam and Aaron added to Moses’s burdens with their personal criticism.

What did Miriam and Aaron challenge? (v. 1)

What was the real reason for the opposition? (v. 2)

How did Moses react? (v. 3)

What did God do? (v. 4-5)

What was the consequence for Miriam? (v. 9-13)

What was the consequence for the Israelites? (v. 13-16)

The friendship between Moses and God was foreign to Miriam and Aaron.  They were uncomfortable with it. Describe this relationship from the following passages.

Exodus 33:17-23

Exodus 33:11; Numbers 12:6-9

III. Leadership Challenge

Miriam and Aaron started their opposition with an excuse.  But the complaint reveals the real problem.

The Complaint:  Consider Miriam’s grievance in Numbers 12:2: “‘Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?’ they asked.  ‘Hasn’t he also spoken through us?’”

  • What do these words imply about how Miriam and Aaron had been used by God?
  • What do these words reflect about Miriam and Aaron’s attitude toward God?
  • What would it mean to you if you knew that God had spoken through you?
  • To what extent do we have the right to evaluate how God chooses to work with those who serve him as Lord and Master?

Both Miriam and Aaron had demonstrated great leadership.  They had also shown terrible lapses of judgment.  Moses too, had led well and he had made grave mistakes. Each one had an important role in God’s plan.  To our knowledge, God had not distinguished Miriam’s nor Aaron’s contribution as less meaningful than Moses’s.  But there was a difference.

Key Question for us:  In what areas are you prideful in your position rather than pleased to contribute in God’s Kingdom?

Be a blessing this week as you have been blessed!