Numbers 20:1-13 Stop grief from bringing you more grief.

 Slide1 22  Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. 23  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 24  I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” 25  The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; 26  it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.” (Lamentations 3:22-26 (NIV).

This week as I was talking with and frankly mostly listening to Pastor Noel from the Victory church his words tugged on my heart.  His wife Carolyn broke her arm about three weeks ago in a way that seemed bizarre.  She had swung it back and then, as she turned, her hand gently caught on to something and the bone in her upper arm snapped. What came next was worse.  As they x-rayed the arm they saw spots all around the fracture.  The doctors immediately suspected cancer and gently tried to share their suspicions with Noel and Carolyn.

Of course more tests needed to be done before they would know the extent of the cancer.  Now this couple are young, active and generally very healthy.  They are passionately on fire for God and servants of the Most High.    They have three wonderful children ages 6-12.   And though this was shocking news it was not unfamiliar ground for them.  This couple had fought with cancer before and with medical intervention had won the victory and for several years now were living cancer free.  So they know God is fully into healing these days and are standing on promises from His word that the outcome of this will be nothing short of miraculous for them.

The next tests and CT-Scan showed that the cancer has gone everywhere throughout her body, the prognosis was not good according to their doctor.    And yet after receiving this terrifying news, that would normally devastate most people, when this couple returned to their vehicle to head home, Noel commented something to the effect of, “well, that sure didn’t go as expected” and then they both began laughing for quite some time.  The peace of God that passes understanding has given them such assurance that they can laugh even in the face of death.

God’s word says, 3  You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. 4  Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD, the LORD, is the Rock eternal” (Isaiah 26:3-4 (NIV).

Now it’s not that they aren’t concerned about what’s going on but that concern is drawing them even closer to each other and to God and not driving a wedge between as the devil would hope.  And Noel says this peace is multiplying in their congregation.  People are seeing God’s peace in Carolyn’s continence and spiritual breakthroughs are happening.  In the midst of this mess people are turning and getting right with Jesus.  Proving once again that what the devil would use for harm, God through His faithful servants gains more victory!

Needless to say, we want to keep them in our prayers as they walk the difficult road ahead.  As Pastor Noel permits I’ll keep you updated.  But as I was writing this I can’t help but remember Pastor Michael Shultz’ little baby that was supposed to have died and yet God shocked even the doctors and that child is cancer free 2 years later.  And so I pray for the complete healing that both Noel and Carolyn desire.  And I believe that God can do it.

Our God is able!   He brings us through every trial in life and through them He receives glory and honour as we His children trust in Him.  But what happens when His children choose to grumble and complain instead of trusting Him?  Or give into outright rebellion and disobey Him?

God is like any good father who disciples the child He loves so that they too may grow in holiness.

At least that’s how I see it from today’s passage in HIStory.

Today’s portion of HIStory speaks to those times when our  grief, frustration and anger cause us to come under God’s hand of disciple.  And it helps us to understand that God is still good even when He disciplines us so that His Holiness may shine brightly through our lives.

So turn in your Bible or Apps with me to Numbers 20:1-13 and let’s refresh our memories on why even Moses fell short of the promised land.

 “1  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.  2  Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. 3  They quarreled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the LORD!  4  Why did you bring the LORD’s community into this desert, that we and our livestock should die here? 5  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!” 6  Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the Tent of Meeting and fell facedown, and the glory of the LORD appeared to them.

 7  The LORD said to Moses,  8  “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.” 9  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. Water gushed 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 LORD and where he showed himself holy among them.” (Numbers 20:1-13 (NIV)

Slide6-num20As we begin this passage we find Israel encamped at Kadesh in the dessert of Zin and still grumpy as ever!  The event described here takes place just prior to entering the Promised Land.  So for forty years they have wandered around this desolate land. Forty years God has faithfully fed and watered and kept the grumblers and complainers until many of them died of natural causes.  But it’s now time for the fulfillment of what we saw two weeks ago in Numbers 14.

Slide7You’ll remember that God vowed that no one over twenty was going to step one foot into the Promised Land.  And it was their own fault.  It was because of what came out of their mouths as they grieved those memories of how things were back in Egypt.  And to say that their memories were faulty at best would be an understatement! As they remembered it so much better than it really was.

For those of you who studied the cross-references, that I posted online or that we went through at Bible Study, we’ll also remember that God’s judgement, no one over twenty,  even included the leadership of the day.   Moses , Aaron and Miriam and frankly every one else who by today’s passage in HIStory was now over 60 would die short of the Promised Land.  All those adults have died or are about to die in the desert of Zin except Joshua, and Caleb.

Moses also begins this chapter by telling us about the passing of someone who was ever so close to him.  It was his big sister, Miriam.

Slide8-num20Miriam was the one who, at age ten or so, stood by the river bank when Moses mom put him in a basket and sent him afloat.  Not wanting to lose sight of her little brother she watched carefully from the safety of the reeds.  And when Pharaoh’s daughter found the basket, at just the opportune time, Miriam stepped forward and offered a suggestion that would reunite Moses with his family.
 “…”Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?” (Exodus 2:7 (NIV).  She of course went and got Moses own mom to come and nurse.

Miriam was also close to Moses all those years in the desert.  The Bible calls her a prophetess and of course she is the sister of Aaron, Moses’ brother.  HIStory indicates that she never married but rather chose to be used of God to help His people and was greatly admired as a worship leader bringing them solace and encouragement in that barren land.  But she was no perfect saint.  She too grumbled and on one occasion thinking that she knew better than little brother Moses…  “ 1  Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. 2  “Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” And the LORD heard this. (Numbers 12:1-2 (NIV).

And the LORD was not happy with what He was hearing.  So HE called the three of them to the carpet so to speak.

 6  He said, “Listen to my words: “When a prophet of the LORD is among you, I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams. 7  But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. 8  With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses? (Numbers 12:6-8 (NIV). 

Why indeed! Is it just my family or do older sisters naturally think they always know better?  It appears that this sibling rivalry stuff was around way back then.  And it hasn’t changed much in all those years.

“Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife..”   Apparently when big sister couldn’t get her own way she formed a coalition and the two bad mouthed Moses.  But for some reason only Miriam took the brunt of God’s correction.   God’s let loose His verdict and instantly Miriam was inflicted with leprosy from head to toe.  It seems she was the instigator so she was disciplined most severely!  It would be a lesson for not only Aaron but the whole nation to see.

Leprosy was no small deal back then.  It created instant outcasts.   In a twinkling of an eye Miriam gave up the influence she had from being a worship leader in this attempt to gain more power or greater position.  And in a twinkling of God’s eye she lost both influence and position and was instantly an outcast having to call aloud unclean unclean.  While leprosy is not always a sign of sin in someone’s life, but usually an infection needing medical intervention, it is clear from our passage that this leprosy was instantaneous divine judgment.  God made sure that the whole community would know how God felt about Miriam’s sin of gossip and rebellion.

It was more than Moses could bear to see.  Moses loved his big sister even if she was being a pain.  He couldn’t bear to see her flesh rot away.  So little brother Moses, interceded on her behalf and crying out to God, “O God, please heal her!” (Numbers 12:13 (NIV).

And God relented …but not before Miriam went through the stigma of leprosy for ten days.  God made sure she got the point but then restored her and she lived free of that disease, but ashamed of what she had done no doubt, until the day she died.

Later when when Moses wrote the law on leprosy he reminded all of Israel what God did to Miriam so that they took seriously the separation and  sanctification or purification process when dealing with this disease (cf. Deut. 24:9).    (Today with the proper medicines the need for quarantine is not nearly as long.)

All that to says, without a doubt Miriam remained very important to her little brother Moses.  Their journey together was precious in his sight, and this bout of rebellion and leprosy didn’t demolish his love for her one bit.  They were close family!  Close to God and close to each other.

So when it is mentioned in our passage today that Miriam died and was buried we need to keep in mind just how this would affect Moses.  He was grieving the loss of his big sister.   And grief is a powerful mood altering emotion.  One minute you think you have it under control and the next you are lashing out or in tears over something that wouldn’t normally phase you.     Moses was in an emotionally vulnerable state and needed time to grieve and mourn but  all Israel could do was to grumble and complain about their living conditions.

There is no water!  Like, duh…you are in a desert!  What do you expect?   They had already been down that bunny trail before.  Forty years earlier!  At Rephidim.   It was there that the Lord had Moses strike a rock and water gushed out showing them that God was in control and could bring them everything they needed even in the desert.  But here they were again, complaining and grumbling at the two guys who just lost their sister! And it’s not clear from the text if they even took time between grumbles to show respect and mourn for Miriam.

Now, if you have ever lost anyone close to you, you can understand the state of mind Moses and Aaron would be in in.  That fog layer doesn’t instantly lift.   Your emotions are pretty raw and unpredictable for quite some time. And you are more likely to say and do things that can get you into a bit of trouble if you aren’t careful.

So when forty years later Israel was still saying the same old things:  “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the LORD! 4  Why did you bring the LORD’s community into this desert, that we and our livestock should die here? 5  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!” (3-5).  Complain, complain, complain! They could have been commiserating with Moses and not grumbling and complaining…  Had they learned nothing at all from forty years wandering in the desert?  Had not God provided again and again and again?

Clearly it was all that Moses and Aaron could stand.  To their credit they did what they ought to have done.  They went in to the tent of meeting before the LORD, humbly falling on their faces.  And God was swift and merciful to deal with the issue at hand.  He told Moses to take the staff that had been the sign for Israel of God’s power among them.

Slide11-num20 “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.” (Numbers 20:8 (NIV).

And one could argue had Moses and Aaron not been so emotionally spent they might have done exactly what the Lord told them to do.

Slide12-num20Instead, 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. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.” (Numbers 20:10-11 (NIV)

Psalm 106:32-33 summarizes the events of that day in this way:

“By the waters of Meribah they angered the LORD, and trouble came to Moses because of them;  for they rebelled against the Spirit of God, and rash words came from Moses’ lips (Psalm 106:32-33).

They got their precious water, Moses vented a bit, but at least the stick wasn’t broken over someone’s head.  Right?  What’s the harm?

Slide14 “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.”

Numbers 20:12 (NIV)  Because you did not…you will not!

Ouch! You mean, indulging those inner feelings with 40 years of pent up anger and then projecting the pain of grief on those who were annoying Moses was actually noticed by GOD?

Not only did GOD notice it but He immediately held Moses accountable for his actions.  “…you will not bring this community into the land I give them” (12).

Romans 2:11 says, “there is no partiality with God.”  Moses, himself said, “For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe (Deut. 10:17).

Israel’s belly aching and rebellion was no excuse for Moses disrespectful behavior towards God.  God had given him specific instructions.  And while he began to carry the instructions out righteously by taking the staff just as God told him, grief ridden anger got the best of Moses.

When Moses struck the rock twice he was striking at God’s provision for Israel’s salvation in the desert of Zin.  God had given them this rock to be a sign not only to Israel of His provision in their crisis situation but to all who call on the Name of the LORD in crisis.   And we know from the New Testament just Who that Rock was symbolically.  Christ is the rock from whom flows living water that sustains us in our desert moments when our faith is dry and we are weary.

Slide151 Cor. 10:4 says that all of Israel, 4  …drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:4 (NIV).   Christ is the ROCK on which the church was fashioned, the foundation that has kept it through many tumultuous times.

1 Peter 2:7-8 says,   7  … to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone, 8  and, “A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the message 1 Peter 2:7-8 (NIV).

Slide16When you and I grumble and complain and strike out in our anger we too are striking out at Christ.  And there clearly are consequences for putting a stumbling blocks on anyone’s path.  By lashing out at them Moses was taking vengeance, in a real sense he was kind of acting as God.   “Must we bring water from this rock”?

Go ahead, take a stick and go out and hit all the rocks you want…you will never see water flowing from them!

Even if Moses was grieving the loss of Miriam his actions were not acceptable to God.  As their leader he was called to intercede on their behalf.  Not take matters into his own hands. The Bible says, “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

Slide17In one of the Egyptian Hallel Psalms the psalmist wrote,  “Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob, 8  who turned the rock into a pool, the hard rock into springs of water.” Psalm 114:7-8 (NIV).

Our God is Holy.   And deserves our utmost respect at all times.  And when we resist the urge to extract revenge then as David put it our God becomes a mighty fortress: Psalm 18:2 (NIV) “The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (Psalm 18:2 (NIV).


So when you are grieving the way things are. Or grieving the way things were. Even if that grief is over a loved one.  Stop grief from bringing you more grief by trusting in the LORD and honour Him as Holy.  While the pain may not immediately subside, and the situation may not instantly get better at least you will know you have a stronghold that can never fail in Him.

 “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:7).

(Prayer & Praise)

Prayer for Pastor Noel & Carolyn


Discussion starters:

  1.  How does it  feel when you lose someone special?  Is it different when it is a brother, a sister, mother or father?
  2.  What do you do to mourn their loss?  (For example, some put on special clothes and withdraw to spend time quietly remembering.  Some have a wake, get drunk and wake up the next day with a huge headache. )
  3. Think about the time you last lashed out at someone, what was the underlying cause?
  4.   What can you do to still grieve and mourn your loss but not sin in the process?
  5.  Does God hold us accountable for our outbursts when we are still grieving?

Let’s dig deeper:

Read Numbers 20:1-13 in several versions if possible.

  1. Where do the events take place? ( Numbers 20:1) (See also Numbers 13:21, 26)
  2.  Who has died in verse 1?  What do we know about her?  (Exodus 15:20-21; Numbers 12:1-15; Numbers 26:59; Deuteronomy 24:9; 1 Chronicles 6:3;  Micah 6:4)
  3. What crisis situation is presented in verse 2?  Was it genuine?
  4. How did the people react to the crisis? (Numbers 20:3-5) Acts 7:39-40 (See also Numbers 11:1-3, 33-34; Numbers 14:1-2; Numbers 16:30-37; Exodus 16:2-3;  Exodus 17:2).
  5. What did Moses and Aaron do after hearing the people? (Numbers 20:6; Numbers 14:5; Numbers 16:4; Numbers 16:22; Numbers 16:45; Exodus 17:4; Joshua 7:6; 1 Chronicles 21:16; Psalm 109:3-4; Matthew 26:39)
  6. What did God do with their crisis complaint? (Numbers 20:7)    (See also Genesis 18:14;  Psalm 33:9; Mark 11:22-24; Luke 11:13; Rev. 22:17)
  7. What did God tell Moses and Aaron to do? (Numbers 20:8)  Did they do it as God told them? (Numbers 20:9-11)
  8. Did God hold them accountable for their actions? (Numbers 20:12-13)  (Numbers 27:14; Leviticus 10:1-3; Deuteronomy 3:23-26; Deuteronomy 32:49-50; Deuteronomy 34:4; Joshua 1:2)
  9. Was Moses at fault, or was the community at fault? (Numbers 20:12)  (See also Deuteronomy 1:37; Deuteronomy 32:51; Isaiah 8:13-14; 1 Peter 3:15)
  10.  What should we do when in our grief we want to strike out at others?  Here are some ways that people of the Bible mourned: (Genesis 50:1-3, 10; Psalm 42:3, Psalm 56:8; Exodus 12:30; Jeremiah 9:17-18; 1 Sam 30:4; 2 Sam 3:31; 2 Sam 15:30; Job 2:13; John 11:19-40; Matthew 2:17-18; Matthew 26:37-44; Mark 14:34-42; Luke 22:42-44)

 “13  Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 14  We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15  According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16  For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18  Therefore encourage each other with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (NIV)


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