Original outline by Barbara Kreider

The Israelites finally reach the Promised Land

  • They see what would be facing them if they went in: strong opposing nations
  • They accuse God of bringing them to their death and turn on him and his leaders
  • God says: If you don’t want to go in, fine. You don’t have to
  • God has them wander the wilderness until all those who refused to take him up on his offer have died
  • They get to the entrance and then turn around

Tonight… What happens when they have turned around, when they have turned their back on the provision and rest that they were offered by God

The end of the book of Numbers brings them right up to the Promised Land

  • They run into problems in this section that will plague them the entire time they occupy the land, and God’s warning for how they will end up if they choose to compromise on the things that God has called for
  • Consequences of compromise… what happens when we cave on what we know God has called for, for the sake of personal gain.
  • We’ve got a choice to make, as we’ll see


Numbers 20 

In the first month of the year,[a] the whole community of Israel arrived in the wilderness of Zin and camped at Kadesh. While they were there, Miriam died and was buried. There was no water for the people to drink at that place, so they rebelled against Moses and Aaron. The people blamed Moses and said, “If only we had died in the Lord’s presence with our brothers! Why have you brought the congregation of the Lord’s people into this wilderness to die, along with all our livestock? Why did you make us leave Egypt and bring us here to this terrible place? This land has no grain, no figs, no grapes, no pomegranates, and no water to drink!”

  • The usual… we have seen this time and time again

 Moses and Aaron turned away from the people and went to the entrance of the Tabernacle,[b] where they fell face down on the ground. Then the glorious presence of theLord appeared to them, and the Lord said to Moses, “You and Aaron must take the staff and assemble the entire community. As the people watch, speak to the rock over there, and it will pour out its water. You will provide enough water from the rock to satisfy the whole community and their livestock.”

  • We have seen God provide in a similar way before, but this time it is slightly different, God tells Moses to speak to the rock as opposed to strike it

So Moses did as he was told. He took the staff from the place where it was kept before the Lord. 10 Then he and Aaron summoned the people to come and gather at the rock. “Listen, you rebels!” he shouted. “Must we bring you water from this rock?” 11 Then Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with the staff, and water gushed out. So the entire community and their livestock drank their fill.

  • That was intense.

12 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust me enough to demonstrate my holiness to the people of Israel, you will not lead them into the land I am giving them!” 13 This place was known as the waters of Meribah (which means “arguing”) because there the people of Israel argued with the Lord, and there he demonstrated his holiness among them.

  • God tells Moses that he will not be the one to take the people into the promised land because of what happened here.
  • Over-reaction on God’s part?

DQ: What do you think about what Moses did and how God responded?

  • Notice what Moses says in his anger
  • Pissed that they haven’t been judged by God, Moses at this point probably feels personally wronged
  • Drags God into his anger (there is a such thing as righteous anger)
  • The responsibility he has here gives his a greater level of accountability
  • I am not exactly a rager but my anger is still something that is incredibly damaging, because bitterness can destroy our relationship with God and our relationships with other people (but it is sneaky….)

**** A point about anger being something that trips us up

  • Redeeming things about the situation
    • Moses got to go to heaven a little bit earlier
      • He entered ultimate rest from his talk serving the God
      • He is not remembered for this, scripture remembers him for his faith
      • God was probably like: Dude, you’re tired, let’s just go home and rest.

And to his credit Moses doesn’t quit at this point either… and things don’t exactly start to look up going forward

  • Moses goes on to request safe passage through the land of Edom and they are like don’t even try it. The Israelites are forced to go around.
  • Moses’s brother Aaron also dies in this chapter and the role of high priest is handed down to his son.


21 The Canaanite king of Arad, who lived in the Negev, heard that the Israelites were approaching on the road through Atharim. So he attacked the Israelites and took some of them as prisoners. Then the people of Israel made this vow to the Lord: “If you will hand these people over to us, we will completely destroy[a] all their towns.” The Lord heard the Israelites’ request and gave them victory over the Canaanites. The Israelites completely destroyed them and their towns, and the place has been called Hormah[b] ever since. Then the people of Israel set out from Mount Hor, taking the road to the Red Sea[c] to go around the land of Edom.

  • God has given them a military victory, this is one of the first of many that they will have; as they reapproach the land they become a military people

But the people grew impatient with the long journey, and they began to speak against God and Moses. “Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die here in the wilderness?” they complained. “There is nothing to eat here and nothing to drink. And we hate this horrible manna!”

  • Like little kids. Like me and fish sticks as a kid.

So the Lord sent poisonous snakes among the people, and many were bitten and died.Then the people came to Moses and cried out, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take away the snakes.”

  • The people experience God’s judgment/discipline and recognize the fact that they messed up their attention has finally been grabbed
  • To actually genuinely admit that they have done something rebellious in accusing God the way that they do is rare…

So Moses prayed for the people. Then the Lord told him, “Make a replica of a poisonous snake and attach it to a pole. All who are bitten will live if they simply look at it!” So Moses made a snake out of bronze and attached it to a pole. Then anyone who was bitten by a snake could look at the bronze snake and be healed!

  • This is interesting AND REALLY COOL
  • God could totally just get rid of the snakes and heal everyone if he wanted to… he has the power to do that and there is no real reason that he couldn’t do that.
  • But he takes this moment to communicate something really important about sin and what he would later do through Christ on the cross
  • John 3:14 And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.
  • Symbolic of Christ being lifted up as he was crucified on our behalf. ALL THEY HAD TO DO WAS LOOK AT IT. But they did have to actually lift their heads. How foolish it would be is one of the Israelites chose not to do this…. And yet some of us when confronted with the decision about Christ are hesitant.
    • But, you might wonder, why is it that the snake is the one that is being lifted up for them to look at? Isn’t the snake usually the symbol for Satan, and sin—and Jesus was supposed to be without sin?
  • 21 He made Him who knew no sin to besin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
    • Really cool point of theology that takes this a step further
    • When Christ died on the cross what happened was that he, while sinless, our sin was imputed onto him. He became our sin.
    • And his righteousness was imputed to us. We are identified with his righteousness in the same way he is now identified with our sin.

We’ll talk about this a little bit more later—

  • Important to note, that at this point and moving forward, Israel ceases to be a wandering nation and becomes a conquering nation with God leading them to significant military victories
  • This is what is going to characterize them for a significant portion of their history moving forward, which we will get into especially in the book of Joshua
  • But even now…they are developing quite the reputation….

 22 Then the people of Israel traveled to the plains of Moab and camped east of the Jordan River, across from Jericho. They are like…right there. The land is on the other side of the Jordan. Spitting distance. Balak son of Zippor, the Moabite king, had seen everything the Israelites did to the Amorites. And when the people of Moab saw how many Israelites there were, they were terrified. The king of Moab said to the elders of Midian, “This mob will devour everything in sight, like an ox devours grass in the field!” So Balak, king of Moab, sent messengers to call Balaam son of Beor, who was living in his native land of Pethor[a] near the Euphrates River.[b] His message said: “Look, a vast horde of people has arrived from Egypt. They cover the face of the earth and are threatening me. Please come and curse these people for me because they are too powerful for me. Then perhaps I will be able to conquer them and drive them from the land. I know that blessings fall on any people you bless, and curses fall on people you curse.”

  • Prophet for hire, knows to have some sort of spiritual power

Balak’s messengers, who were elders of Moab and Midian, set out with money to pay Balaam to place a curse upon Israel.[c] They went to Balaam and delivered Balak’s message to him. “Stay here overnight,” Balaam said. “In the morning I will tell you whatever the Lord directs me to say.” So the officials from Moab stayed there with Balaam.

That night God came to Balaam and asked him, “Who are these men visiting you?”

10 Balaam said to God, “Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab, has sent me this message:11 ‘Look, a vast horde of people has arrived from Egypt, and they cover the face of the earth. Come and curse these people for me. Then perhaps I will be able to stand up to them and drive them from the land.’”

12 But God told Balaam, “Do not go with them. You are not to curse these people, for they have been blessed!”

13 The next morning Balaam got up and told Balak’s officials, “Go on home! The Lord will not let me go with you.”

  • Seems to have some knowledge of and respect for the idea that if God says something, you listen

14 So the Moabite officials returned to King Balak and reported, “Balaam refused to come with us.” 15 Then Balak tried again. This time he sent a larger number of even more distinguished officials than those he had sent the first time. 16 They went to Balaam and delivered this message to him:

“This is what Balak son of Zippor says: Please don’t let anything stop you from coming to help me. 17 I will pay you very well and do whatever you tell me. Just come and curse these people for me!”

18 But Balaam responded to Balak’s messengers, “Even if Balak were to give me his palace filled with silver and gold, I would be powerless to do anything against the will of the Lord my God. 19 But stay here one more night, and I will see if the Lord has anything else to say to me.”

  • That moment when we know what God’s will is but for some reason we lay away in bed at night going pleeeeeeease god…. Pleaaaaase….. Are you sure this isn’t your will? I think that it is… I’m pretty sure that it might be….
    • It seems like we can convince ourselves of pretty much anything when money is on the line
  • They are offering a significant amount of money and prestige to him—and he wants it. Really bad.

20 That night God came to Balaam and told him, “Since these men have come for you, get up and go with them. But do only what I tell you to do.”

  • You want to go, you’re going to go anyways… just go 😛 but you need to listen to me, this is important

21 So the next morning Balaam got up, saddled his donkey, and started off with the Moabite officials. 22 But God was angry that Balaam was going, so he sent the angel of the Lord to stand in the road to block his way.

  • That’s confusing… He told him to go….

As Balaam and two servants were riding along, 23 Balaam’s donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand. The donkey bolted off the road into a field, but Balaam beat it and turned it back onto the road. 24 Then the angel of the Lord stood at a place where the road narrowed between two vineyard walls. 25 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it tried to squeeze by and crushed Balaam’s foot against the wall. So Balaam beat the donkey again. 26 Then the angel of the Lord moved farther down the road and stood in a place too narrow for the donkey to get by at all. 27 This time when the donkey saw the angel, it lay down under Balaam maybe if I don’t move and close my eyes it won’t see me. In a fit of rage Balaam beat the animal again with his staff.

28 Then the Lord gave the donkey the ability to speak. “What have I done to you that deserves your beating me three times?” it asked Balaam.

29 “You have made me look like a fool!” Balaam shouted. “If I had a sword with me, I would kill you!”

  • Not phased by the talking….

30 “But I am the same donkey you have ridden all your life,” the donkey answered. “Have I ever done anything like this before?”

“No,” Balaam admitted.

31 Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the roadway with a drawn sword in his hand. Balaam bowed his head and fell face down on the ground before him.

  • When the angel of the lord shows up, you know it’s a big deal….

32 “Why did you beat your donkey those three times?” the angel of the Lord demanded. “Look, I have come to block your way because you are stubbornly resisting me. 33 Three times the donkey saw me and shied away; otherwise, I would certainly have killed you by now and spared the donkey.”

34 Then Balaam confessed to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned. I didn’t realize you were standing in the road to block my way. I will return home if you are against my going.”

35 But the angel of the Lord told Balaam, “Go with these men, but say only what I tell you to say.”

  • So he tells him to go but is like dude you need to listen to me

So Balaam went on with Balak’s officials. 36 When King Balak heard that Balaam was on the way, he went out to meet him at a Moabite town on the Arnon River at the farthest border of his land.

37 “Didn’t I send you an urgent invitation? Why didn’t you come right away?” Balak asked Balaam. “Didn’t you believe me when I said I would reward you richly?”

38 Balaam replied, “Look, now I have come, but I have no power to say whatever I want. I will speak only the message that God puts in my mouth.” 39 Then Balaam accompanied Balak to Kiriath-huzoth, 40 where the king sacrificed cattle and sheep. He sent portions of the meat to Balaam and the officials who were with him. 41 The next morning Balak took Balaam up to Bamoth-baal. From there he could see some of the people of Israel spread out below him.

  • Before we go on and see what happens here… let’s talk about this guy and what happened here
    • Extra-biblical evidence has this guys as incredibly well known in the ancient near-east as a diviner (the reading animal entrails kind of guy)
    • Yahweh, the God of the Israelites was just another diety to be manipulated by him and money and power were incredibly important to him
    • He comes up in three different places in the NT as a warning, talked about as a false teacher, someone who valued money and personal gain above anything else (2 Peter 2:15-16, Jude 11, Revelation 2:14) as well as numerous times in the OT.
  • God’s anger and what seems like a constant changing of mind really lies in the fact that while Balaam’s actions and words might seem to how that he is on the same page with God, God knows what his intentions are—to curse Israel for money
  • As far as the talking donkey is concerned… it highlight’s Balaam’s foolishness, that while a donkey could recognize the presence and power of the angel of the Lord, Balaam (supposedly the wise manipulator of the God) was blind to what was standing right in front of him

There are several lessons that be can learn from Balaam’s interactions with God here, he illustrates a dilemma that many of us run into

  • On one hand, there is faithfulness to God and following his will and the things that he says are going to be good for us
  • One the other hand there is the allure of sin (particularly in this case money and sex)
  • And Balaam’s advice for that? You can totally have both. You just have to get creative.

And what you have at that point is compromise, which is a threat to every Christian

I can gratify myself and what I want and I can still follow God and there is nothing wrong with that and I’m good

DQ: Why is compromise something that is so appealing?

DQ: What are the consequences of compromise to ourselves or to other people?

DQ: What are some things that one might tell themself to convince themselves that they are following God fully when they might actually be compromised?

     Or something about how we might be able to tell if we ourselves are compromised?

DQ: If we’re stuck in a situation where we are compromised, what are some things that we can do in order to escape that?

I lived as a compromised Christian and totally thought that I could get away with it—that I could balance both a sinful and damaging dating relationship and following God

     The scariest part of the whole thing was how miserable I was and how long it took me to figure that out

  • So what ends up happening?
    • Balaam opens his mouth to curse Israel and, instead, blessing after blessing comes out of his mouth
    • Some of the most incredible statements about the steadfastness of God’s character and the irrevocability of his promises towards Israel. As well as his love for them, his commitment to them, and the promise to bring a future king and savior of humanity through them
      • They’re my people and I’ve got their back, don’t mess with them
    • Balak keeps for some reason thinking that a different angle is going to work hahah

In the next couple of chapters Balaam tells Balak that if he can’t curse them, he should send in some of their idols and prostitutes and this way bring judgment on them—which is exactly what happens

Balaam ends up getting killed when the Israelites conquer the Midianites

So what’s the point?

I think the point is that you can’t be in the middle, on both sides, or undecided when it comes to the things of God

  • You MUST make a choice
  • Moses made a choice (to lead for God, he screwed up pretty bad, but his ultimate choice of faithfulness is what he is remembered for)
  • Those who were healed by looking to the bronze snake made a choice (They made a choice to trust God’s provision and be healed)
  • And while Balaam tried really hard not to make a choice, he also made his choice on what was going to be important to him
    • This holds true for us
      • We can’t have a foot in each camp (for God and his will, and against God and his will) and expect it to work out well for us
        • Because really the choice that we have made is against God, and we will be miserable that way
      • What choice do you need to make?
        • Do you need to choose to look to Christ alone for salvation and eternal life?
        • Do you need to choose whether or not you are going to throw all in with God and his plan, even if it means giving up some of the ways that we have lived in the past?
        • Do you need to choose to persevere in the midst of attempts to lead for God, and do things his way, even if it gets difficult or frustrating?

Why should you? I can tell you why I did.

  • Not because it is the easiest, or the least scary, or because everyone else was doing it
    • It just doesn’t make sense to continue to make the choices that I made before or to try and somehow cling to the person that I used to be when Christ took my sin on himself, he made me into a new person
    • God has been so good to me, what else would I do?

Last stuff that needs to be said…

  • The generation from Kadesh Barnea has died
  • The Israelites are on the edge of the land that God has promised them
  • Joshua has been chosen to lead the people after the death of Moses
  • They have just been through a major battle with idolatry and being seduced by neighboring nations and have received a warning from God about the dangers that this poses for their future
    • Judgment and idolatry
    • 33: 55 But if you fail to drive out the people who live in the land, those who remain will be like splinters in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will harass you in the land where you live. 56 And I will do to you what I had planned to do to them.”

Moses has some last words for the nation… which is where the book of Deuteronomy comes in, which we will get into next week.