Often we think of the book of Numbers in the Bible as a boring list of genealogies. Moses’ book is so much more than that. In fact the English versions have done a poor job in naming it. The Hebrew name comes much closer to giving a real indication of the content of the book. The Hebrew name is “In the Wilderness”. The book, in fact, does tell the story of the Lord’s chosen people, the Children of Israel, wandering in the wilderness. The Lord God forced them to wander in the wilderness for forty years because of their lack of faith in Him. Caleb and Joshua alone had believed God and His ability to give them victory over the wicked inhabitants of the Promised Land. The primary purpose of the book seems to be to explain the spiritual significance and theological teaching of this wilderness wandering as they prepared to enter the Promised Land.
The book of Numbers clearly pointed out that even though God was quite capable of becoming angry and disciplining His people, He ultimately desired to bless them. Numbers, as well as other Bible passages, indicates that there is a limit to how much God will put up with from us. We would do well to remember that hearts do become hard and at some point we will cease to listen to Him at all. It would also be good for us to remember that the Spirit of God will strive for only so long with a man. Often we act as if God is bound to wait patiently for us to decide to trust and obey. God is not required to do anything on our behalf. We ought to praise Him and thank Him that He does choose to wait an unbelievably long time for us. We ought also to be aware that there is a limit to His waiting. Consider His response to His chosen people in Numbers 14:11-12, “The Lord said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miraculous signs I have performed among them? I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you into a nation greater and stronger than they.” NIV
Wow! What could God’s chosen people have done to receive that pronouncement? The Lord said they had treated Him with contempt and that they had refused to believe in Him. The preceding verses record the Israelites asking some blunt, harsh questions of God. Several times in the Scripture, people ask such questions of God and His response is not like His response here. It seems to me, that the difference rests in the fact that after asking they did not wait on an answer from the Lord. They foolishly attempted to answer their own questions. (Why is it that the behavior of the children of Israel almost always closely mirrors mine?) They asked why the Lord brought them out there. They answered their own question by saying their wives and children would be taken as plunder. Next, they asked if it would not be better to return to Egypt. They answered their own question by stating that they should choose their own leader and return to Egypt. They began to talk of stoning the leaders already given to them by God Himself.
Refusing to believe that God will do what He says He will do is the same as proclaiming that He is not a good God. Our reasons may be that we think God lied or that we think He is not powerful to keep His promises. Either attitude is unacceptable. Refusing to believe that God is capable of delivering on His promises is the same as proclaiming that He is not all powerful. Refusing to follow the leaders God has given you is the same as proclaiming that there is another god more worthy for you to follow. Be very careful not to impugn God’s character. He will not let that go unpunished. God can handle your questions. Ask away. No question is too difficult for Him. Be sure to wait and listen for His answer. Be careful not to answer your own questions. In this case in Numbers chapter 14 the Lord decided not to wipe His people out. He did, however, make them wander in the wilderness for forty years. We ought to remember the words of the old song, “Trust and Obey” for there really is no other way. Trust and obey Him before the limit of His patience is reached. It will save you a lot of wandering in the wilderness.