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Numbers 21:4-9 | Look, and You Will Live

For this week, the passage in focus is Numbers 21:4-9. To provide context, the people of Israel are journeying through the wilderness, trying to find their way to the land that God has promised them (the land of Canaan).This journey will ultimately take them 40 years. At the point in time that we are addressing, the people of Israel are struggling: they are discouraged and lost, and because of the troubles they are experiencing, they distance themselves from God within their hearts.

1) Ingratitude and discouragement

In the first two verses, we acquire the backdrop of what is causing the discouragement amongst the Israelites: “Then they journeyed from Mount Hor by the Way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the soul of the people became very discouraged on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses: ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread.’” (Numbers 21:4-5).

There are two points I want to acknowledge from these two verses. One, the Israelites became discouraged while on the way to their destination; the journey itself was taxing on their spirit, and demoralized their relationship with God. Second, the Israelites demonstrate ingratitude and a lack of trust in God. The Israelites first assert that they have been brought up out of Egypt only to die in the wilderness--a perspective that fails to acknowledge and trust in the power of God to deliver. At the same time, they demonstrate ungratefulness: the Israelites claim they have no food and no water, yet--in the same sentence--say their soul loathes “this worthless bread.” Along with this, in the previous chapter, God makes fresh water come out of the rocks (Numbers 20:11). Clearly, the Israelites are provided for.

What we are witnessing in the Israelites is not a problem stemming from God’s lack of provision, but rather, a failure of the Israelites to see God’s blessings. In the first two verses, the Israelites compare their current suffering in the wilderness with the oppression given by the Egyptians, and deem it worse than the latter. Further, they neglect the food and water God has already given them while journeying through a place that provides nothing, and claim that God is leading them to death. In these ways, the Israelites are speaking out against God.