Bible Studies in Israel’s Wilderness Wanderings

Moses, Miriam and the Living Christ

By Fraser Gordon

 

Introduction

 

We are continuing with the adventure of the nation of Israel through the wilderness and are in Number chapter 20 today.  Last time we looked at Kadesh Barnea and the failure of the nation after they had sent the spies into the land and how they had rejected Gods’ promises.  They had heard the harsh words about how their carcasses were going to fall in the wilderness and they didn't like that idea so they decided “No!  We are going to go up ourselves.”  We looked at this sin of presumption last time, and how because of this they were defeated before their enemies.   It is interesting that from Kadesh Barnea there is a period of about 38 years that God says nothing at all about.  In their wanderings around and around in the desert they come back to this place again but it has been a time of unbelief and judgment and there is obviously nothing to say.  Even in the book of Hebrews chapter 11 we read that by faith they walked through the Red Sea and then it jumps a whole period and says “by faith they walked around Jericho,” so there is nothing worth recording about their wilderness wanderings, and it can actually be like that with our own lives.  It is the things of faith that will be recorded.   And there will be things of faith.  Even if it is just the start and the end of our journey, there will be things of faith that are recorded.  But for the nation of Israel in all of this wandering, there is actually nothing worth saying because it is all fleshly, and carnal, it is all unbelief and failure.  However, all of these things are written for our instruction because we also are like Israel to some degree.  We have times of faith and we have times of failure.  But God's grace is towards them despite their failures. 

 

So when you get to chapter 20, they are still in the same place, they have come back to Kadesh Barnea. They are on the brink of entering into the land of Canaan but a lot of their leaders are actually going to pass away. 

 

Overview of the first leader to fall - Miriam

 

Num 20:1  Then the sons of Israel, the whole congregation, came to the wilderness of Zin in the first month; and the people stayed at Kadesh. Now Miriam died there and was buried there.

 

The first of them to die is Miriam. Now she was an influential person because she was Moses’ sister.  There is not much spoken about her though. Do you remember at the start when they came through the Red Sea, how Miriam took up the tambourine and lead them all in a dance and a song and she sang about how good God is and how He had delivered them? It was a song of faith and the whole nation goes out with her.   There is that scene, and then you have this scene here where she dies. She is only mentioned one other time and that is what we will look at now.

 

Num 12:1-2  Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married (for he had married a Cushite woman);  (2)  and they said, "Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?" And the LORD heard it.

 

At some point in the wilderness journey Miriam actually takes offense against Moses.  And in verse 1 we are told that part of this offense was that she didn't like the fact that he had taken a gentile bride.  There was something else disclosed too which may be the real reason behind her attitude, for verse 2 says that she said “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses. Has He not spoken through us also?”  It seems she wanted some recognition for what she thought she had done and was saying “Look, I’m pretty important around here too, what about me?”

 

We really need to watch out for this matter of taking offense because often it is just a small thing that trips us up.  We can take offense at injustices and sometimes it can just be a word that we overhear. The other day, I heard someone say something about me, but I didn't know the context in which it was spoken and I spent a couple of days stewing about it. What a waste of time! When a person is offended the first thing they normally do is to build a fence with a sign on it saying “keep out”. You withdraw and isolate yourself and brood, and this is what Miriam is actually doing here.  She is talking about it to Aaron, so she is including others in this, and then together they bring it to Moses.    

 

I read quite a good example during the week.  There were two guys who were in hospital in isolation. The hospital wanted them to have complete rest so they put them in this room where there was no television or radio. First they started talking all about their families, their children and the experiences they had had. This went on for a few days then they ran out of things to say.  Then the man who was next to the window started to describe what he could see happening outside the window to the man in the other bed.  He would talk about the kids that were playing with kites, the dogs chasing balls, the families having picnics, and it was all good.  But at one point, a thought entered into the mind of the other man, and it was this. ‘Why should he get the window bed?’  He started to think “this is not fair, why should this guy be by the window and not me?” He threw the thought out, but it kept coming back and back again.  Then he thought “well if this guy was fair he would be willing to change places and give me a time by the window.”    Then he turned a little bit sour towards the guy and starting putting up barriers. Then one night the guy who was next to the window, who had a lung disease, became really sick and started coughing at night.  The other man just remained in his bed looking at the ceiling and remained silent while the other man was groping for the buzzer to get the nurse.  Unfortunately, that night, the man died and in the morning they came and took his body away.  When the nurses arrived the man said “Would you mind moving me next to the window?” The nurses replied “Good, that’s O.K”. Moved him next to the window and got him all settled. He propped himself up on one elbow to look out of the window and what faced him was a brick wall.  When I read that example I thought “that's hard, but so often true”.  This man took offense and it became something so big in his life that he didn't help when he should have.

 

So somewhere in their journey Miriam takes offense at Moses, and says “Has the Lord only spoken through Moses?”  So what is the result of this?

 

Num 12:3-10  (Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.)  (4)  Suddenly the LORD said to Moses and Aaron and to Miriam, "You three come out to the tent of meeting." So the three of them came out.  (5)  Then the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the doorway of the tent, and He called Aaron and Miriam. When they had both come forward,  (6)  He said, "Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, shall make Myself known to him in a vision. I shall speak with him in a dream.  (7)  "Not so, with My servant Moses, He is faithful in all My household;  (8)  With him I speak mouth to mouth, Even openly, and not in dark sayings, And he beholds the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid To speak against My servant, against Moses?"  (9)  So the anger of the LORD burned against them and He departed.  (10)  But when the cloud had withdrawn from over the tent, behold, Miriam was leprous, as white as snow. As Aaron turned toward Miriam, behold, she was leprous.

 

God was really displeased upon hearing that two leaders of the nation were attacking Moses’ leadership. God called both of them out before the tabernacle and asked them to explain why they were not ashamed to do this. Then Miriam was judged and the judgment was that she became leprous.  Leprosy, in the bible, is always a picture of sin, and what she was doing inwardly was displayed outwardly.  So God judged it right there and then.

 

Miriam is set aside outside the camp...

 

Num 12:11-16  Then Aaron said to Moses, "Oh, my lord, I beg you, do not account this sin to us, in which we have acted foolishly and in which we have sinned.  (12)  "Oh, do not let her be like one dead, whose flesh is half eaten away when he comes from his mother's womb!"  (13)  Moses cried out to the LORD, saying, "O God, heal her, I pray!"  (14)  But the LORD said to Moses, "If her father had but spit in her face, would she not bear her shame for seven days? Let her be shut up for seven days outside the camp, and afterward she may be received again."  (15)  So Miriam was shut up outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on until Miriam was received again.  (16)  Afterward, however, the people moved out from Hazeroth and camped in the wilderness of Paran.

 

There was sin involved and it had to be judged and so she was set aside for a certain amount of time. The nation didn’t move until she was healed, and brought back into the camp.  This chapter is dealing with the problem of taking offense and it’s not only Miriam that had this problem. It is something that we also need to watch out for.   

 

The other thing in this chapter, which is quite a cool picture, is that of typology.  Remember that every prophet and king is in some way a type of Christ, and Moses also is a type of the Lord Jesus Christ.  When he (Moses) is rejected by his people he takes a gentile wife, as the Lord Jesus does too when he was rejected by His own people. He went and took a gentile bride which is the church. When you get into the New Testament, what is the biggest trouble that the Jews actually have?  It is actually that grace has been given to the gentiles. They are offended because of this and are shut out as Miriam was .But it was only for a period of time - in Miriam’s case seven days. It is almost like the Jews are outside the camp until their days have been fulfilled and then they will be restored too.  God still has a plan for the Jewish nation.  They will be restored, and they will look upon Him whom they have pierced, and accept their Messiah; when the full number of gentiles has come in God will again turn to Israel.

 

Who is it that prays for Miriam?  It's Moses.  The very one that she has accused asked that grace be given to her and that she be restored.  Who is it that intercedes continually for the nation of Israel?  It is Christ, the very One on whom they threw their accusations and injustices.  

 

Num 12:11-16  Then Aaron said to Moses, "Oh, my lord, I beg you, do not account this sin to us, in which we have acted foolishly and in which we have sinned.  (12)  "Oh, do not let her be like one dead, whose flesh is half eaten away when he comes from his mother's womb!"  (13)  Moses cried out to the LORD, saying, "O God, heal her, I pray!"  (14)  But the LORD said to Moses, "If her father had but spit in her face, would she not bear her shame for seven days? Let her be shut up for seven days outside the camp, and afterward she may be received again."  (15)  So Miriam was shut up outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on until Miriam was received again.  (16)  Afterward, however, the people moved out from Hazeroth and camped in the wilderness of Paran.

 

Back to the moaning and complaining; this time it’s because they have no water once more. God, who is always sufficient, says “There is a rock by which I am going to bring forth water again”.    In 1st Corinthians 10 Paul speaking says “That the nation of Israel drank spiritual drink from the rock and that rock was Christ.”  And it says that that rock followed them in their wanderings.  So when Paul looked at these stories he understood that Christ was actually the Rock that gave them drink in the Old Testament.  The first time after they came out and had no water to drink God said to Moses “I want you to take the rod, the rod of judgment and strike the rock and water will come out.   So in the first instance – there is a rock and he is to take the rod of judgment and he is to strike it, which is a picture of Christ being crucified. Judgement had to fall upon him because he was taking all the sins of us all upon himself. He was struck on our behalf and became the fulfilment of the smitten rock.  

 

How many times does that have to happen? Only once!  Christ will never, ever be struck again.   You see this in the book of Hebrews – it is one sin offering.  It is once, once, once, all through the book of Hebrews.  By one offering He is made holy, by one offering He is made perfect.   The sin issue has actually been dealt with once and for all.  So when you come to this rock, you have got the same rock that is going to bring forth water but it is different this time.  What is the difference? 

 

The rod of resurrection

 

Is there more than one rod?  Yes, there is the rod of Moses and the rod of Aaron.  In Exodus 17 God is really specific when He says “I want you to take the rod, the rod of judgment by which you struck the river.”   That is Moses rod, the rod of judgment.   This time round, He just says “I want you to take the rod” and for it to fit properly into our type Christ cannot be crucified a second time.  I have read a few different people and they all seem to differ on whether it is Moses rod that is taken, or if it is Aaron's rod.  I believe it is Aaron's rod and the reason is that the rock can only be struck once.  So what is Aaron's rod?  A few chapters back we read about the rebellion of Korah. Korah came from the priesthood family.  He had certain jobs within the tabernacle but it wasn't like those of the tribe of Levi.  He had certain jobs but he wanted more. He wanted to be more important, so he rose up and all his family with him and they actually tried to take the priesthood off Aaron but God responded to this by opening up the ground and swallowing them and all their families and their tents and everything up.  Because this had been an attack on the priesthood God said to Moses, “Look for every tribe I want you to bring a rod and I want you to write the names of the tribes on the rods and bring them into the tabernacle and the one that brings forth buds that will be the person that I declare to be the rightful priest.”  So all the names were written on the rods and in the morning they found that Aaron’s rod had budded, it had blossomed, and it had actually produced almonds.  So Aaron's rod is the rod of resurrection because it brought forth life. Every other rod produced nothing.  Aaron's rod is a picture that only God can bring life out of death.   

 

So when you get to this passage God says “I want you to take the rod, you and your brother Aaron, gather the congregation together, and I want you to speak to the rock”  So there is a big difference between this rock and the last rock.  The first rock was to be struck.  This rock has only to be spoken to. 

 

I have been thinking about this all week because I think there is quite a lot in it.  This rod is the rod of resurrection power and it stands for a completely different principle by which water is to come forth from the rock.  Moses is to have this rod in his hand but only as a sign of what it stands for.  He is to confess or speak to that rock and it will yield its water.  So Aaron's rod is the rod of position, it is the rod of intercession and it is the rod of resurrection.    Christ is no longer on the cross He is seated in the heavenly realms.  A completely different principle is operating here; the first one is Christ crucified.  The second rod stands for resurrection. 

 

The downfall of the great Moses

 

However, I think Moses has reached a point here because he has had enough of the nations’ complaining. He addresses them “Hear now you rebels must we bring water for you out of this rock!   Who was the one that was going to bring water out of the rock? It was God not Moses!  He is saying “we are the ones that are going to bring water out” and he addresses them not as God's beloved nation but as a bunch of rebels--- which they were naturally speaking. 

 

Num 20:11-12  Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation and their beasts drank.  (12)  But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them."

 

So he lost control and disobeyed God and because of that he was actually guilty of unbelief.  God said to him in verse 12 “Because you did not believe Me.” Unbelief was the very thing that the nation had been guilty of, and now Moses is guilty of this too. They just failed to believe that God would do what He said.  For this reason God said “because you did not believe Me to hallow Me (or honour Me) in the eyes of the children of Israel you shall not enter the Promised Land.” To hallow something or someone means to set apart as holy.”   In other words he took action himself and struck the rock.  He hit the rock twice when he should have actually spoken to it and in that way God was not honoured, and neither was He glorified.  God wanted to be   honoured and glorified as the One that can bring forth water when He was approached by faith, but Moses blew it.  Because of this he could not enter the land of promise.  You may think it is quite a harsh judgment as Moses has had a pretty clean slate up until this point.  But he is not allowed to enter.  This is the first reason, but there is another one too. Moses is also a picture of the law. The New Testament tells us that the law came through Moses but grace and truth came through Christ, so for them to enter the Promised Land Israel needed a new leader like Joshua, who is a picture of Christ. There is nothing wrong with Moses but he is not allowed to go in.  And that is why, when you see him on his death bed, at 120 years old, there was nothing wrong with his eye sight or his physical being, he is absolutely perfect.  It is like that with the law, it is absolutely perfect, there is nothing wrong with it but a new leader is needed to take you in. The law can only take us so far, it is only there to show us the failure of our human heart.  That is what it is about – like Israel, all our times of failure are so that we know that there is something wrong with us and that we need Christ.  That is all the law does, it shows us our need of Christ.    So what does this passage mean to us?  You could say that in this instance Moses only knew Christ crucified, and there are lots of Christians around that are like that.  All they know is that their sins have been forgiven.  However, God wants to show us much more than that, He wants us to know Him not only as the smitten rock, but also as the One who is our resurrection life. The rock who can be spoken to in faith by His children. We have a position of priesthood as being in the Beloved and it is from that position we speak to Christ our Rock.  However, despite Moses’ failure God still brought water forth for the people, God still acts in grace despite our failures. He is the faithful One.