Moses Messes Up

Posted: May 1, 2008 in Numbers

Since Ch 12, the Israelites had been rebelling. 1st Aaron & Miriam came against Moses – then the nation refused to enter the Promised Land – God reminded them of His promise, but no sooner than He did, Korah led a rebellion against Moses & Aaron – finally God made a very public proclamation of Aaron as His choice for priest & what the nation’s responsibilities were Aaron & Aaron’s responsibility back to God.

Tonight’s chapters likely span a huge timeframe – bringing us to the end of the 40 year wandering. We don’t know when Ch 19 was written…may have been written right after the budding of Aaron’s rod or it could have been sometime throughout the wandering dealing with a specific situation when the nation needed to be purified from some uncleanness. Ch 20 is far more famous as it shows the incident where Moses loses his cool & then loses his opportunity to enter the Promised Land. BOTH serve as a reminder to us that God is HOLY & calls His people to be holy as a result!

Numbers 19

1. Now the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, 2. “This is the ordinance of the law which the Lord has commanded, saying: `Speak to the children of Israel, that they bring you a red heifer without blemish, in which there is no defect and on which a yoke has never come.

A. The red heifer…what’s a heifer? (For non-cattle folks J) Young cow that’s never borne offspring. (Veal!) Pretty unusual…

a. Female rather than male. The exact reason? We don’t know – but it definitely shows that God identifies with women just as well as He does with men. There is no male or female in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28).

b. God specified the color – red would have been fairly rare. Obvious tie to blood/sacrifice…

c. This needs to be unusual b/c God’s giving them an object lesson in purity; the solution is rare b/c it has to be given to them by God. (Typifies the rarity of purity outside of Christ)

B. Why now? Don’t know exactly. All the sacrifices pointed to Jesus in some way – but the red heifer especially does. By giving the instruction here & instead alongside the other sacrifices in the Book of Leviticus, God ensured that this one stands apart in what it symbolizes & teaches.

3. `You shall give it to Eleazar the priest, that he may take it outside the camp, and it shall be slaughtered before him; 4. `and Eleazar the priest shall take some of its blood with his finger, and sprinkle some of its blood seven times directly in front of the tabernacle of meeting. 5. `Then the heifer shall be burned in his sight: its hide, its flesh, its blood, and its offal shall be burned.

A. Priest didn’t kill it; someone else did. (Courson) “Why? Because although Caiaphas, the high priest, ordered that Jesus be put to death, it was actually the Romans who carried out the sentence.”

B. Not sacrificed on the altar; burned outside the camp…

a. Possibly pointing towards the day when Jesus would be taken outside the city to be crucified.

C. Not sprinkled on the Ark of the Testimony; sprinkled in front of the Tabernacle…emphasizing the fact this was done outside the camp.

a. Calls to mind Jesus crying out from the Cross, “My God, My God why have You forsaken Me?” Because God made Him sin who knew no sin, Jesus had to completely bear the wrath and judgment of God upon Himself & God had to turn His face away in the midst of it.

D. Completely burned – even the blood! Every bit of it, except what was sprinkled was consumed unto God.

6. `And the priest shall take cedar wood and hyssop and scarlet, and cast them into the midst of the fire burning the heifer.

A. Along with the burning of the whole animal, symbolic items thrown in. All 3 referenced in Lev 14:4-6 regarding lepers. (Impurity is impurity, no matter how it came about. Likewise with sin…sin is sin.)

a. Cedar wood: Possibly symbolic of the Cross itself.

b. Hyssop: Used with the 1st Passover & to give Jesus drink on the Cross.

c. Scarlet: Another obvious reference to sacrifice…

d. Question: With these materials in mind, what makes the ashes able to purify? The Cross!

i. Jesus could have walked among us & taught us with little to no effect regarding our sin. In order for us to be forgiven/made pure, He HAD to go to the Cross!

7. `Then the priest shall wash his clothes, he shall bathe in water, and afterward he shall come into the camp; the priest shall be unclean until evening. 8. `And the one who burns it shall wash his clothes in water, bathe in water, and shall be unclean until evening. 9. `Then a man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer, and store them outside the camp in a clean place; and they shall be kept for the congregation of the children of Israel for the water of purification; it is for purifying from sin. 10. `And the one who gathers the ashes of the heifer shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until evening. It shall be a statute forever to the children of Israel and to the stranger who sojourns among them.

A. Anyone who touches needs to wash with water mixed with the ashes for purity/cleanliness… Typology is profound here: Heifer = Christ; Water = Spirit (John 7) & the Word (Eph 5) … the combination of all of it is what continually purifies the believer from the ongoing effects of sin in the world. We’re transformed by the renewing of our mind (Rom 12) – a work performed by the Spirit on the foundation of Christ through the Word of God…

11. `He who touches the dead body of anyone shall be unclean seven days. 12. `He shall purify himself with the water on the third day and on the seventh day; then he will be clean. But if he does not purify himself on the third day and on the seventh day, he will not be clean. 13. `Whoever touches the body of anyone who has died, and does not purify himself, defiles the tabernacle of the Lord. That person shall be cut off from Israel. He shall be unclean, because the water of purification was not sprinkled on him; his uncleanness is still on him.

A. Touching dead bodies leave people unclean… [] Sin is contagious! (A little leaven leavens the whole lump – 1 Cor 5:6)

B. Purified on the 3rd day…again on the 7th day…possible references to the Resurrection & Rest in the Sabbath of Christ? At the most basic level, this is how God determined it was to be done & we do things on His terms.

C. Refusal to be purified “defiles the tabernacle of the Lord”. IOW, it’s not just harmful to you; it’s an affront against a Holy God.

i. People wonder why God cares about their sin… It’s because God is HOLY! If He cannot allow sin to even enter His presence (Isa 6) – it defiles everything. Thus God MUST deal with sin either through the Cross or Judgment.

14. `This is the law when a man dies in a tent: All who come into the tent and all who are in the tent shall be unclean seven days; 15. `and every open vessel, which has no cover fastened on it, is unclean. 16. `Whoever in the open field touches one who is slain by a sword or who has died, or a bone of a man, or a grave, shall be unclean seven days.

A. Sanitary protection in addition to symbolism. As we saw in Leviticus, even it the people didn’t know about microbiology, God did. Declaring these items unclean helped stop disease from spreading.

17. `And for an unclean person they shall take some of the ashes of the heifer burnt for purification from sin, and running water shall be put on them in a vessel. 18. `A clean person shall take hyssop and dip it in the water, sprinkle it on the tent, on all the vessels, on the persons who were there, or on the one who touched a bone, the slain, the dead, or a grave. 19. `The clean person shall sprinkle the unclean on the third day and on the seventh day; and on the seventh day he shall purify himself, wash his clothes, and bathe in water; and at evening he shall be clean.

A. How to be purified – the red heifer ashes mixed with running (living) water…

B. Are the ashes what actually purify the person? No! Jesus is… Hebrews 9:13-14 (13) For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, (14) how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? [] The heifer typified physically that which was to come: Christ Jesus! …

20. `But the man who is unclean and does not purify himself, that person shall be cut off from among the congregation, because he has defiled the sanctuary of the Lord. The water of purification has not been sprinkled on him; he is unclean.

A. Time does not erase impurity. Without the purification, the person is FOREVER unclean…

21. `It shall be a perpetual statute for them. He who sprinkles the water of purification shall wash his clothes; and he who touches the water of purification shall be unclean until evening. 22. `Whatever the unclean person touches shall be unclean; and the person who touches it shall be unclean until evening.’ ”

A. Summary of regulation…

Numbers 20

1. Then the children of Israel, the whole congregation, came into the Wilderness of Zin in the first month, and the people stayed in Kadesh; and Miriam died there and was buried there.

A. 1st month of what? A new year…after years of wandering. The 38th year of wandering/40th year since leaving Egypt. Back in Kadesh [MAP]

a. We get almost no info about the 38 years, but whole books of the Bible dedicated to the 1st 2…why? Underscores the notion that the wandering was a waste of time for everyone. When we disobey the Lord, we waste vast portions of our lives away…

B. Death of Miriam: momentous event in the life of Israel. Not only was she a great prophetess & servant of the Lord (we only know of one recorded fall in her whole life of protecting Moses), this was also one more reminder that the whole nation shared in the sin of rebellion. Even Moses’ family was dying off in the wilderness.

a. Reminds us somewhat of original sin. We tend to think of sin as things we individually do (and it is, in part), but it’s also part of who we are as humans. Adam fell & all of humanity fell with him. Even if you could claim to have lived a perfect life (in which case we’d be lying and/or guilty of pride), we STILL would need a Savior because our very nature is sinful! ALL of us – no matter what we’ve done – need salvation through Christ…

2. Now there was no water for the congregation; so they gathered together against Moses and Aaron. 3. And the people contended with Moses and spoke, saying: “If only we had died when our brethren died before the Lord! 4. “Why have you brought up the congregation of the Lord into this wilderness, that we and our animals should die here? 5. “And why have you made us come up out of Egypt, to bring us to this evil place? It is not a place of grain or figs or vines or pomegranates; nor is there any water to drink.”

A. Sound familiar? Children have the same lack of faith as their parents – Exodus 17:3 (3) And the people thirsted there for water, and the people complained against Moses, and said, “Why is it you have brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” []

B. How bad is our self-despair when we prefer death to the provision of God?

C. Note that they attributed evil motives to Moses & Aaron. It wasn’t merely that they were upset about the lack of water; they accused Moses of bringing them to this point specifically to kill them…

6. So Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the door of the tabernacle of meeting, and they fell on their faces. And the glory of the Lord appeared to them.

A. Sought God in prayer…

7. Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 8. “Take the rod; you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to the rock before their eyes, and it will yield its water; thus you shall bring water for them out of the rock, and give drink to the congregation and their animals.”

A. Take the rod, but don’t use it. Keep this in mind for later!

B. Interesting that God doesn’t seem mad with the people. They’ve rebelled against Him before & He’s responded in righteous anger. Why not now? Speculation – but God is omniscient…He knows exactly what Moses is about to do.

9. So Moses took the rod from before the Lord as He commanded him. 10. And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock; and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels! Must we bring water for you out of this rock?” 11. Then Moses lifted his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their animals drank. 12. Then the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe Me, to hallow Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.”

A. D’oh! Moses messed up big time…

a. Demonstrated anger when God wasn’t angry. Moses represented God to the people, so this was a flat out misrepresentation.

b. Struck; didn’t speak…disobeying God’s direct command. Went so far as to strike it twice! (If ANYONE knew the importance of doing God’s work God’s way, it was Moses! He saw what happened to Nadab, Abihu, Korah, & more.)

c. Assumed power came from him; not God. Must WE” – God’s glory ALWAYS belongs to God.

i. (Be wary of those who try to share the spotlight with God!)

B. God’s response to Moses? Neither Moses or Aaron could bring Israel into the promised land – they die in the wilderness with the rest of the previous generation. … Too harsh? No.

a. God showed mercy in that He didn’t strike Moses dead on the spot!

b. Moses had destroyed the picture God was painting of Christ. 1 Corinthians 10:1-4 (1) Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, (2) all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, (3) all ate the same spiritual food, (4) and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. [] Remember that at this point, the rod (most likely Aaron’s rod in the ark) had budded…symbolizing the Resurrection. After Jesus had been stricken on the Cross & Resurrected from the grave, He never needed to be struck again!

c. Could God still use this? Yes! This became the opportunity to demonstrate that the law doesn’t save. (Moses = law; Promised Land = salvation; Joshua = Jesus)

d. BTW – Did Moses ever enter the Promised Land? Not in the OT…but he was there at Jesus’ Transfiguration! J God is gracious & merciful!

C. God’s response to the people? They still drank water abundantly. (Think of 2M+ people + livestock drinking…that’s a LOT of water!) The Hebrews’ leader may have been flawed, but God still blessed the people.

a. It never fails to amaze me how heretical and egotistical some preachers are on TV, but yet some people still get saved. … I guarantee it had nothing to do with the preacher & everything to do with the mercy of God!

13. This was the water of Meribah, because the children of Israel contended with the Lord, and He was hallowed among them.

A. Meribah = “Contention” Same name given to this place as in Ex 17.

14. Now Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom. “Thus says your brother Israel: `You know all the hardship that has befallen us, 15. `how our fathers went down to Egypt, and we dwelt in Egypt a long time, and the Egyptians afflicted us and our fathers. 16. `When we cried out to the Lord, He heard our voice and sent the Angel and brought us up out of Egypt; now here we are in Kadesh, a city on the edge of your border. 17. `Please let us pass through your country. We will not pass through fields or vineyards, nor will we drink water from wells; we will go along the King’s Highway; we will not turn aside to the right hand or to the left until we have passed through your territory.’ ”

A. Trying diplomacy to navigate through the land. Going through Edom would save a LOT of time. [MAP] Calling upon their family history…

B. The problem? Taking 2M+ people through Edom isn’t exactly a quiet affair…

18. Then Edom said to him, “You shall not pass through my land, lest I come out against you with the sword.” 19. So the children of Israel said to him, “We will go by the Highway, and if I or my livestock drink any of your water, then I will pay for it; let me only pass through on foot, nothing more.” 20. Then he said, “You shall not pass through.” So Edom came out against them with many men and with a strong hand. 21. Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through his territory; so Israel turned away from him.

A. Edom didn’t let them do it. Some think they were holding a grudge from Esau – perhaps simply being stubborn.

B. God’s response? Nothing…for the moment. God commands Israel to keep treating Edom as a brother (), but in His mercy allows Edom to continue. Eventually, they force God to act & He answers them in Obadiah.

a. What’s our response to people who would do us wrong? Contention & lawsuits…or prayer? Jesus specifically told us to pray for those who persecute us – we place ourselves in God’s hands & leave vengeance to Him.

C. Note that Moses was willing to pay. No matter what the world does around us, we always want to do what is right & take responsibility for ourselves. Ultimately we represent the King of Kings & we want to represent Him correctly…

22. Then the children of Israel, the whole congregation, journeyed from Kadesh and came to Mount Hor. 23. And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron in Mount Hor by the border of the land of Edom, saying: 24. “Aaron shall be gathered to his people, for he shall not enter the land which I have given to the children of Israel, because you rebelled against My word at the water of Meribah.

A. Aaron was punished 1st for the incident with the Rock…

B. Why is Aaron punished? Didn’t Moses do all the bad stuff? Yes, but Aaron apparently stood by & did nothing. He heard the Lord’s instruction to Moses & had a responsibility as the high priest to say something…

25. “Take Aaron and Eleazar his son, and bring them up to Mount Hor; 26. “and strip Aaron of his garments and put them on Eleazar his son; for Aaron shall be gathered to his people and die there.”

A. Why stripped of his garments? Because the priesthood needed to go on…

27. So Moses did just as the Lord commanded, and they went up to Mount Hor in the sight of all the congregation. 28. Moses stripped Aaron of his garments and put them on Eleazar his son; and Aaron died there on the top of the mountain. Then Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain. 29. Now when all the congregation saw that Aaron was dead, all the house of Israel mourned for Aaron thirty days.

A. Death of Aaron…30 days of mourning!

B. Transfer of priesthood… Today, our High Priest never changes! Hebrews 7:23-25 (23) Also there were many priests, because they were prevented by death from continuing. (24) But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. (25) Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. []


So we end off with Moses messing up big time & Aaron dying on Mt. Hor. Are things hopeless? No…look back to Ch 19 with the Red Heifer! We WILL screw up from time to time…we’ll defile ourselves with the things of the world & acting out in our flesh. But God has already provided the sacrifice for us! Forgiveness is already available through Christ.


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