very few passages of Scripture that can be classified as sad passages, but
Numbers 20, for several reasons, is indeed a very sad chapter.
First of all, it is sad because two of Israel’s leaders die.
A third leader is told that he will die at a later point in time. This chapter is also sad because of the
rebellion that once again manifests itself in the lives of the children of Israel and provokes Moses to such an extent that he loses
out in going into the Promised Land.
This is to stand as an object lesson not only to people throughout the
ages but also to those in positions of leadership throughout history, that
every aspect of decorum, attitude, and demeanor must be above all
It is one thing to kick a hole in a wall of your home,
while you are there by yourself, because of the frustrations that you have
encountered, but it is completely another thing to kick a hole in a wall while
the congregation is watching. Such an
action will be held in altogether a different light as far as God is
concerned. If there is anything that
this chapter tells us, it is that very fact.
As we study this chapter, there is one thing that
repeatedly comes through: How are the chosen of God going to react to adverse
circumstances? Have you had any adverse
circumstances come your way? How did you
react to them? The older we become and
the more experiences we have, the greater is our accountability in developing
refined, Christian characters, so that those who are looking to us for words of
encouragement and help will find the highest levels of example. At least it should be that way.
In my experience, as I have watched the adverse
behavior of church members, I do not find myself nearly as disappointed as when
I see such behavior in those of leadership.
When I see those to whom I have looked and held in high esteem fail,
because of their own internal passion in how they relate to issues, I am much,
much more disappointed.
“Then came the children of Israel, [even] the whole congregation, into the desert of Zin in the first month: and the people abode in Kadesh; and Miriam died there, and was buried there.” Numbers 20:1. We need to remember that at this point in
time there was almost an entirely new congregation than the one that found themselves at Kadesh when the ten
spies gave their reports after scouting the Promised Land. (See Numbers 13.) At the time of their first stop in Kadesh, members of the present congregation were 20 years old or younger.
The children of Israel made their wanderings; they experienced the manna
falling in the wilderness on every day but the Sabbath day, with a double
portion on Friday. Their shoes never
wore out, nor did their clothes. This
generation experienced all of these miracles and then found themselves back at Kadesh.
“And there was no water for the congregation: and they
gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. And the people chode
with Moses, and spake, saying, Would
God that we had died when our brethren died before the Lord! And why have ye
brought up the congregation of the Lord
into this wilderness, that we and our cattle should die there? And wherefore have ye made us to come up out
of Egypt, to bring us in unto this evil place? it [is] no place of seed, or of figs, or of vines, or of
pomegranates; neither [is] there any water to drink. And Moses and Aaron went from the presence of
the assembly unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and they fell
upon their faces: and the glory of the Lord
appeared unto them. And the Lord spake unto
Moses, saying, Take the rod, and gather thou the assembly together, thou, and
Aaron thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall
give forth his water, and thou shalt bring forth to
them water out of the rock: so thou shalt give the
congregation and their beasts drink. And
Moses took the rod from before the Lord,
as he commanded him. And Moses and Aaron
gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said unto them, Hear
now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock? And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his
rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the
congregation drank, and their beasts [also].
And the Lord spake unto Moses and Aaron,
Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into
the land which I have given them. This [is] the water of Meribah; because
the children of Israel strove with the Lord, and he was sanctified in them.” Numbers 20:2–13.
This rebellion occurred because the children of Israel had not yet learned the lessons God wanted them to
learn. This generation that now finds
itself at Kadesh is a generation that has to go
through its own particular test.
Often, we who are parents, having raised our children
in the Lord, think that there is a special blessing due us by God. He is expected to work a miracle because of
our faithfulness in providing them occasions of
worship and rehearsing to them the stories of God’s miracles. We often think that they should, as a result
of what we have done, be able to develop Christian characters and be ushered
into a life of righteousness without going through their own testing times. It never works that way. Every generation must go through its
test. Every individual must be tested,
to see if he or she has learned of God to the extent that his or her character
is ready for the kingdom of heaven. No
one enters into the kingdom of heaven just because they are born of a certain
line—their parents are in ministry or in medical work or in church leadership
or whatever—without going through the test.
Every generation has to have its test.
years, which had been decreed upon the
children of Israel as a punishment, were almost over.
Death of Miriam
As the camp was assembled there at Kadesh
for the second time, Miriam passed on to her death and was buried there. There is little reference to this. Miriam, of course, was a prophetess of God. Remember, she was the one who, as the older
sister of Moses and Aaron, led the singing on the shore of the Red Sea
when Pharaoh and his hosts were thrown into the deep. As nearly as we can tell chronologically,
Miriam was about 130 years old when she
died. There is not much more recorded
concerning her life. There may be a
reason for that. Like Aaron, Miriam had
also sinned greatly in her jealousy regarding Moses. She was probably about 90 years old at that point in time. She should have been old enough to know
There is one true lesson in this, even for Moses, and
that is that one’s age does not prevent one from sinning. Some people, when referring to righteousness
by faith, have jokingly called it righteousness by senility, in that, upon
becoming old, an individual becomes unable to have the grasp or comprehension
to distinguish between right and wrong.
Therefore, they reason, the Lord looks upon the past life and governs
accordingly. I do not think that is how
God views this situation.
Accountability of Leadership
There is a great deal of significance placed upon the
sins of leaders, and those sins bring a greater penalty than the sins of the
members of the congregations. I have for
some time now been pondering about how we are to relate to leadership
today. One of the greatest needs in the
historic movement is that of true leadership and organization.
In Scripture, I find that those who have been called
to positions of leadership are going to be held to a greater
accountability. They are going to be
held to a greater accountability, because they have been placed in a position
of leadership over the congregation, and they are to lead that congregation in
the right way under any and all circumstances.
“The sins of good men, whose general deportment has
been worthy of imitation, are peculiarly offensive to God. They cause Satan to triumph, and to taunt the
angels of God with the failings of God’s chosen instruments, and give the
unrighteous occasion to lift themselves up against God.” The Story of Redemption, 168. Leaders hold a special place in the eyes of
God. Not only are they accountable for
their own sins, but they are also accountable as to how they influence their
congregation and the stands that they take.
The congregation is not held to that accountability.
As we read this story of Moses and the children of Israel, there is the tendency for us to look at what Moses
did, and say, “I just don’t see it as that bad of a situation.” We have a tendency to make the same
rationalization regarding Eve at the tree.
“I just don’t see that it was that bad.”
But God sees the example that it sets, and we see the consequences of
the disobedience. Concerning whether or not Miriam, will be in the kingdom of
heaven, the Scriptures are silent. It
just says that Miriam died and was buried there. She failed to enter into the Promised Land.
Blinded by Unbelief
The next part of the narrative reads as though there
had not been any interval of years. One
may perceive that it was the old generation that was at Kadesh
just a short time before, but it was a different generation—a generation that
had not learned the lessons of the previous generation.
“Just before the Hebrew host reached Kadesh, the living stream ceased that for so many years had
gushed out beside their encampment. It
was the Lord’s purpose again to test His people. He would prove whether they would trust His
providence or imitate the unbelief of their fathers.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 413.
As mentioned before, being raised in a good
Seventh-day Adventist home does not guarantee for you
a place in the kingdom of heaven. You
have no guarantee just because you had the benefit of being raised in that type
of home. You must have your own tests. You will be brought through trials to test
your own individual experience. God is
going to prove every person. If you do
not meet a test, if you fall and fail in a test, God is going to bring you
right back around, and you will find yourself at the very same place
This is basically what happened with the children of Israel. Where had
they before failed? The first generation
failed at Kadesh.
The whole congregation had moved through the experiences of the numerous
times God had provided every possible example for them of faithfulness,
bringing them around again and again to the same, exact place. God will do that.
These people who had rejoiced that
the water was available to them day by day by day, should have rejoiced when it
stopped. Why should they have rejoiced when it
stopped? Because they
were going to enter into the Promised Land. They should have seen this as evidence—a sign
to them. This was a sign that they
should have understood, just as Jesus tells us, in Matthew 24, “These are the signs that are going to come to
pass. Watch for this; watch for
that. When you see these things, lift up
your head.” They should have known they
were getting close to entering the Promised Land. Their wilderness wandering was nearly
“Had they not been blinded by their unbelief, they
would have understood this. But that
which should have been an evidence of the fulfillment of God’s promise was made
the occasion of doubt and murmuring.” Ibid. 414. Here, for a short while, was an opportunity
for them to walk by faith instead of by sight, but the first trial developed
the same, turbulent, unthankful spirit that had been manifested by their
fathers. No sooner was the cry for water
heard in the encampment than they forgot the hand that had for so many years
supplied their wants, and instead of turning to God for help, they murmured
Missed Learning Opportunity
What a situation for a learning opportunity! It was this generation’s first occasion to be
tried, but they had the history of their parents’ generation. When the Israelites had set up camp, during
the early days of their freedom, they found that they were without water. (See Exodus 17.) They came to Moses, and at the Lord’s
instruction, Moses struck the rock in Horeb and water
flowed. Paul says that Rock followed
them. That Rock was Christ. (See 1 Corinthians 10:2–4.) Had God
supplied their need there? He certainly
Now this generation was experiencing the same trial,
but something was wrong. They repeated
the same sin. That tells me that there
was a failure on the part of the older generation to instruct the younger ones
as to the blessings of God. It tells me
that they perhaps did not have worship together as they gathered around the
campfire each evening. They neglected to
recount the blessings of God in their past history.
This generation did not know; they did not have enough
instruction, so when they faced an experience similar to that of their parents,
they did not know what to do. This can
happen. Parents can fail to instruct
their children as to the faithfulness of God.
When the children are brought into trying experiences, they do not know
what to do.
There was also a problem with the younger generation
that should have been seeking for knowledge—What can
you tell me about the faithfulness of God—Mom, Dad, Aunt, Uncle, Grandpa,
Grandma? What can you tell me? What has been your experience? You have lived much longer than I. They did not learn, nor were they taught.
Discontented Hearts; Reckless Tongues
One thing is for sure.
As far as we know, there was a failure.
Numbers 20:3 says, “And the people chode
with Moses.” They do not just come to
Moses with a plea for water. “Moses, I
am thirsty. Moses, my animals are
panting.” It says, they “chode with Moses.”
To be concluded . . .
Mike Baugher is Associate Speaker for Steps to
Life. He may be contacted by e-mail at:
email@example.com, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.