210 – Numbers 20 – Introduction
For today’s article, I’ll be quoting from the Lexham English Bible because I much prefer how they handle the translation of God’s personal name. They transliterate the Hebrew word YHWH as Yahweh, when other translations use the much weaker, and not at all accurate translation, LORD.
20:1 Then the entire community of the Israelites came to the desert of Zin on the first month, and the people stayed in Kadesh; Miriam died and was buried there.
Although verse one is not a theologically earth-shattering verse is it packed with useful information. The idea of the “…entire community of the Israelites” becomes important to know when we get further into the chapter. This was somewhere upwards of one million people including all of their cattle. When they set up camp they occupied an area of twelve square miles. As a way of comparison the town of Mandan North Dakota, home of about twenty-two thousand people occupies an Area of 13.65 mi² (13.5 mi² Land / 96 acres Water).
It also becomes important to note where the Israelites were, the desert of Zin. What’s the primary characteristic of a desert? The lack of water. We are even told when the ensuing narrative took place, “…in the first month”, which clearly distinguishes it as a historical account as opposed to a fairytale.
We also learn that Miriam, sister of both Moses and Aaron died and was buried there. You will recall that although not central to the Exodus narrative, Miriam did play a significant role in Yahweh’s plan of deliverance. She’s the one that watched over her baby brother as he floated down the river to the Princess of Egypt. She’s the one who suggested Moses’ own mother as his nursemaid placing the baby back in his home until he was weaned. She was called a prophetess and even took part in a brother/sister rebellion against Moses with her brother Aaron.
We could go on and on without leaving verse one. We could talk about Zin and Kadesh. If you do a quick Bible search you’ll soon discover the nation visits and re-visits this area to the point that you get a sense like they were traveling in circles. Huh, maybe they were?
The point is, though verse one seems a simple enough introduction to chapter twenty it should not be run over in an attempt to get to the main story of the passage. Remember, there are no “throwaway words in the Bible”. Take the time to notice what God had the Biblical Authors pen.
Notice Numbers 20:2
2 There was no water for the community, and they were gathered before Moses and Aaron.
Remember how big we said this nation was, and how much space they occupied? The fact that there was no water was a very significant problem that would need to be solved very quickly – the lives of people and cattle were at stake.
Consider how the nation reacts to the crisis in the next verse.
3 And the people quarreled with Moses and spoke, saying, “If only we died when our brothers were dying before Yahweh!
How many times in their not too distant past had YHWH demonstrated deliverance to this Nation, and yet they met this new crisis with complaining and quarreling?
I’m reminded of a verse in Deuteronomy 9:6
6 “So you should understand that it is not because of your righteousness that Yahweh your God is giving you this good land to take possession of it, because you are a stubborn people.
The New King James translates it as stiff-necked people.
Sometimes I’m sure I judge this Nation too harshly. After all, it’s pretty easy for me to condemn their bad behavior being on this side of the Biblical narrative. But when I try to imagine myself in their sandals I’m not sure I would have reacted much better, although I really hope I would.
However, as a modern man, I’ve never witnessed YHWH parting the Red Sea, I’ve never watched as God fed an entire nation by providing bread from Heaven. These people had witnessed with their own eyes God’s powerful hand of deliverance time after time. And yet the very next time they run into a problem they default to complaining. They didn’t even pray!
We’ll talk about it next time, but if you keep reading in Numbers twenty you’ll see the story of “water from the rock”, which was indeed a miracle. But to me, the greatest miracle of the narrative thus far is that YHWH God didn’t wash his hands of this stiff-necked rebellious people group proclaiming, “I’ve had it! I’m done with the lot of you!”
Over and over and over in the Scriptures, we see God’s incredible goodness demonstrated, not just to the people of Israel, but to all of mankind. His love is so incredibly powerful towards us that I’m not sure we will ever truly comprehend the depths of His love.
God truly is worthy of all praise, worship, and adoration. He has proven Himself to be faithful and dependable over and over again. Won’t you trust Him today?
All Scripture quotations from Harris, W. Hall, III et al., eds. The Lexham English Bible. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012. Print.