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waterfall March 6-7 Chronological Bible Study

Timeline. Map. Go to today’s Bible reading (NIV) or alternate versions (use your browser arrow to return): Numbers 19, 20, 21; Psalm 90

Note: Since this is a two day study, it is suggested that the reader read the Scriptures on March 6 and this Bible study on March 7.

Waters of Cleansing, Testing, and Victory

Water is a very valuable resource. We use it for drinking, for cleansing, for transportation, and a host of other things. In the desert water is valuable and useful to the Israelites in special ways and what they learn is also valuable for us.

Waters of Cleansing

The ordinance for the Waters of Cleansing in today's Bible reading seems to be an appendix to the earlier Levitical Law of cleansing. Apparently, what prompts this new regulation are the results of God's judgment on Israel for refusing to go into the land of Canaan to fight for their inheritance. Since they rebelled against him, the LORD says,

In this desert your bodies will fall-- every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me. Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun.

As for your children that you said would be taken as plunder, I will bring them in to enjoy the land you have rejected. But you-- your bodies will fall in this desert. Your children will be shepherds here for forty years, suffering for your unfaithfulness, until the last of your bodies lies in the desert. For forty years-- one year for each of the forty days you explored the land-- you will suffer for your sins and know what it is like to have me against you. “I, the LORD, have spoken, and I will surely do these things to this whole wicked community, which has banded together against me. They will meet their end in this desert; here they will die” (Numbers 14:29 -35, NIV).

People will constantly die in the wilderness because of their disobedience. Their bodies will be moved and buried, so the Israelites will touch human corpses and become ceremonially unclean (if there were two million people, twenty years of age and older, approximately 139 would die daily). Later, when they fight wars, they will also be contaminated by the blood of wounded and fallen soldiers. There is therefore a necessity for a law or procedure for cleansing—they could not enter the tabernacle of the LORD being unclean— they would be killed for violating God's holiness.

We have no such ceremonial law or practice today; although we take special care with dead bodies so that we do not catch contagious diseases. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why any Israelite who has contact with a dead body is isolated from the rest of the congregation and required to clean with ashes from a pristine heifer and water (a form of soap). Jesus purifies us from all uncleanness of the spirit when we confess our sins to him, not with soap but figuratively with his own blood, which was shed on the cross for us (1John 1:7).

The Waters of Testing

The Waters of Testing are forty years of hardships the Israelites endure in the desert because of their sins. They are subjected to extremes of heat in the day and cold in the night. They face the danger of wild desert animals. They face hunger and thirst. Added to these afflictions is the daily emotional distress of funerals. They die because they are a rebellious people, trying the patience of the LORD (Numbers 14:22-23). They refused to believe God, even though he had delivered them from Egypt, protected them in the desert, given them food and water, and had given them victories over their enemies. After all that, they refused to have faith in the LORD to go into the Promised Land because there are giants there.

Not much changes in their forty years of wandering in the desert. Israel still grumbles and complains about the camp food and lack of water. Moses and Aaron are fed up with listening to these complainers. When God tells Moses to speak to “that rock,” (evidently a rock that holds back a large spring of water) Moses exhibits his exasperation with the people. He says to them, “Listen you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” (Numbers 20:10, NIV; emphasis mine). And then out of frustration and anger, instead of speaking to it, Moses strikes the rock twice with his staff! Afterward, “… the LORD says to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them’” (Numbers 20:10-12, NIV).

What Moses did may seem like a small violation of God's instructions, but Moses and Aaron are the spiritual leaders of Israel. “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12:48b, NIV). By striking the rock instead of speaking to it, Moses and Aaron were taking glory for themselves. They needed to give God the glory in everything in the eyes of the people. Leaders must rule with diligence (Romans 12:8; 2 Peter 1:5), and spiritual leaders, especially, need to do all the will of the LORD in the way he wants it done. Do we give God all the glory or do we draw attention to ourselves for the praise of men? Every spiritual leader and Christian parent needs to be careful to give the LORD all the glory, even when we are tired or fed up with circumstances. He honors those who honor him (1Samuel 2:30).

After forty years of shepherding sheep and cattle in the desert, they return to Kadesh. “In the first month the whole Israelite community arrived at the Desert of Zin, and they stayed at Kadesh. There Miriam died and was buried” (Numbers 20:1, NIV).

From Kadesh, Israel seeks permission to go through Edom on the Kings Highway (the most direct and easiest way from south of Edom north toward Damascus, (The Bible Knowledge Commentary of the Old Testament, by Walvoord and Zuck, © 1985, p.239), but Edom absolutely refuses. She even takes up arms to face down the Israelites. Discouraged, the Israelites turn away and follow a desert path around Edom.

Fourth months later, Aaron dies on Mount Hor as a result of failing The Waters of Testing (Numbers 20:26; 33:38). His son, Eleazar, becomes the new high priest. After a thirty day period of mourning for Aaron, they continue their desert trek toward Canaan. The desert path is not pleasant. Following it means more hot sun in the day time and cold at night. It also means thirst, wind, sand, and desert creatures, including venomous snakes.

Again the people complain. The LORD sends snakes to bite the people, and many die. The people immediately recognize that they have sinned by complaining against God and opposing Moses, so they beg him to pray for them. In response, the LORD instructs Moses to build a bronze snake, and all who look upon it will then live. Jesus said, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15, NIV). Jesus was lifted up upon a cross of crucifixion, and all who look to him in faith for their salvation from their sins receive eternal spiritual life (more...).

Probably toward the end of the forty years of testing, Moses writes Psalm 90. Moses and the remaining elders of Israel are quite tired and want to redeem some of the time they have left so they might lead profitable lives. In order to do this they must recognize their wrongdoings, turn to God from their sins, and bear their trials. Then God sees their change of heart, is compassionate and exercises mercy. This doesn't mean that the testings will be easier from that point forward, but with the Almighty on their side they will be able to bear it. What about us? Are any of us being disciplined? Are we submitting to that discipline with a changed heart? God has mercy on those who humble themselves and repent; they may yet be able to lead profitable lives.

Waters of Victory

After the incident with the snakes, apparently the Israelites learn to live by faith (at least for a little while). There is no mention of murmuring or complaining for the next 100 miles of the Israelites' trek toward the Promised Land. Then, without their complaining, God leads them to a spring of water in Beer (a town near the border of Moab). The people rejoice with singing at the provision of the LORD. They are refreshed! Shortly thereafter, God begins to give them military victories. Once again he is working on their behalf! They put to the sword the Amorites and Bashanites and become a threat to all the kings in the area. If we will learn to trust God instead of murmuring and complaining, the LORD will also refresh our spirits and give us victories.

Lessons to Live By

(regarding waters of cleansing, testing, and victory):

  • Leaders must rule with diligence, and that also means giving attention to little details (and yes, even when we are tired or exasperated). It means doing all the will of God in the way he wants it done.
  • Jesus purifies us from all uncleanness of the spirit when we confess our sins to him (1John 1:9)
  • The LORD honors those who honor him.
  • Jesus was lifted up upon a cross of crucifixion, and all who look to him in faith for salvation from their sins receive spiritual eternal life (more...).
  • God helps those who respond to his discipline with repentance and changed hearts. They may yet be able to lead profitable lives.
  • If we will learn to trust in God instead of murmuring and complaining, he will refresh our spirits and give us victories.

Focus Verse

Deuteronomy 20:4 (NIV) “For the LORD your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.”

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A Look Ahead: Now that Israel has been through testing, in our Next Lesson they learn that God Protects His Own. Join us to find out how he does this for them and how he might do this for you.

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