Moses: The Failure of Faith

Never would Israel desire quail again

The desert was exceptionally hot, the annoying dust covered their bodies and the diet was monotonous. What normally should have taken several weeks had stretched out to what seemed to be almost infinity. They were well into their fourteenth month out there next to nowhere.

For more than eleven months, Israel had waited at Sinai. The Law had been given, the badger-curtained Tabernacle had been completed according to God’s precise and detailed  instructions and the sacrificial system with its intricacies and meaning had been revealed. A levitical priesthood with all the symbolism and pageantry had been declared, laws for living had been recorded, the numbering of the people had been completed and a second Passover had been observed in the wilderness. Wasn’t it time for the children oflsrael to move into the Promised Land? After all, the journey seemed so long. Little did they know how much longer it would last.


The Silver Trumpets

The assembly in the wilderness was large and unruly. It was difficult to communicate by voice to upwards of two million people. When the troops were needed to fight, they might be out gathering the daily supply of manna. At night they would be sound asleep in their tents. At times all the people needed to be assembled. At other times only a portion of the people was required, such as the elders or the warriors. To communicate with the entire wilderness people, a clear system had to be devised.

Moses was instructed by the Lord as to the solution. He was to have two silver trumpets fashioned (Num. 10:1-2). With the use of a system of calls, various portions of or the entire congregation could be gathered for whatever purpose necessary. The alarm for war could be sounded as well as the announcement of the various feast days. The Israelites could be called to make their journey with clarity of direction sounded by these trumpets. Israel was now ready to move.

How often we are “ready” to move out for the Lord. We want to jump right into service without being prepared. It is as if God has to give us the “trumpet” for guidance and direction. We would go to war when all God wants is for us to meet in worship and grow in Him first.

The Command To Go

Finally, the pillar of cloud was taken up from the Tabernacle. Excitement filled the camp. They were ready to move. Their long stay at Sinai had ended. Each tribe was in its place, exactly as the Lord had prescribed. It was not a disorganized, unruly mob but an orderly multitude. The tribes marched in groups of three in the specified manner that had been very carefully detailed.

The Rebellious Brother-in-law

Although the shekinah glory led Israel, Moses needed someone who knew the desert to act as their eyes (Num. 10:31). They needed one to guide them through this barren land the easiest way. Hobab, Moses’ brother­ in-law, could be of great assistance, so the leader of Israel asked for his help, promising that he would be well cared for if he did. Please, was Moses’ request (Num. 10:29-32). Hobab’s reply was, ”I will not go”(Num. 10:30). He would go to his own land and his own people. Moses would have to go alone. However, it appears that Moses prevailed further on Hobab (Num. 10:31-32). There is an obscure passage found in Judges 1:16 which may indicate that Hobab did go. The children of Moses’ father-in-law accompanied the multitude, and Hobab could well have been in that group.

So, by faith, Moses led the children of Israel onward. He never got bogged down at one place but was always ready to go. So it should be with us. Our faith should always be so fresh that we can keep going on in the Lord. We can never  stagnate. We must continue on whether family and friends follow or not. We can never let the Hobabs in our lives hold us back.                      ·

The Murmuring of the People

All of us complain from time to time – some of us more than others. It is so easy to gripe. Although that is often the American way, it is not the biblical way.

When Israel left Sinai, they found themselves in a very rugged area where walking was quite difficult. Moving an entire family along was in all likelihood just about impossible. So, what did they do? Complain. We are not told how angry Moses was with the gripers, but it becomes very apparent the Lord was furious (Num. 11:1-3). He was so angry that He sent fire along the edges of the camp and consumed the complainers. The Scriptures record this on at least two other occasions, Deuteronomy 9:22 and Psalm 78:17.

Certainly Moses had with him a rebellious nation full of unbelief. It was only after Moses besought the Lord in prayer that the fire was quenched. Moses named the place Taberah, meaning a burning Num. 11:3).

The Lust of the People

No matter how well the Lord provided, what He gave them was not what the people wanted.  They were always discontented. Even though the people had just experienced God’s judgment   by fire because of a complaining crowd, they immediately went at it again. They were not satisfied with God’s daily provision. Very prominent throughout the books of Exodus and Numbers is the discontent of the people with God’s provision. “Who shall give us flesh to eat?” (Num. 11:4). They remembered the diet of fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic of Egypt (Num. 11:5). This they compared with the monotonous manna they were getting. They had forgotten their bondage so soon. How quickly we forget the negatives of “the good old days.” Moses heard the people weeping and was displeased. The Lord, however, was very angry with the people. Moses cried out to the Lord, asking why He had laid the burden of this people on..him. He asked the Lord where he was going to get meat to feed this people (Num. 11:13). After all, they were in the middle of the desert.

The Judgment of the Lord

If it’s meat you want, it’s meat you’ll get. The Lord told Moses to gather seventy elders, which he did. They were told they would have flesh to eat all right. They would not just have it for a day or two but for an entire month. They would have nothing but quail. The Lord would show the people His arm was not shortened that He could not provide. Never would Israel desire quail again (Num. 11:18-20).

So they came. For thirty days they had meat. The Lord in His wrath gave them what they wanted, but their very desire turned into judgment. To cap it all off, the Lord smote the people with a great plague. The name of the place was called Kibroth-hattaavah, which means the graves of lust. There they buried the people that lusted to eat meat (Num. 11:33-34).

There is a great lesson to be learned here. We often want something very much. We pray for it; we long for it. Then the Lord gives us what we want, and it becomes a noose around our necks. It is not really what is the Lord’s best for us, but we beg for it anyhow. How much better it would be to pray for the will of the Lord instead. Surely, if the people who lusted for flesh had it to do over again, they would have eaten the manna provided with deep thanksgiving and enjoyed every bit of it.

Miriam – A Sister’s Disrespect

The situation was bad enough when the throbbing mass in the wilderness turned on their leader. They had murmured and lusted until Moses cried out, “I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me” (Num. 11:14). Then even his family turned on him. His sister Miriam, followed by his coward-like brother, who had fashioned that idolatrous golden calf, attacked Moses at a very vulnerable point. They criticized the leader of Israel because of his marriage to the “Cushite woman” (Num. 12:1). Really, underneath it all lay the sin so prone to surface, especially in family circles – jealousy. They wanted to feel that the Lord spoke to them just as well as Moses. They were bucking for the leadership position. This was an alliance of prophet and priest challenging the God-given leadership of Moses (Num. 12:2). Moses was in the position of mediator between God and Israel, a prefiguring of Christ in the New Testament How would Moses face the challenge of these very serious charges?

What they wanted, they soon got. Suddenly, the Lord spoke to Miriam, Aaron and Moses as well. They were commanded to proceed immediately to the Tabernacle of the congregation. There the Lord came down in the pillar of cloud, calling Miriam and Aaron. Excitement must have filled their hearts. God had called them, not Moses (Num. 12:5)!

Then the axe fell. The Lord very clearly told them that a prophet would get his message from the Lord by vision or dream, but to Moses, He would “speak mouth to mouth” (Num. 12:8). The expression on their faces must have rapidly changed. Then the Lord in His anger asked why they had spoken against Moses.

When the presence of the Lord left, Miriam was a leper – an outcast. What a difference! The sister who watched her brother in the bulrushes would die. Moses, in awe and perhaps with a broken heart, cried out to the Lord in her behalf. He begged the Lord to heal her, which He did, but for seven days she had to be ostracized (Num. 12:10-15).

Any punishment is bad enough, but punishment by God is even worse. There is no appeal. God handled the sin of jealousy severely. Even today we must be very careful about sin in our lives. We could very well pay for it later in life, and the judgment could be very severe.


The Reconnaissance

The Lord clearly directed Moses to choose twelve men who were rulers, every one of a different tribe. They were to spy out the land of Canaan and report back. In particular, they were to take notice of the land, the people and the possibilities of the area. They were to search to see if there was wood and other necessities. Already the Lord had told Israel that Canaan was a land of “milk and honey.” It was promised to be a blessed land and one they would enjoy. The Lord had also promised that He would fight their battles. No people were too strong for the Lord to defeat. Israel had been well-assured that the Lord would be their conqueror.

In obedience to the Lord’s command Moses sent the spies on their way. They searched the land from the wilderness of Zin all the way to Rehab which is considered by many to be all the way to the north, indicating they spied from near Damascus back down to the area of Hebron. In the area of the Brook Eshcol they picked a huge cluster of grapes along with the pomegranates and figs (Num. 13:21-23). After forty days they returned with their mission completed.

The Report

They reported in the area of Kadesh-barnea, where they met with Moses and the congregation  of Israel. As they showed them the good things they brought back, they told of a land flowing with milk and honey. Then they began to enumerate the enemies that dwelt there -Anak, Amalek, the Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites and the Canaanites (Num. 13:28-29).

The Refusal To Go

Even though Caleb said, “Let us go up at once, and possess it” (Num. 30), the ten spies feared the people that lived there and said, “there we saw the giants” (Num. 13:33). The congregation quickly joined in with the spies. They wept all that night. They felt the entire journey was useless and that they were in a hopeless situation. They wanted  to  go  back  to Egypt  – back to bondage. They were prepared to depose Moses and choose another leader. The fact that God had provided miracle after miracle to meet their every need was quickly forgotten as Israel reached a very low ebb. The situation looked hopeless.

Only Joshua and Caleb stood with Moses. “If the LORD delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it us: a land which floweth with milk and honey. Only rebel not ye against the LORD, neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us; their defense is departed from them, and the LORD is with us: fear them not” (Num. 14:8-9).

As Joshua finished his message, the congregation would have stoned the three men, but a sovereign God intervened. He was ready to destroy their faithless nation and make a greater nation out of Moses, but Moses pleaded with the Lord about this. Occasion would only be given for other nations to malign God. You made promises and for Your glory, You must keep them, was Moses’ cry.


The Multitude

The Lord heard Moses’ plea. The multitude would not be destroyed immediately, but they had to pay for their lack of faith. Because of their unbelief, they would not enter Canaan. They would die in the wilderness, the last place they ever wanted to be. To top it all off, many would have to spend years there before death would come. Wasted lives! Spinning their wheels, walking through a desert going nowhere -only to die. No faith, no home. Only those twenty years of age and under would see what God promised, and even they would have to wait many years for it.

The Ten

These men did great damage to the nation. They had brought an evil report, so they had to die. God sent a plague upon them, and in a very short while, they were all dead. Never again would they slander God and infect a nation by their lack of faith.

The Two

Joshua and Caleb, men of faith, lived. Not only did they live, but Joshua would become the successor of Moses. Caleb would be granted a special possession when Canaan became his new home.


There are many lessons the child of God should learn from this phase of Israel’s wilderness journey. The first is a hard lesson for us to accept. It is to set aside murmuring and complaining. We should be satisfied with what God has for us, no matter what our lot.

Secondly, our Lord desires that we walk by faith. We cannot be like the ten spies, seeing only the problems. God would have us learn to trust Him, to look to Him day by day and to be willing to walk as He leads.

Finally, although we often do not realize it, we need to look at the Israelites and learn not to lust. When God judged them so for wanting only meat, what must our Lord think of us when we desire so much more. A walk of simple faith in Christ is so beautiful and so pleasing to God. Can we just simply, quietly, humbly and individually learn lessons like these?

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