The real crux of this week’s lesson is that fact that God is trying to change a culture. Let’s start by looking at things from different perspectives. From the children of Israel’s perspective, God seems brutal and angry. But from God’s perspective, He just wants to show His followers that the greatest contributing factor to any one’s life is how you show that person love. This becomes clearer if we back track from Numbers to Mount Sinai, where God and Moses are having a conversation, and then how the people view this interaction.
And the LORD said, “I will cause all my goodness (notice God uses the word goodness here, Not anger and hate) to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” Then the LORD said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.” (Exodus 33:19-23)
Now here is the reaction to the manifestation of God via Moses in Exodus 34:30:
When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him.”
Did you catch that? Afraid, afraid of what? The most difficult part of being human is what is bred in our genes, and Tiger Woods is the perfect example of it: Money, Sex and Power. On earth all of humanity is after one of those three things. But, God was trying to change the culture of the Israelites from the earthly quality of selfishness (money, sex and power) to the divine quality of selflessness: Love — a love that is great and all encompassing.
This is what the Israelites realized only gradually. It is this second-generation perspective that we find in this weeks lesson on Numbers and Romans. The lesson begins by pointing out that we need to plan the path of our future and consider how our actions will effect the lives of our children. Will that next generation have changed by seeing God from their perspective? The lesson concludes with how God changes a culture.
In Numbers 32:10, the Lord is angry with Israel, and we are told
He swore this oath: “Because they have not followed me wholeheartedly, not one of the men twenty years old or more who came up out of Egypt will see the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—not one except Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite and Joshua son of Nun, for they followed the LORD wholeheartedly.” The Lord’s anger burned against Israel and He made them wander in the desert forty years, until the whole generation of those who had done evil in his sight was gone. (Numbers 32:10-13)
Why those who were 20 years old or more and who had come up out of Egypt? Think back to your childhood; have you become jaded in the way you think now, as opposed to how you thought then? When I was a child I really didn’t care about money, sex or power. If you had given me a choice between a US silver dollar and a $100 paper dollar as a 3 year old I would have taken the coin because is was round and shinny—especially if I could have had a hug along with it. It’s part of being 3, you like hugs more than things and shiny things more than the temptations of maturity. As Paul says (1 Cor. 13), the attitudes and activities of childhood ultimately have to be left behind; but often the things we replace them with are bad exchanges.
The Israelites over the age of 20 were jaded and had a past history that would have corrupted the next generation if they had crossed the Jordan River. What could have happened is demonstrated by the story of the “Reubenites and Gadites, who had very large herds and flocks, saw that the lands of Jazer and Gilead were suitable for livestock.” They therefore went to Moses and pointed out to him that “the lands the LORD [has] subdued before the people of Israel are suitable for livestock, and your servants have livestock.” And so, “If we have found favor in your eyes,’ they said, ‘let this land be given to your servants as our possession. Do not make us cross the Jordan.’” (Numbers 32: 1, 4, 5)
See the greed, the desire for wealth; their perspective was about selfishness, not about showing others God’s love. This is why the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. Sometimes when see God at work in Scripture, punishing His people, or those around them, we only see the negative consequences; but if we flip that around, we see that sometimes God in fact is doing something positive. Seen from this perspective, God was not being vindictive in leaving the first generation of Israelites as nomads — instead He was redeeming the next generation, leading it into greater Love, and away from selfishness.