Bible Study with Jairus – Numbers 20
Numbers 20 is the story of how Moses did not follow God’s command when asked to strike a rock to produce water. Instead of following God’s exact directions to hit the rock once, Moses struck the rock twice. God still acted mercifully to allow water to flow out for the Israelites. Later, however, God chastised Moses and Aaron for not believing in Him, nor upholding Him as holy in the eyes of the Israelites. Because of this, they were not allowed to enter the Promised Land (Numbers 20:12).
A man in our Bible study asked, “How do Moses’ actions show that he did not believe in God?” I replied, “You must use the former Israelite spies as a reference because they were also regarded as unbelieving spies by God.” The spies were regarded by God as having no faith because they exaggerated the height of the Canaanites and underestimated God’s promise. They regarded the enemy as able to triumph over God’s promise to lead them into the Promised Land. The spies’ disheartened position in the face of enemy weakened the Israelites’ faith and led them to believe that their inability was greater than God’s promise and God’s power. They trusted more in what their eyes could see than in what the Lord had spoken. Thankfully, the Israelites inability did not overcome God’s ability. Caleb and Joshua are examples of those who believed. Since God had already promised that they would be brought into the Promised Land, they did not waiver in their belief. They put God’s promise first. They said, “Let’s go up for we will devour them.” Faith is putting God’s promise first and not allowing yourself to be frightened by the immediate circumstances.
The same principle can be applied to Moses and Aaron. What did Moses regard as larger than God? Moses did not exemplify complete trust in the Lord. Moses was disappointed with the Israelites. His disappointment with the people’s inability surpassed God’s promise and hope for them. Thus, he acted in disobedience and God regarded him as unbelieving. Although Moses believed the first time, he did not believe God the second time. Why? His discouragement affected his faith.
At the beginning of this chapter, the death of Miriam, Moses’ sister, is recorded. We can assume that Moses loved his sister. Without Moses’ sister, there would be no Moses. When Moses was put into the river as a child, it was Moses’ sister who stood by watching him. When Pharaoh’s daughter came to bathe, Miriam talked with Pharaoh’s daughter and offered to find a Hebrew mother to nurse him. Miriam arranged for her mother to take care of him. In other words, without Miriam, Moses might have died.
In later years, Miriam rebelled against Moses and God struck her with leprosy. Aaron asked Moses to beg God to remove Miriam’s leprosy. Moses prayed to God and God answered his prayer by allowing Miriam to be healed after her confinement outside the camp for seven days. We see that Moses had no resentment toward his sister. We can imagine that Miriam’s death had a huge personal impact on Moses. He was likely very sad. Miriam’s death also happened at a special time. It was right about the time when the Israelites had been wandering in the wilderness for 40 years. The first generation of Israelites were almost dead. Perhaps Miriam, Aaron (who dies at the end of this chapter), Moses (who dies shortly after), and Caleb and Joshua (who entered the Promised Land), were among the few people from the first generation who were still alive.
Now, we arrive at the story of Moses and the rock. The Israelites were already tired after about forty years of wandering in the wilderness. Moses was also tired. The second generation made the same mistake as the first generation. They complained again that there was no water to drink. Tired and sad Moses became irritated by the people. At first, he remained humble before God. He fell facedown just like he had when Korah attacked him. God responded and asked Moses to speak to the rock to produce water. But when Moses came before the Israelites, he reverted to being angry. Why? Perhaps when Moses went before God, he hoped that God would avenge him as He did when He disciplined Korah the last time. God did not act the same this time. My guess is that Moses’ response was a way of venting the pent-up pain and anger he had held in his heart.
Moses’ mistake is also one often made by pastors. Sometimes we feel disappointed with the people we lead and shepherd. Such disappointment must be dealt with at the cross. It should not affect our emotions and decisions. I discussed this with a classmate who is a Korean pastor. I asked him to tell me about the hardest thing he has faced since becoming a pastor. His church is not big. One time, a family that faithfully served in the church, suddenly left without giving him any explanation. I comforted him by suggesting, “Maybe God had a different direction for them, but they were too scared to tell you. It is not necessarily that they had bad intentions by not telling you.” I tried to encourage him not to be disappointed in people, and to have faith in God. Whether it’s Moses or my Korean pastor friend, we should all have greater faith in God’s ability to lead His chosen people than in the difficulties we face in the environment around us. True faith exceeds the disappointment brought by the environment. Keeping God’s promise before one’s eyes, above the difficulties, is faith. This does not mean we do not acknowledge that we will face failures in the church or in the Christians we care for.
So why did God regard Aaron as unbelieving? It seems that Aaron didn’t do anything. A man in our study commented that because Aaron did nothing, that’s why he was regarded as unbelieving. I believe he was right. Aaron was a priest. He should have interceded for Moses as well as help him to overcome his weakness. But Aaron did nothing. His inaction was unbelief in the eyes of God. During the previous judgment on Korah, Aaron took the censer to intercede and it stopped the plague. This time, Aaron didn’t intercede for Moses which demonstrates that he didn’t fulfill his responsibilities as a priest and thus was disciplined by God. God determined Aaron’s death before he would reach the Promised Land too.
The Bible records that Moses and Aaron did not uphold God as holy in the eyes of the Israelites in this matter (Numbers 20:12). Verse 13 (ESV) concludes, “These are the waters of Meribah, where the people of Israel quarreled with the Lord, and through them he showed himself holy.” Why does it say here that God showed himself holy through them?
God’s judgment in Numbers 16 begins with Korah being swallowed up by the earth. The chapter continues to talk about the 250 elders burned by fire; 14,700 people killed from the plague; the warning of the budding of Aaron’s rod in Numbers 17; and the decreasing degree of judgment on the Israelites. We notice that God’s judgment is more severe with those closer to the Holy of Holies, and with those who try to touch His authority. With those closer to the outer courtyard and whose spiritual lives are not as mature, God shows mercy. This is a basic principle of God. Moses did not represent God’s disposition. Instead, he got angry. He should have showed mercy to the second generation of the Israelites when they immaturely complained. He should have taken pity on them instead of judging them, since mercy triumphs over judgment. This would have been upholding God as holy—upholding God’s holy character.
Let’s consider the difference. Moses also got angry when Korah rebelled, but God did not criticize Moses for this. Instead, God supported Moses, severely disciplining Korah and burning 250 elders with him who had rebelled against God. This included the death of 14,700 people from the plague God sent. This is an example of God’s severe judgment. Thankfully, God’s anger is temporary; His kindness and mercy are everlasting. Although God disciplined the first generation of Israel, he treated the second generation with kindness. The same principle exists for churches today. Sometimes we may need the courage from God to point out the mistakes of certain mature believers so that they can grow even more and serve God and others well. For immature and new believers, the reigning principle is love. If we are too strict with them, they will often stumble.
Of course, Moses knew this principle. Exodus 34:6-7 (ESV) records the Lord’s appearing to Moses. It states, “The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.’” God’s holy nature is characterized as slow to anger, especially for people whose spiritual lives are immature. His mercy prevails over His anger or judgment. Moses knew this was the character he should embody, so his disobedience was an act of deliberate sin. Moses was furious at the second generation of Israelites for violating God’s holy nature, but God, full of kindness, still gave the living water to the second generation. In this way, God upheld his own righteousness to the Israelites.
The following verses (14-22) record the story of Moses attempting to lead the Israelites through Edom. Unfortunately, the king of Edom did not allow them to pass through. When this happened, God ordered the Israelites not to contend with Edom because God gave Esau the country of Seir as a possession (ESV, Deuteronomy 2:5). Therefore, Moses requested of their king to let them pass through in accordance with the requirements set forth by God in Deuteronomy. Moses also offered to pay for the food they would eat and the water they would drink (Deuteronomy 2:6). The King of Edom still denied their request.
At this point in our bible study, the same man asked, “Are the pillars of cloud and fire going to lead the Israelites through Edom?” If God was leading them in this direction, why didn’t Edom let them pass through? When Edom refused to let them pass through, what was God’s attitude? I read Amos 1 to this man, where it says that God judged Edom because Edom chased his brother with a sword. Amos 1:11 (ESV) says, “Thus says the Lord: ‘For three transgressions of Edom, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because he pursued his brother with the sword and cast off all pity, and his anger tore perpetually, and he kept his wrath forever.’” We can see that God was unhappy that Edom did not let the Israelites pass through. This verse indirectly demonstrates that it was God’s plan to lead them through Edom. If God knew the king would not allow them to pass through, why did God lead the Israelites to Edom in the first place? Maybe God wanted the brothers to reconcile, or maybe he wanted the Israelites to testify to the Edomites about him, telling them how much God cares for the Israelites. Perhaps when the Edomites heard this, they would exalt God’s name and return to Him. In today’s language, we would say the Israelites were being given the opportunity to evangelize. Unfortunately, Edom refused.
Israel’s journey can be likened to a planter of the gospel. They sowed the seeds of the gospel wherever they went. As Psalm 126:5 (ESV) says, “Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!” This sentence refers to the Israelites who wandered and were taken into captivity. When they were in Egypt, they sowed seeds just as Joseph testified of God’s greatness to Pharaoh. When they passed through the wilderness, they sowed seeds because God’s pillar of cloud and fire went before them. They also reaped. Rahab, for example, became an ancestor of Christ. The Israelites journey went from Egypt (the world, the flesh, and the outer courtyard) to the wilderness (the soul and the sanctuary) and then to the Promised Land (the spirit and the Holy of Holies). Their journey was a continuous process of sanctification for the body, soul, and spirit. However, wherever they went, they had the tabernacle (God’s dwelling place) with them.
The same is true for New Testament Christians. Each believer is a tabernacle of God. We are constantly being sanctified. Our body represents the outer court, our soul represents the Holy Place, and our spirit represents the Holy of Holies where the Spirit of God dwells. We meet with God spirit to spirit when we pray. We also take God’s presence wherever we go, and this is the process of manifesting God to the outside world. We are carriers of God’s presence. In the end, we are all sowers and reapers.
The Israelites journey and our journeys are representations of the flowing river of life that springs forth from the throne of God (Revelation 22:1). It is alive and flowing. Edom represents our flesh (the dependents of Lot and his daughter), and our flesh cannot be dealt with by spiritual warfare or deliverance. It must be slowly and deliberately dealt with by the work of the cross. As people often say, “YOU CANNOT CAST YOUR FLESH OUT OF YOU.” The Canaanites, however, represent the strongholds of evil spirits in our lives. We need to cast these out through spiritual warfare and God’s help. These are not just a matter of relying on the work of the cross. Evil spirits must be cast out through deliverance. Thankfully, God is with us. We are able to deal with the flesh and renew our souls, while also driving out the enemy and breaking the enemy’s strongholds.
Let’s take a deeper look at the symbolism of the incident with the rock. God stood before Moses when He asked Moses to strike the rock the first time (Exodus 17:6). This represents the work of Christ. The first generation is symbolic of one’s flesh being dealt with by the work of cross. The second generation deals with the transformation of the soul, which is the renewal and change of the soul in the wilderness. Striking the rock the first time is symbolic of our first encounter with Christ when we receive salvation and the Holy Spirit. Speaking to the rock the second time also produces water (the life of the Holy Spirit), but this is a representation of the work of the Holy Spirit in us. As we mature, we must be prepared to speak to the rock by faith so that the Holy Spirit can work in our lives. We move from a salvation experience to mature sons and daughters.
The wilderness represents a place of trials. We are reaching the end. The Israelites’ journey in the wilderness was about to end, and Moses’ sister Miriam had died. The trials in the wilderness and the thirst in the desert are environments created by God to cause us to hunger and thirst in our spirits. In other words, God designed the wilderness. Because of the dryness and thirst, the Israelites called on the Lord. In fact, this is a picture of what it looks like to yearn for being filled with the Holy Spirit. This is a thirst created by God. The purpose is to cause people to pursue the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Initially, Moses didn’t understand this. Whether he missed this because he was in low spirits or simply impatient, Moses suffered the consequences for it.
Christians today can experience this spiritually. When your life or ministry is brought to a point where you find yourself thirsty, suffocated, disheartened and disappointed, remember that this is an environment God created for you to allow you to see that you need the living water brought by the infilling of the Holy Spirit. This living water alone will satisfy your hunger and thirst, and it will cause you to cry out for the abundance of the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, many people who carry a traditional understanding of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, fail to realize that this is a separate experience that follows salvation. Perhaps this is the mistake Moses made here. His restricted understanding toward old traditions caused him to miss out on God’s second blessing.
The baptism of the Holy Spirit is the second blessing Christians can receive. Many churches teach that we are filled with the Holy Spirit after we are saved, and that there is no second infilling. The Local Church Movement (LCM) teaches something similar. They believe that persons are baptized into the body of Christ once and for all because of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. They preach that it is through faith that one receives the baptism and infilling of the Holy Spirit subsequent to the salvation experience. Sometimes it’s unclear how to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit through faith. We may not clearly know what manifestations we are expecting to receive after being filled.
I tried to pursue the baptism of the Holy Spirit during my time with the LCM, but I wasn’t able to receive it. I only later received this baptism in a Charismatic church. After being baptized with the Holy Spirit, I experienced many external manifestations including stumbling (as a result of my inability to stand), speaking in tongues, receiving prophetic or other miraculous gifts, and experiencing electric currents flowing through my body. Not everyone who experiences the baptism of the Holy Spirit has the same external manifestations. I would be more concerned if there were no manifestation at all. An illustration by Derek Prince may be help us understand why this is. Prince called those who were baptized in the spirit but not speaking in tongues, elephants without a TRUNK or NOSE. It is possible that an elephant lacks a trunk due to an accident or abnormality, but the normal is that an elephant has a trunk. (After all, this is part of what makes an elephant an elephant!) In the same way, when a Christian does not speak in tongues, it does not mean they have not been baptized in the Spirit, but it should be natural that a believer can and will speak in tongues after they have been baptized. Speaking in tongues is proof that God’s Spirit has come upon them (as He did at Pentecost), and it’s important proof that one has been marked by the Spirit just as having a trunk is the marker and proof that one is an elephant. Of course, we can still tell if an animal is an elephant by seeing its big ears, big body, and other dominant characteristics, but the complete package is that an elephant has all these elements.
My experience even surprised me. When I was baptized with the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit came upon me in such a way that I took a dozen steps back and fell to the ground. As I mentioned, I also experienced electric currents flowing through my head for several months. I received miraculous gifts, and I believe I can now more keenly discern things in the spiritual world. I also often have prophetic dreams of being taken to heaven and paradise. I believe that there is a second blessing Christians can receive called the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I personally believe that we receive the Holy Spirit upon faith in Jesus Christ and this marks the regeneration of a person’s spirit unto eternal life. This is what is referred to in John 20:22 (ESV): “And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” However, we only receive power from on high when we are baptized in the Holy Spirit as recorded in the book of Acts. I also believe we can receive different degrees of the baptism of the Holy Spirit in various stages of our lives. It is even possible that we were baptized in the Holy Spirit without us realizing it or showing signs of any manifestations including speaking in tongues. I do encourage people to practice speaking in tongues after one is baptized in the Holy Spirit. Thankfully, if you haven’t received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, you can yearn for it and you’ll be able to receive it. This experience will completely change your Christian life.
At the end of our meeting, we prayed that God would strengthen us so that we would be able to face the various trials in our lives. May we receive God’s strength and the filling of the Holy Spirit for all kinds of trials—from Egypt to the wilderness and on to the Promised Land. Let us become sowers and reapers, and never stop preaching the aroma of God’s gospel wherever we may go. The aroma lets those who reject God’s gospel to die and those who accept God’s gospel to live (2 Corinthians 2:14-15). We also pray for the Holy Spirit to fill us so that we can not only deal with the flesh but break the enemy’s strongholds. It is difficult for us to break the enemy’s strongholds without the baptism and infilling of the Holy Spirit. I encourage you to pursue this today.