Bible Study with Jairus – Numbers 33
At first glance, Numbers 33 seems like a confusing list of meaningless facts. “Pi-hahiroth, Baal-zephon, Alush, Rephidim…” Why would God include so many cities and place names that are difficult to pronounce? What is the point?
If we look more closely, we will understand the importance of these facts. If we were familiar with the geography of Israel, we would reflexively understand that the Israelites were going in circles. It was as if they were detouring from Florida to New York and back to Florida. Because of their disobedience, the Israelites were experiencing God’s discipline. To readers familiar with the geography of Israel, this detailed record of cities and place names would clearly demonstrate that the Israelites were wandering in mind-numbing circles.
Rather than being a pointless list of names, this passage serves as a warning to future generations. There is a high price to not believing in God and rebelling against Him. We must draw lessons from what happened to the Israelites. We must obey God and have faith in Him, so that we can avoid God’s discipline.
Wandering in the wilderness
Verse 1 says, “These are the stages of the people of Israel, when they went out of the land of Egypt by their companies under the leadership of Moses and Aaron.” In verses two through forty-five, forty-two different stations are recorded. Under normal circumstances, it takes only 11 days to travel from Egypt to the Promised Land. But it took the Israelites 40 years.
When the faithless spies gave a bad report to the Israelites, they became fearful and refused to go into the promised land. In response, God disciplined them. He told them they would wander in the wilderness for forty years. He said, “According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, a year for each day, you shall bear your iniquity forty years, and you shall know my displeasure.” (Numbers 14:34).
There were two reasons that the Israelites were disciplined by God. First, they were unbelieving. Hebrews 3:19 says, “So we see that they were unable to enter [the Promised Land] because of unbelief.” The second reason is rebellion. Ezekiel 20:13 says, “The house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness. They did not walk in my statutes but rejected my rules.”
Discipline and Surrender
After the wilderness wanderings were over, the Israelites may have been tempted to boast in God’s miracles. They may have recounted the daily manna, water from the rock, and wonderful signs that God sent. They may have been tempted to paint a rosy picture of their time in the wilderness.
But in reality, the time in the wilderness was a time of judgment. There was much death, judgment, and discipline during the Wilderness Wanderings. God sent fire on Nadab and Abihu. The earth opened to swallow Korah. Fiery serpents bit the people. Plagues and fire destroyed them.
In the same way, many people try to focus on the blessings and protection of God during the coronavirus pandemic. We share stories of God’s protection and healing. But we should not forget that there has been a lot of blood, sweat, and tears during the pandemic. There has been death and discipline from God.
In American churches today, few people view the pandemic as God’s discipline. Since they have been hurt by legalism in the past, they reject all statements about discipline. Though the discipline of the Holy Spirit is a truth in the Bible, there are few people in U.S. churches that talk about this.
Some Christians say that God’s wrath has been poured out on the cross; therefore His wrath will not come to us again. This is correct. But it does not mean that God will not discipline or even judge us.
I am not saying that everyone who is infected with Covid is being punished for their personal sins. I acknowledge that many have been accidentally infected. Others have unfortunately passed away due to the infectious nature of the disease, not due to their sin. What I mean is Covid is a judgment for humanity as a whole.
1 Peter 4:17 says, “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God.” “Judgment” in Greek is κρίμα (krima). When we ignore the fact of the judgment of God, we don’t feel the need for introspection and repentance. Though some American Christians emphasize prayer and repentance, many others do not. The depth of repentance in American churches is far from ideal.
Many Christians and churches have not yet surrendered to God. God is dealing with the church as a whole because we have not yet reached the point of total surrender. What is surrender? What are the characteristics of surrendering to God? How can we surrender to God? It’s mainly through repentance and prayer.
The Wilderness Test
In our individual lives, we often face a wilderness period in our pursuit of the Lord. After tangibly experiencing the presence of God, we often feel like we have entered a pitch-black cave. We are wandering through a trackless wilderness. One day, it feels like God is with us. The next, we feel abandoned. We often pray to God to remove these problems, but to no avail. It seems like God has no response at all when we pray to Him.
Has God abandoned us? No. He is right there with us. He’s using this suffering and discipline to teach us to obey. It’s as if he’s hiding behind us, watching to see how we will react. If we surrender to God, we will meet Him. But if we don’t, He will hide His face from us.
Let me tell you a story of my own spiritual wilderness period. I was facing a major problem in my life. All I could do was pray. I prayed every day for a month, asking God to help me solve it. I constantly repented, confessed my sins, and rededicated myself to Him, asking Him to help me solve this problem. Finally, God answered my prayer.
Immediately, I felt like I was beginning to come down from the spiritual clouds. In the Bible, clouds often represent God’s presence and the atmosphere of heaven. Before the problem was solved, I was constantly in God’s presence, begging for his help. It was as if I was in the clouds. When the problem was solved, I felt that the glorious clouds of God’s presence were gradually diminishing. I realized that the problem had been a blessing in disguise, because my difficulty had driven me into the presence of God.
Will we allow the difficult wilderness experience to push us towards God, or away from him? At present, the church and all of humanity are entering a wilderness period. We’re tempted to blame others instead of reflecting on ourselves and following God more closely. When the pandemic broke out, our first reaction was to blame other countries or certain political figures. I do not deny that certain countries and politicians do have certain responsibilities. But spiritually, the correct reaction is not to blame others, but to reflect on oneself before the Lord. Otherwise, the trial will drive us even farther away from God.
When we refuse to reflect and repent, God will allow us to stay in this spiritual wilderness for a long time. Rather than removing the difficulty you face, God may allow them to increase. The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years! The more they rebelled against God, the more he disciplined them. If we refuse to repent, we should not be surprised if we hear another variant of coronavirus appearing again. Rather than blaming others, we need to allow suffering to bring us closer to God.
Light overcomes Darkness
When we experience discipline, we often feel that God has left us. This experience is not unique to us. Even the Lord Jesus felt this way. When God placed the sins of mankind on Jesus, he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Although many people have different interpretations of this verse, it can remind us that Jesus understands our pain. We often feel that God has forsaken us, that He doesn’t answer our prayers, and that he doesn’t hear our cries. Jesus understands that sentiment.
Trials can bring us closer to God. When God temporarily hides Himself, we can remember that Jesus understands our pain. John 1:5 says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” The darkness will come to an end. The wilderness wanderings will eventually give way to the Promised Land. On the other side of our trials, we will meet God.
Darkness before Dawn
Numbers 33:1-49 recounts the 42 stations that the Israelites passed through as they journeyed in the wilderness. The last paragraph of the chapter records God’s instructions about idols. God told Moses that when the Israelites entered Canaan, they must destroy all the figured stones, images, and high places in the land (51-52), and take possession of the land (53), according to their clans (54). He reminded the Israelites that if they did not drive the Canaanites out, they would face the Lord’s punishment (54-55).
The two sections of Numbers 33 are closely related. The people of God must be cleansed and dealt with in the wilderness. Only then will God provide victory over the enemy. God’s modus operandi is still the same today. The church seems to be undergoing discipline and cleansing through political persecution and the pandemic outbreak. As a result, God will soon usher in an era in which our idols and high places will be demolished. God’s chosen people are almost ready to enter the Promised Land. God wants to call the American church to higher ground. He wants to be with us so that He can lead us to our spiritual destiny.
Many people say that the church is experiencing labor pains, the painful period that precedes a great rebirth. A great revival is coming. No one can stop its arrival. Although the enemy is strongly opposing God’s work, the child will surely be born. The church has reached the edge of the promised land. Like Israel, we’ve wandered around the wilderness, full of sadness and tears, but we are about to enter the land of Canaan. Though it seems like the power of darkness has triumphed, God’s army will enter Canaan to discipline them. Idols, images, and high places will be destroyed! This is the darkness before dawn. Daylight is near. We must be hopeful for the future. We must see the light through the dark clouds above us!
Discipline and judgment are a means, not an end. The purpose of discipline is to bring repentance and salvation. But we must submit to God’s discipline. When God is disciplining us, we must learn to cooperate with His cleansing work through prayer, repentance, and confession.
God is dealing with the church’s sin as a corporate body. We must repent, not just individually but corporately.
We need to grow in our faith. Although there is darkness covering the earth, the Lord will bring light (Isaiah 60). We will rise as an army of light. Faith is all we need in this dark age. When we stand firm in our faith in God, we will usher in a bright future. God’s intentions are still good. Let us not become disappointed and discouraged.
May God bless you.
 All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.