40 years of grumbling and complaining
God waited for a generation that would trust Him. This fearful generation would “number” the people and then begin wandering. We are now in the book of Numbers, where wandering and grumbling, instead of trusting God, is the recurring theme.
God continued to try to teach His people to trust Him. God gave them a pillar of cloud to follow by day, and a pillar of fire for night. When it moved, they moved. When it stopped, they stopped. But still they didn‟t trust God, even with a tangible reminder that God was with them daily. They still made some offerings, performed a few sacrifices in the tabernacle, and celebrated Passover; but mostly they just complained. In one moment of grumbling, Moses‟ brother, Aaron, and sister, Miriam, challenged his leadership. They told Moses that they didn‟t like the fact that he had married a black woman named Zipporah, who was a Cushite. God hated this racism, and taught them a harsh lesson by giving them leprosy, essentially saying, “You think lighter skin is better, huh? Try leprosy.” Moses intervened, God relented, and they were healed ... but humbled.
The people kept grumbling ... for food ... for the "good times" in Egypt ... for water. God wanted them to pray and ask Him for help when they were in trouble. Instead, they just gritted their teeth and grumbled. Moses was so sick of the grumbling that he lost his temper. When God called him to speak to the rock for water again, the angry Moses bashed it with his staff. Even though water shot up, God pulled Moses aside and told him that his anger was caused by not trusting. Because of this, Moses would not be allowed to go into the Promised Land.
As one generation began to die, their children were anxious to return to trusting God. This next generation put confidence in Him during battles with their enemies. The news of these battles reached Balak, the King of Moab. Balak bribed one of Israel‟s prophets, a man named Balaam, in hopes of backing them down. Balaam set off to deceive the nation of Israel by prophesying that God would not help them.
On his way, Balaam‟s donkey ran him into a wall to avoid an angel. Balaam smacked his donkey. The donkey spoke. (Yes, the donkey spoke!) God warned Balaam – through the donkey – to trust Him and be honest, not to lie for money. Balaam agreed and delivered a sermon later that day about “Trusting God!” (You may wonder about the reliability of a book with burning bushes and talking donkeys. Consider this: “If an all-powerful God created the entire world, couldn‟t He easily speak through a talking donkey?”)
The Israelites approached the edge of the Promised Land. Before they went in, Moses gave one final speech, a second giving of the Law, reminding the people to trust God in the new land. This inspiring and detailed explanation about sincere trust, providing for the poor, and creating a society ruled by law was recorded in the book of Deuteronomy.
Moses died up on a mountain, where he could see the Promised Land. The 40 years were over. The generation that refused to trust God was dead. The next generation was ready. They mourned Moses for 30 days. Joshua, the young spy turned leader, took over command. His first speech was the repetition of the recurring theme of the past thousand years. He told the people to be strong and courageous, placing their confidence in God. He reminded them not to turn to the left or the right of what God commanded. Joshuareminded them to trust God in the land filled with mystery and unknowns. He told them that God was with them – even though the pillar of cloud and fire would not follow them into the new homeland. Now God‟s presence was certain, but not tangible.