Is it okay if we include our discussion of Num 22 with tomorrow’s reading, as it is part of the history of Balaam? Num 21 forms a chiastic structure (God’s paragraph divisions often helps point His structures out):
1A: Num 21:1a, Israel moved along the road to Atharim;
1B: Num 21:1b, The king of Arad took possession of some of Israel;
1C: Num 21:2-3, Israel utterly defeated the king of Arad;
1D: Num 21:4-5, Israel’s journeys + spoke bitterly when faced with no food or water;
1E: Num 21:6, Many died when bitten by fiery serpents;
CENTRAL AXIS: Num 21:7-8, Israel’s confession + YHVH’s salvation in the bronze serpent;
2E: Num 21:9, All lived who looked upon the bronze serpent;
2D: Num 21:10-20, Israel’s journeys + sang joyfully when faced with no water;
2C: Num 21:21-35a, Israel utterly defeated Sihon of Heshbon and Og of Bashan;
2B: Num 21:35b, Israel took possession of their land;
2A: Num 22:1, Israel moved opposite from Jericho.
Look at the D pairs: a fundamental shift has taken place. For the first time that Scripture records, when faced with a lack of some kind, Israel sang joyfully, encouraged themselves and honored their leaders (“the well the leaders sank”) instead of complained bitterly, discouraged themselves, and turned against their leaders. The same complaint that is recorded in Num 21:4-5 has been voiced for 40 years, over and over again until we are sick of reading about it, when all of the sudden the pattern that has been well established, changes! Breaks in established patterns are a teaching tool of Scripture!
So what changed? Remember, the wanderings recorded from the deaths of Miriam and Aaron take place at the end of Israel’s 40 years in the wilderness (at the end of God’s paragraph which ends at Num 22:1, notice that they are encamped across from Jericho, where they enter the land under Joshua!). Chapter 20 records a change in the priesthood, from Aaron to his son, the generation of the father to the generation of the son. And I believe chapter 21 also records a change in the generation of Israel, from the unbelieving generation of the fathers, that complained and murmured against Moses and Aaron and the LORD at every obstacle, to the believing generation of the children (now grown), who, we are seeing, meet obstacles with faith, with praise, and with honor to whom honor is due.
Now from Exodus on, we have seen instances where some of the people of Israel suffer death or plague, in incident after incident, because of unbelief, disobedience, and murmuring. In each instance (beginning with the golden calf incident), there was an opportunity to confess wrong, to repent, and to let a change of actions proceed from a change of heart. In each instance, it was those who remained in their unbelief and their rebellion and sin, who died. In fact, the trials Israel faced, served to cleanse Israel of those who would not take YHVH for their God (other than by lip service)! Now 40 years later, the last of the unbelieving and hard- hearted generation has passed away (but Moses, Joshua, and Caleb), with the fiery serpent incident, and the generation which is left, who will enter the land, is the believing generation of the children.
Unbelief may not inherit the promise! Belief inherits the promise! This is the gospel of grace by faith!
We have our own promise! We have our own land to go in and possess! The generation which came out of Egypt were not killed by Pharaoh, by enemies, or famine from being in the wilderness! They brought their own judgments upon themselves by their willfulness and their unbelief! Let us learn from Israel’s example, what causes us to perish before we arrive at our promise, and what causes us to enter in and possess it!
For further study: If we made the list the other day of the Ten Complaints, let us add to it the four instances since then of willfulness, rebellion, complaints, and unbelief, which resulted in the deaths of Israelites. Go back and look at these instances. Was there an opportunity to confess and turn before the judgment came upon them? Did confession and repentance take place? In which instances did Israel confess and repent? Did God relent as He did in today’s instance of the fiery serpents and provide a way of escape? What does this teach us about the importance of confession AND repentance?
Finding Messiah: The bronze serpent on the pole is a prophetic picture of Messiah Yeshua on the cross! We don’t have to speculate about this as Jesus Himself taught us:
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Joh 3:14-15
Now we are used to thinking of the serpent as associated with the devil, the enemy. In fact, the serpent was on the pole, because when Jesus was on the cross, the sins of the whole world were laid upon Him – the fruit of the serpent. Sin was crucified with Jesus, and when He was raised to life again, sin stayed dead in the grave, LOL. Hallelujah!