Numbers: God Judges

Few things are more controversial for Christians or unsaved people than the Holiness of God.  It’s almost impossible to bring up the subject without experiencing anger, bitterness, criticism for not being more loving, or arguments to prove that the Lord is Loving instead of Holy.  Actually it seems as if even the word Holiness will elicit these responses and more.

There are many reasons for this, but I think the word Holiness has just gotten a bad reputation.  It makes us think about legalists who demand long lists of rules be obeyed or God will judge us, or the Christian who goes out of their way to be as separate from the world as possible because it makes them more Holy[1].   Unfortunately many remember that unloving or judgmental experience with fellow Believers, and of course the unsaved believe God is constantly looking for someone to judge.  So there is a need for us to redeem or explain the word Holiness truly means.

Few books of the Bible describe God’s judgment better than Numbers since it focuses on Israel’s failure to obey Him and their wandering in the desert.  Because of Jews unbelief what should have been an eleven day victory march to the capital of Canaan became thirty-eight years of wandering that resulted in the death of each adult in the generation.  Not a pretty story I know, but it also teaches us some important truths about the Holiness of God.

The first portion of Numbers (1:1-10:10) takes place at the foot of Mt. Sinai where Moses had just been given the law.  Since the Jews were still weak and unprepared at this point the Lord took it upon Himself to provide for their needs.  This included organizing families so that they would be ready to attack when reaching the promised land (1:1-2:34) and planning for the Tabernacle to be moved so that His presence would continually be with them (4:1-49).

Since the Jews would have to purified from sins before entering Canaan God gave Moses specific laws about cleansing during the journey (5:1-6:27).  Jehovah also commanded that sacrifices be made to purify the Tabernacle and Priests to ensure His presence (7:1-8:26) and the Passover feast was reinstituted so they could continue it in Canaan.  During the journey God guided the Israelites with a cloud during the day (Num. 9-10).

Though He provided for all of their needs the Jews refused to trust Him.  They grumbled and complained when meat couldn’t be found until the Lord gave them enough birds to eat for thirty days.  When instead of being thankful for this they still rebelled God sent a plague that killed many of them (Num. 11:33).  But instead of obeying because of this they just became more selfish, as Aaron and Miriam the siblings of Moses rebelled against his leadership (Num. 12) so God responded by giving Miriam leprosy for seven days (12:1-16).

Finally the tribes of Israel arrived to the promised land of Canaan.  But instead of entering it and obeying God they chose to stay outside the land (Num. 13) which brought a judgment from God that killed many of them (14:39-45) and cursed the others to wander in the wilderness until all adults had died.  Amazingly the Jews even after this still refused to obey the Lord but continued to rebel against the leadership of Moses (16:1-5), so God sent a sign to prove both Moses and Aaron had been chosen by Him (17:1-13).  The Lord remained faithful to the Israelites by giving them opportunities to purify their sin (Num. 19).

As you would imagine the Jews continued to complain against God when things didn’t go the way the liked which unfortunately led to the sin of Moses (20:7-13) which kept him from entering the promised land.  This was continued by Balaam the prophet who tried to curse Israel (22:1-24:25) and the immorality at Baal-Peor (25:1-8).

Thankfully the book of Numbers describes the journey back to Canaan as God provides a new leader (27:12-23), military victories (Num. 31), and settling on the other side of Jordan (Num. 32, 33:50-34:29).  So our story ends with the second generation of Jewish exiles preparing to enter the promised land.

The Holiness of God is clearly seen throughout the story of Numbers, but we also see His Grace, and Provision.  If the Lord was truly only interested in judging sin then Israel would have been destroyed before their journey even started!  But instead God gave them many chances to do the right thing before condemning His chosen people to wander the desert.  Numbers teaches us that God is indeed Holy, but He will always offer Grace and Provision or Mercy first, and after this is rejected we experience His judgment.

Because of Who He is,


[1] Here I refer to Christians who take a more Isolation style of Christianity.  I have friends who adhere to this philosophy and respect it, but am concerned about their not having unsaved friends to share the Gospel with

Published by

John Wilburn

Church planter, teacher, and disciple-maker in Barrouallie St. Vincent

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