The Goodness and Severity of God in Numbers

Goodness and Severity of God in Numbers

Behold the goodness and severity of God - read the book of Numbers.  Paul wrote: Behold then the goodness and severity of God: toward them that fell, severity; but toward thee, God's goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off" (Romans 11:22). As we read the book of Numbers let us observe how God demonstrates these two aspects of his character.

God is present with His people.  He was with them in their bondage.  He knew their desperate situation, He heard their cries of despair, and He responded in kindness unto their plight.  The pillar of fire and the cloud that led them gave testimony of His presence. They saw His power and awesomeness on Mt. Sinai. They beheld as His glory descended upon the tabernacle. God was with His people every step of the way.

God provides for His people.  Before they were aware of it, He had already prepared for their deliverance from Egyptian bondage. He provided a leader for them in Moses. He provided a way of escape through the Red Sea. He provided manna for all the years of their wanderings. He provided water for them and their animals. He provided a place to worship, a Priesthood, a law that governed their new nation of people. Before they knew what they needed, God had taken it into account and provided for them.

God is patient with His people. Seven specific times it mentions their grumbling against the LORD. They despised his provisions of the manna. They refused to obey even though they had covenanted that they would. They made the golden calf and set out to return to Egypt. They joined themselves to the foreign people in sexual immorality.  Truly it was as Paul declared:  "And for about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness" (Acts 13:18)

God listens to the prayers of His people.  In particular we see the prayers of Moses. Though often provoked he responded by praying for them. He prayed for his sister Miriam after she rebelled against his leadership (12:9-15).  He prayed for the people after they had rebelled because of the report of the spies (14:13-16).  He prayed for them though they acted as his enemy. He prayed prayers of intercession because he saw their weakness.  God listened.

God protects His people.  The greatest army of the world was destroyed by God in order for Israel to be safe. He protected them from the elements by causing their clothes and shoes to not wear out. He protected them from the curses of the pagan diviner, turning them into blessings. As they entered into battle, God fought for them. Like Egypt before them, Sihon and Og were defeated; not by Israel, but by God.

God disciplines and warns His people.  As they grumbled and rebelled they were warned and chastened.  God in fact told them ahead of time what they would do AND what He would do in response.  They were struck with plagues and 'attacked' by serpents. God indeed disciplines those whom He loves (Heb. 12:6).

God punishes the rebellion and sin of His people.  Some refused to be warned and refused to turn from their evil. God brought severe judgment upon them.  The plague killed 24,000. Miriam was struck with leprosy. Korah and his followers were swallowed alive by the earth for their rebellion against God.  Moses was not allowed to enter the promised land for his episode of not honoring God (smiting the rock and declaring: "must WE…" ).

So again, "Behold then the goodness and severity of God: toward them that fell, severity; but toward thee, God's goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off." Let us learn from their mistake. Let us be steadfast and unmovable in our discipleship.

The thought of this article came from James E. Smith's book: The Pentateuch, pg. 412-413.