The Pentateuch, Pt. 1: Disappointment

In my journey through the Pentateuch (ha ha, get it?), I’ve been lingering long in the book of Numbers. What has begun to strike me is the sheer weight of disappointment that, I believe, the reader is supposed to feel as he reads it. It is as if the book, from the Exodus to almost the very end, is written to be one giant disappointment.

Take, for instance, Numbers 11-20. This set of narratives is full of the people’s repeated rebellion, God’s consuming wrath, His restraining grace, and His terrifying judgment. By the time Numbers 20 rolls around, the reader is exhausted with Moses and Aaron, thinking, “When is this gonna end?” I counted no less than seven different rebellions, and almost every time Moses and Aaron fall on their faces before God.

In God’s perfect timing and writing, however, redemption does not come just yet. In chapter 20, Moses’ sister dies. She had been with him from the beginning. We’re not sure why the text spends so little time on her death, but if feels weighty nonetheless. Then, the people rebel against God and His servant once again, complaining about the lack of water. Moses then, in his anger at these “rebels,” strikes the rock twice instead of speaking to it, and water spews forth. Yet, this time, it is Moses and Aaron who are judged to have disbelieved and defamed God.

God tells Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in Me, to uphold Me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” So now Moses and Aaron, like the generation left to die in the wilderness for their rebellion, cannot enter the land of God’s own promise. This alone would be disappointment enough.

But the chapter is not done. Next, Moses (we’re not told exactly why) proceeds to try to pass through the land of Edom. This could be viewed as another act of rebellion (like the nation of Israel trying to take God’s promised land for themselves after their rebellion in chapters 13 and 14) or simply the proactive travel plans of a leader. Either way, he is turned back by Edom’s king. The disappointment continues.

Finally in chapter 20, God tells Moses, Aaron, and all the people that Aaron’s time has come. Moses’ brother will return to dust. Not only that, but Moses has the last honor, so to speak, of removing Aaron’s God-given priestly garments and giving them to Aaron’s son right before Aaron dies! What a depressing thing to read! What a depressing thing to do! In the midst of all that the text has brought us through, in the midst of all that God has brought Moses through, he now has to disrobe his beloved brother and, in effect, release him to his death. This is depressing and disappointing, and – if we didn’t know the ending – completely heartbreaking.

It seems that point #1 of the Pentateuch’s wilderness narratives of the Pentateuch is the sadness and disappointment of sin. Like Adam and Eve in the garden, the people are constantly disbelieving God and diappointing the reader. We are, at least for a time, meant to feel deeply saddened by the amount of sin evident in these people, in this text, who are just like us.

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About B Treece
loved by God before I ever loved Him, saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone by the authority of the Bible alone to the glory of God alone, made to enjoy Him forever, happily married with wonder-filled children.

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