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If you began walking in a straight line while looking backwards, do you think it would be difficult? Would you wonder off the path from your straight line? How far do you think you could go before wondering from the straight line? Would it be hard for you to press forward to the future while looking backwards at what you once knew?
In many ways This description of walking while looking back can be compared to the Israelites' journey from Egypt. Despite the blessings the Israelites received from the Lord, their fear and lack of faith often caused them to wish they had not left Egypt and this yearning for Egypt delayed and complicated their journey to the promised land. What could have taken them eleven days to travel took forty years due to their lack of faith.
The book of Numbers takes the children of Israel from Sinai to Canaan. The period of wilderness wanderings described in the book of Numbers lasted for about thirty-eight years and nine months. Why such a long period to transverse such a relatively short distance? One group of scholars has written: "The journey from Sinai to Kadeshbarnea by way of the Gulf of Aqaba takes only eleven days (Deut. 1:2). The direct route would be but a few days less, and by way of Edom and Moab hardly more than a couple of weeks. Numbers makes clear that the thirty-eight-year period was punishment for lack of faith, so none of the unbelieving generation would enter the land (cf. Deut. 1:35f.)." 1 (Studies in Scripture Vol 3 Robert Millet)
Are we that way in our life? Does it take us longer, or do we make things harder because we fear and lack the faith to trust in the Lord? Today we study the journey of the Israelites to help us overcome those desires and fears of the world and look to the Savior and his prophets for guidance so that we may stay on the course, the straight line, and not be deceived but be safe in the Gospel.
The Book of Numbers
The book of Numbers is an account of the census and organization of the migrating tribes of Israel and an overview of some of the tribulations suffered by them as they traveled in the wilderness toward the land of promise. They were to endeavor by obedience to the law to become "a peculiar treasure" unto the Lord, "a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation" (Ex. 19:5-6). They suffered because they repeatedly lapsed into doubt, insecurity, and complaints about their condition rather than trusting constantly in the Lord and humbly supplicating him for the satisfaction of their needs. They knew that God lives and had helped them many times but fell to doubting and wondering whether he would help again. Thus even today we may learn applicable lessons from Numbers.
The history of most of Israel's forty-year sojourn in the wilderness is covered in the book of Numbers. Exodus ended at the dedication of the tabernacle at Sinai during the first month of the second year, and Numbers begins with events on the first day of the second month (Ex. 40:17; Num. 1:1). Numbers ends, and Deuteronomy begins, during the fortieth year after Israel left Egypt (Num. 33:38-49; Deut. 1:1-5).
Many later scriptures allude to events recorded in the books of Moses. Psalm 105 reviews events from Genesis and Exodus; Psalm 106, from Exodus and Numbers. Psalm 107 generalizes about people's struggles and hopes as they sought the land of promise; it tells of their blessings when they turned to repentance and faith in the Lord. In the New Testament, Hebrews 3:7-19 reviews history and lessons from the book of Numbers. Indeed, some one hundred twenty items quoted in the New Testament are from the books of Moses (BD, "Quotations"). (Old Testament Student Manual)
Part 1. Numbers 11 The Lord answers the Israelites’ desire for meat by sending them quail and smiting them with a plague.
In Numbers 11. The Israelites complain about the manna and desire to eat meat (11:1–9). Moses asks the Lord for guidance and for help in bearing his burdens (11:10–15). As instructed by the Lord, Moses gathers 70 elders to assist him (11:16–17, 24–30). The Lord answers the Israelites’ desire for meat by sending them an overabundance of quail and smiting them with a plague because of their greed and overindulgence (11:18–23, 31–35).
One of the more obvious lessons to be learned through Moses' experience with wayward Israel is that signs and wonders do not insure conversion or obedience. God saw fit to perform miracle after miracle to deliver Israel from Egyptian bondage, and to preserve his chosen people from death in the deserts. But the people were hardened in their hearts and were neither moved nor motivated for any length of time by the supernatural. A modern revelation has affirmed that "faith cometh not by signs, but signs follow those that believe" (D&C 63:9). In a sense, the story in Numbers is a dramatic but tragic drama, a story of unrequited love. On the one hand we witness the hesed of the Lord, his infinite kindness and covenant love for his covenant people; he literally would not let Israel go (see Jacob 6:4-5). On the other hand, we witness Israel's difficulty with receiving and appreciating God's offer to make of her his peculiar treasure, his holy nation of kings and priests, queens and priestesses (see Ex. 19:5-6). In addition, Jehovah straitened his people for their rebellion and chastened them for their failure to heed his word and the directives of his anointed servants. (Studies in Scripture Vol 3 Robert L Millet)
Even though manna was a great blessing from the Lord, the Israelites began to complain about it. The people's complaints were sometimes burdensome, especially when they showed ingratitude. When they complained about manna and wished for the succulent and flavorful foods of Egypt (Num. 11:4-5), both Moses and the Lord were exasperated, and Moses cried out for help to bear his leadership burdens (Num. 11:14-15).