The 40 years of wandering, waiting to receive the land that they were promised
Numbers is the book where we see peak complaining and dysfunction in Moses' story. It seems like almost every chapter Moses is having to fall on his face before the Lord over something. The people complain, disobey, rebel, and they receive the judgment of God over and over again. The grumbling and complaining gets so bad that it even pushes Moses himself over the edge and he disobeys God and forfeits his permission to enter the promised land!
Stepping back and looking at the story as a whole, we find an eye opening truth. The story of Israel's origin begins with liberation from Egypt and it ends with God settling them in the promised land. Obviously, their story continues after that, but there is an interesting parallel between this section of their story and ours. The story of a Christian begins with salvation through faith in Jesus, and ends with glorification and eternal life with God in heaven. But like the story of the Exodus generation, there is a period of time in between the beginning and the end. It is a period of time characterized by wandering, struggle, difficulty, complaining; it is a period of time characterized by glorious displays of God's power and grace, as well as deeply disappointing failure. The eye opening truth is that if we are looking to see ourselves in the story of the Exodus generation, the book of Numbers is where we find it.
It is so easy for us to look at Israel and judge them from afar. But giving it some more thought reveals that their failures are not all that different than ours, their complaints are our complaints, their rebellion is our rebellion, their mistrust of God is our mistrust. But at the same time, the relentless commitment of their God to establish them and make them into his people, is also the relentless commitment of our God to establish us as his people. So as you read through this section this week, my encouragement to you is to learn from the low points in the story, and be thankful for the high points. Their story is foundational to our own!