It may be time to start looking at the maps. As the people journey, we don't know where all the places that are mentioned were. Still, it's good study to have an idea of what the journey looks like. So, talk to Google (i.e. Israelites journey in the desert Numbers, and look at the photos). Most study Bibles have maps in the back that illustrate the journey.
Happy exploring, and I hope you don't mind snakes!
DAILY READINGSNumbers 19-21 & Psalm 46
DAILY NOTESNumbers 19
- The "red" heifer is offered in order to provide for the purification of those who have touched a corpse.
- The ashes are used.
- It in unclear what year this is. How long have the people been traveling?
- Miriam dies.
- God tells Moses simply to "command the rock" to give water, using the staff (presumably Aaron's). Paying attention to this instruction is important since Moses will be punished in a few verses.
- Moses lifts his hands and strikes the rock twice.
- Moses adds a bit of commentary, calling the people rebels.
- Moses showed his anger and not the Lord's holiness.
- He and Aaron are told they will not lead the people all the way to the land that God has promised.
- Confrontation with Edomites.
- Aaron dies and his son takes his place.
- The people complain again. This time God sends poisonous snakes (literally "burning" snakes).
- Here's a great commentary: Let the snake, which was smitten for speaking evil [to Eve] come and punish those who spread slander [about the manna]. Let the snake, for which all types of food taste the same, come and punish those ingrates, for whom one thing [the manna] changes into various tastes. — [Midrash Tanchuma Chukkath 19, Num. Rabbah 19:22]
- God didn't tell Moses what to make the serpent out of, but Moses makes one out of bronze.
- Since the serpent is raised on a pole, it has been used as an illustration of Christ who was raised on a "tree" to save the people.
- The Israelites continue their journey and conquer along the way.
- The psalmist (and his people) do not fear because God is their present (as in attending) help.
- The city mentioned would have been Jerusalem.
- Part of believing in God's help is recognizing what God has already done.
OTHER OBSERVATIONSMy way or the highway.
You know that saying, right? God never says it just like that, but that is what's intended. At least at Meribah. The name Meribah means "quarrel" and is supposed to remind us where the people quarreled with God. Most of us, though, remember it as the place where Moses lost the opportunity to see the promised land of God.
The text says "Because you did not trust in me...." (Numbers 20:12). You could replace the word trust with believe. So, we are left to draw our own conclusions as to why God punishes Moses and Aaron this way. Was it that his anger got the best of him? Did Moses not really believe what God was about to do? Should Moses have merely spoken to the rock and not struck it?
Even if you come up with a good explanation, why does Moses suffer a permanent punishment? The people are repeatedly forgiven. Is is that Moses has no one to intercede on his behalf? Are expectations different for leaders?
That's part of the "fun" of Bible study. Keep asking questions and keep discussing. There are probably no right or wrong answers this side of heaven. So, think about the implications of all your answers. Find others who have different ideas. And just know the text is probably having a little fun with you, too. It chooses not to answer many of our questions!