God has a limit, and it’s best not to push it. He has given us ways to pour out our frustrations with his methods—prayer; ways to voice our concerns about human leadership—respectful debate; ways to speak our mind over grievances—Matthew 18. But there is a point when God says, “trust me on this. I’ll handle it in my way and in my time. In the meantime, submit to your current circumstance—consider your hardship as my Fatherly discipline.” At that point, is best not to wear God’s patience thin by continuing to push your grievance!
Going Deep // Focus: Numbers 17:1-5
The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and get twelve staffs from them, one from the leader of each of their ancestral tribes. Write the name of each man on his staff. On the staff of Levi write Aaron’s name, for there must be one staff for the head of each ancestral tribe. Place them in the tent of meeting in front of the ark of the covenant law, where I meet with you. The staff belonging to the man I choose will sprout, and I will rid myself of this constant grumbling against you by the Israelites.”
I grew up in the era where parents still disciplined their kids for misbehavior, in a physical sort of way, if you get my drift. At least mine did! And one thing my siblings and I learned after several encounters with our father’s approach to corporal punishment was that there was a thin line of parental patience that we dare not cross. We could crowd the line—which we did, early and often—but we were wise not to step beyond it. It took several missteps, but eventually we got it. And once we did, we settled into sort of a parent-child détente, if you will. Childhood was much more pleasurable for Ken, Bill and Ray (by the time our little sister Teresa came along, she seemed to live under a different set of discipline rules than we did—boo—but that’s for later).
One of the things that the child of God learns along the way, if they are wise, that is, is not to wear God’s patience thin. Of course, God is patient, and kind. He is the gold standard of longsuffering, for which we all should continually say, “praise the Lord.” He finds no pleasure in punishing his wayward children, but as some point, like a good parent, he must punish our sins in order to teach us to live in a manner that is glorifying to him and health-giving to us. Deuteronomy 8:5 reminds us,
Think about it: Just as a parent disciplines a child, the Lord your God disciplines you for your own good.
Numbers 17 is a continuation of the story from the previous chapter where some of the so-called leaders of the new nation of Israel are challenging the leadership authority of Moses and Aaron. In particular, Aaron seems to be the butt of their jealousy. Numbers 16:1-3 sets the scene,
Korah son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and certain Reubenites—Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth—became insolent and rose up against Moses. With them were 250 Israelite men, well-known community leaders who had been appointed members of the council. They came as a group to oppose Moses and Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?”
What we learn in this uprising, and others like it throughout Scripture, is that the protest is not against a man, in this case, Moses or Aaron, but against God himself. You see, Moses didn’t elect himself to be the president of Israel, nor did Aaron anoint himself as the nation’s preacher. God chose them. So when the other leaders, for whatever reason, criticized the current leadership structure, they were in reality criticizing the Lord himself. They were showing disrespect and distrust of Almighty God, even if they were unware of what they were doing:
Moses said, “It is against the Lord that you and all your followers have banded together. Who is Aaron that you should grumble against him?” (Numbers 16:11)
Now to be transparent, Moses himself, had learned this very lesson the hard way. Remember when God met Moses at the burning bush and called him to lead the children of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt? (Exodus 3-4) Moses thought himself quite unqualified for the job, thank you very much, especially since he had already failed miserably in delivering Israel from Egypt forty years prior. But God had now come to him in a burning bush—a burning bush for crying out loud—and Moses was actually arguing with the miracle of God’s fiery presence. And after quite a few protestations, God’s patience with Moses wore dangerously thin:
But Moses again pleaded, “Lord, please! Send anyone else.” Then the Lord became angry with Moses. (Exodus 4:13-14)
Similarly, in Numbers 17, the other leaders who were questioning God’s choice of Aaron found the limit of God’s patience. And wisely, they backed off, which was a good thing, since God said of them, “This will put an end to their grumbling against me, so that they will not die.” (Numbers 17:10)
The point being, God has a limit. And it is best not to push it. It is best not to make him angry. He has given us ways to pour out our concerns about his will and his ways. It is called prayer. He has given us ways to voice our concerns about human leadership. It is called respectful debate. He has given us ways to speak our mind over grievances and hurts that others have inflicted on us. It is called Matthew 18. But there is a point when God says, “trust me. I will take care of this in my way and in my time. In the meantime, submit yourself to your current circumstance—consider your hardship as my Fatherly discipline.” At that point, is best not to wear God’s patience thin by continuing to push your grievance!
It is best not to wear God’s patience thin! You do not want to cross the line from the Fatherly discipline of hardship and discomfort to Divine punishment. A wise child will figure out when that is—and learn to back away from the line in loving trust.