The book of Numbers opens and closes with a census. The Lord had brought them to the cusp of entering the land He had promised to the Patriarchs, and before they entered the land Moses recounts the ordering of the host of Israel. However, what follows is a series of rebellions, culminating in the great apostasy in Numbers 13-14. Ten of the twelve spies who had been sent to spy out the land, came back and reported that though the land was as God had promised, the difficulty in taking it would be too great. It states that they slandered the land which the Lord was giving to them (Num. 14:36).
The consequence of their unbelief is forty years of wandering, until the entire generation whose faith failed had fallen in the wilderness. At the end of Numbers we have the “re-ordering” of the tribes, as they prepare, once more, to enter the Promised Land. Despite Israel’s unfaithfulness, we see that God does not fail to preserve his people and be faithful to His promise. He accompanies them, through all their wanderings as a fiery cloud above them. Paul sees this as a baptism into Christ.
In fact, Paul cites Israel’s murmurings in his lengthy argument against the Corinthian church’s division and disunity. Israel was a partaker of Christ (1 Cor. 10:1-4), however, their numerous rebellions are a warning. Paul reminds them that all the judgements that happened to Israel for their various sins were for the Corinthians admonition (1 Cor. 10:11). “Do not be like unbelieving Israel,” is Paul’s main rhetorical point. Do not murmur. Do not be idolators. Do not fornicate. Cling––in unity––to the Gospel which Paul had preached unto them.
Paul mentions that the murmuring of Israel brought the consequence of being “destroyed of the destroyer.” The Lord threatened to destroy the entire congregation as one man. Moses interceded, and while God spared the people (Num. 14:12-19), destruction met their murmuring nonetheless. Most obviously, the ten spies fell down dead of the plague (Num. 14:37). However, it is also of note that the next day Israel attempted to enter Canaan anyway. This faithless venture was met with destruction (Num. 14:45) at the hand of the Amalekites whom they had so feared. Murmuring always ends in a smoking heap of destruction.