These next three chapters are where things start to heat up in the book of Numbers…literally. In verse 1, we see the Israelites start to complain. After all that God has done for them, I understand why He would be upset. When it says the “fire of the LORD burned among them,” this isn’t a metaphor, but instead literal fire burned throughout the outskirts of the camp. The people obviously didn’t like this fire, so they complained to Moses and Moses prayed to stop the fire. God stopped the fire, but apparently, this wasn’t enough to teach the Israelites their lesson. In verses 4-6, they complain about not having meat and nice food like they did in Egypt; all they had to eat was manna. In verses 11-15 Moses honestly lays out his heart to God to the point where he asks God to kill him. Now, to me, there is an important lesson that we can learn from this outpouring. Even the greatest among us can reach a point where we have had enough. However, we can always bring our troubles and anxieties to God. Even if the problem seems impossible, like feeding millions of people meat in the middle of the desert. God wants to deal with us in a personal way. He doesn’t want the perfect fake versions of ourselves where we have all the answers and are always composed. We can be honest with Him and show Him our true heart. God dealt faithfully with Moses when Moses came to Him with a huge problem and He will deal faithfully with us when we bring our problems to Him.
This interesting incident happens in 11:24-30. The Spirit of God comes upon the leaders of Israel much like what we see in the New Testament on the day of Pentecost. We usually think about the Spirit being a New Testament power, but it is also present in the Old Testament. After the spirit comes on the elders, two of the elders prophesy in the camp. A young man thought this was a problem, so he told Moses. Little did Moses know, God’s big plan was to give His Spirit to each of His followers in the new covenant that was coming. The elders prophesying was just a taste of what God had in mind for His people. I like how Moses doesn’t get jealous about God giving His Spirit to others, but instead trusts and respects God enough to allow Him to deal as He sees fit. I think we too should have this same attitude of trust in God.
In verse 34, Kibroth-hattaavah literally means “the graves of greediness”. They named the place after exactly what happened in that place. The names of places serve as reminders. Imagine going down the interstate and passing the exit to Graves of the Greedy Town. Chapter 11 serves as a good reminder to us about our selfishness and greediness. Do you feel like God owes you something? Are you complaining to God about the things you want? Let’s take chapter 11 as a good lesson for us today. God truly has our best interest at heart and has already rescued us from death and slavery. Let’s not be like the Israelites who are so quick to forget where God has brought them from and so quickly turn to our own desires.
In chapter 12 we read another story of disobedience. Aaron and Miriam get mad about Moses’s wife being a Cushite. This may be because she wasn’t a Jew and in the law people were only supposed to marry Jews. Regardless of the reason for their anger, they think they are justified in thinking they are better than Moses. They say, “’has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us as well?’” (11:2). Almost as to say Moses married a Cushite women and God has spoken through us as well, what makes him think He is better than us? In the way that verses 2-4 talk about the situation, I can imagine Aaron and Miriam colluding in the corner of the Tabernacle, whispering to each other about how they are better than Moses. God sets them straight in verses 5-10, even giving leprosy to Miriam for her disobedience. Even the leaders of Israel were making big mistakes and being divisive. The scope of these happenings highlight the sin nature of man. Even after God has liberated the Israelites from Egypt, with all the miracles that went into that event, they still sin and disobey God. No matter the circumstances, people can’t stay away from sin very long. The only way we can be purified and righteous before God is through Jesus. When God looks at us, He doesn’t see all the mistakes we’ve made today. He sees His perfect son who covers our sin. When I read the Old Testament, it makes me very thankful for Jesus and the role that he plays in my life.
Even though the people have continued to fight and disobey God, He still leads them to the Promise Land. In chapter 13, we see the beginnings of God’s plan to move His people into the Promise Land. God wants the people to spy out the land. However, things don’t go smoothly, even the spies are disobedient and give a bad report about the land. The only spies to come back and give a good report are Caleb and Joshua. It’s like the spies forgot what they just went through with the Exodus. Did they not see the plagues that God sent on Egypt? Did they not see God defeat the entire Egyptian army in one stroke? Did they not see the manna and quail that God provided? How can they go to the land of Canaan after experiencing all these things and not think God can take care of these people too? Where is their faith? More importantly and real to our lives, are we the same way? We know the stories about what God did. We know who God is and have seen Him work. We know that even death has no power, yet we let our faith fail when we are confronted by hard things. Are we different than the spies of Israel who gave a bad report about the land of Canaan out of fear? Is there a land in which God is leading you? We have seen how He works and He is faithful to follow through. He is powerful to complete any task which He undertakes. I want our faith to be strengthened by chapter 13 and I want us to learn a lesson from the Israelites. Let’s not forget and let’s have faith. Let’s be people who follow God through the wilderness, faithfully, so that we can walk into the place He has prepared for us.
We see the builders start working on the sanctuary. They are getting the resources to build from gift offerings from the Israelites. They run into a problem. Although a good problem, still a problem. They have been given too much – and the workers cannot keep up. So Moses has to make an announcement.
After 15 years of preaching – this is an announcement that I have yet to make but would absolutely love making.
Moses tells the Israelites: We have too much from the offering – we cannot outwork the generosity – stop giving so the work can catch up.
The whole nation of Israel is working together – everyone is doing their part. When the whole body works together there is more than enough.
Unfortunately, in the modern church, not everyone is pulling their weight. I know it sounds harsh and I may be preaching to the choir. But the statistics show that 20% percent of the church is carrying 80% of the workload. It roughly translates to participation, work and giving.
It follows along with the Pareto principle – which simply defined is: roughly 80% of the effects come from roughly 20% of the causes.
So if the church is functioning with only 20% of the people active and giving, think what it could do if everyone did their part? If everyone carried their weight, could the workers not keep up with generosity of the church again?
My challenge to you: get involved, help out, give generously and recruit others to do the same.
Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=exodus+36-38&version=NIV
Tomorrow’s reading will be Exodus 39-40 as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan
Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=exodus+30-32&version=NIV
Tomorrow’s Bible reading will be Exodus 33-35 on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan
Social transformation is often a long and painful process. Think about efforts at equality within the United States. The founders’ vision was for a society where everyone had the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The Declaration of Independence expressed this in 1776. Yet it took nearly a century and a Civil War to bring an end to slavery. It took nearly 150 years for women to be able to vote and it nearly 200 years and a lot of blood, sweat and tears to make significant strides toward racial equality.
How does one take a community that has been enslaved for over 400 years and transform them into a nation that shines a beacon of light to all other nations in the world pointing them to the true God. How does an entire nation become holy, set apart for God’s service and God’s glory?
This is the challenge that was before God, Moses and the nation of Israel. They were leaving behind one type of structure, slavery, to enter into a new way of living. They needed a new structure to help them know how to live. They had to be taught how to live in community. They had to be taught how to work, and how to rest, how to care for their neighbors, and how to punish wrongdoing that threatened to destroy their community.
In today’s reading we see how God begins to organize and structure the transforming community of Israel. He teaches them how they are to live and become a holy nation and a royal priesthood. This transformation would not come quickly or easily.
They had to be taught how to show respect for personal property: “Whoever steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it must pay back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for the sheep.” (22:1) Those who steal must give restitution.
They had to be taught to respect the family structure and to place their sexuality within proper boundaries: “If a man seduces a virgin who is not pledged to be married and sleeps with her, he must pay the bride-price, and she shall be his wife. If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he must still pay the bride-price for virgins.” (22:16-17)
They had to be taught that there were severe consequences for failing to follow appropriate sexual boundaries: “Anyone who has sexual relations with an animal is to be put to death.” (22:19).
They had to be taught to have empathy and to show kindness to strangers and people who were different: “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” (22:21).
They had to be taught to have compassion for people in the community who had suffered major losses: “Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless. (22:22).
They had to be taught to show respect both to God and to their earthly leaders: “ Do not blaspheme God or curse the ruler of your people.” (22:28)
They had to be taught how to live as a just community by not giving false testimony, and by neither showing favoritism toward the poor nor withholding justice from the poor (23:1-6).
They had to be taught to care for their bodies and minds by getting appropriate rest. (23:12).
It was also important that everyone be taught these and other guidelines for how to live in community as God’s people and that they verbally acknowledge that they understand and intend to follow “Everything the Lord has said we will do.” (24:3)
Israel’s transformation from slavery to covenant people of God living a set apart life as the community of God’s people was a slow and challenging process. It was painfully difficult, but necessary. In the end, people failed more often than they succeeded to carrying out their assignments. And yet, somehow, despite tremendous opposition from aggressive and hate filled neighbors, the Nation of Israel survived.
As Christians, we can learn much from studying how God worked with His people Israel to bring about their transformation. It is important to note that they were God’s people first, and then they were given this particular set of laws. In the same way, as Christians, we become God’s people first, through faith in Jesus Christ, and then we commit to following Jesus and obeying Jesus’ commands. We do not become God’s people by following laws, but by following Jesus Christ. However, when we follow Jesus Christ, we do not descend into lawlessness. Structure is still required. So Jesus spends three years teaching his disciples how to live as the people of God who are called to be holy, set apart to be a light to all nations. We complete the mission that the nation of Israel began, and we do so following the yoke or community guidelines as laid down by Jesus Christ. The foundational teaching of Jesus is to Love God and Love our Neighbors. That is a good place for each of us to start each day.
Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=exodus+22-24&version=NIV
Tomorrow’s Bible reading will be Exodus 25-27 as we continue on the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan
A number of years ago I led one of my churches through the 21 day Complaint Free Challenge. The challenge was to go for 21 days in a row without complaining. We each were given a purple wristband to wear throughout the challenge. You were to wear the wristband on the same wrist for 21 straight days. If you caught yourself complaining, then you had to switch your wristband to the opposite hand and start you 21 day challenge again. Some of the studies I read said that it takes most people about a year to go 21 consecutive days without complaining. I forget how many months it took me to get to that point.
What was the purpose? To help people break the habit of complaining. For many people complaining is simply a bad habit. Will Bowen, who invented the 21 Day No Complaining Challenge says that most people complain for one of 5 reasons using the acronym G.R.I.P.E.
Excuse Poor Performance
When we habitually complain to get attention, to remove responsibility (shift the blame) inspire envy, exert power or excuse our poor performance, we dig a behavioral rut and complaining becomes our default response to just about any situation. That’s a sinful habit from which we need to repent.
In order to break the bad habit, like any bad habit, one must counter the undesired behavior with more desirable behavior. The goal of the complaint free world experiment was to improve the world by reducing the amount of complaining that goes on. During that process I became aware of just how often I did complain. I don’t like hearing other people complain all of the time, I don’t think anyone does. Parents don’t like to hear their kids complain all of the time. Spouses don’t like to hear their husbands/wives complain all of the time. Children don’t like to hear their parents complain all of the time. Students don’t like to hear their teachers complain, and teachers, I’m sure don’t like to listen to their students complain. Churches don’t enjoy hearing their pastor complain all of the time and pastors don’t like hearing church members complain a lot the time. And guess what…even God gets fed up with human beings complaining all of the time.
In today’s reading, God has been busy taking care of Israel. He led them out of slavery to the Egyptians by performing ten amazing signs. When Israel was being chased down by Pharaoh’s army and looked like they were doomed for destruction, God miraculously parted the waters and brought them through on dry land. God led them by cloud during the day and fire during the night. God was taking them on a journey to a land that he was going to give them. God was doing nothing but good for them.
And how did God’s people respond to all of this goodness? They complained. We’re thirsty… we’re hungry. They sounded like a bunch of whiney kids on a long trip. If you’ve gone on a long trip, the experience is very different for the parents up front and the children in the back. Think about a family going on vacation. The parents are the ones preparing for the trip. Mom’s doing the laundry, packing everyones clothes, preparing snacks, arranging for neighbors to come and feed the animals and water the plants. Dad is making sure the car is running well, changing the oil, getting the mail stopped, gassing up the car, checking the route to make sure there are no road closures. The parents buy the tickets for wherever they are going, pay for the meals along the way, pay for the hotel rooms, make sure the kids have stuff to do in the car/van/suv. And what do the kids do? They complain: I’m hot… I’m bored… I’m hungry…I’m thirsty… I have to pee… sisters looking… brother hit me… and are we there yet? I had 11 children and I know what I’m talking about here.
Imagine Moses… and God. They are moving roughly 2 million men, women and children across the wilderness toward the promise land. There are no McDonalds on the journey. There are no Holiday Inns with an indoor pool. There are no air conditioned SUVs with built in blue ray players and no iPhones or Nintendo Switches to keep them occupied. They are tired, they are hot, they are thirsty and hungry, and they are complaining… a lot!
If I’d been Moses or the Lord I would have been tempted to say “Ya’ll be quiet or we’re turning around and going back!” Fortunately the Lord, and Moses have more patience and grace than I ever had:
Exodus 16:6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, 7 and in the morning you will see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?” 8 Moses also said, “You will know that it was the Lord when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord.” 9 Then Moses told Aaron, “Say to the entire Israelite community, ‘Come before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.’” 10 While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud. 11 The Lord said to Moses, 12 “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’”
God heard their grumbling and he gave them quail and manna to eat. There it was, as much as they wanted. They were able to eat their fill. And after that they never complained again. Well, that’s not true…. before long they were complaining about being thirsty too.
What God should have done was give each of them a purpose wristband to remind them not to complain. It would take them a few more lessons before they quit complaining.
I’m sure God does get tired of hearing our complaining… but he still loves us and he even gives us ways to complain in the Bible. Many of the Psalms are called Psalms of complaint and/or Psalms of lament. Jesus himself, while he was on the cross prayed one of those Psalms of complaint/lament, Psalm 22 which begins: “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” When we are suffering real pain, real sorrow, real trials, God wants us to turn those into heart felt prayer and we should. God is able to handle our complaints and do something about them. At the same time, too often our complaining comes from a place of ingratitude. The ungrateful complaining that fails to acknowledge and appreciate God’s blessings needs to stop; legitimate complaining for true hurt in faith is something God is ready and able to hear and respond to for his glory and our blessing.
Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=exodus+16-18&version=NIV
Tomorrow’s reading will be Exodus 19-21 on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan
As we go through life, there are times when it seems like God is very active and involved in our day to day lives and we sense God’s love, nearness and active interest in our lives. However, if we are honest, there are other times when life seems to just move along and God doesn’t seem to be saying much or doing much on our behalf. The technical term for this awareness of God’s absence is called “the dark night of the soul.” Many growing Christians have and do experience times of God’s apparent absence in our lives.
As we read through the Bible it becomes apparent that there are times when God gets actively involved with His people. God was there in creation, making the earth, making the plants and trees, making the animals, making Adam from dirt and Eve from Adam’s rib. God was there in Eden talking openly and directly with Adam and Eve. God was there asking Cain about his brother Abel. But then we don’t hear much from God. We know that people like Enoch “walked with God”, but we’re told very little about what God is up to for hundreds of years, as the population of earth increases and also the sin of humanity increases. There is a long period of God’s apparent absence from history until the days of Noah when God appears to Noah and tells him to build the Ark because a flood is coming.
After the flood there appears to be more years of silence, until the Tower of Babel gets built and God comes down and confuses people’s language. Then there is more silence from God until he calls Abraham. And so on and so on…There are intermittent times where God is active and involved and times when God seems silent throughout the book of Genesis.
At the end of Genesis God saves Abraham’s family from famine by bringing them down to Egypt. At first, all is well as Joseph, Abraham’s great grandson is the second most powerful man in all of Egypt. But Joseph eventually dies, and he is no longer able to protect his family from the powerful Pharaoh, and eventually the descendants of Abraham are enslaved by the Egyptians. This lasts for a period of roughly 400 years. During that 400 years it seems that God is once again silent.
During that time Israel is growing from a few hundred people, to millions of people. Millions of men, woman and children living in bondage in a foreign land. Perhaps stories about God and their ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were passed along by word of mouth, but we might imagine that so many years of silence may have left the nation of Israel in a permanent Dark Night of the Soul. But then… out of the darkness and silence, Moses is born and becomes a member of the Egyptian royal family. God is at work, but he’s not quite ready to make himself fully known to Israel. Moses kills an Egyptian and flees to the wilderness and it seems that the darkness continues and the voice of God remains silent…until God appears to Moses in the burning bush and tells him to go back to Egypt.
In Exodus 10-12 the time has come for God to make himself known to His people… and to Egypt. Exodus 10:1-2 – “Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials so that I may perform these signs of mine among them that you may tell your children and grandchildren how I dealt harshly with the Egyptians and how I performed my signs among them, and that you may know that I am the Lord.”
Here, God tells Moses that He’s about to make his presence known in a powerful way. God’s about to show up, the darkness is ending, the silence is over. And show up He does! God shows up in a profound and powerful display of his power and might. Bear in mind, Egypt was, at the time, the most powerful empire in the whole world. Pharaoh was the most powerful person in the whole world. Pharaoh had been exerting his power in a ruthless way over God’s chosen people for hundreds of years. Lord Acton once said “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” In the United States we live under a Constitutional system that intentionally balances power among three different branches of government- Executive, Legislative and Judicial. This is to prevent any one person from having too much or absolute power. These lessons were learned after observing thousands of years of kingdoms. Pharaohs and other absolute monarchs have historically used their power in destructive and unjust ways. And with such unmatched power comes hubris.
The Poet Percy Bysshe Shelly captures the hubris in his powerful poem Ozymandias:
I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
Pharaoh, like Ozymandias in the poem, was filled with hubris over his unmatched power. He believed himself to be king of kings. He needed to be taught a lesson in humility by the true King of Kings. God showed up. Ten plagues later and all of Egypt was brought to their knees. Meanwhile, the people of God began to see first hand just how great and powerful their King, the true God, YHWH really was. That story has been told for thousands of years, and today, the people of Israel continue to sit down and eat bread without yeast and drink wine and remember the Passover and how powerful their God really is.
Sometimes, God seems to be silent, but make no mistake, God is still there and God is still powerful and in the end, God will show himself to be greater than all human opposition. May you know the true God.