Numbers 11-13 begins with the people of Israel complaining about their misfortunes, which results in the Lord’s wrath expressed as consuming flame that breaks out against the outskirts of their camp. They continuously lament their current diet and compare it to that which they had in Egypt. Moses, hearing this, intercedes for the people and tells the Lord how the burden he is struggling under is too much for him to bear. As an answer to the latter issue, seventy elders from among the people are gathered to the tent of meeting and get a portion of God’s Spirit which had been given to Moses. After this, the Lord brings a vast amount of quail to saturate the camp as an answer to the Israelites bemoaning their lack of meat, though this ends up spreading a plague through the camp.
The 12th chapter tells of the problem Miriam and Aaron have with Moses’ spouse, a Cushite woman. They openly oppose Moses who, being meek and mild, does not retaliate – though the Lord heard it all. Miriam, who spearheaded the effort to undermine their leader, is stricken with leprosy and banished from the camp for seven days. After this, the Lord moves on towards the wilderness of Paran.
It is here that twelve Hebrew spies, one from each tribe, are sent forth to check out the promised land and brought back a report of what they saw. Though they saw many of the riches and goods of the land, ten of the twelve spies presented it as bad news, saying there was no way to go against the people that inhabited the lands, the sons of the Nephilim, who were great warriors. Only Caleb and Joshua gave an honest account of what they saw.
The heading in my ESV Bible for the eleventh chapter of Numbers is a sensational headline that nobody could have seen coming:
“THE PEOPLE COMPLAIN"
The grade 4-6 Sunday School class just finished going through Judges where it seemed virtually every chapter or paragraph started by detailing some sort of rebellion or major sin committed by the Israelites. It is clear that, from the beginning, Israel did not have a slow descent into sinful living – they dove headfirst into idolatry at the foot of Mount Sinai! Remember: God did not choose Israel because they had merit. Rather, they had merit because God chose them.
Yet who does Israel leap to serve? Is it the God who delivered them from Egypt, or the god of their own desires? Philippians 3:19 spells it out rather concisely “Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.” This passage is on full display as Israel crosses some desolate and rugged terrain – terrain that does not feel unfamiliar to us today. The Israelites have been broken out of a wicked place and brought into a glorious inheritance.
Though they had spent the last year walking through the desert, they were constantly being tended by God Almighty who was in their midst. They journeyed knowing their destination was a place of abundance and security, a land flowing with milk and honey.
The Lord made it clear that the land to which they were being brought would be full of good things, all they had to do was follow and be patient. Despite this and all the Lord had done with them, a large portion of the population harbored discontent within their own hearts, lashing out at their leader and defying their God. Discontent is an insidious sin, for on the surface it is seen as mere quibbles, but can give birth to gossip, slander, division, lust, jealousy, and a myriad of other unholy habits.
Pastor Dave wrote in the very first blog post of this year “The one issue I will touch on in a little more detail is that of original sin, but from a perspective that you may not expect, that of gratitude and ingratitude.” Israel stumbles and falls continuously in to sin. Ingratitude is the block over which they trip.
Too many lines can be drawn between the Israelites in the wilderness and God’s people nowadays for comfort. We have undoubtedly gone through a difficult wilderness over roughly the same period of time as the Israelites in that specific instance – a year spent without our usual comforts and delicacies, a year spent without our normal routines and communities. Being obedient to the Lord means following where He leads, even if it means a lean diet and rough footing underneath. Yet still we complain and bemoan that to which He has called us, even though He has promised to always provide for His people and use all things for their good.
Paul writes in Philippians 4:11-13 “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Just as we can see the way in which God was shaping His people in the wilderness, let us seek the face of the same God who has called us to follow Him wherever He may go. Better yet, let us surrender everything and follow Him, clinging not to the things of this world, but to the One who will always hold us fast.
Gratitude centers us properly before the Lord – it brings us to our knees in worship, lightens our hearts as we remove our focus from ourselves, and fights off the creeping sins that follow in the wake of continuous discontent. We could all do with less of ourselves and more of God!
Think about an average day for yourself. How often is it that you focus on expressing genuine gratitude to the Lord Almighty? What are some ways we can make gratitude a lifestyle? How can we learn from these accounts of the Israelites and adjust our perspective?
Lord, we confess we have often put our own desires in front of your desires. Please forgive us our sin and help us look outward and upward at you and not at the things of this world. We have set our eyes on the things of this world, forgotten you, and turned to complaining instead of gratitude. Please help us and change our hearts to be the living embodiment of prayerful gratitude. Thank you so much for calling us, guiding us, and bringing us ever nearer in your everlasting arms! Amen.
PLEASE do turn this song way up and blast it - a few times, even! We must practice gratitude daily, and might as well start now!
Song – Feel Again, Strahan
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In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.