Centuries after the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness, the apostle Paul noted that such events were written for the instruction of Christians (1 Corinthians 10:11). In this lesson I want to note some valuable lessons that Christians need to remember from the past if we are going to succeed in the present. As one writer noted, “He who knows the book of Numbers well will be well admonished for the pilgrim journey to the heavenly Canaan, and will escape many a sad set-back” (Explore the Book, J. Sidlow Baxter, p. 159).
Difference in Generations
The book of Numbers resumes the narrative where the book of Exodus ended, in fact only one month separates the end of Exodus with the construction of the Tabernacle (Exodus 40:17), and the command to number the people (Numbers 1:1), with the instructions in Leviticus coming in between the two. One way to outline the book of Numbers is to note that it deals with two different generations. In chapters 1-14 we are dealing with the old, unbelieving generation, and in the final chapters (21-36), God is speaking to the new believing generation.
· Not every generation is the same, some are more believing (Judges 2:7), and some are more unbelieving (Judges 2:10). Thus, we must not get discouraged if it seems that many of our generation are not interested in spiritual truths.
· God is not bound to the timetable of any given generation. Often a generation assumes that the most significant events in history are happening or will happen in its lifetime. Or, a generation might assume that if and event does not happen within their lifetime it never will happen. I am impressed that God was willing to let one entire generation die off before He continued the plan for Israel (Numbers 14:22-23).
· Mass rebellion or stubbornness on the part of one generation does not stop God’s plan from being fulfilled; He can wait for faithful people to arise (Exodus 32:9-10).
The Bad Timing of Unbelief
Israel constantly seems to be complaining right before God delivers them:
· At the Red Sea: (Exodus 14:10-12)
· In the Wilderness of Sin: (Exodus 16:1-3)
· At Rephidim: (Exodus 17:1-3)
Clearly God knew that the people needed food and water, but it seems that Israel would complain right before God was ready to provide, it’s as if they could not wait or were looking for the very first opportunity to complain.
· If a person is looking for a reason not to believe or to give up, they will find it.
· There will be many occasions in life when one will be tempted to complain, yet we must remain grateful even then.
· If I choose unbelief or ingratitude, then I will be complaining even after my needs are met. Perspective is everything, and another word for perspective is “faith”.
· Ingratitude and impatience feed on one another.
Panicking about the Children
When Israel (even after being so ungrateful) was given the chance to go up and take possession of the Promised Land (Numbers 13), they refused. It is interesting what God says at this point, “Your children, however, whom you said would become a prey—I will bring them in, and they shall know the land which you have rejected” (Numbers 14:31).
· Canaan was a dangerous place, just like the world today is a dangerous place (1 John 2:15-17), yet what was far more dangerous for these “children” was the unbelief in their parents!
· Recently, a man wrote the following, “I believe the old 1950's conservative, traditional model of Churches of Christis going to largely vanish in the next two to three generations. It is being rejected almost completely by our young people, who are leaving us in droves” (Reflections, Al Maxey, Issue 272).
For decades Christians have been hearing now and then such doom and gloom predictions, and yet the faithful have not died out, but rather people are baptized, new congregations are established, preachers are being trained, and many young people are extremely zealous and dedicated. Yet, here is my warning: we will lose our young people if we as parents and older Christians becoming a stumbling block to them. The real threat to our young people is not only the world; rather it is compromising parents and the unfaithful among God’s people. Young people will leave churches in droves that demean the New Testament pattern of the Lord’s church, that are negative about doctrinal instruction, and who tinker with God’s moral standards. The reason for this is because young people are idealistic (as they should be), and if they are going to commit to Christ then either they are going to do it with 100 percent devotion or not at all. One of the greatest deterrents to young people are older professed Christians who are not 100 percent dedicated to God’s truth and doing it right.
· This is what Solomon is trying to tell parents when he says, “Train up a child in the way he should go” (Proverbs 22:6). That is, do not say, “The way is too hard”, or, “Few seem to be going that way”, or, “It is a very unpopular way”, or, “I don’t really like that way myself”.
“And the rabble who were among them had greedy desires” (Numbers 11:4). The term “rabble” or “mixed multitude” probably denotes the non-Israelites who joined in the exodus from Egypt (Exodus 12:38; Leviticus 24:10). The expression “had greedy desires” infers that they would not have been happy regardless of what God had given them. Instead of standing up for God’s care, and rebuking these unbelievers, even the Israelites had instead begun to complain (11:4). And how often do we do the same thing? How often do we allow worldly attitudes to color our perspective of God, His Word, or His care? Before we grumble, remember, murmuring is contagious, and it can especially infect our children. The next time we hear someone complaining about the things of God—please come to God’s defense!
· God’s judgment did not tame such complaints (11:1-3). Miracles, even miracles that involve immediate judgment, are not a cure when one is determined to remain defiant.
· They complained about the manna, yet it was “miracle-bread from heaven”, it is called the food of angels (Psalm 78:25), and it was the perfect diet for their (intendedly brief) journeying to Canaan.
· Greedy desires are desires that simply want to gratify the flesh at the moment, without any repentance and without recognition of the Giver behind the gift.
“The preceding chapters have prepared us to see why the fateful failure came about. The people had been failing bit by bit before. ‘How often we look upon grumbling as a little sin’, says one expositor; ‘and not until we try to check ourselves in it do we find how complete is its possession of us, and how it is ready to spring upon us at all hours of the day under the slightest provocation. The weather is bad, the tea is too sweet, the chops are half cold, the potatoes are not done, the maid is unpunctual or careless, the parcel we expected is not delivered, and we are vexed and complain. It was a secret heart grumble that lead to Eve’s disobedience. Trace Israel’s downward course in Numbers, from discontent to lust, despising the Lord, speaking against His servants, provoking, tempting, doubting God---and at last idolatry” (Explore the Book, p. 176).
Remembering all the Wrong Things: 11:5
Romanticizing the past is a common temptation. “The miseries of the past have gradually been forgotten and what they lack in the present is perceived as the lost riches of the past. The pressures that led to their departure have lost their immediacy and the stark realities of life in the wilderness make the freedom for which they once yearned seem of little value. The ‘house of slavery’ has become a land of idleness and luxury” (Noorditzij p. 97). Like Esau, these people were willing to trade favor with God for a single meal (Genesis 25:30). What do we remember about the past, especially about the past in the bondage to sin?
· Do we remember having all sorts of fears?
· Do we remember the burden caused by guilt?
· Do we remember how sin undermined the happiness of our relationships?
· Do we remember being ashamed of our selfish choices?
· Do we remember not being happy no matter what we were buying or how fast we were living?
Mark Dunagan/Beaverton Church of Christ/503-644-9017