Chapter 6 – Wandering

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Introduction

This life is full of opportunities to complain. If we look hard enough, we can always find some bugs under the rug, mud on the walls of our heart, and dust plaguing the corners of our mind. No matter how polished the front side of that silver dollar is, we can always flip it over and peer through the smudge of age and tarnish of life. Some people, when asked to choose between heads or tails, will choose the backside of the coin every time.

What is it that causes us to complain? Is it the paint pealing on that rust bucket of a car we drive, or the shingles shivering from our roof? Perhaps the door that doesn’t sit quite right in its frame and complains like nails on a chalkboard every time it’s opened. Maybe the ten years of marriage that taste less like Heaven’s honey with each passing moon.

If only I had _________ then I would be happy. Then, I wouldn’t complain so much. If only I had more room to stretch my legs… and more time to do so. If I had a bigger bank balance than the bills stacked like a leaning tower of pizza boxes on my counter. If only my kids would listen to me, or have enough sense to not truck mud through the halls. I just want my family to call more often. If only I had________ then I would be happy.

Complaints are not born from lack of blessing. It isn’t the lack of breakfast in bed that makes us roll out the wrong side. It is our lack of faith that leads to complaining. When we don’t trust God’s provisions and plan for our lives we protest, but lots of faith brings blessing.

Lack of Faith in God’s provisions

The Israelites did not have lots of faith. They bellyached, “If only we had food to eat. Why has God brought us here to die! Was there not enough room for our graves in Egypt?” So, God gave them manna. They grew thirsty and complained, “Are we now to die of thirst!” God had Moses strike a rock and water poured out for them. Now, we see they continue to complain. As I was reading through Chapter 6, all I could think of was, “they sure do complain a lot!”

Quail – Ch 11

After everything that God has done for them, they still don’t have faith in his provisions for them. Now, they don’t just want something to eat, they want “the good stuff.” They come to an all you can eat breakfast buffet and complain because there isn’t any bacon. Some of us might think that the lack of bacon is the true sin in that scenario, because what is breakfast without bacon. Look at how they word it.

“Now the mixed multitude who were among them craved more desirable foods, and so the Israelites wept again and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we used to eat freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now we are dried up, and there is nothing at all before us except this manna!” – Numbers 11:4-6

They make it sound like they were living high on the hog in Egypt. They were slaves! Now they’re free, and they complain that God isn’t giving them the food they are used to. It’s not that the manna was somehow inadequate for their needs. It had all of the nutrients that the body requires. It says in Deuteronomy 8:4, “Your clothing did not wear out nor did your feet swell all these forty years.” One of the symptoms of not having the proper nutrients in our diet is swelling of the feet, but God knew what they needed. He provided it for them in the manna so that their feet didn’t swell from malnutrition, but that was not enough for them. They wanted a buffet at the foot of their bed every morning, and because it didn’t happen exactly how they wanted, they complained. Watch how God responds:

‘The LORD will give you meat, and you will eat. You will eat, not just one day, nor two days, nor five days, nor ten days, nor twenty days, but a whole month, until it comes our your nostrils and makes you sick, because you have despised the LORD who is among you and have wept before Him, saying, “Why did we ever come out of Egypt?”– Numbers 11:18b-20

They despised God, hated him, because they felt like he wasn’t providing for their needs. They didn’t trust in God’s provisions for them. God gives them what they want, but turns it into a curse. It makes them sick. Now, this is not because God is evil, but because he is good. He wants to teach them that it is better to have faith than to complain. If God gave us everything we wanted every time we asked Him, there would be no need for faith. God is not a vending machine that we kick until He drops the goods. If this were the case, then the bigger tantrum we throw, the more candy we would get, and acting like a spoiled would be rewarded.

God, just like any loving parent, wants us to grow, to flourish, to thrive. And we don’t do this by complaining, but by trusting. He wants us to learn the proper response when things don’t go our way. He doesn’t want us to cry because the backside of our coin is dirty, but flip it over. See the blessings he has given us and promises to give us, if only we will trust in his provisions.

The Israelite’s lack of faith is shown through their complaint. When we complain we take our focus off of God and put in onto our situation (whatever it might be). There is always something that can be improved in ever situation, so as soon as we lose faith in God we will find something to complain about.

Bronze Serpent – Picture of Faith in the NT

It seems food is a big deal to them. Jumping to Numbers 21, they complain about it again. This time it is not the bird flu that flocks to them, but snakes slithering through the sand. The text doesn’t tell us how many, but just says “many people died.”
Their true problem was not the venom of snakes. If it were, God would have given them an antidote. Instead, He pokes right at the heart of the problem and tells Moses:

“‘Make a bronze snake and set in on a pole. When anyone who is bitten looks at it, he will live.’” – Numbers 21:8

God says, “You are not complaining because of lack of food any more. I have given you everything that you need. Your problem is a lack of faith in me.” So, He provides a way out of this problem, by testing and growing their faith. There was nothing special about this bronze snake. It had no mystical powers; was just a hunk of metal. God was telling them to do something completely ridiculous, something that made absolutely no sense. He was telling them to have faith in Him, His word, and His way.

In the New Testament, Jesus loves to bring up stories from the past and explain them. He says, “The bronze serpent was a picture of faith. It showed the need for the Israelites to trust in God’s word alone, despite how logical it might sound. Just trust God, and you will live.” He relates this story with his own:

Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:14-15

Think about it for a moment. Does it make any sense to look at a man being tortured to death and think, all my sins are forgiven. There is no direct correlation between the two. That is why the idea of Christ dying on the Cross to forgive our sins and bring us into abundant life with Him is so foreign to those who don’t know Him. It doesn’t make any sense! How completely insane are these Christians!

That’s exactly the point. Faith is not about what makes sense, it’s about trusting in God when things don’t make sense. Faith is belief in the impossible. There is no logical way that the blood of a wrongfully convicted criminal can somehow wash away my sins. How does Jesus death break down that relationship wall between us and God? Can we explain it in some way that can be proven scientifically? Blood doesn’t clean things! Blood stains! We have to use very potent cleaners to get rid of it!

In the same way, a bronze serpent up on a pole doesn’t cure snake bites! How ridiculous! It doesn’t make sense, but that’s the whole point. It’s faith that brings life, not logic. Just like their faith in God’s word alone brought them life and cured the poison of snakes, so our faith in Jesus brings us life and removes the sting of sin. Lack of faith leads to complaining, but lots of faith brings blessing. Faith brings abundant, eternal life.

Lack of Faith in God’s promise – Ch 13-14

God had a plan for His people, just like He has a plan for us today. He doesn’t want them to wander, he wants them to arrive. He has a perfect land picked out for them, one flowing with milk and honey, a land of great abundance. But before they get there, they must have faith.

They come to Canaan land. They see it stretched out before them, a great show of God’s blessing. Before they go in, Moses decides they should know what they are going to be up against once they get there. He wants to ensure the people of the greatness of the Land that God has been promising to them since that first meeting with Abraham, so he sends spies into Canaan.

The people sit, patiently. They wait for the return of these men, and the report they might share. Finally, off in the distance, they see them coming. A giant pole hangs in their midst filled with grapes, pomegranates, and a host of the fruits of the land. Excitement clatters among them, one talking over the other. “The land is just as God has said! It’s full of wonderful thing! There is more abundance than we have ever seen before!”
“But the land is inhabited by giants!”

“Caleb silenced the people before Moses, saying, ‘Let us go up and occupy it, for we are well able to conquer it.’ But the men who had gone up with him said, ‘We are not able to go up against these people, because they are stronger than we are! … We even saw giants there, and we seemed like grasshoppers both to ourselves and to them.” – Numbers 13:30-31, 33

Caleb, along with Joshua, had faith in God’s Promise. They looked at the shining side of their silver dollar and said, “who cares about the other side! Look at what God has laid out for us!” They said, “let’s go, for we are certainly able to conquer it!” How could they be certain? They saw the same giants as the rest of the spies, didn’t they? Their certainty relied on God’s Promises, not on their own strength. They didn’t use their own logic, count the numbers in their army and think, we got this! They counted God’s army of One and said, “he is greater than a whole land filled with giants!”

But the rest of the people didn’t have faith. They said, “They’re giants, and we’re grasshoppers…” but they forgot the third “G:” God. We are only grasshoppers before giants until we recognize that God is greater than giants. Now, the people aren’t just mistrusting God’s provisional skills, but have lost faith in the Promise. So they get scared, and anyone would when facing the giants and forgetting God.

“If only we had died in the land of Egypt, or if only we had perished in this wilderness! Why has the LORD brought us into this land only to be killed by the sword, that our wives and our children should become plunder?” – Numbers 14:12b-13

Notice, now they are putting the full blame on God. Before this they complained to Moses saying, “Why did you bring us here?” But, they’re not talking to Moses now. They’re talking to God, and it is with curses on their lips. They are doing the very thing that Job’s wife wants him to do. “Curse God, and die!” Is is better to die with curses on our lips, or live with praise in our hearts?

A recent survey has said that people who are part of a church generally live longer than those that aren’t. In thinking about this, I heard someone say, “haven’t you seen those old church buildings? Climbing all those steps from street to sanctuary keep the people in shape! That’ why they live longer!” No, that’s not the case. It is because we come together as the church every week to praise God. On a good week, we praise God. On a crummy week, we praise God. On those days when we really don’t feel like coming, it is then when we need to come the most! It is those morning when we don’t feel very worshipful that we need to remember God in our midst, because it’s easy to forget Him when we face giants in our lives. It’s easy to curse God when on our trek through this rose-garden life, we find some thorns.

Complaint is a show of our lack of faith, and when we lack faith, we do not have the life God wants us to have. Instead, like all the rest, we wallow in our complaint, cursing God until we die. Jesus came, and died, so that we would look to Him and live! He has given us abundant life, and all we have to do is have faith to receive that blessing.

My favourite picture in the Old Testament is that of the Promised Land, and what it means for us today to cross the River Jordan. You may remember from our study on Promised Land Living, what I am talking about. The Israelites crossing through the Red Sea was the beginning of their relationship with God. It is a picture of us first coming to Christ. But, there is another body of water to cross. No, crossing the Jordan river is not a picture of Heaven, but of surrendering ourselves to God. It is a picture of the faith we need to receive the abundance of the Land of this life that Jesus died to give us. We don’t need to wander our whole lives, complaining at every evil that comes, waiting for Heaven. Life can be so much better… but when we forget that, when we forget to have faith in God, then we do no enter that land.

Many Christians have come to church every week, given thousands of dollars away to the church, served on the mission field, raised a family, but die empty inside. They crossed the Red Sea but were not willing to trust God enough to go all the way. When they faced the giants, they turned back and through it better to wander, complain, and die. God talks to these people:

“They will by no means see the land that I swore to their fathers, nor will any of them who despised me see it. Only my servant Caleb, because he had a different spirit and has follow me fully—I will bring him into the land where he had gone, and his descendants will possess it.” – Numbers 14:23-24

Let’s be like Caleb and Joshua. Instead of complaining at the lack of blessings in our lives, let’s be confidant in the blessings that God will give us. Let’s enter into a life so abundant that when times are tough we can come to God with praises on our lips and say, “Yes, there

are giants, but there is also God!”
We cannot go into the greatness of God’s best for our lives without faith in him. Only Caleb and Joshua entered the Promised Land, because only they had faith. Everyone else wandered, grumbled, cursed God and died, never knowing the blessing that came to give them. Not even Moses and Aaron entered the land of Canaan, and for the same reason that millions of Israelites died in the wilderness: they lacked faith, so they lost the blessing.

Moses Lack of Faith – Ch 20

The Israelites have proven their wandering ways. They have no desire to change, to grow, to flourish. So, they complain. Again, it is about water. God tells Moses and Aaron what to do.

“Take the staff, and assemble the community, you are Aaron your brother, and then speak to the rock before their eyes. It will pour forth its water, and you will bring water our of the rock for them, and so you will give the community and their beasts water to drink.” – Numbers 20:8

A similar situation has happened before. The people were thirsty, but the first time God told Moses to strike the rock so that water would come out. This time he is to speak to it. Moses, has been leading these people for many years at this point. He is well acquainted with their complaints, and is ready to take matters into his own hands. Instead of trusting what God said to do, Moses loses faith. Clearly God’s way hadn’t been solving anything. The people still grumbled as they did the moment out of Egypt. They still questioned God and Moses leadership.

“‘Listen, you rebels, must we bring water out of this rock for you?’ Then Moses raised his hand, and struck the rock twice with his staff, and water poured out.” – Numbers 20:10-11

He says, “must we bring water?” He see the staff in his hand, knowing that same staff had brought water from a rock before, and he knew how to do it. He doesn’t say, “God will bring you water from this rock because he is gracious despite your stiff-necks and hard-hearts.” Instead he says, “I don’t care what God told me to do. After all, God’s way has only led to these people being stranded in the wilderness.” So, in his rage, he strikes the rock.
Just as the people didn’t trust God’s promise, neither did Moses. And just like that, Moses was kept from entering the Promised Land. Lack of faith keeps us from the blessings God has in store for our lives.

Moses Speech – remember your faith and be blessed

Moses, remembers. The incident with the rock plagued him for the rest of his wandering in the desert. His pride brought him to the dessert in the first place, many years ago. Now, his lack of faith keep him there. It is hard in the moment of giants to gave faith, but looking back on our lives, we can see all the mistakes we made, all the wrong turns. It’s easy to tell someone to turn right instead of left when we are stuck in the swamp.

Moses has waded through his own swamps. He has seen a generation rise from the shackles of Egypt and fall by the millions in the sand. What can an old man share with this new generation? What can he say that will encourage them? He is not getting into the Promised Land, but they will see the blessings. Moses faith ran out, and so he reminds the people of what to do and not do. He says, “Don’t be like your ancestors who have died in their unbelief. Don’t be like Aaron. Don’t be like me. Remember God. Remember your faith, and be blessed.


God strengthened their faith in Him through the desert, and those that failed to have faith could not enter in. Moses reminds the people of how God has been with them, chosen them, loved them, taught them how to live. He reminds them to have faith. He knew the sting of not having faith all too well. No, it was not the meat coming out his nostrils or the venom of serpents that plagued his mind in these final days. Moses own pride, putting himself before God when he became angry and said, “should we give you water from this rock!” He said, “don’t be like your ancestors. Don’t be like those who have died along the way. Don’t be like me. Have faith, obey God, and live. It is a choice. Life or death. Complaining or blessings. Choose life.

Conclusion

Do we choose life today? When faced with the choice to complain or praise, which do we choose? When seeing the giants rise in our lives, where is our faith? When all looks hopeless, where is our hope? Nothing everything in life makes sense. Not everything can be fit into neat little boxes, but we always have a choice. We can choose to follow God. Choose to follow his ways. Choose to follow his word. Choose to have faith, even though it might not make sense.

When troubles come, the faithless curse. When trials rise their giant heads, the faithless look for someone who will hear their complaints. The faithful smile. The faithful praise. The faithful believe. The faithful live.

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