Joshua 24:14-15 Choose for Yourselves

Joshua 24:14-15         Choose for Yourselves                                               WC McCarter
In chapter seven of The Story we read about Joshua leading the next generation of Israelites into the land that was promised to Abraham many years earlier. Joshua is an interesting character. I have always loved this man because of what we find out about him in his early years and what we learn about him in his later years. This was a faithful man. This was a godly man. From very early on, Joshua is Moses’ trusted assistant. When Moses went up on the mountain to speak with God and receive the ten commandments, Joshua went with him. When Moses would speak with God face to face in the tent of meeting, Joshua was there and would actually remain even after Moses left to return to camp. Joshua was faithful and devoted to his God. When the time came for Moses to die, there was an obvious replacement ready to step into the leadership role, Joshua.
In order to fulfill the promise, the Lord led the armies of Israel to rid the land of the Canaanite people. He used Joshua as his commander. We read about many cities being destroyed by the Israelites forces, some more miraculously than others. The first city to be attacked was Jericho, and it was taken in an extraordinary fashion. Rahab was saved from the destruction of that city. Unfortunately, a man named Achan disobeys the word of the Lord and takes for himself some of the plunder of Jericho. When the Israelites go to take the next city, Ai, they are unsuccessful. The Lord was not with them because of the sin of Achan. Capital punishment is carried out upon the man, and when they attack Ai the second time, they win. After this, many cities gather together to fight against Israel, but ultimately Israel is victorious on every occasion.
By the end of Joshua’s life, all of the major Canaanite centers belonged to Israel. The people remained faithful during his entire life. The leaders divide the land up among the tribes so that they can finally settle into the rest that God had promised. At the end of Joshua’s life, he leads the people in a recommitment to the covenant. He was truly a military and spiritual leader. He was certainly a warrior and a worshiper. In his farewell speech, he urges the people to recommit themselves to the covenant. He calls their attention back to their history from the time of Abraham to the Exodus event and from the wandering in the desert to the conquering of the land. Our main passage today is part of that farewell speech. Joshua calls the people to single-minded devotion of Yahweh. They are to utterly reject the idols of their ancestors and of the pagans that had lived in the land of Canaan.
Life is made up of crucial stages, isn’t it? A nation’s history is comprised of critical points. The heritage of a family is marked by key moments in time. Every once in a while you, or a nation, or a family is challenged to make a decision about which route you will take. Before GPS came along, did you ever find yourself lost in an unfamiliar town and you just had to make a choice between turning left or right? Life is like that, but thankfully we can make informed decisions on most of life’s major issues. When Joshua came to the end of his life, the history of the people had come to a defining moment. They had served God all the years of Joshua’s time in leadership, but as that era comes to a close, how will they respond? What choice will they make?
Scripture Reading (p. 101) – This is the Word of God
Fear and Serve
Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness.
A person cannot fear God and worship other gods. To fear the Lord is to know that you must be single-mindedly devoted to Him. It is to submit to the whole of His revealed word. If I counted correctly, between v. 14 and v. 24, the word “serve” is used fourteen times. The fear of the Lord is the reason that one would serve Him. Joshua calls on the people to serve the Lord “with all faithfulness” which is to say with unreserved obedience to Him.
This phrase calls us back to the words of Moses in Deuteronomy 10:12-13, “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?”
Throw Away and Serve
Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.
Since you cannot fear Yahweh and continue to worship false gods, the idols must be thrown away. It is amazing to think that this gross sin that violated the first commandment was not challenged until the end of Joshua’s life. How could the people have been worshiping idols after all that they had seen and experienced the Lord do for them? We know that the end of the book of Joshua says that the people served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua, but they must have still have the idols of previous generations packed in their suitcases.
The Ultimatum
But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living.
The Israelites have four choices: they can worship the old gods of Terah (beyond the Euphrates) or the old gods of Egypt; they can worship the new gods of Canaan (of the Amorites); or they can remain faithful Yahweh.
The Scripture calls for undivided loyalty to Yahweh. Neutrality was not an option. We know what Christ said to the church in Laodicea, “So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.”
“Choose for yourselves” was not a statement intended to encourage idolatry. Joshua was positive that the Israelites would be so taken back with the idea of worshiping an idol that they would take a strong stand against idolatry and make a whole-hearted commitment to God. How can we hear of this type of single-minded devotion and not think of the words of Christ? He said, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Likewise, you cannot serve both God and idols. You cannot serve both God and the things of this world.
The Ultimate Declaration
But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.
Based on Joshua’s statement, this appeal was not made to only individuals, but entire households. Joshua’s words point us to the statement of Peter in the New Testament. Like Joshua, Jesus had asked His disciples if they would want to desert Him. Peter responded, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.
Conclusion- Finding Your Story in God’s Story
1) What in your life do you need to throw away? Notice that the people were still carrying idols that their parents and grandparents had handed down to them from the time of Abraham and the period in Egypt. They were still carrying a lot of sinful baggage. What kind of baggage are you carrying that you need to bury? It makes me think of what the writer of Hebrews said, “. . . let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. . . .
2) Maybe we can draw a comparison between the Israelites going into the promised land and our entrance in the kingdom of God. The people had entered the land; they had received the promise, but they still had an option of turning from the Lord or remaining faithful to Him. Likewise, you have entered the kingdom of God by faith in Jesus Christ, but let me tell you that you still have the option of turning your back or remaining faithful to Him. The Christian life is not lived just inside the gate. We are to enter the gate of grace through faith and then continue to follow the path that is laid before us. The Lord said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” There is a gate to enter, and there is a road to follow.
3) The question that has been on my heart for a long while now has been where are all of the Joshua’s? Where are the men and women who are completely devoted to God? Where are the men and women who will step forward as Joshua did to serve God’s purposes? What the American church lacks today is commitment. No one is willing to volunteer. No one is willing to make a commitment. I suppose it is because something better may come along. Our thoughts are, “Do not box yourself in, there may be something else that comes up” or “I’ll wait until the last minute to make a decision, and I’ll do it if I have nothing better to do.” That is not commitment to God or the things of God. That is selfishness and greed. That is sad. We need some Joshua’s in our churches who are single-mindedly devoted to God and are willing to step forward whenever the opportunity arises.
4) On a day like Memorial Day, when we think of all those who made commitments and honored them unto death, we should stop to consider ourselves. What great men and women have made sacrifices for their country! The same should be true and much more of Christians. We should be making even greater sacrifices for the church and Christ. You would be quick to pledge allegiance to the flag, but how quick are you to pledge allegiance to Christ?
*We know that the people responded to Joshua’s challenge by saying explicitly,
            “We will serve the Lord our God and obey him.”

Numbers 21:4-9 The Lord Sent Venomous Snakes

Numbers 21:4-9         The Lord Sent Venomous Snakes                             WC McCarter
In chapter six of The Story, the Exodus story somewhat concludes. We have now concluded our reading of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. Moses had originally told Pharaoh that the Lord wanted to take His people out into the desert so that they could worship Him. Of course, Pharaoh would not give in until God forced his hand with ten mighty plagues. God brought them up out of Egypt like on eagles wings, and they did worship, but rarely. For the most part the people simply wandered in the wilderness in disobedience to the Lord. They were grumblers, complainers, and despisers of the goodness of God. Chapter six sums all of that up.
The chapter started with the people complaining about their hardships once again. The chapter ended with the death of the whole generation and Moses, their leader. In between, the Lord filled them with quail, but the people were struck with a plague. Moses’ siblings complained against him because God only spoke through him. Miriam was struck with leprosy. Spies were also sent from each of the tribes to scout the Promised Land. All but two came back with a faithless report. The Lord forgave the people, but would not allow anyone over twenty years old to enter the Promised Land.
In this chapter, we also read that Moses sinned against the Lord. He struck a rock two times for water to come forth, but he had been commanded to merely speak to it. The Lord considered that to be a lack of faith. On their way to the Promised Land, which was very close by, the Israelites seek to pass through the land of Edom. Their request is rejected and they are forced to back-track. In the end, Moses gives some remarkable speeches pointing the new generation back to the Exodus and the Law. He commissions Joshua as the next leader who would lead them into the land. Finally, Moses dies and there is an end of an era.
Our main passage today was part of an up-and-down ride that the Israelites were on. They were so close to the land that they could smell the fruit and taste the honey of it, but they were forced to back-track because the nation of Edom would not allow them to pass through their land. The Israelite people were not happy about this turn of events (here’s a defeat). On their way back down the road, they were confronted by an army from Arad, and some of the Israelites were taken captive. The Lord empowered the Israelites to utterly destroy Arad’s cities (here’s a victory). Now the people have known defeat and victory. Why should they continue to back-track? They were strong enough to defeat their enemies, right? Surely, they were brimming with self-confidence and quickly forgot that the Lord had given them victory.
As they continue to back-track, the people begin to grumble against God and Moses once again. They do not like God’s plan and Moses’ leadership. In the first paragraph of our main reading today we get a passage that epitomizes the people’s hard-heartedness in the desert. They complain that there was no sense to lead them out of Egypt to die in the wilderness; there is no bread; there is no water; and the food the Lord had provided, they hated. This time, the Lord will respond in righteous judgment.
Scripture Reading (p. 80) – This is the Word of God
The Complaints (vv. 4-5)
“But the people grew impatient on the way. . . .” And I thought that was just an American thing. These are old complaints, but from a new generation. The next generation is stating the same grievances as their fathers before them. The complaint that there is no food or water is nothing new, but they add something their parents did not. They label the manna from the Lord, “Miserable food,” which is to say, “Worthless bread.” I will call that blasphemy. They were displaying derision toward the goodness and blessings of God. They were actually revealing the true attitudes of their hearts. They despised God.
The Lord Jesus states that the manna from heaven was actually a sign of who He would be as the true bread from heaven. Christ said, “Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:49-51). Rejecting the manna from heaven was to reject the grace of God. To reject Christ as Savior is to reject the grace of God.
The Judgment (vv. 6-7)
The Lord acts in judgment on this occasion. There is no period of mercy. Venomous snakes are unleashed on the people. The KJV translated this phrase as, “Fiery serpents,” but remember that the fire was in the venom. It was the poison of the venom that was so agonizing. Many of the Israelites died painful and horrific deaths from these bites. Of course, this would have been a naturally occurring event – that a venomous snake would bite a human – but what is so astounding is the way in which it happens (the great number and the timing). As one commentator has noted, the people rejected something from heaven, so they received something from the desert (R. B. Allen, 876).
The wrath of God convinces the people to repent, but not before many have already died. The statements of the people are a fitting example of genuine repentance. Their words reflect true remorse; they explicitly state what their sin was against God; and they ask for forgiveness. This will allow God to relent and provide a way of salvation.
Although Moses is not perfect, he is a loyal and loving leader. The people had protested and persecuted him again, but he still intercedes for them before God. “So Moses prayed for the people.” What a wonderful statement that could be said about a shepherd of God’s people! God responds to Moses’ prayer, but in an unexpected way.
The Salvation (vv. 8-9)
When the people voiced a lack of faith before (at the beginning of the chapter), God made fire to break out in the camp, but when Moses prayed, the fire died down. This time when Moses prays, the snakes do not leave. They do not immediately slither away when the Lord relents. Instead they continue to bite; they continue to cause people pain; they continue to make the people sick; and they continue to kill many in the camp. The judgment will continue to be harsh, but the people can pass through it by the means that God will provide.
What Moses was asked to do was unsettling. Moses is to make a snake and put it on a pole that can be raised up among the people. This snake on a pole will be their salvation when they are attacked by the snakes. What is odd is that, although the people are still being assaulted by the snakes, Moses is to take his time to craft the snake. Secondly, Moses had mediated the law of God to the people which forbade the making of graven images, but now God commands him to make one. Thirdly, snakes are hated all over the world. People have a great fear and disgust of them, yet the image of a snake would be their deliverance. All of this adds up to a strange scene. The Lord makes an image of death into an image of salvation.
Conclusion- Finding Your Story in God’s Story
1) One commentator warns, “There is a pattern to complaining; it is habit forming. The tendency among people is to go beyond where one left off the last time, to become ever more egregious, ever more outspoken. Rarely does a complaining person become milder in his complaints. Finally, complaining becomes self-destructive” (R. B. Allen, 876). What we learn from this portion of Israel’s history is the judgment that complaining deserves. Not only does God frown upon protests aimed directly at Himself, but He also condemns constant complaining against His appointed leaders and His blessings. Let me encourage those of you who are negative Nelly’s to stop complaining before you will have to endure divine discipline. Maybe you think, “I never complain in those ways.” This is a test that you must give/grade yourself.
2) Nothing magical happened in the healing of the people as they looked at the bronze snake. God did all of the work. He healed them of His own will and power. Faith would be the key that would unlock the door of grace. The question was would they obey the Lord’s word and take advantage of the means of grace that God provided? In this narrative, there was only one way of divine healing. The same is true today. Faith is the master key that opens the doors of grace. Of course, when it comes to eternal salvation, we know that there is only one way for the Lord Jesus said that He is the way, the truth, and the life. No one goes to the Father except by Him.
3) We cannot end our discussion of this passage without turning to the cross. The Lord Jesus spoke of His own crucifixion in John 3:14-15 by saying, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” How is it that Christ can compare Himself to the snake in the wilderness? It may sound foolish to think that an image of a disgusting, despicable, violent, death-producing snake could provide healing for diseased people, but that is what God offered. The world looks at what God the Father offered in the crucifixion of His Son and they think it sounds foolish. How could such an ugly scene like crucifixion provide healing for our sinful conditions? The cross is evil, disgusting, shameful, and violent. On the cross, Christ, who knew no sin, became sin for us. The bronze snake was in the form of a real snake, “but was without poison, and altogether harmless. So God sent His Son in the form of sinful flesh, and yet without sin” (Keil-Delitzsch, 141).
Just as the Israelites in the desert were to look at the image that had nearly killed them, we are to also look at Him who took our sin upon Himself. The metal snake in the desert was merely to provide physical healing from the venom of the snakes. The cross of Christ on Calvary provides eternal salvation from the sting of sin and death. We are not merely to look upon the cross with a simple gaze, many scoffers did that! We are to trust that what God has done in the person of Christ is more than enough to save us from the wrath to come.

Exodus 33:14-17 My Presence Will Go with You

Exodus 33:14-17        My Presence Will Go with You                                 WC McCarter
In chapter five of The Story, we found the Israelites still wandering around in the desert. They have now made it to the Desert of Sinai and to the mountain of God. One day, the Israelites were to come to the base of the mountain, consecrated, and to hear from the Lord. They were so terrified that they stood far off, and they told Moses to speak with God from then on because they feared that they would die if they heard God speak to them again. The Lord proclaimed the Ten Commandments, and the people responded resoundingly with, “Everything the Lord has said we will do.” The Ten Commandments would serve as both a standard of living for the people of God as well as the basis for the whole Mosaic covenant.
In this chapter, we also read about the people’s grievous rebellion and great sin in building the golden calf to worship. After this, God said that He would not go with them any farther. He did promise to send an angel to lead them the remainder of the way to the Promised Land, but Moses knew that He needed God Himself to lead them every step of the way.
This overview leads us to our main passage today. We will see that the Lord forgives the people and, in His grace and mercy, makes a renewed promise to Moses. Just as you may feel separated from God at times or you may actually be far from Him because of sin, you can take courage. Maybe you have been wandering around in a spiritual desert and you see no glory cloud to lead the way. You may think that you have gone too far to find forgiveness once again, but you are mistaken. Let us take a look at this passage to learn more about our God and to find comfort in His grace and promises. The very first line of our main text is one of the most glorious verses in all of holy Scripture. Let us open our hearts to His Word.
Scripture Reading (p. 67) – This is the Word of God
Who God is Essentially
After Moses’ request to learn God’s ways, God answers by saying that He would go with Moses. Now that is grace. After all that Moses had been through, the sin that he had committed, and the disobedience of his people, God showed him His ways-which is grace. It is a merciful God that will go with Moses despite the instability of the people.
God said this wonderful line, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest,” not because of what Moses had done, but because of who God is essentially. God has already declared who He is when He said, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.”
My Presence Will Go with You
God had previously said that He would not go with the people because if He did He would have to destroy them. Instead, He said that He would send an angel. This would not do for Moses. He did not want to take a step without God Himself leading the way. So, Moses says to God, “Let me know whom You will send with me.” That is how we get the magnificent response.
When God says, “My presence will go with you,” He is literally saying, “My face will go with you.” He will personally and intimately be present with the people as they make this journey. And let’s be clear, Moses didn’t want God to go with only him, but also with the people.
Not only does God say that He will go with the people, but He also promises, “I give you rest.” “Rest,” here, refers mainly to settling in the Promised Land, but maybe it also refers to the hassle and stress that Moses had been enduring. Without God, who knows what Moses would have suffered? But God promises to go with Moses. God would bare the burden and carry the load of leading. A third idea that I think is of value is that rest refers to “faith rest.” Moses could rest in faith based on God’s promise. We must also rest in faith based on God’s promises. The author of Hebrews picks up on this notion. He says, “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God. . . .” He goes on to say, “Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following [the Israelites’] example of disobedience.”
Of course, it is difficult to think about rest in the biblical sense and not think of what Christ said. In some of the most comforting words ever spoken, Christ said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
So, you see, there is something about God’s personal and intimate presence that allows rest. The Lord also tells us that He will personally see to rest for His people. This rest is more than Israel receiving some real estate. It is a promise of God’s presence and it is a rest of faith. If you are going 100 mph because you are afraid that if you slow down you will be run over, you are not resting in faith. If you are working with all that you have to earn your salvation, you are stressing your spirit in vain because there is none righteous on their own merit. Faith-Rest says many things to a person’s soul, and I will give you a few: Faith-Rest preaches to your soul that. . .
            God is with you. You are going to be alright. There is nothing to worry about.
            There is nothing to fear. God is the source of my salvation. God is the source of my strength.
            God is my protector. Although I do not know the future, my God does.
            God has made promises to me and has always been faithful. Stop chasing this world.
The Distinctness of the Saints
If there is one theme that can be realized from this chapter of The Story, it is the theme of holiness. Why does God issue all of these new commands and establish a new covenant? Because He is holy and if Israel is going to be His people, then they must be holy as well. They must be separate from all the people of the earth. Thus, we can ask, who are we without God? It is God’s presence among us that separates us from all the world. It is His going with us and His leading us that makes us distinct. He is our distinctness. We are children of the One, True God. The most glorious and holy God of heaven and earth is our Father. And He leads us by His word. His word is that pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commands.” He seeks to lead us by His strong hand in the ways of righteousness for His names’ sake, but also for our good. He does so with His commands. As our Great Shepherd, He promises to lead us into green pastures, but we may have to be led through the valley first. We may have to be led through the desert wilderness first. As David wrote in that famous Psalm,
“The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures: He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul: He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff they comfort me.”
I Am Pleased
What a glorious thing to hear from the mouth of God, “I am pleased with you and I know you by name!” Did this mean that Moses was perfect? Did Moses live a sinless life in order to hear those words? Of course not; Moses was sinful like the rest. His sin may not have as blatantly terrible against God as the Israelites’ incident with the golden calf, but we know of at least one sin that was equally as terrible against another human being. Moses murdered a man. But God forgives. God’s grace was rooted in His intimate knowledge of Moses. God knew Moses’ heart. God knows what is inside a man. He looks to the depths of us.
Why was God pleased with Moses? He was pleased because Moses had a heart that longed for God. Although he was not perfect, Moses had a hunger and a thirst for righteousness. Let me also say, that it was Moses’ request, which God ordained, that allowed God to forgive the people once again. Sometimes God does what He wants to do without waiting on us to move, but often times, He desires for us to call out to Him before He does anything. He waits for a man to stand in the gap. This teaches us to trust in Him. What a merciful and gracious God we serve.
Conclusion- Finding Your Story in God’s Story
1) It seems that God forgave Israel very quickly and with little effort from Moses. Doesn’t it take more? Isn’t it harder to earn grace like this? No…God had every intention of forgiving the people in the first place. God wills that none should perish, but that all should have eternal life.
2) Where is sin’s force strongest in your life, pulling you away from God’s presence?
3) How can you intercede for others today? Who needs intercession in their behalf?
4) Lastly, if there is anything that American Christians need (and Americans in general) it is rest. On average, we need more physical rest. We need to sleep more (7-9 hours a night for any age), we need to relax for family time more, we need to rest our minds, and we need to break from the tension of living in this society. All of these things are necessary, but more than this we need to rest in faith. The average American, from my own perspective, is spiritually frustrated and not at rest in their souls. They never find satisfaction in anything, so they go from one thing to another. God offers true rest in Christ. I think we should pursue it. I think we should receive it.

Exodus 16:1-3 If Only

Exodus 16:1-3            If Only. . .                                                                   WC McCarter
In chapter four of The Story, we read about God calling His people out of Egypt. By this time a new Pharaoh had come into power who did not know Joseph. There was no sympathy toward the Israelites. In fact, they were enslaved by the Egyptians and forced to do hard labor. They cried out to God from under the yoke of Egypt, and God heard their cries. He raised up Moses, a Hebrew man who had been raised an Egyptian prince, to lead His people. Moses was hesitant, but God strengthened him for this mighty work. After a long bought with Pharaoh, who had a hard heart, Moses led the people out of slavery and into the wilderness. They would be there for forty years being tested by God. Their faith was weak, superficial, and of the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately sort.
Just as the Israelites traveled through the desert as foreigners, we also struggle through this world’s wilderness as pilgrims in a strange land.  We are tested by God, tempted by sinful desires, tricked by Satan, sometimes hungry and other times full, but this is life. We are called to be faithful in all things and to glorify God. We are called to endure. Today, I would like to call your attention to Exodus 16:1-3 which is found on page 55. Here we find an account of Israel in the desert, challenged by hunger.
Scripture Reading (p. 55) – This is the Word of God
The Journey into the Desert
Exactly one month had passed since the beginning of the Exodus. They had been camping in Elim where there were twelve wells of water and seventy palm trees. It sounds like a paradise compared to what they had been through in the past few weeks. Now the Israelites were heading south from Elim toward the Desert of Sin. As one preacher has said, “. . . the Lord never allows us to linger too long in Elim. He summons us to go forth, and our going forth sometimes takes us into the desert” (Dunnam, 192).
Along the way, the Israelites were camping along the east coast of the Red Sea (the opposite side from where they had originally crossed). The Israelites were apparently following an old road that the Egyptians used for mining. They probably knew this road well. How was it that the Egyptians did not know their location? It was not mining season, so there wouldn’t be many Egyptians traveling this route. Even if they hear of the Israelites’ location, they probably would not want to risk another defeat like they did the first time (on the other side of the Red Sea).
Grumbling in the Desert
This is actually the third time they grumbled against God and Moses. The first time was when they were trapped between the Egyptians and the sea (p. 53 at the bottom). Another time (p. 55) they grumbled against Moses about finding water to drink. After this, they grumbled again against the Lord and Moses about drinking water (p. 57). The problem of grumbling was not restricted to a handful, but was heard from “the whole community.” Everyone was affected to some degree by hunger. This episode highlights the fact that Moses and Aaron were constantly on the hot-seat. We cannot know the pressure they were under and the persecution they endured.
Certainly the people did not want to die in Egypt or out in the wilderness, but they make a silly comparison in their complaint. They state that it would have been much more simple to die in Egypt than to go through all the trouble they were enduring to die in the wilderness.
But God wouldn’t do all that He had just to let the people wander around in the wilderness for a month just to die from starvation, would He? They use the phrase, “If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt!” This makes you think of the disastrous plagues that took place and even the destruction of the Egyptians in the Red Sea. God was merciful to the Israelites during those previous events, but now the people claim, “that perhaps they would have been better off eliminated by a plague or drowning” (Stuart, 371). The people claimed that they had all the food that they wanted while in Egypt. They may have been hard-pressed by slave-masters, but they did not have to deal with starvation. They looked to the past and did not trust God for the future. They did not say, “I trust God.” They said, “If only we had. . . .”
The Other Side of the Sea
God was testing them, although they may not have known it. It is difficult to not sympathize with the Israelites. Surely they were hungry, their kids were crying, and their animals were groaning. We can almost feel their pain as we read their story. Of course, they should have known that God was taking care of them because His presence was leading them in the cloud. They should have known that God ordained for them to be there in that particular place at that precise point in time. Think of all that they have seen God do up to this point:
Plagues – Parting of Red Sea – All the water they needed at Marah for that time
***And He did it all in their behalf!
On the other hand, we do not always know what is a test or simply a tough situation. So, what should we do? Hold firm in what we believe. We should count every trial as an opportunity to glorify God by our perseverance in the faith. The sad realization is that the people were not simply grumbling against Moses and Aaron. They were grumbling against God.
Conclusion- Finding Your Story in God’s Story
I’m afraid that many Christians are the same way. They enjoyed the darkness so much that they wish they could go back. The light is too bright for them.
1) Enjoy the light. Do not look back to the darkness.
2) What “If only. . .” have you been using recently? Their grumblings and complaints came from hearts lacking faith.
3) Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. The Israelites obeyed their stomachs rather than their God. How many Christians live this way? How many of you live this way? Your god is your stomach and you are never filled. We must forsake all lusts and sinful desires and turn to our God by faith in Jesus Christ.
4) What benefit is there for a man who gains the whole world and loses his own soul?
5) Lastly, let me point you to the grace of God in the passage. When you might imagine that God would not listen to their grumblings without raining down wrath upon them, instead God provides food for His people.