Passover, Hitting the Road, and Complaining: Numbers 9—11

 

You can listen to the full audio of this teaching here.

Before the Israelites left Mt. Sinai the celebrated the Passover. The command to keep the Passover was a significant reminder that everything in Israel’s experience, as a people of God called to pilgrimage, depended and rested upon the mighty act of God on their behalf when He made bare His holy arm and plucked them out of the land of Egypt and the house of bondage. Indeed, their very existence as the people of God depended on what He had done in delivering them.  Before Israel could enter into the Promised Land, they must remember what got them there.

Numbers then gives a reminder of the Divine guidance in the form of a cloud by day and fire by night. Though Israel had been organized and ordered by God; though they had been cleansed, and set apart, and blessed, and giving, and walking in their priesthood, they still had to be guided by God each step of the way to make it to the Promised Land. God had not done all those previous things to make them able to start towards the Promised Land on their own, but to make every step in constant dependence on Him. This unique Divine GPS not only distinctly showed God’s presence with His people, it demonstrated His shelter and protection.

In Chapter 10 they begin their journey. God asks Moses to make two special trumpets that would be used in various ways to call the full congregation and the leaders. The trumpets were essential tools for the journey to the Promised Land. Without them it would be very difficult to assemble the nation and march towards the Promised Land. Then, as the cloud began to move, we might imagine the huge sense of excitement that flowed through the people—now, they were on their way to the Promised Land! Their last journey from Egypt took them from slavery and to liberty, now they are on their way to the land God promised them so long ago.

But there’s a problem. A spirit of discontentment begins to fester among the people. This murmuring, we are told, became a continuing characteristic and had a cumulative effect all the way to the top man, Moses. The people were so despondent they wanted to return to slavery in Egypt. In chapter 11 we’re introduced to the food complaints of the people and Moses’ complaining about the people. While God miraculously takes care of both issues, we’re left to ponder if the people and Moses didn’t settle for second best. If they had chosen to completely trust God on the journey what would have been the outcome? Instead they became ill, some died, and Moses’ leadership is diluted.

Some observations:

1) Like the trumpet sound, prayer can be made to, and heard by, God. We have the opportunity to sound the trumpet of prayer at any time in every situation of pressure, hazard or struggle. And, no victory should be won by individuals or the church that isn’t accompanied by prayer.

2) There’s a better way to be led than by the external, the visible, the tangible. Although we think it would be wonderful to have a visible, tangible cloud leading us, the children of Israel murmured and complained. How much better is it to heed the words of Jeremiah, “I’m going to do something new,” God told Jeremiah. “I’m going to write My will on the tables of the hearts of My people.” How much better to have God’s will stamped on our hearts.

3) Rise up O Lord. This was Moses prayer. To live with a conscious sense of destiny is a high way to live, and the temptation to take lower ground is very real, and often yielded to; when it is, spiritual life degenerates at best into a chilling mediocrity and at worst into all sorts of turning aside, backsliding, and even tragedy. William Carey’s words, “Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God.”

4) Looking back on “the good old days” is always a matter of wearing rose-colored glasses. Do you spend more time thinking about your past than you do thinking about your dreams.

 

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Trust is the winsome wedding of faith and hope.

Brennan Manning

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