Wilderness Meditations: 6. Reading the Signs
Num 14:22 “the signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness.”
Context: The danger of taking part verses as a basis for meditation is that you can take it completely out of context and thus lose some of the importance of it. Num 14 recounts another of Israel’s moaning and grumbling times followed by the Lord testing Moses’ heart yet again when He threatens to destroy the people (v.12). Moses again pleads for Israel (v.13-19) and the Lord accepts his plea but says they will die in the wilderness over the next forty years, allowing only those currently twenty years old or younger to go in (v.20-35) The reference to the signs He performed comes therefore as a reminder of what He had provided for them but which they had ignored. The miracles of deliverance from Egypt and the miracles of provision in the desert should have acted as signs that pointed to the Lord’s goodness and acted as a basis for faith to believe Him so they could take the Land – but they didn’t!
The Purpose of Signs: Each one of the ten plagues in Egypt that the Lord now refers to as ‘signs’ were intended to grab Pharaoh’s attention, pointing him to the fact that he was dealing with One who was infinitely more powerful than he was. (see the references to those miracles as ‘signs’ in Ex 7:3, 10:1,2, 14:11, Deut 4:34, 6:22, 7:19, 11:3, 26:8, 29:3, 34:11) The ‘signs’ in the wilderness (linked in some of the above verses) were miracles of provision, again partly intended to teach Israel about the wonder of the God who was about to lead them into the Promised Land.
Signs are meant to Encourage: The wise men were told, “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Lk 2:12) i.e. you’ll know you’ve arrived when you find a stable with a baby in it! (Implication: there aren’t too many of those around!!!) ‘Signs’ draw your attention so, for example the disciples asked of Jesus, “Teacher ..when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?” (Lk 21:7) and his reply was, “There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven,” (Lk 21:11) and, “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea.” (Lk 21:25) Now some of those things appear extraordinary and may yet come, but others of them are things that occur quite often in history. It is almost as if Jesus is just saying, every time you see some of these things, just keep looking upwards and remember, I AM coming again.
But! Yet there is another aspect of this. We have said that signs are there for those with eyes to see, but if you keep asking for signs it is clear you don’t have eyes to see. Seeking for signs can indicate a critical unbelieving heart: “Others tested him by asking for a sign from heaven,” (Lk 11:16) to which Jesus responded, “This is a wicked generation. It asks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” (Lk 11;29) You want a sign? Then think about this. See if this will incline you towards God. Matthew recorded that Jesus used this picture twice (Mt 12:39 & 16:4) Reliance on signs can lead one into deception: “For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.” (Mt 24:24) Learn to keep close to God, be well taught in His word, and be sensitive to His Spirit and His presence and His peace will be far better than any signs.
John’s Signs: The Gospel writer John was the master at spotting Jesus’ works as signs. The words ‘sign’ or ‘signs’ appear 18 times in his Gospel, often referring to his specific miraculous works (e.g. Jn 2:11- Water into wine, Jn 4:54 – healing a sick boy, Jn 12:18 – raising Lazarus) or general references to his miraculous works (e.g. Jn 2;23, 6:2,14,26, 7:31, 20:30) or in the context of arguments with the Jews who were very ‘sign conscious’ (e.g. Jn 2:18, 3:2, 4:48, 6:26, 9:16, 11:47). Signs, he implies, are things pointing to God for those with eyes to see.
And Us: The miracles God did in Egypt and then in the desert, were miracles of deliverance and then of provision. The miracles that Jesus performed were signs for those who had eyes to see them. The question thus arises, do we have eyes to see? Do we see things in our lives that are a) general gifts from God to mankind that bless us, and b) specific things that have happened in our lives, both before Covid-19 and since, signs of His blessings on us, things that the blind say are ‘coincidences’ but the child of God recognises comes from the hands of a loving God.
Several years ago, I took all our old family diaries and compiled a list of the things that my wife and I had done since we were married over forty years ago. As I did that I started also recollecting myriads of things that had happened in those years that, looking back, I can now see as the hidden hand of God guiding and directing us. It is beyond coincidence. Have you looked back on your life, perhaps on the past six months, and seen the hand of the Lord on your life delivering you from darkness into the light, changing you, providing for you?
Many have testified that the period of lockdown has been a time of revelation, of their eyes being opened to appreciate life in a new way, recognize afresh so many good things that life had held that we had taken for granted. If you’re not sure, if you are a believer, sit down before Him with a notebook and ask Him to open your eyes to these things and make as big a list as possible of the things He’s done for you, see them as signs of His love for you, praise and thank Him for them, exult in His provision in the wilderness and, yes, worship Him in the wilderness. Get free of the negatives, or the depression the enemy would seek to impose on many, see yourself afresh as the child of God that you are and rejoice.