83. Repercussions

Meditations in Exodus:  83. Repercussions

Num 14:6-9   Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes and said to the entire Israelite assembly, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the LORD is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the LORD. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up. Their protection is gone, but the LORD is with us. Do not be afraid of them.”

The people respond with fear and fear is the enemy of faith. Then Moses and Aaron fell facedown in front of the whole Israelite assembly gathered there.” (v.5) Moses and Aaron don’t try to argue but just fall on their faces in prayer before the whole crowd. It is left to Joshua and Caleb to speak in faith about the land as above. Note their approach. First they tear their clothes, a sign of deep distress, and then they address the people. See what they say.

First, they speak of the land: “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good.” (v.7) That is the same truth that the Lord has spoken every time He has mentioned the land.

Second, they speak faith: “If the LORD is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us.” (v.8) God WILL lead us into this good land.

Third, they appeal to the people: “Only do not rebel against the LORD. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up. Their protection is gone, but the LORD is with us. Do not be afraid of them,” (v.9)  and in this appeal there is reassurance, we’ve got God on our side, it will be all right!

But their words fall on deaf ears: “But the whole assembly talked about stoning them.” (v.10a) There appears no reasoning with this panicky people. “Then the glory of the LORD appeared at the Tent of Meeting to all the Israelites.” (v.10b) Then the Lord turns up and He speaks to Moses: “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miraculous signs I have performed among them? I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you into a nation greater and stronger than they.” (v.11,12) Now be careful, we’ve had this lesson before; this is the Lord testing Moses, it’s not what He really wants.

Moses responds well. He intercedes with logic and wisdom: “Moses said to the LORD, “Then the Egyptians will hear about it! By your power you brought these people up from among them. And they will tell the inhabitants of this land about it. They have already heard that you, O LORD, are with these people and that you, O LORD, have been seen face to face, that your cloud stays over them, and that you go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. If you put these people to death all at one time, the nations who have heard this report about you will say, `The LORD was not able to bring these people into the land he promised them on oath; so he slaughtered them in the desert.’” (v.13-16) What a gem Moses is, what brilliant arguing.

Basically he says, “If you do this everyone in the surrounding nations will hear about it and you will be shown to be a failure and that is not true. Then he continues on the basis of the revelation he had received from the Lord: Now may the Lord’s strength be displayed, just as you have declared: `The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.’ In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now.” (v.17-19) i.e. you have said you are loving and forgiving, even though you do punish sin, so please have mercy and forgive this foolish people.

The Lord responds to this argument: “The LORD replied, “I have forgiven them, as you asked. Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the LORD fills the whole earth, not one of the men who saw my glory and the miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times– not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their forefathers. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it.” (v.20-23) Judgment tempered with mercy. He will not kill off this people straight away, but He will stop them from entering the Land so every one from the age of accountability (over 20 – see v.29) will die in the desert. The Lord spells it out more fully in the following verses 26-35. It is a depressing scenario. The younger generation are going to have to wait for forty years before they can enter the Land after the entire older generation have died off.

If you read on you see that Israel try to back-pedal and enter the land but they are driven off by the inhabitants. Without the Lord fighting for them, it is a lost cause. Jesus said to his disciples, “apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5) Apart from Jesus we are lost and hopeless. Without him we can do nothing, with him we can do all things he puts before us. The Israelites went round in circles for forty years because of their unbelief. I worry sometimes about the unbelief that exists in Christian circles. We are happy to be part of a big church and receive weekly teaching but if it stops there we are living in unbelief.

We are in fact the body of Christ and individually members of it (1 Cor 12:27), so that the supernatural  power and revelation of heaven can flow through us to impact the world around us and bring transformation. Anything less than that speaks of unbelief. Are we in fact going round in circles. We speak of non-Christians as being ‘lost’ but the sign of a lost person is that they don’t know where they are or where they are going. Don’t just say, ‘heaven’ if I ask the question, ‘do we know where we are going?’ Do we have a sense of purpose and direction for our lives or are we just filling in time? Are we just pew fodder to bolster the ego of preachers or are we living and active members of the body of Christ, gifted and sent, bringing in the kingdom of God?  Let’s not be casual with these questions.

82. Refusal to Enter

Meditations in Exodus:  82. Refusal to Enter

Num 13:1-3   The LORD said to Moses, “Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. From each ancestral tribe send one of its leaders.” So at the LORD’s command Moses sent them out from the Desert of Paran. All of them were leaders of the Israelites.    I said in the previous study that I find this one of the two most depressing parts of the Old Testament and now we come to an episode that resulted in Israel wandering in the desert for forty years before being allowed to enter. It is a salutary lesson that only second generation Israel got into the land.

Now whether the Lord knew this would happen is debatable. He does know the hearts of men and so it is possible that He looked at the present older generation and knew they would not be up to that task. However, we cannot be sure. Anyway, we are told the episode of the spies was initiated by the Lord as we see above. The spies comprised one leader from each tribe and then, When Moses sent them to explore Canaan, he said, “Go up through the Negev and on into the hill country. See what the land is like and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, few or many. What kind of land do they live in? Is it good or bad? What kind of towns do they live in? Are they unwalled or fortified? How is the soil? Is it fertile or poor? Are there trees on it or not? Do your best to bring back some of the fruit of the land.” (It was the season for the first ripe grapes.)” (v.17-20) There is a sense that this is a pointless exercise because the Lord had told them He was giving them the Land and so that should have been it. This invited assessment and possibly even negative responses.

And that is what Moses got. “They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.” (v.27-29)  Good news and bad, except, as we said, that doesn’t matter because the Lord had said he would drive out the inhabitants before them.

One of them Caleb, stand out and says they can take the land (v.18) but the others prevail: “But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” (v.31-33)  So what? God has said He will drive them out! Have you forgotten that? Obviously.

It gets worse: “That night all the people of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this desert! Why is the LORD bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” (14:1-4)

Now we’ll stop at this point to consider more fully the folly of what has happened, and what follows needs seeing as a whole. This is one of those times when we need to consider the big picture from start to finish. God apprehended Moses at the burning bush and performed two miracles to help shore up his faith. When he went back to Egypt he did these before the elders of Israel. This was followed by ten incredible plagues, or major miracles, over the whole land by God. The Lord then led them out and when Pharaoh followed the Lord drowned him and his entire army. In the month or so trek down to Mount Sinai, the Lord cleansed water, provided bread and water and helped them defeat the Amalekites. At Mount Sinai He had come with thunder, lightning, clouds and trumpet sounds and spoken to Moses. The He had revealed himself to Moses and the 70 elders. After the rebellion He had brought plague to finish off the remaining rebels. On the way to Canaan He had provided quail in abundance and a plague to destroy the grumblers. When Aaron and Miriam had grumbled He gave Miriam leprosy for a week.

Take this whole paragraph and what have you got? An incredible catalogue of testimonies about the power of the Lord. Now remember that the Lord said a number of times that He would drive out the inhabitants and you have a cast iron case for taking the Land confidently. Except Israel were not confident in God and, if we accept that the Lord invited them to go and spy out the land, He knew that and wanted to reveal it.

This, I suggest, presents various challenges to us. First Moses could have questioned the apparent wisdom of sending in spies, because he did have that sort of relationship with the Lord. He could have said, “Lord, you have said you will drive out the occupants before us. Surely that is all we need. Can’t we just go straight in?” But he didn’t. Was he subtly doubting Israel’s current faith level?

Second, does it matter how bad the problem looks when the Lord is with you and the Lord has led you to confront this problem, whatever it is? There are times in life when we feel the Lord is with us and we press on only to be confronted by an obstacle that seems too large to be overcome. But the answer surely must be, too big to be overcome by us alone, but not by God.

I recently had a prophetic word for someone in which the Lord presented a picture of a mountain before them but said there were two ways to get to the other side of this mountain. If they wanted they could walk round the bottom of it which would be relatively easy but take a long time. Alternatively, if they took His hand He would climb the mountain with them and when they got down the other side they would be transformed and stronger. Now here’s the fascinating thing. In the picture when they got to the top after a long climb, they were able to look back but now behind them it was completely flat. What had appeared an impossible climb was, with the Lord a relatively easy walk.

Of course Jesus said, “if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, `Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Mt 17:20) Now I take this to have two possible interpretations. First, if moving this mountain is God’s will, you only need to catch a whisper from Him to be able to speak and He will move it or, second, as we step forward with tiny faith, it grows with every step we take until we can boldly address the mountain and it will be dealt with. Have fun moving your mountain!

81. Ongoing Folly

Meditations in Exodus:  81.  Ongoing Folly

Num 12:1,2   Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. “Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” And the LORD heard this.

Now I have to say, if when you read these current meditations you are tempted to go elsewhere to find happier writings, I would fully understand. There are two areas of the Old Testament that I find particularly depressing; they are the book of Judges and the period of Israel travelling from Sinai to Kadesh recorded in Numbers. They are depressing because they reveal an ongoing folly (I use that expression to make it sound more gentle) in the people of Israel. How the modern Jew can look at the history of the Old Testament and still feel good about being a Jew, I don’t know. But then I realise that these are just one bunch of human beings revealing the sinfulness of mankind and if you look carefully at the history of ANY nation you will find that same sinfulness revealed. We are ALL the same and if these studies say anything, it must be that we are a sinful people and we NEED the salvation revealed through Jesus Christ.

So we’ve just seen in chapter 11, first of all grumbling in the camp that brought about fire from God around the outskirts (v.1,2),  then the rabble craving meat and grumbling (v.5,6) which had ended in all the grumblers dying of plague. At this point you would have thought anyone in Israel would have been looking over their shoulder, so to speak, to make sure they and others were walking well before God to avoid any further disciplinary action coming from heaven.

You would have thought!  But no! Next it is the turn of Aaron and Miriam. I am surprised Aaron is still alive after the incident with the golden calf but it is almost as if the Lord says to His chief priest, ‘No, you will live with the knowledge of what you have done, and I will keep you alive. Your role of chief priest can be a blessing (you are still alive) and a bane (this memory will nag you).’ Aaron and Miriam are, you might remember, Moses’ older brother and sister. So what do they do?

They do two things. First they complain about Moses’ wife. The reference to a Cushite may refer to a second wife that Moses took after the death of his first wife, or it may simply be a derogatory term for his first wife who came from Midian. But that is really only a cover-up for their second thing is they complain that Moses is getting too much praise and glory. Come on, they say, does God only talk to him, hasn’t He also talked to us? Well, yes, but not much! 

And there in parenthesis we get this beautiful description of Moses: “(Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.)” (v.3)  Older versions speak of him being the meekest man on earth. Perhaps another way of saying it in modern terms is, “Moses wouldn’t say boo to a goose”, a modern expression that means very shy, timid and not aggressive in any way. When Moses gets attacked we see again and again he falls on his face before the Lord pleading for help (e.g. Num 14:5, 16:4,22,45, 20:6). He doesn’t ever have a go at his detractors.

The bad news in verse 2, as far as this couple are concerned is that, “the Lord heard this.” So, “At once the LORD said to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, “Come out to the Tent of Meeting, all three of you.” So the three of them came out. Then the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud; he stood at the entrance to the Tent and summoned Aaron and Miriam. When both of them stepped forward, he said, “Listen to my words.” (4-6) The Lord then points out to them that when He speaks to a prophet it is in visions and dreams  (v.6) but with Moses He spoke face to face (v.7,8). Hadn’t they realised the significance of this, and so, “The anger of the LORD burned against them, and he left them.” (v.9)

Was that the end of it? Not a bit of it! “When the cloud lifted from above the Tent, there stood Miriam—leprous, like snow.” (v.10a) Now whether it is leprosy or some other skin complaint is irrelevant; the Law said there were specific ways to deal with such things (Num 5:1-4) and that was to put that person outside the camp until it is cleansed and healed. Aaron pleads with Moses: “he said to Moses, “Please, my lord, do not hold against us the sin we have so foolishly committed. Do not let her be like a stillborn infant coming from its mother’s womb with its flesh half eaten away.” (v.11,12)

Now Moses could have turned his back on the couple but that is not God’s way, “So Moses cried out to the LORD, “O God, please heal her!” (v.13) That was the natural thing to ask but it ignores the sin, so, “The LORD replied to Moses, “If her father had spit in her face, would she not have been in disgrace for seven days? Confine her outside the camp for seven days; after that she can be brought back.” (v.14) Thus we then see, “So Miriam was confined outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on till she was brought back.” (v.15) In other words, because the whole camp would have heard why they were at a standstill, her shame was seen by all!

Now there seem three obvious lessons from this passage:

First, don’t grumble against God’s leaders. Complain to Him about them by all means but don’t grumble about them in public or to any individual.

Second, when people ‘attack’ you, let your first response be to take it to the Lord and leave it with Him, to deal with it.

Third, when you are praying for other people’s healing, it may be natural to just ask for healing but there may be a genuine reason for their state which needs dealing with first. Pray for the big picture.

And we might add to these three, four, just realise afresh the folly and stupidity that we are all prone to, and ask the Lord to grant you wisdom on a daily basis to avoid such things. May we learn these things, not just in our heads but also in our lives.

80. Meat in Abundance

Meditations in Exodus: 80.  Meat in Abundance

Num 11:18   “Tell the people: `Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow, when you will eat meat. The LORD heard you when you wailed, “If only we had meat to eat! We were better off in Egypt!” Now the LORD will give you meat, and you will eat it.

We started the previous meditation by reminding ourselves that Moses has just cried out to the Lord that he’s had enough, he can’t cope with this people.  The Lord’s response was to raise up a wider Spirit-anointed leadership, seventy of the elders but, we said,  there was still the matter of the need for food that the people demanded.

In response to this cry for meat, as our verse above shows us, the Lord instructs Moses to speak to the people and tell them to consecrate themselves. Now that is slightly strange unless the intent is for the people to ready themselves to meet with God. In other words, the Lord wants the people to realise that what is about to happen – all of it – is from him; there is no accident or coincidence here.  You asked for meat (implied)? Very well you will have it in abundance: “You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days, but for a whole month–until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it–because you have rejected the LORD, who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, “Why did we ever leave Egypt?” (v.19,20)  The warning is very clear, this provision will also be punishment.

But for the moment Moses is amazed and simply asks, ‘how can you possibly provide meat for this massive crowd for a whole month? (v.21,22) “The LORD answered Moses, “Is the LORD’s arm too short? You will now see whether or not what I say will come true for you.” (v.23) i.e. is anything beyond the Lord’s reach? We then see how He does it: “Now a wind went out from the LORD and drove quail in from the sea. It brought them down all around the camp to about three feet above the ground, as far as a day’s walk in any direction. All that day and night and all the next day the people went out and gathered quail. No one gathered less than ten homers. Then they spread them out all around the camp.” (v.31,32)

Historians and geographers tell us that quail migrate from Arabia and Africa in the spring and return again in the autumn. Their route takes them over Egypt, Sinai and Canaan, and earlier last century Arabs in north Sinai used to catch between one and two million quail at the autumn migration using nets to catch the low flying birds. Now whether the ‘three feet above ground’ refers to the height the birds flew or possibly the height that the exhausted birds piled up to in places, is unclear, although the latter is more probable. Again it is more likely that they were in piles rather than a three foot deep mass covering all the land. Whatever the exact truth, there were a lot of birds for the taking. In fact everyone gathered plenty for themselves and then laid out the extras (presumably for use next day) around the camp, again probably in piles.

Now what follows is a description of probably what followed a lot of rotting decaying piles of birds, all going off in the heat: “But while the meat was still between their teeth and before it could be consumed, the anger of the LORD burned against the people, and he struck them with a severe plague. Therefore the place was named Kibroth Hattaavah, because there they buried the people who had craved other food.” (v.33,34) The name  of the place, your footnote will tell you means ‘graves of the craving’, i.e. a graveyard for those who had craved the meat.

We aren’t given details of the effect of this plague except a number of people died and they were the ones who had craved other food. As much as our modern sensibilities (as distorted as they often are) may find this disturbing, if the ‘plague’ is (as is almost certain) the result of the rotting food, then one has to suggest this is as much the folly of the people as it is a judgment of God, because it must surely have been obvious that leaving all these birds around the place would create serious infection and the obvious answer to any rational person would have been to said, ‘burn all the birds that you cannot eat before they go rotten’, but they didn’t. Even Moses remained quiet.

We see here a principle at work that, I believe, often operates. Ungodly and unrighteous people cry, “Give us what we want, let us live like we want to live,” and the Lord sees that despite all He has said and done, they appear set in their ways and so He allows them to have what they wanted. In its simplest terms we might say this behaviour is self-destructive. Some have suggested that AIDS is a classic outworking of this and certainly STDs are an obvious outworking in a sexually promiscuous society. There may be a considerable number of other things that the discerning person can see in modern Western society where the Lord has allowed ungodliness to develop and unrighteousness (living contrary to God’s design) to prevail with negative outcomes.

We see this in Romans 1 in verses 24,26 & 28 where we see “God gave them over” to various sinful practices that have negative outcomes, disciplinary judgments intended to bring people to their senses as we see happening in the book of Judges again and again and again. May we be a people who understand these things and understand that God has designed His world to work in a particular way, and rejection of that way leads to breakdown in society and breakdown in health.

79. Lifting the Burden

Meditations in Exodus: 79. Lifting the Burden

Num 11:16,17   The LORD said to Moses: “Bring me seventy of Israel’s elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Have them come to the Tent of Meeting, that they may stand there with you. I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take of the Spirit that is on you and put the Spirit on them. They will help you carry the burden of the people so that you will not have to carry it alone.

Moses has just cried out to the Lord that he’s had enough, he can’t cope with this people.  The Lord’s response is to raise up a wider Spirit-anointed leadership, seventy of the elders. Moses is to choose men known to him as leaders and officials and they are to come to meet God and receive the Holy Spirit. That was going to be Part 1 of the problem being solved, but there was still the matter of the need for food but we’ll leave that until the next study.

The anointing of the leaders goes almost to plan: So Moses went out and told the people what the LORD had said. He brought together seventy of their elders and had them stand around the Tent. Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke with him, and he took of the Spirit that was on him and put the Spirit on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied, but they did not do so again.” (v.24,25) When the power of the Spirit came upon them they prophesied, such was the anointing.

Now here is the bit that didn’t go according to plan: “However, two men, whose names were Eldad and Medad, had remained in the camp. They were listed among the elders, but did not go out to the Tent. Yet the Spirit also rested on them, and they prophesied in the camp. A young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” (v.26,27) For some reason these two men did get to the meeting place. We don’t know why, we don’t know if something just delayed them but they were among Moses’ seventy chosen men, But the fact that they are not with the main body of elders doesn’t matter, the Spirit of the Lord came on them and they prophesied.

It was this that upset Joshua, “Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ aide since youth, spoke up and said, “Moses, my lord, stop them!” (v.28) Joshua clearly has worries about two random elders prophesying back in the camp, I mean decency and order must be maintained, surely?  “But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD’s people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!” Then Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.” (v.29,30) Moses has a good response – I wish all God’s people were prophets. Wow!  Moses knows that you don’t prophesy unless the Spirit of the Lord is upon you.

His response reminds me of the apostle Paul’s words to the Corinthians, “I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy.” (1 Cor 14:5)  There is an endorsement of spiritual gifts if ever there was one. Is it a coincidence that just yesterday I had someone from our past ring up to ask about prophecy and Scripture. “I’ve never heard of it,” she said over the phone. “Read 1 Cor 12 and 14,” I suggested. “I just have,” she replied. Now I am in the process of reading R.T.Kendall’s book about wisdom and he has a big chapter how we can have blind spots. I couldn’t help thinking of that as the phone call drew to an end and I had offered to do a mini-school of prophecy for them and she replied, “I don’t think our vicar is ready for that yet.” Blind spots.

How different from a leader I recently heard who said about the whole church learning to listen to the Lord, “My people know it is not me leading the church, it is the Lord. Who leads the church? The Spirit of the Lord; you have to be listening for the Lord.”  Joshua was worried about improper prophecy. Moses said, ‘I wish everyone was doing it.’ Paul said, ‘I wish you were all prophesying.” The more prophecy there is in a church, the more likely it is that someone will get it wrong, but that is why you have checks and balances to make sure that the ‘enthusiast’ doesn’t get carried away.

Suppose over a couple of weeks ten people prophesy and one of them gets it wrong. How do we respond?  The unbelieving Christian grumbles about abuses of prophecy but, hey, nine people heard God for the edifying and building up of the church. It’s a bit like praying for the sick. I was at a big conference fairly recently where people were called out for healing near the end of the session and they were asked, “If you have been significantly healed would you put your hand up.” Only about a third of those prayed for put their hands up. The negative Christian grumbles about abuses of ministry. Hey, in a group of about three hundred, three out of every ten got healed – got healed! So yes, we pray again for the others but our bad attitudes can quench the Spirit.

One of the biggest complaints during our experience of the Toronto Blessing back in the closing years of the twentieth century was that “it’s frivolous”.  Our church didn’t go looking for it but the Lord just turned up and stuff happened, sometimes weird stuff happened and people heard  and people came to observe. I remember one Sunday morning when the Lord was moving and there was a group of visitors who had ‘come to see’ and they sat there like a little black cloud thinking, ‘this is frivolous’. Well all I can tell you is that my people (and especially young people) became more and more hungry for the Lord, started reading their Bibles like the Second Coming was about to happen and couldn’t wait to get to the prayer meeting and couldn’t stop gossiping it around. Life abounded!

Life was abounding in these seventy leaders – even in two still back in the camp. It was the life and power of the Lord. How can we live without it? You may note in your Bible a footnote after the words of verse 25 which reads in the text, “When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied, but they did not do so again.” The footnote adds an alternative – “prophesied and continued to do so.” I find that slightly bizarre that they could be totally opposite possible meanings to this verse. I suspect that as scribes copied it  down through the centuries a tiny mistake was made so the end result is now open. Perhaps it is a one off – that happens.

If I run a school of prophecy with say ten people, on average three or four will continue exercising the gift regularly, three or more less regularly, and two three never again. They will on the night when the Spirit comes on them but they just don’t have the ongoing gift from the Lord which is fine by me because they will probably have some other gift from Him. But perhaps they did carry on prophesying and a prophetic community of leaders was raised up. Excellent! But how does this Holy Spirit talk leave you feeling? Don’t hold it heavily. If it’s not where you’re at today, that’s fine – you may be there in six months – or not. Rest in the goodness of God’s provision, to whatever extent His faith is given to you today. Rejoice in it.

78. Oh, not again!!!!

Meditations in Exodus: 78.  Oh, not again!!!

 Num 11:5-6   The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost–also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!”

I am going to, as they say, let the cat out of the bag! I am going to share what I believe has to be behind so much of what goes on in respect of Israel.  As I have studied the activities of Israel from the Exodus to the Exile, I have concluded there are two reasons for the existence of Israel. The first is to create a nation that should have been a light to the rest of the world, and the second is to show that even with God helping them, the folly of sin cannot be suppressed by the Law so that an alternative means of salvation is needed, i.e. Israel constant and ongoing propensity to sin shows the rest of the world that even with God’s help we need a greater salvation. That of course then opens the door for the coming of Jesus and the salvation he provides through the Cross. Observing Israel can be a depressing exercise unless we realise these things (and it certainly destroys any romantic feeling that certain groups have about modern-day Israel who are the same as their ancestors of the Old Testament – as we all are outside of Christ).

Now there are question marks over who is meant by ‘the rabble’. Some suggest it was the Egyptians who came along with Israel, who had left with them at the Exodus, but I’m not sure there is any warrant for that. Observation of the human race suggests there will always be people of lower moral character, who love to do their own thing, are utterly selfish, give little thought for others, and certainly not God. Sadly there appear there will always we those who some unkindly call the ‘dregs of society’ and these ones grumble.

They have this miraculous food provision, called manna, but they are fed up with it and they remember the variety of food that there had been back in Egypt. In their folly they forget two things: first, that they had been slaves back then (this might be an argument for the rabble being Egyptians, because they hadn’t been slaves) and, second this provision is only supposed to be short-term while they traverse the desert until they reach the land described from the outset as, a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Ex 3:8, repeated in Ex 13:5 and 33:3).

Now note how this spreads: first of all it is ‘the rabble’, then is, ‘the Israelites’ and soon it is ‘every family’ (v.10).  Beware grumblers and those who criticize and moan; they have a habit of infecting the rest of the people. What starts out as one or two can soon become the whole church.

As a result of this, we read, “The LORD became exceedingly angry, and Moses was troubled.” (v.10) There used to be a TV series with a grumpy old man as the key character whose favourite expression was, “I don’t believe it,” said in the most despairing of tones. That is how any rational person reading this account must surely respond. Surely, after all the wonderful things that have happened to them, this people cannot have taken their eyes off the big picture and fallen into a grumbling and moaning disarray?  Yes, they have! And the Lord is not pleased about it and because He is not pleased about it, Moses was troubled as well.

In fact the extent of Moses’ ‘troubled’ mind is expressed in what follows: “He asked the LORD, “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their forefathers? Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, `Give us meat to eat!’ I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. If this is how you are going to treat me, put me to death right now–if I have found favour in your eyes–and do not let me face my own ruin.” (v.11-15) I think all this would be summarized in modern language as, “I have it up to here with this lot, I can’t do it anymore, I’m out of here, I didn’t want the job to start with, you might as well kill me off now and be done with it! He is a seriously unhappy little shepherd!  Sorry that makes it sound a laughing matter and it’s not, but that is how it comes over.

Now the fact that I am able to identify with it like that – and perhaps you too – suggests that I too have been through ‘trying times’ and have almost screamed at the Lord (although you don’t scream at the Lord of the Universe!), “I can’t do it any more. I give up!” Now here’s the encouraging bit – God doesn’t give up on him or on Israel – or us!  I think we would do better to wait until the next study before seeing the Lord’s way of dealing with the problem – which is a little unexpected – and simply conclude with a few general thoughts about this sort of experience.

I am encouraged by Moses here, his humanity, especially his rant about, “did I want all these people”. I am encouraged that even the best people run out of grace, even the best people feel like giving up, even the best people feel they are confronted by an impossible task from time to time. It’s not just me; it’s other people as well. But then, and this really looks forward, we will find the Lord doesn’t beat up Moses or write him off. In fact He appears to understand Moses’ feelings and work on that basis in dealing with the situation. The Lord knows what I feel and He understands. That doesn’t mean that He will pat me gently on the head and say, “You poor old thing, I’m sorry I gave you such a hard job. It’s all right you can walk away from it and go and retire and grow tomatoes.”

No, when the Lord calls us, He knows the way through to the end and His grace – one way or another – will be sufficient and He will enable us to get to the end goal. So, sorry, no opting out. Just listen to the Lord and see what He has next as a solution. So go and lie down, put a bit of damp lettuce on your face (or whatever else they recommend to calm people down), calm down and commit it to the Lord and wait for Him to turn up with a solution.  And if you are someone who has never been in such a situation and are not there now, count yourself lucky and thank the Lord! Enough said.

77. Leaving Sinai

(We pick up again to work to complete our travels in the Exodus)

Part 8: Sinai to Kadesh

Meditations in Exodus: 77.  Leaving Sinai

Num 10:11,12  On the twentieth day of the second month of the second year, the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle of the Testimony. Then the Israelites set out from the Desert of Sinai and traveled from place to place until the cloud came to rest in the Desert of Paran.

According to dates in Exodus, the Israelites had been at Sinai eleven months. They had received the Law and the Covenant had been established and the Tabernacle set up in the centre of the camp. Now the pillar of cloud starts to move. We continue the story of the Exodus in the book of Numbers and from Chapter 10:   They set out, this first time, at the LORD’s command through Moses.” (v.13) Whether at the first sign of the cloud moving Moses calls the leaders to break camp is unclear. In the earlier part of chapter 10 here, the Lord gives instructions for two trumpets to be made and they will be blown at Moses’ instruction to signify the breaking of camp. That presumably happens

Our verses above tell us they travelled to the Desert of Paran which is a large desert area across the north of the Sinai Peninsular but Num 11:35 shows us they went via Kibroth Hattaavah and Hazeroth before they finally got there. Later in chapter 10 we read, “So they set out from the mountain of the LORD and travelled for three days.” (10:33) This is three days before the next incident is recorded.

Now before we move on to that, it is worth pondering the state of mind that should be in Israel when they leave Sinai. They had been there almost for a year and much had happened in that time although it was spaced out. They had watched the Lord’s spectacular display of clouds, thunder and lightning and trumpets, they had seen Moses go up and down the mountain to meet with God and to come back and record the laws the Lord had given to him. Moses and his leaders had gone up the mountain and ‘seen’ God. They had then seen Moses go up the mountain for forty days and they had become restless so that a group of them basically rebelled and demanded a visible god which Aaron gave them. When Moses came back down, judgment was brought on this group. The Lord had subsequently called Moses up the mountain for a further forty days and this time no one dared stray. Moses came back down  and the next record we have is of the cloud starting to lead them off.

They have much to think about. They are now a unique people in covenant with God. There is no other nation on earth like this. Now perhaps they struggle to grasp that concept because they are, at the moment, just a group of people of one ethnic group, wandering through the desert and, unlike other nations, they do not yet have their own land so, to be fair to them, it may be a little difficult to grasp the whole idea – but they nevertheless have all the testimony of what went on at Sinai. More than that they have the testimony of their journey to Sinai and all of the wonder of leaving Egypt. That journey, we said, to Sinai had been used by the Lord to build trust in the people for the Lord.

Bear that in mind as we now read, “Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the LORD, and when he heard them his anger was aroused. Then fire from the LORD burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp. When the people cried out to Moses, he prayed to the LORD and the fire died down.” (Num 11:1,2) Now we need to note, we’re into a very different ball-game now from that previous journey. On the trip from Egypt to Sinai, the had complained a number of times but each time the Lord had simply provided for them. On this journey they have only got to start grumbling and the Lord sends a disciplinary judgment – fire that burns the outskirts of the camp. Was that where the grumbling was I wonder?  So often grumbling comes from the periphery of the church, those only half committed to the church. No lives appear threatened but what has changed? Sinai!

It seems as if from now on the Lord EXPECTS Israel to get it together better than they did and when they get it wrong now, He deals with them. No longer does He just provide; now He challenges them. This is that accountability thing again and He has clearly raised the bar of His expectations in respect of them. They have had so many unique experiences over the past couple of years, more than you and I can ever expect to have in our entire lifetime, that really and truly they OUGHT to have learned. We won’t go over their testimony again, we’ve done it at least twice already. The simple lesson: they have no excuses.

Now having said that about them, can I say it gently, how about us?  We may not have been around seeing plagues and all the other stuff we’ve been seeing in these studies, but how about THE Book, how about the INDWELLING Holy Spirit, how about GIFTED MINISTRIES in the Church, how about the TESTIMONIES of great saints down through the ages, we have all this.

Our younger son used to do high jump. He’s very tall but he could easily jump over a bar higher than his head. I say ‘could easy jump’ but whenever we went to watch him jump for competitions and every time he started his semi-circular run up to approach that bar, I held my breath, inwardly thinking, he can’t do that’ it’s impossible –  but he did it until he was the last one left jumping. The bar has been set high but you can do it, God has given you the grace to do it, whatever the ‘it’ is that God has put before you and you’ve been backing away from. You have His word, you have the Law, you have the testimony of all he has done and specifically done for you, you have His Holy Spirit, you CAN do it. No more excuses, you are not Israel, you are a child of God with all that that means. Do it! Go for it! Be blessed!