Snapshots: Day 65

Snapshots: Day 65

The Snapshot: “In the desert the whole community grumbled.” (Ex 16:2) A desert, a place of dryness, brings out the worst in us. How do we overcome that? Remember three things. First, the glory that got you here, the goodness of God that saved you out of ‘Egypt’ (the world). Second, the duration of this desert experience; it is supposed to be temporary. Don’t accept it as a permanent experience; expect and seek for better. Third, remember the goal, there is a better day ahead, a ‘Promised Land’, in the days to come here on earth and in the promised eternity that is our inheritance. Don’t let the enemy have cause to rejoice when he witnesses the children of God acting as less than those children. Bonus: fourth, remember who you are!

Further Consideration: Let’s consider in some more detail the three ways of overcoming the negative feelings that can arrive when we are going through a ‘desert experience’. But’s let’s be honest first of all and acknowledge that such an experience is normal. The teaching that the various experiences of Israel also act as ‘types’ of the experiences of believers, has us now in the Promised Land, a place where we inherit the goodness of the Lord and have to battle to remove the old inhabitants who still have a habit of rising up (e.g. anger?) Yet the truth is that even in the Promised Land Israel went through times of drought that made for desert-like conditions. Each of us will experience all of these things and, as we said above, they tend to bring out the worst in us – which is why the Lord allows them, so the work of sanctification can continue, a joint activity between Him and us.

So, first, remember where you came from, the facts of your new birth. That reminds us we are supernatural works of God and He is the One who now has plans and purposes for the long-term of our lives.

Second, this is a temporary experience and although it seems temporarily dry and barren, the Lord has not left you (declare the truth of Heb 13:5) and His grace is still available in this time of difficulty.

Third, the outworking of this time is a new day where we have learnt afresh the Lord’s grace and goodness and have come through into a place where light and love flow again.

But perhaps we should add a fourth thing: see this time of dryness as a testing time, a trial, an exam to be passed. Perhaps we have brought it on ourselves but it is still a time to learn lessons. The Lord has certainly allowed it; it is still a time to learn lessons. In other words, and you may consider this a fifth thing, we should view such a time positively. “Consider it pure joy… whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces…” (Jas 1:2) James adds perseverance but there may be many more benefits.

86. Saved by Mercy

Meditations in Exodus: 86. Saved by Mercy

Num 16:41  The next day the whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. “You have killed the LORD’s people,” they said.

I finished the previous meditation with the following: What more can one say. It is like coming to the end of some great film full of action and suddenly, ‘The End’.  Silence. It is over, but you are left there, standing and wondering. Why were these men so foolish as to mess with God? The death of Korah and company by what appears a limited earthquake or even sink-hole followed by fire, must have been devastating. Yes, Moses had clearly been the Lord’s instrument but the magnitude of what happened was so great that surely there must have been no question that this was an incredible act of God. I finished as I did because it struck me that this is how it must have been, total silence  and horror, but if it was it was short lived.

“The next day the whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. “You have killed the LORD’s people,” they said.” (v.41) What was it about this people that made them so blind? Well we said it then and we’ll say it again – Sin. Modern Christianity so often says little about Sin but it is the reason for the Cross. It is inherent in every single person. Before we came to Christ we were held by its power. When we came to Christ he not only justified us, forgave us, cleansed us and adopted us, but he also put his own Holy Spirit within us, power to overcome, power to change us, but without Him we would be the sort of people Paul demonstrates in Romans 7 when he speaks of his old life saying, “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing.” (Rom 7:18,19)  Because of this the apostle John wrote, “the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” (1 Jn 5:19) And if we’re still wondering remember Paul said, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers.” (2 Cor 4:4) There can be no other explanation why these people – the whole community – grumbled against Moses.

Moses and Aaron must have either been outside the Tabernacle or they still used the tent of Meeting outside the camp because we read, “But when the assembly gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron and turned toward the Tent of Meeting, suddenly the cloud covered it and the glory of the LORD appeared. Then Moses and Aaron went to the front of the Tent of Meeting, and the LORD said to Moses, “Get away from this assembly so I can put an end to them at once.” And they fell facedown.” (v.42-45) The crowd come to have it out with Moses and turn towards the tent at which point the pillar of cloud appears over it – the Lord has come, He has heard and yet again He tests Moses with His proposal to destroy this people. In fact clearly plague has started to appear in the people (v.46b) so Moses and Aaron fall face down in prayer for a third time.

But the role of the priesthood is to intercede for the people and stand between them and God and so we read, “Then Moses said to Aaron, “Take your censer and put incense in it, along with fire from the altar, and hurry to the assembly to make atonement for them. Wrath has come out from the LORD; the plague has started.” So Aaron did as Moses said, and ran into the midst of the assembly. The plague had already started among the people, but Aaron offered the incense and made atonement for them. He stood between the living and the dead, and the plague stopped. But 14,700 people died from the plague, in addition to those who had died because of Korah. Then Aaron returned to Moses at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, for the plague had stopped.” (v.46-50)

The people with their attitude have forfeited the covenant and are in blatant rebellion against God. It is not an unintentional thing (remember the Law we considered recently) but wilful and purposeful. They don’t care. They are the chosen people of the earth, they have been called to be a blessing to the earth, to reveal God to the earth, to be receivers of His blessings and demonstrate His goodness to the world but instead a bunch of them rebel and when terrible judgment falls on them, the rest grumble against God’s servant. How incredible, how bizarre!

But why didn’t God just strike all of them down in a second, for He could have? The answer must be in what followed. The fact that Aaron stepped in with his priestly role with an act of atonement must have been what the Lord was wanting. The lessons are strong and clear. Blatant sin warrants death but even then where there is an intercessor, God will hold back and give another chance for no other reason than He is merciful. Yes, He is! There is no reason why He should hold back at this point. He is almighty God, Creator of the Universe. He has made a perfect world and mankind have thrown it back in His face, so to speak. He could have just wiped out and utterly destroyed the earth. He has the power and might to do that; we are but ants to Him and you and I tread on ants with little thought. Why hasn’t God wiped out this rebellious anthill? Be very clear: we have done nothing to deserve mercy; that is the thing about mercy it is given for no reason other than God chooses to.

Again we fall back to the Lord’s words through Ezekiel: “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezek 18:23) and “For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” (Ezek 18:32) and “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.” (Ezek 33:11) THREE times the same message which perhaps the apostle Peter picks up on when he writes, “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9)

We have emphasised again and again in these studies the battle that is going on to bring this people through to a place where they can truly be a light to the rest of the world but it is hard work in the face of their constant failures. On the one hand with the human race we have a people made in the likeness of God so often revealing His grace (theologians call it ‘common grace’) so good things are seen in us, but all the time there is this struggle, because of free will, with this propensity to be self-centred and godless. It is an incredible battle that is going on and the only reason we are still alive is the mercy of God. Do a Moses and Aaron and fall on your face and worship the One who is holy, the One who is all powerful, the One who sent His Son to satisfy justice on your behalf, to spare you for no reason other than He wanted to!  That is mercy. We didn’t deserve it but we got it.

54. Complaining about food

Meditations in Exodus: 54. Complaining about Food

Ex 16:2,3   In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”

Memory is a strange thing. I often think it is distorted by time, but it is also distorted by present circumstances which make us have memories of what we wished it had been like. Israel are back in the desert and now “the whole community” it seems “grumbled against Moses and Aaron.” The cause of their grumbling was two fold: first, they lack food and, second, they have these memories of better days back in Egypt.

Consider the first of those: they have no food. Pardon? Excuse me! They have large flocks and herds, they have a walking larder, they just don’t want to start using them up. But then the memory: they had been slaves, slaves who “sat around pots of meat and ate all the food they wanted”. A different sort of slavery with abundant provisions from the sort of slavery history usually shows us!

The truth is that they are fearful. They don’t know where they are going and how long it will take and they foresee their food resources being depleted and depleted until they are left with none. That hasn’t happened yet but it will do if we carry on like this. It is a fear grounded in their uncertainty about God. They haven’t realised that all that is happening is to teach them to trust Him.

So the Lord shares with Moses His intentions: Then the LORD said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.” (v.4,5) Now that is interesting! He doesn’t say what the provision will be but He does use again that word ‘test’. There is going to be a testing element to what is going to happen. The Lord seeks to get Israel to trust Him and that trust will be shown by obedience. There are two instructions for Israel here: first, they are to go out daily collecting this provision and, second, on the sixth day of the week they are to collect twice as much as usual with the inference that on the seventh day there would be no provision. Interesting!

Now what is more interesting is the way Moses now teaches Israel: “So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you will know that it was the LORD who brought you out of Egypt, and in the morning you will see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?” (v.6,7) He doesn’t start with the news that the Lord will provide food for them, but he confronts them with what they are doing in grumbling against Moses and Aaron is actually grumbling against God. He reiterates this: “Moses also said, “You will know that it was the LORD when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the LORD.” (v.8) Yes, the Lord will provide food for them in such a way that there will be no doubt about where it came from.

To back this up, the Lord (implied) calls for the people to face Him: “Then Moses told Aaron, “Say to the entire Israelite community, `Come before the LORD, for he has heard your grumbling.’ ” While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the LORD appearing in the cloud.” (v.9,10) Moses calls for the people to face God and, bearing in mind it is still daytime, the Lord’s fire appears in the pillar of cloud. The Lord reiterates He will provide for the people: “The LORD said to Moses, “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, `At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God.’”  (v.11,12)

There is a simple but important lesson in this passage. The Lord takes note of our grumbling and in what follows He shows that He does not want us to grumble and that He will deal with us accordingly. Now I have sought to be honest in the past meditations, confessing I am a grumbler but what I now need to do is tell you that the Lord disciplines me with more of the same thing! There is good news and good news about this. The first bit of good news is that the Lord does understand why we are like we are and He still loves us. The second bit of good news is that He will keep on and on with our training (disciplining) until we come to the point of trusting Him. He doesn’t give up. I am sure if it was us in His position we would give up very early on in the game, with comments like, “Oh, for goodness sake, let’s give up on this blind bunch, let’s go and find some more receptive people and start over again.”

I suspect that most church leaders feel like this at some time or other. God’s people really are like sheep sometimes, getting themselves into all kinds of difficulties of belief and behaviour. The temptation after you have been preaching about something for weeks on end and it still seems to be falling on deaf ears, is to want to give up and go and find some more receptive people. The lesson of these passages is that the Lord keeps on with them even though they appear to be slow to learn. The Lord doesn’t call us to change people – only He can do that – but to pray, to teach and preach and love and care and leave the rest to Him. Yes, the Lord may discipline His people but unless it is a sin against the community, let’s just keep on doing what we are called to do and preach and teach and leave the conviction to Him, until maybe the point will arrive when people come to us and confess they want to talk about their lives because they need our counsel.

This also applies even if we are not a leader. You see slow growing young Christians? Love them, pray for them, be there for them until they feel sufficiently secure in your love that they open their lives to you and you are granted permission to speak into them. I recently saw a quote that wisdom is knowing when to speak and when not to speak. Love them like the Lord loved Israel and wait for your time to speak.