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Hospitality Creek Campground in Williamstown, NJ - “Church in the Woods” Worship Service on 7/3/2005
(edited April 2019)
God is a person. He may be (and is) three persons, a Trinity, yet He still is, ultimately, a person. He is not a computer. He is not a super-duper creation machine, or some kind of entity or force field.
God is alive! He was in Moses’ day, and is alive today in the New Covenant Era. We are created in HIS image, and we certainly know what it means to insult any one of us! Numbers chapter 11 shows how we, God’s people, can insult the Lord. (And don’t forget that ALL people were created by Him and in that sense are also His.) Let’s see how the people back then did this and let’s see how the Lord reacted:
Verses 1-3: “And when the people complained, it displeased the Lord: and the Lord heard it; and his anger was kindled; and the fire of the Lord burnt among them, and consumed them that were in the uttermost parts of the camp. And the people cried unto Moses; and when Moses prayed unto the Lord, the fire was quenched. And he called the name of the place Taberah: because the fire of the Lord burnt among them.”
What were they complaining about? According to the previous chapters of the Book of Numbers, it was the Law. The Old Covenant Law of God. They had been receiving command after command as God spoke to them through Moses. They were apparently growing weary of it all. They no longer wanted to just believe and follow the Lord. God quieted their revolt with a quick and terrible response! But, even after severe discipline, another complaint quickly arose:
Verses 4-15: “And the mixt multitude that was among them fell a lusting: and the children of Israel also wept again, and said, Who shall give us flesh to eat? We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick: But now our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes. And the manna was as coriander seed, and the colour thereof as the colour of bdellium. And the people went about, and gathered it, and ground it in mills, or beat it in a mortar, and baked it in pans, and made cakes of it: and the taste of it was as the taste of fresh oil. And when the dew fell upon the camp in the night, the manna fell upon it. Then Moses heard the people weep throughout their families, every man in the door of his tent: and the anger of the Lord was kindled greatly; Moses also was displeased. And Moses said unto the Lord, Wherefore hast thou afflicted thy servant? and wherefore have I not found favour in thy sight, that thou layest the burden of all this people upon me? Have I conceived all this people? have I begotten them, that thou shouldest say unto me, Carry them in thy bosom, as a nursing father beareth the sucking child, unto the land which thou swarest unto their fathers? Whence should I have flesh to give unto all this people? for they weep unto me, saying, Give us flesh, that we may eat. I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me. And if thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray thee, out of hand, if I have found favour in thy sight; and let me not see my wretchedness.
Leaving the Law of God behind, they want to change the subject to their personal need for “good” food. The stuff they had back in Egypt. Before I judge them as childish or selfish, I need to take a good look at what I spend my time asking God for…anyway, their problem is with this manna the Lord had been miraculously providing for them there in the wilderness.
Take note how this grievance sprouted. That “mixed” multitude was made up of Egyptians that Israel had become so entangled with that they were now travelling with them. The Church today can’t afford to be unequally-yoked with non-believers on our pilgrimage. It sometimes seems possible or even a pleasant thing for us to do, but it can lead us into strife with God. And here we see that what began among the mixed multitude soon soured the whole group and then it even spread to Moses, himself!
Is their cry for meat unreasonable? Should God be insulted by such a request? Again, I’m reminded of many of the things I’ve requested of the Lord over the years. Is it possible today for us to insult Him by rejecting the manna he provides for us? We can readily see what represents “Manna” in the New Testament: “Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat. Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. But I said unto you, That ye also have seen me, and believe not. All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.” (John 6:31-38)
Is it an insult to request much more from God today?
Let’s look at how the Lord answered Moses:
Verses 16-17: “And the Lord said unto Moses, Gather unto me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom thou knowest to be the elders of the people, and officers over them; and bring them unto the tabernacle of the congregation, that they may stand there with thee. And I will come down and talk with thee there: and I will take of the spirit which is upon thee, and will put it upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with thee, that thou bear it not thyself alone.”
The Lord’s first response to their new complaint is compassionate, practical, and helpful to Moses and the whole camp. Moses wasn’t just selfishly whining; he had a true weakness and real concern that needed to be addressed. Such a prayer does not insult God. But part of their request did insult Him:
Verses 18-20: “And say thou unto the people, Sanctify yourselves against to morrow, and ye shall eat flesh: for ye have wept in the ears of the Lord, saying, Who shall give us flesh to eat? for it was well with us in Egypt: therefore the Lord will give you flesh, and ye shall eat. Ye shall not eat one day, nor two days, nor five days, neither ten days, nor twenty days; But even a whole month, until it come out at your nostrils, and it be loathsome unto you: because that ye have despised the Lord which is among you, and have wept before him, saying, Why came we forth out of Egypt?”
The prayer for meat was a lust, not a true need. They had taken their eyes off God and their hearts strayed from Him also. This was an insult, disguised as a need. On the surface it might sound reasonable, but just underneath it showed ambivalence toward the Lord and His will for them. There is much made in our day of trying to follow, or at least giving lip-service to trying to follow Christ’s GOLDEN RULE in regard to how we treat other people. But the truth is there were two GOLDEN RULES presented to us by Jesus: “Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
It insults God when we, any of us, try to approach the second rule without any consideration of the first. We are called to Love and Respect Him first, at all times, then to serve others also!
It appears to astonish Moses that God can act so quickly and deliberately to answer his prayers:
Verses 21-30: “And Moses said, The people, among whom I am, are six hundred thousand footmen; and thou hast said, I will give them flesh, that they may eat a whole month. Shall the flocks and the herds be slain for them, to suffice them? or shall all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, to suffice them? And the Lord said unto Moses, Is the Lord's hand waxed short? thou shalt see now whether my word shall come to pass unto thee or not. And Moses went out, and told the people the words of the Lord, and gathered the seventy men of the elders of the people, and set them round about the tabernacle. And the Lord came down in a cloud, and spake unto him, and took of the spirit that was upon him, and gave it unto the seventy elders: and it came to pass, that, when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, and did not cease. But there remained two of the men in the camp, the name of the one was Eldad, and the name of the other Medad: and the spirit rested upon them; and they were of them that were written, but went not out unto the tabernacle: and they prophesied in the camp. And there ran a young man, and told Moses, and said, Eldad and Medad do prophesy in the camp. And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of Moses, one of his young men, answered and said, My lord Moses, forbid them. And Moses said unto him, Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the Lord's people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them! And Moses gat him into the camp, he and the elders of Israel.”
Notice the “on-the-job” training that Joshua is receiving here. Before he is called to lead the people, he has a lot to learn. One thing he is learning from Moses is that leadership requires meekness sometimes.
Finally, the people’s prayer is addressed by the Lord. They sort of get what they want, but only in sadness and sickening irony:
Verses 31-35: “And there went forth a wind from the Lord, and brought quails from the sea, and let them fall by the camp, as it were a day's journey on this side, and as it were a day's journey on the other side, round about the camp, and as it were two cubits high upon the face of the earth. And the people stood up all that day, and all that night, and all the next day, and they gathered the quails: he that gathered least gathered ten homers: and they spread them all abroad for themselves round about the camp. And while the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was chewed, the wrath of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord smote the people with a very great plague. And he called the name of that place Kibrothhattaavah: because there they buried the people that lusted. And the people journeyed from Kibrothhattaavah unto Hazeroth; and abode at Hazeroth.”
This is the problem with wrong-minded prayers. God may answer them, but with that kind of success comes judgment. For you and me in the Church today the real test is not our number of “successes,” but our love for God. Did the Deacon Stephen (see Acts chapters 6-7 in the New Testament) have a successful ministry? Not in this world, but his love for the Lord will remain unquestioned forever.