Emmanuel CRC
2021-11-25
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      • Psalm 100NIV2011

      • Psalm 100NIV2011

  • My Heart Is Filled
  • Blest are They
  • All People That On Earth Do Dwell
  • Now Thank We All Our God
  • Praise and Thanksgiving
  • Introduction
    This morning I will use only one slide to give you the big idea of the passage before us and six key milestones that will mark our journey through this story. Here’s the Big Idea that I hope you see clearly emerge in this passage:
    Doing God’s will in God’s way requires God’s heart in us.
    You can see the milestones below this statement. Let’s begin with . . .

    The Place

    The whole congregation arrived at Kadesh in the Wilderness of Zin on the southern border of the Promised Land. It is probably in the 40thyear of their wanderings. Israel had been here before. This was the place where Moses had sent the spies into Canaan. The spies affirmed that the land was indeed a land flowing with milk and honey. Yet, they sowed division, discord, and fear within the congregation by saying Israel was not strong enough to take the land – despite God’s promise to give it to them. It was this rebellion birthed in unbelief in God’s promise that led them to them to 40 years of wondering.
    It’s the first month of the year. The month of the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when Israel should be celebrating their great deliverance from Egypt by the mighty hand of the LORD. Yet, we hear not the sound of celebration and praise among the people of God. Rather, there is the sound and feeling of grief. Miriam the sister of Moses and Aaron, the prophetess of Israel is dead. Miriam who watched over baby Moses floating in a basket in the Nile, Miriam who led Israel in the great song of triumph when the Lord “hurled both horse and rider into the sea” died at Kadesh. Miriam was the first of the three children of Amram and Jochebed to fail a test of godly leadership. Despite her earlier faithfulness and successes, she contested Moses’ leadership of Israel and was temporarily struck with leprosy by the Lord. Some commentators note that despite her former importance, at her death, Miriam’s death is little more than a footnote.[1]
    Doubtless, this first month of the year was a time of grieving for the whole of Israel and a deeply personal time of grief for Moses and Aaron. Within their grief, the children of Israel had a real problem.

    The Problem

    First, there was no water in the wilderness to support 2 to 3 million persons.[2]This is no mere inconvenience. This is a serious problem. It is a life-threatening situation. Israel knew the danger. They knew the danger like the disciples in the boat with Jesus in the storm on the Sea of Galilee knew the danger of death was real. Like those disciples in the boat, the children of Israel were scared to death. Like the disciples, who did not realize that God himself was in the boat with them in the storm, the children of Israel seem to have forgotten that it was God himself who led them by cloud and fire into the wilderness and that the LORD was with them in their danger, grief, and need.
    So, the people assemble to contend with Moses. The word translated “contend” implies quarreling that involves intense struggle.[3]This is the second problem, when they gathered to contend with Moses, they were really contending with the Lord. Verse 13 makes it clear that this was God’s perspective on the matter.
    Those were the waters of Meribah [quarreling), because the sons of Israel contended with the Lord, and He proved Himself holy among them.” (Numbers 20:13, NASB95)
    The people make their case against Moses and Aaron with four points, which show the Children of Israel were scared to death. Fear shuts down our centers of rationality and puts us in fight or flight mode. These points make no rational sense. First the people say . . .
    1. We would be better off dead than being in this place. “If only we had perished when our brothers perished before the LORD.” Here Israel refers to when God struck down Korah’s followers by fire when they opposed Moses. God caused the ground to swallow Korah and his family and struck Israel with a plague that killed 14,700 persons. It was only by the intercession and intervention of Moses and Aaron that the LORD did not kill them all.[4]Then the people said,
    2. Since we would be better off killed by God’s judgement, why did you bring us into this wilderness, for us and our animals to die? Of course, that was Moses’ plan all along, confront the world’s superpower of their day, lead Israel to Mount Sinai to meet with God to affirm their status as God’s people and receive God’s law so they know how to please God, intervene between the people and God’s judgment at least six different times, then bring them to the desert so every one of them and their animals will die of thirst. Sounds like a plan! It’s an irrational conspiracy theory born out of fear. The people continue pressing their case saying,
    3. “Why have you made us to come up from Egypt, to bring us to this wretched place?” Not only would we be better of struck dead by the judgment of God; we would be better off as oppressed slaves in Egypt. The word translated “wretched” here is also translated as bad, terrible, or evil. The idea is we could not be in a more horrible situation than we are in today. Here’s another irrational aspect of fear. Fear can cause us to look at our present circumstance as unbearable, while looking back on our past worse experiences and thinking of them as “the good ole days.” Finally, the people rightly point out that . . .
    4. “It is not a place of grain, or figs, or vines, or pomegranates nor is their water.” Grain, figs, vines, and pomegranates symbolize abundance, and water symbolizes the source of life. Israel is saying this is a wretched place, we would be better off struck dead by God’s judgement or at least being slaves in Egypt than to be in this place where there is no abundance, no source of life. We would be better off dead because this place will kill us. This is what the wilderness looks like through the eyes of fear. It’s a wretched place.
    Here we must have some sympathy. Most of us have had our own wilderness experience. We were scared to death because there was no abundance, no source of life that we could see. We felt like we were going to die either spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, or physically or some combination of these. For those who have not been in this kind of wilderness, it is simply because you have not yet lived long enough. It will come. In our fear and confusion, our immediate response is to look to someone or something to blame for our sad situation. The children of Israel appear to have forgotten that they are in this mess because of their decision 40 years ago not to follow the LORD into the Promised Land. Israel blames Moses and Aaron for the outcomes of their sin, The people blame Moses and Aaron for the will and leadership of God who as now brought them a second time to this wilderness on the border of the Promised Land.
    No human can bear being blamed for the will and actions of God! The picture presented to us of Moses and Aaron is the image of two men totally devastated by the withering, unjustified, and irrational blame thrust upon them. Moses and Aaron were in a wretched place. Yet, their first impulse was magnificent.

    The Presence

    Moses and Aaron threw themselves down in the presence of the LORD. It seems they barely made it to the Tent of Meeting. They threw themselves down in the doorway, not entering completely. In their grief, confusion, fear, and anger that had no words for God. They could only get into the presence of God and wait for Him to attend to them.
    “Then the glory of the LORD appeared to them.” Here we see a beautiful picture of our God’s mercy, compassion, and love. God in all his perfections, which is His glory, appeared to them . . . and they saw the glory of the LORD. Outside, Israel turned completely in on themselves, could only see their wretched place. Yet, in the presence of the LORD, Moses and Aaron, in their wretched state, see the LORD’s glory with their own eyes.
    Do you remember a time when God came to you in a moment of deep distress? It is normal and natural for the children of God to experience the comfort of our Heavenly Father that He promises to us and provides for us through the Holy Spirit who lives in us.
    When Moses and Aaron had no words, The LORD spoke to them and told them exactly what to do. The Lord’s guidance was clear.
    · Take the rod (Moses’ or Aarons’. Moses’ symbolizing the power of God; Aarons’ symbolizing the choice of the Lord – explain)
    · Assemble the congregation
    · Speak to the rock
    · Bring forth water
    · Let the congregation and their animals drink
    Then came . . .

    The Pitfall

    Moses
    · Took the rod
    · Assembled the congregation
    Just as the Lord commanded, but things go south quickly from here.
    · Moses reprimands and judges the people – “you rebels” he calls them. He was right, but God had not instructed Moses, in this case, to judge the people on his behalf.
    · Moses assumes for himself and Aaron the responsibility for providing a solution, “Shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?”
    · Moses struck the rock (as he had done in the past – explain, tease old wine in new wineskins)[5] In this case, God had specifically commanded him to speak to the rock, not to strike it.
    Water did come from the rock in abundance and the people, and their animals drank. Does anyone feel a strain of Amazing Grace rising? The LORD, in his grace and mercy, acts to meet the needs of His people despite the complaining unbelief of the people and contrary to the unbelief and disobedience of their leaders. This is what God did for Israel and for us when he sent Jesus to die on the cross for our sins. Paul wrote,
    “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:6, NIV)
    In His mercy and grace, the LORD, saved His people from dying by thirst. But this was far less than what God wanted for them. God wanted far more than to provide for His people at temporary relief that made their wretched place more tolerable.
    The LORD wanted to transform their wretched place into a holy place. The LORD wanted Israel to experience His glory in their wilderness experience. The LORD intended to prove himself holy among them in the wilderness by
    1. Working through Moses and Aaron to bring glory to Himself. God wanted to do something through Moses and Aaron that only God could do – bring forth living water from a rock, to bring forth life and abundance from what appears to be dead. God’s specialty is giving that which is dead new life.
    2. God wanted Moses and Aaron to experience His power working through them. God wanted Moses and Aaron to function how people created in the image of God are design to function. The LORD wanted them to, by His power, call forth water out of the rock – call forth abundance and life out of death by the power of their word.
    3. The Lord wanted to meet the needs of His people through godly leaders walking in obedience to His clear instruction which would build the people’s trust in their leaders and their trust in God’s good provision for them.

    The Proving

    The Lord wanted to prove himself holy among Israel through these marvelous blessings. Instead, because of the unbelief of the people and the unbelief of Moses and Aaron, God proved himself holy among his people by holding their leaders accountable for their unbelief and disobedience.
    To us, that accountability may seem over the top; like the punishment does not fit the crime. John Calvin recognized this when he wrote,
    We scarcely perceive anything reprehensible in this matter . . . yet, let us learn that our works, on the surface of which nothing but virtue is apparent, are often abounding in secret defects, which escape the eyes of men, but are manifest to God alone.[6]
    The Lord’s accountability was certainly heartbreaking. Because Moses and Aaron did not treat the LORD as holy in the sight of Israel, in the 40th year on the edge of the Promised Land, they forfeited the opportunity to lead the people into the Promised Land. Thus, Moses and Aaron joined their sister, Miriam, in failing a test of godly leadership.

    Why did this happen?

    The text is clear that the root of the matter was unbelief. Moses and Aaron did not believe that God would do through them the thing He had promised to do in the way that God had promised to do it. This unbelief led Moses and Aaron to disobey God so that they did the right thing in the wrong way at the wrong time.
    Why do I say Moses and Aaron acted at the wrong time? No doubt they were feeling pressure from the rebellious people to provide a quick solution to the water problem. There actions occurred at the wrong time because when Moses and Aaron received God’s clear direction, they went out to implement those instructions before their hearts were ready to do the Lord’s will in the Lord’s spirit of grace and mercy.
    I doubt Moses and Aaron intended to disobey the Lord. Rather, in the heat of the moment, when they were called upon to provide godly leadership, they could not do it. Moses was overcome by his resentment and anger. The Scripture implies this was the state of Aaron’s heart too. Moses and Aaron could not lead the way God wanted them to because they rushed to do something when they had not lingered long enough with the LORD to allow Him to align the desires of their heart with His heart.
    Because the hearts of Moses and Aaron were not aligned with God’s heart, they proved unable to do God’s will in God’s way. The results were outcomes that were less than God intended and desired for Israel and for Moses and Aaron.
    From this we learn that the posture of our hearts first toward God and then toward each other are the critical factors in our ability to know and to do the will of God.

    The Promise

    Where do we find God’s promise for us in this story? Where is hope for us in this story? It seems like a tragic tale. However, the point the LORD wants us to take away from this is that there could have been a completely different ending to this story. The LORD wants us to know that our experience in knowing and doing God’s will does not have to follow this pattern. The Lord’s implicit promise to us is that if we simply do the reverse of what we witnessed in this story, we will do His will, in His way, and see His glory.
    When the LORD brings us to our wretched place, to our wilderness where everything looks and feels like death, we . . .
    1. Trust the goodness of God’s will in bringing us to this place. We. . .
    2. Know that God intends to show his glory to us and transform our wretched place into His holy ground. We . . .
    3. Deal with our confusion and fear by bringing our honest questions and legitimate fears to God for guidance and comfort. We . . .
    4. Linger in God’s presence (in prayer with or without words) until . . .
    · We have a clear sense of God’s will and how to do it.
    · Our hearts are aligned with God’s heart in the matter and especially aligned with His desires for those who will be most affected by our obedience in doing God’s will. Then and only then do we . . .
    5. Obey God’s will by doing . . .
    · The right thing
    · The right way
    · At the right time
    · For the right reasons
    · With the right posture of heart
    Then we will see God prove himself glorious and holy among us as He does through us and for us what only He can do.
    [1]Brueggemann, D. A. (2020). OT310 Book Study: Numbers (Videos). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press. [2]Thornhill, A. C. (2016). Exodus. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press. [3] Smith, C. A. (2014). Complaining. D. Mangum, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, & R. Hurst (Eds.), Lexham Theological Wordbook. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press. [4]Numbers 16 [5]Exodus 17:1-7 [6] Calvin, J., & Bingham, C. W. (2010). Commentaries on the Four Last Books of Moses Arranged in the Form of a Harmony(Vol. 4, p. 134). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

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