Day 43: Numbers 12-14; Opposition

I wonder if you were feeling the same thing that I was feeling as we read this story today.  I was thinking to myself, I know this story!  Finally something familiar!  And yet in many ways it seems quite unfair what happened to the Israelites.  They didn’t really know any better… they were just going on the majority of the reports received from the spies.  I mean, if someone misinformed us about something in our world today it would most likely be a reason for innocence if we were to do something wrong, right?  Well, apparently not.  I do seem to remember a saying from my youth, “Ignorance is no excuse for the Law.”

Sometimes I just have to wondering then, what it would take to convince this rabble of complainers we call Israel that God is all powerful, in control, and will take care of them.  To date, they have seen the wonders of God through the plagues that led to their freedom, walked through the middle of the sea on dry ground, got water from a rock, mana and quail to eat, seen God’s presence as they moved, on the mountain, and around the Tabernacle.  God has helped them to defeat attackers, and forgiven them more times than they’ll ever be able to count.  And yet, still they complain and worry about these people.  We hear that the land is great, but the cities are so fortified and the people are large.  One of the phrases used to describe these people in verses, is that they are the Nephilim, the sons of Anak.  This would have made sense for us, but for a reference we have to go all the way back to Genesis 6.  The word Nephilim means “giants” and, if we read Genesis 6 we see that they are the product of the union of “the sons of God” and women of the earth.  They produced “the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.”  One of these is apparently Anak and clearly is renowned.  Not much is known about what this really means.  Some scholars contend that they were angels or fallen angels.  In any case, the it was not good and led eventually to the flood.

But to put this in perspective.  Prior to the destruction of Egypt’s army in the Red Sea, the land of Canaan would have been easy pickings for the Egyptian military.  Egypt was far more advanced and far more powerful than any of the nations that lived in Canaan, and God defeated them without seemingly raising a finger.  So when God gets angry at them, it is fairly understandable.  “I’ve done all of this for you, and still you can’t trust me?  What’s it gonna take Israel?!?!?”

It’s easy for me to sit behind my computer screen and question the decisions of a fledgling nation though, making myself look good.  Yet, the reality is that I have been that person too… we all have.  There have been times in my life when God has called me to something, to conquer the proverbial Canaan if you will.  I’ve seen God work in my life, and in the lives of people around me.  I know that God is always with me and will take care of me through everything.  Even knowing that though, I found myself thinking that perhaps Egypt was better.  Maybe my life of slavery to sin, not following God’s will was better… even if it was slavery.  It took a while for me to come around.  I wandered for a while, until God said it was time for me to get back too it.  “You’ve wasted enough time Jon, time to go conquer Canaan.”

So here I am… 2 years into Seminary…  It’s certainly not easy, but I know God is with me!

Maybe there is something God is calling you to as well?

Day 42: Numbers 9-11; Complaining against God

There are two things in today’s reading that, when set up against each other, strike me as being quite ironic.  I often shake my head when reading passages such as these, and chuckle to myself, knowing all to well that I tend to be just like the Israelites.

The first this we read today is how, at the will and movement of God in the cloud, the people of Israel made camp or packed up and got ready to move.  For all we know this cloud/pillar of fire as been with the people since they went out of Egypt almost two years ago.  I think the only exception to this would have been the time that they were camped at Mount Sinai, when the presence of the Lord could be clearly seen and heard on top of the mountain.  All of that time, perhaps maybe 6 months, they were camped at the base of that mountain, offering things for the building of God’s dwelling place, and hearing the Word of the Lord spoken through Moses.  They even agreed that they would follow all the ways of the Lord as He had prescribed.

Fast forward to what we just read… the people have just celebrated the Passover, remembering all that God had done for them in bringing them out of Egypt… and immediately they start to complain… about how much better it was in Egypt just because they got what they wanted… Meat.  God has been giving them mana every day, sustaining them as they were in the wilderness.  He has shown His power to them and even His forgiveness after the whole golden calf debacle.  Yet still they complain, so much so that God anger is kindled against them!  Foolish Israelites… we would never do such things now days.

Or would we?  I think about this story in relation to my own life and wonder if I would have been one of the complainers, or if I would have been one of the content people (if there were in fact any of them in the whole camp).  I’ve seen God do some amazing things in my life.  I’ve seen how He has guided me and have received His forgiveness a hundred times over… yet I wonder, “Do I too often complain about my place in life?”  I am certainly more well off than anyone in this nation of nomads.  Perhaps there is a lesson here in contentment, and in thankfulness.  It is interesting, the name that is given to the place where they eat meat and then God sends a plague: Kibroth-hattaavah.  This name means “graves of craving” or “graves of lust.”  Somewhat appropriate I think, but I wonder if there isn’t something in that name that would apply to us as well.  Do we get caught in the desire to always want more, to never be content?  While I wouldn’t want to slice any Bible reading down to a simple morality lesson… I do wonder what our cravings, our lusts, or discontentment is doing to us… giving us life?  or digging our grave?

Day 22: Exodus 17-20; Provisions for the Journey (Part 1)

The end of yesterday’s reading really fits more with today’s reading in that it shows some of the ways that God miraculously provided for His people now that they were free from Egypt.  Though freedom is a wonderful thing, wandering freely in a desolate dessert could be potentially fatal.  What strikes me as humorous throughout all of these chapters is how quickly the people turn to grumbling and complaining after what they just experienced in Egypt.  How quick they were to forget God’s amazing power and to just give up and expect to die.  I know I’ve been guilty of this in my life too… perhaps you can relate?

In any case, what God doesn’t do is let them starve and die.  What God does do, despite their complaining and grumbling, is provide for them in a variety of ways that we read about yesterday and today.  First and foremost, we see God’s provision for the people’s physical needs.  Immediately after crossing the Red Sea, the people walked into the wilderness.  In the modern world, this would still be considered Egypt, but whether then or now, this area is rough and relatively uninhabited.  There would have been very little in the way of food, and even less ways of getting it.  The people were also on the move, no time to plant some crops and stuff.  So God provides bread from heaven in the form of “mana” every morning and meat every evening in the form of quail.  Certainly not a diverse diet, but certainly better than nothing at all.  God also provides the people’s water supply by both bringing them to places in which there was water, and also through the water coming out of the rock event.

Next we see God providing for their physical safety by protecting them from the attack of Amalek.  This isn’t the first encounter with Amalek that God’s chosen people have had, and as we read it won’t be the last.  Be that as it may, God provides here as well through the hands (and arms) of Moses.  Realistically speaking, the Israelites should have been no match for army at that time.  They were slaves with no real fighting experience among them.  Yet they prevail by the power of God.  I think its important to note what they did immediately upon their victory: they worship God and write it down so as to make sure they will never forget!  Sometimes I wonder how many awesome things God has done in my life that I have forgotten because I didn’t pay attention or write them down.

Finally (for today)… God also provides for the needs of Moses, and thus all the people of Israel in their day to day life by way of their judicial system.  Though it may have been logical for Jethro to say what he did to Moses, I think that it was wholly inspired by God.  There is really no way that Moses could have handled the burdens of the people long term and I tend to think that, with Moses taking on all the burdens, it would be too much like him being a king, and could possibly lead this young nation of impressionable grumblers astray.  God works through the advice of Jethro to form a judicial system that works for them… and for us today as well.  The modern judicial system of layered court systems (local, county, state, federal) is something that has come out of this idea of Moses appointing people over “thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens.”  I suppose whether our system actually “works” is a matter of opinion…  we do live in a broken world after all…

P.S.  Did you notice again… the symbols of God’s presence on the mountain?  Smoke and Fire!  We also see some new ones as well with the lightning and the trumpet sounds!