A few weeks ago, I was talking to a friend about how tough life feels. We were at a wedding, an occasion where our hearts really ought to have been full of joy for our friend, instead we found ourselves asking: “Where is the joy that is supposed to be ours?” “Where is the benefit of being believers in the Lord Jesus?” The last few months in our community we have seen multiple hospital visits, friends walking in the dark valley of anxiety and depression, grief over lost children and parents, rocky marriages. I am stunned and disillusioned. Somewhere along the line, my heart was led to believe that this was not the life that Jesus called us to.
The sudden change
A few mornings after these miserable musings, I opened my Bible to the book of Numbers. As I (slowly) make my way through the Bible in a year (the reason for finding myself in Numbers), I have grumbled in the early mornings that it’s hard enough getting up to read my Bible, now I have to get up early to read this… and I really found myself in Numbers. That is, I saw myself right there in chapter 14.
As we know from the book of Exodus, God’s people, the Israelites, have been in slavery in Egypt. They have cried out to God in their misery and suffering, and He has heard them. He has remembered His covenant with them, and delivered them with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. After ten plagues displaying that Yahweh alone is God, they walk out on dry land as the Red Sea rises up in walls alongside them. The entire Egyptian army, following close behind them with their horses and chariots, drown. “Not one of them survived” (Ex 14:28b).
Yahweh has defeated their enemies, He rescued them from their slavery in Egypt, and they rightly respond by singing praises to Him; “In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling” (Ex 15:13).
But then they change their tune all too quickly. The celebration of this act of redemption is replaced (in the very next chapter) with discontent and grumbles. We read, “…on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt…the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron” (Ex 16:2). But, in truth, they are grumbling against the Lord. God is angry with their grumbling against Him, and He promises that not one of that generation of Israelites, with the exception of Caleb and Joshua, will live to see their inheritance of the land.
A lesson that doesn’t seem to be learnt
The Lord – compassionate, gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness forgives them and provides for them and continues to work to fulfill His promises and good purposes for them and their children.
He goes before them; He is with them and He has safely guided them to the edge of the promised land.
The joy, the anticipation and the excitement for the reader is almost tangible. In Numbers 13, Caleb says to the Israelites, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it!”
Yes!!!!!!! Of course! The Lord has brought about such a great salvation for His people, He has remembered His covenant with them and not one of all the promises He has made has failed them, so of course they should trust Him, obey Him and get on with seeing His promises of land fulfilled.
Some of the men who spied out the land begin to doubt God’s promises. They choose to believe instead, what their eyes are telling them. They doubt and are filled with unbelief that God has the power to do what He has promised. They spread a bad report saying: “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size… We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” (Nu 13:32-33)
What happens next is not pretty. “All 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” (Nu 14:1-4).
And I see myself in the mirror of God’s Word and hear my grumbling heart echoing loudly.
“Where is God and why does He not act to keep us from this illness?” “Does He not care?” “Why doesn’t He do something to make their lives, my life, comfortable and free from suffering and loss?” “Is He even good?” “What is the benefit of being one of His children?” “From this perspective, it doesn’t really look like a great salvation.” These trials are so big, we seem like grasshoppers in our own eyes.
And I hang my head in shame.
Looking back is the west way forward
I have forgotten that as I look back at the people of Israel and see God’s covenant with them, His patience, His mighty power to save, I am looking at a small picture of a greater reality found in the salvation we have in the gospel of the Lord Jesus.
He is right here. He has acted, He cares and He has not spared His own Son in order to rescue us from ourselves and our broken lives. He is good and this salvation is greater than any eye can see and than any mind can conceive.
As I look back, I see the present more clearly and am encouraged and enabled to see the certain hope of our future.
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