Summary: Faith, Courage, Obedience, and Focus are some of the things Israel lacked in order to fulfill God's purpose.
Courage To Fulfill God's Purpose
The book of Numbers is one of the most challenging books in the Old Testament. In it we discover that God calls His people to engage in warfare. In fact, if you open to the very beginning of the book, you'll see that this is its opening theme.
Numbers 1: 1 says, “On the first day of the 2nd month of the 2nd year, after the Israelites came out of Egypt, the Lord told Moses to take a census.” Particularly he's to list every man by name, and in verse 3 we learn that Moses and Aaron are to pay close attention to those who are able to serve in the army. That gives us an indication of where the book is going; it’s time for them to prepare to invade the land God has promised to give them.
In Genesis, God CHOOSES His people. In Exodus, God REDEEMS His people. In Leviticus, God INSTRUCTS His people. And in Numbers, God COMMANDS His people. After one year below Mount Sinai we find the Israelites preparing to break camp. And now, in the 2nd month of the 2nd year, God leads them forward into battle to conquer the land He's promised to give them.
It’s with this in mind that we come, I think, to probably the most famous story in the Book of Numbers. In chapter 13, Moses sends the spies into Canaan. They travel for 40 days gathering intelligence, but when they come back, things start to go badly wrong. The majority take the view, despite the fact that God has clearly revealed His purpose for His people, that this land can't be taken. The spies communicate a profound pessimism to the people, and the people of Israel who are on the verge of great victories start to lose heart and become unwilling to press forward any further.
The result is that God determined that this generation of people wouldn't enter the land.
They spend the next 38 years wandering around in the desert. The rest of the Book of Numbers tells us about these wanderings until they've all died off and their children have taken their place in the adult community. And so, in a sense, Numbers is a book that need never have been written. It's a book that tells us the consequences of making choices based on sight instead of choices based on faith. It's a book about how God brought His people to the threshold of wonderful things, but a destructive spirit of pessimism crept in, and God said, “I’ll wait 40 years until another generation takes their place. And then I'll do what I promised to do.”
It's a sobering book. That’s why I say it's one of the most challenging Books in the Old Testament. It’s the story of unnecessary detours for a group of people who were faced with an open door of opportunity and missed it.
And it leaves us asking the question, “How could that possibly have happened? How could God's chosen, and redeemed people — who knew the presence of God and were called to fulfill His purposes — miss their calling and be a wandering, aimless, believing people?”
There are 3 things that I want us to see from this tragic story, this morning.
First, the circumstance that led to this huge disaster, the choice they made, and then the consequence of it. As we move from that, I want us to see how we can avoid going down that pathway.
Let’s begin by looking at…
#1: The Circumstance:
The circumstance starts — and it's important to pick up the background here — with…
ð Complaining People.
Chapter 11, verse 1 sets the scene for us. This is as soon as they're breaking camp and starting to move forward. We're told that the people complained about the hardships in the hearing of the Lord. And chapter 11 tells us how they complained about their food, and chapter 12 tells us how Miriam and Aaron began to complain about their leader, Moses. It's always dangerous when you start to complain about what God has given you, and it's crystal clear from these 2 chapters that a spirit of grumbling got going among the people, and it greatly displeased God. God gave them their food. God gave them their leader, when He sent Moses. But somehow at the very point where great things lay ahead of them, a discontented spirit began to creep in.
And of course, this is infectious. Once it gets into a few people, it starts to spread like butter on a hot biscuit. One person starts to complain. The natural reaction of his or her friends is to encourage the complaint because they're friends, and soon there's a whole group of people who, although they've been uniquely blessed by God, become deeply dissatisfied with what God has given them.