Summary: The desert is one of the best places for faith to grow.
Title: Why They Call It the Desert
Text: Numbers 11:4-23
Thesis: The “desert” is one of the best places for faith to grow.
Series: The Bible in 90 Days Whole Church Challenge
We are continuing our The Bible in 90 Days Whole Church Challenge Series this morning. We began the journey last week with childless Abram and Sarah… this week their descendants number in the hundreds of thousands. This week our journey of faith takes us with those hundreds of thousands of descendants, as they leave Egypt and trek their way across the
wilderness to the land God had promised Abraham. In our story today, we will focus on one incident from those years of wandering that illustrates how challenging life can be and how a desert journey is a journey of trust.
A desert is a landscape or region that receives almost no precipitation… less than 10 inches per year. It may also be defined as a place where more water is lost through evaporation than falls as precipitation. A desert is a region where there is a moisture deficit and vegetation is sparse to almost non-existent. The largest hot desert in the world is the Sahara in northern Africa which covers 3.5 square miles. By comparison, our own Mojave Desert covers 54,000 square miles. And by comparison… the Sinai Wilderness in our story covered approximately 25,000 square miles. The northern Sinai is a desert plateau bordered by the Mediterranean Sea and the southern Sinai is mountainous and bordered by the Red Sea. It is the landscape the Children of Israel wandered over for forty-years.
Deserts are dangerous places where the greatest danger is in lack of preparation and panic. In his Desert Survival Primer, David Alloway says that when you find yourself in a desert crisis you need to do five things:
• Accept the situation without blaming yourself or anyone else.
• Start a fire and brew a cup of tea.
• Consider your options.
• Decide on a plan. And execute your plan.
• Develop survival skills necessary for traversing a desert, i.e., learn and grow as you go.
He also suggests that you carry a pocket sized desert survival kit which is packed with approximately thirty items like a tea bag, bouillon cubes, three Band-Aids, signal whistle, magnifying glass, mirror, etc., a knife, two 1-liter canteens, a blanket and a compass. These items are intended to provide you with the essentials of water, fire, shelter, signals and food.
Now, knowing that a desert can be a foreboding place, imagine the desert as a metaphor for a time or season in your life when you feel spiritually dry and that God has deserted you. When we journey through a spiritual desert we need to have a survivalist’s mentality and understand the experience as an opportunity for our faith to develop.
The first survival skill we need when we are in the desert is:
I. Survival Skill # 1: Don’t Whine, Numbers 11:4-6
(4) The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! (5) We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost… also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic.” Numbers 11:4-6
The “rabble” in our text were the uncivil, very vocal minority of that day… but as is true of most vocal minorities, they influenced and ultimately controlled the majority and everyone began to complain.
Complaining is the beginning of a downward spiral where we: 1. Focus’ on the negative 2. Fall into despair and 3. Fail to thrive… and die.
They became so caught up in their complaining that they considered slavery and death preferable to eating manna. Keep in mind… no one was starving. No one was weak and debilitated. They just wanted pizza.
All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, “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… wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” Numbers 14:2-3
In my thinking this week, I was reminded of the passage from I Corinthians 10:1-13 in which Paul warns the Corinthian Christians. He cites the history of the Children of Israel as an example to us. He says we should not be ignorant but rather informed so that we may avoid making the mistakes they made in their spiritual journey.
He reminds us that they were a blessed people but “nevertheless” God was not pleased with most of them and as a result their bodies are scattered across the desert. Paul cites their failures in the practices of idolatry, pagan revelry and sexual immorality, testing God and (of all things) grumbling. Isn’t it a curious thing that most of us manage to not get tripped up over idolatry or sexual cavorting but fail miserably in grumbling and complaining. It is sobering to realize that God is as displeased with grumbling and complaining and criticizing as with sexual immorality.