“Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” So wrote the British Statesman Edmund Burke (1729-1797). Born-again Christians are in the same boat, if we fail to read the Bible and learn from those who have gone before us. Similarly, if we fail to read the works of the forefathers of our Christian heritage, whose life times of experience we tend to dismiss as being old fashioned and out of touch with our reality. In our pride and arrogance, we tend to think we can learn nothing from the past, or often from anyone else for that matter, because our situation is ‘different’, they did not have the problems we have. In doing this, we show ourselves up for what we really are; shallow, selfish and self-absorbed. Yes, the physical conditions of the world have changed since Adam left Eden, but the inner needs, the inner desires and lusts and sins remain. Indeed, I aver we have actually invented new sins, in recent human history.
With this in mind, let us look at the 10 failures of the children of Israel which manifested after they left Egypt. These failures resulted in them walking in the desert until a whole adult generation had died. Certainly the physical circumstances are not the same for us now as they were for Moses and God’s people, but even for us, even this may change soon and unexpectedly.
1 Temptations of the World:
In Exodus 14:10-12 we find the Egyptian army closing in on the Israelites: “And Pharaoh drew near, the sons of Israel lifted up their eyes. And, behold, the Egyptians marched after them. And they were very afraid. And the sons of Israel cried out to Jehovah. And they said to Moses, Have you taken us away to die in the wilderness because there were no graves in Egypt? Why have you dealt this way with us, to carry us forth out of Egypt?
Did we not tell you this word in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, so that we may serve the Egyptians? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness.”
Fear of the future was beginning to overcome them. They desired to go back to the “peace” and “comfort” of the life they knew. They now preferred slavery over potential freedom.
How often do we stop half way through a task and let the temptations of the world draw us back to certain defeat, rather than trusting in the Lord to lead us forward to freedom and victory? The temptations of the world were just as real for the Israelites as the temptations of the world are for us today. The names of the temptations may have changed, but the tempter and the results, remain the same.
2 Bitter Experiences:
Exodus 15:23-24 takes the story on to beyond the crossing of the Red Sea. “And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah, because it was bitter. Therefore the name of it was called Marah. And the people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink?”
Just a couple of days from the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea, and from the 10 signs and miracles before Pharaoh in Egypt, the people were murmuring again in revolt. Signs and wonders are quickly forgotten when bitter experiences enter into our lives. We forget that when we became Christians, our mentors were at pains to tell us that life will still be difficult, that we shall not be immune to problems, pain and bitter experiences, but that God will be there with us. What happened to the Israelites at Marah? v35 says “And he cried to Jehovah. And Jehovah showed him a tree. And when he had cast it into the waters, the waters were made sweet. There He made a decree and a law for them, and there He tested them.”
They, like us were saved by a tree. For the Israelites, as they threw pieces of the tree into the bitter waters of Marah, they became drinkable: for us, Galatians 3:13 explains that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, being made a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone having been hanged on a tree”).”
In our struggles and bitter experiences, Jesus Christ is the answer. We cannot allow bad experiences to become stumbling stones for us and divert our path from the one the Lord has chosen for us. When we forgive and repent and overcome our bitter experiences, we will be forgiven; and with forgiveness, comes healing
In the desert, the children of Israel experienced hunger as Exodus 16:2-3 explains, and in that hunger, again they revolted and murmured: “And the whole congregation of the sons of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. And the sons of Israel said to them, O that we had died by the hand of Jehovah in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh-pots, when we ate bread to the full! For you have brought us forth into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” God then went on meet the needs of His people saying v16:4 “Behold, I will rain bread from the heavens for you. And the people shall go out and gather a certain amount every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in My Law or not.”
Most people reading this article will not have yet tasted hunger, because there has always been a provision of food all around. Worse still, most will never have had a hunger for the Word of God. Thus, while our bodies are overfed and obese, our spirits are dying for lack of either the milk, or the meat, of the Gospel.
However, signs in nature abound that this situation will soon change as famine as and drought begins to slowly grip this world. Climate and rain pattern changes are slowly beginning to influence crop yields and the results of all the dying bees, God’s pollinators par excellence, is beginning to unfold with lower crop yields.
The wisdom here is for all Christians to now start sating themselves on the milk and meat of the Gospel, for the Word of the Lord is sweet (Psalm 119:103, Revelation 10:10).
4 Greed and Gluttony:
It is hard to believe that up to 2 million Israelites in a desert would fall to greed and gluttony, but that is precisely what happened next. Despite bread from heaven six times a week with a double portion before the Sabbath, they murmured again and in Exodus 16:11-13a“the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, I have heard the murmurings of the sons of Israel. Speak to them, saying, You shall eat flesh at evening, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. And you shall know that I am Jehovah your God. And it happened at evening, the quails came up and covered the camp.” Despite God’s promise of daily sustenance, provided directly to them, the Israelite demanded meat also; and it was so provided by God. To overcome the greed and the gluttony of the Israelites, God ensured that the food provided could not be stored overnight or picked late in the day (v20-21), except for Sabbath, when (v24) “they laid it up until the morning, as Moses said. And it did not stink, neither was there any worm in it.”
How often is it that we too, fail to look at the provisions of God for our lives and without even giving thanks, we demand more? We look and see not provision, but lack. We want our wants met, not our needs met. This exposes the selfish and self-centred nature of not only of the Israelites, but us too. We have certainly not improved mankind during intervening the 3,460 odd years since the original events took place. Compared to even the Pharaoh whom Moses overcame to leave Egypt, most in the developed countries live in the lap of luxury; yet we, even we Christians, are consumed with greed and gluttony. We just never have enough.
Deserts are deserts because they are dry, and after an extended time in the deserts, the some 2,000,000 plus Israelites overtaxed the natural water sources available to them and began to thirst. Exodus 17:1-3 explains: “And all the congregation of the sons of Israel journeyed from the wilderness of Sin, after their journeys, according to the command of the Lord, and pitched in Rephidim. And there was no water for the people to drink. And the people wrangled with Moses and said, Give us water that we may drink. And Moses said to them, Why do you wrangle with me? Why do you tempt Jehovah? And the people thirsted there for water. And the people murmured against Moses and said, Why is this, that You brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our sons and our cattle with thirst?” Then in v6, God told Moses to “smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, so that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.”
Few in developed countries have experienced drought or severe thirst, as when there is no water to drink; yet some 2+ million men, women and children die from thirst of water borne causes each year.
But what we Christians suffer from; what thirst or lack of water prophetically represents for us, is a dry and boring existence. We are dry and bored because we are not fulfilled by God in our lives. Being a Christian means having a relationship with God and it is through that relationship and that relationship alone, that true fulfilment occurs. When we are doing for God that which we were born to do, then there is overflowing fulfilment. Jesus is the source of living water as he says in John 4:10“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that says to you, Give Me to drink, you would have asked of Him, and He would have given you living water” adding v13b-14 “Whoever drinks of this water shall thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst, but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” Jesus is the source and the solution; we just need to decide and ask.
Despite having God with them in their midst, the Israelites wanted a god whom they could see and touch, a god who was not fearful and frightening and who would do their bidding, at their requests. Thus in Exodus 31:1-4 we read “And the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, and the people gathered themselves to Aaron. And they said to him, Up! Make us gods who shall go before us. For this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him. And Aaron said to them, Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, of your sons, and of your daughters, and bring them to me. And all the people broke off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. And he took them from their hand, and fashioned it with an engraving tool. And he made it a molten calf. And they said, These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” Oh how quickly were the loyalties forgotten as soon as Moses was out of sight, for they build their own god, a golden calf.
For us as Christian, our desires and lusts must also be overcome, lest they begin to lead us. Anything or anyone, which or who replaces our reliance upon God, can become idolatry. Even Christians can and do make gods of our children; our finances; our jobs; our careers; almost anything. We need to be awake and aware, lest we be devoured, for First Peter 5:8 warns us clearly to “be sensible and vigilant, because your adversary the Devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking someone he may devour.” The enemy is a liar, a deceiver and an accuser and if we are not vigilant we can lose focus on God and make gods of ourselves, thinking “we can”, “I can.” When that happens and we become self reliant, the teeth of the lion will do their best to bite deep and keep us there.
In the above extracts from Exodus, it is clear that there was a lot of complaining from the Israelites about their circumstances, their conditions, their state; a lot of murmurings, a lot of revolt, dissent and disagreement. God noticed it. He notices it in us too, and church goers are, by and large, a complaining bunch, or so it seems. Ask any Church leader – sermon too long, too short, don’t like the music, the drums, the modern…… etc. etc.
Complainers do not find favour with God. As we read in Numbers 11:1 “And the people were evil, as those complaining in the ears of Jehovah. And Jehovah heard, and His anger was kindled.” In Lamentations 3:19 we are asked “What? Should mankind complain, a living man, because of his sins?” That much is clear from the Exodus verses 15:25 and 16:4 where God even says He will test them, as a result of their complaints.
We need to recall the instructive words of First Peter 3:10 when we are thinking of complaining “For he that wants to love life and to see good days, let him restrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking guile.” And as James 3:8 says “no one can tame the tongue, it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.” We complain through talking and the way we talk is by the tongue. Christians need to keep it in check at all times, lest it become a weapon, for the enemy.
In none of the Exodus records above can we find of any thanks giving to God for his grace or mercy or bounty. Quite simply, the Israelites never appear to have learned to give thanks to God.
As born-again Christians we are, or should, be in a totally different position. We have the Bible available to us. This is God’s Word which he honours above even His own name, as Psalm 138:2b says “for You have magnified Your Word above all Your name”! How wonderful is that?
But even Jesus suffered from unthankfulness as Luke 17:15-18 exemplifies as only one of ten healed lepers returns to thank Him: “And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back and glorified God with a loud voice. And he fell down on his face at His feet, thanking Him. And he was a Samaritan. And answering, Jesus said, Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were none found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?”
How are we to be judged? Are we thankful and do we ever express it with all the love and joy and passion we can before an amazing God and King?
9 Leadership Criticism:
Throughout the Exodus, the children of God constantly, constantly, criticised the leaders, Moses and Aaron. Not only that, we find too in Numbers 12:1 that even Aaron and his wife Miriam criticised Moses “because of the Cushite woman whom he had taken. For he had taken a Cushite woman. And they said, Has Jehovah indeed spoken only by Moses? Has He not also spoken by us? And Jehovah heard.” Aaron and Miriam were criticising the only man who had seen God face to face. For as Exodus 33:11 tells us “Jehovah would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.
But look at what is says in Numbers 12:1 “Jehovah heard.” Yes, God heard and it is recorded for us that He did hear. Lest we forget, Jehovah is omnipresent and omniscient, always present and all knowing.
We are called to respect and honour those whom God has put over us, as First Timothy 2:1-3 says “First of all, then, I exhort that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”Romans 13:1-2 clarified adding “Let every soul be subject to the higher authorities. For there is no authority but of God; the authorities that exist are ordained by God. So that the one resisting the authority resists the ordinance of God; and the ones who resist will receive judgement to themselves.”
Criticism of our leaders is therefore criticism of God’s agents and renders us open to judgement. Again, an opportunity for Christians to exercise the art of tongue holding and remaining, but silent, but in supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks for our leaders, whomever they may be.
As Israel responded one by one to the nine tests above and failed one by one, the negative pattern of their response was set. The tenth trial of the Israelites was held at Kadesh-barnea, for it was from there that the twelve spies where sent out to report back on the Promised Land, to Moses and the people. Numbers 13:27-32“And they told him and said, We came to the land where you sent us, and surely it flows with milk and honey. And this is the fruit of it. However, the people that dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are walled, very great. And also we saw the children of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the south, and the Hittites, and the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the mountains. And the Canaanites dwell by the sea and by the coast of Jordan. And Caleb stilled the people before Moses and said, Let us go up at once and possess it. For we are well able to overcome it. But the men that went up with him said, We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we. And they brought up an evil report of the land which they had searched to the sons of Israel, saying, The land through which we have gone to search it, is a land that eats up those who live in it. And all the people whom we saw in it were men of stature.”
Against the words and wishes of Joshua and Caleb, the spies submitted an evil report. Then, Numbers 14:1-4“And all the sons of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron. And the whole congregation said to them, Oh that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or, Oh that we had died in the wilderness! And why has Jehovah brought us into this land to fall by the sword, so that our wives and our sons should be a prey? Would it not be better for us to return to Egypt? And they said to one another, Let us make a leader, and let us return to Egypt.”
God’s peoples crumbled under all the negativity, eventually falling into total unbelief. God’s reaction was firm and severe as in v27-30 as He asks: “How long shall I bear with this evil congregation, which murmurs against Me? I have heard the murmurings of the sons of Israel which they murmur against Me. Say to them, As I live, says Jehovah, as you have spoken in My ears, so I will do to you. Your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness, and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward, who have murmured against Me, you shall certainly not come into the land which I swore to make you live in, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun.”
Thus only Caleb and Joshua of that generation made it into the Promised Land. How many “Christian” and non-believers will similarly not make it into eternity because of unbelief? How many of our friends and family will be subject to a second death, because of unbelief?
God has done it before, He is planning to do it again. We have been warned and the Word is there for us all to read and understand. Oh Lord, please help us overcome our unbelief.
The Lord God Almighty is a God of second chances. It is His ardent wish that none be lost, for we are all His children. He made us. He sustains us. He gave His Son that we may have life and the opportunity of forgiveness of our sins and entry to heaven to spend eternity there with Him. He gave us a guide, The Holy Bible, to show us how and tell us why. But it is all by His grace and His grace alone that we are saved.
Let s learn from the errors of the Israelites as they failed on test after test until they missed out on the Promised Land. I earnestly pray that those who read this will not miss out on eternity by repeating history.
Amen and Amen.