EXODUS 16:1-3; NUMBERS 20:1-12

AUGUST 16, 2015

Rev. Dr. Richard Meyer

(Play Audio)


            I want to begin this morning with a request. I want you to think back to the good old days. I know that will vary with each individual, but when you think back to the good old days. What comes to mind? What time? What place? What period?

            As a young married seminary couple, Trudy and I went on a hot date.  We drove from Glendale, where we lived, to Hollywood to see an exclusive engagement of the movie, The Way We Were, starring Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand. Near the end of the story, we see two old friends, J. J. and Hubbell, sitting back in a sailboat together and reminiscing about times gone by. They had been through college together, World War II, overlapping careers, marriages, and divorces. Now, relaxed and laughing together, they enjoy an exercise of nostalgia. They ask each other "Best Saturday afternoon?" "Best month?" "Best year?"

      Hubbell, played by Robert Redford, answers the first two questions with confidence. When J. J. asks, "Best year?" however, Hubbell pauses. This one is not so easy to single out. Finally, tentatively, he answers, "1944." Then, quietly and without explanation, he amends his answer: "1945." His voice trails off and the scene fades away as he says, 1946."

            Its not always easy to identify the good old days.”     

            As we turn our attention to the seventh old testament essential in our overview of the Hebrew Scriptures, lets listen to what the Israelites consider to be the good old days. Their good old days may surprise you.  They surprised me.  Exodus 16:1 on page 55 of the pew bible.


            The whole congregation of the Israelites set out from Elim; and Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. (In other words, roughly forty-five days after leaving Egypt) The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.


            This is actually their second complaint.  Previously, some three days after the parting of the Red Sea, they complained to Moses that they were thirsty.  “”What the heck are we going to drink out here in the wilderness? Now they are complaining that they are hungry.  Verse 3


            The Israelites said to them, If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly.


            As we turn to the seventh Old Testament Essential the Wilderness Wandering reported in two and a half books of the Old Testament we can divide this forty year period of wilderness wandering into three sections. The first section unfolds in the second half of the Book of Exodus and runs through first ten chapters of Numbers. It spans a period of one year, most of that year camped at the base of Mount Sinai and it is characterized by three things, two of which are Old Testament Essentials, the Law and the Tabernacle. Well spend a Sunday each on those essentials, the Law and the Tabernacle. The third thing that characterizes this first year is the beginning of the whining, and grumbling and complaining of the Israelites, directed at Moses, and Aaron and God. This whining, complaining and grumbling will carry through most of the forty years in the wilderness.

            In our passage for today, they complain about the lack of food and they wish they had it as well as they had it during the good old days in Egypt. Somehow they forget about the abuse they experienced as slaves in Egypt remembering only the meat and bread they enjoyed.

            Immediate physical needs, like hunger, have a way of blocking out all reason, like the time Esau gave up his birthright for a pot of food. At this point the Israelites are willing to give up their freedom for three hots and a cot.

            Im reminded of the eagle that escaped from the San Francisco Zoo. It didn't get very far. Unused to fending for itself, it had lost its predatory skills and had forgotten its natural enemies. Within twelve hours its keepers had lured the hungry bird back into captivity with nothing more than a dead mouse.

            In similar fashion, the Israelites, unused to the rigors of the wilderness, long for the familiar comforts of slavery over the promises of freedom in a new land.

            So, thats a very brief overview of section one of the wilderness wandering. A one year period mostly spent at the base of Mount Sinai where God gives them the Law and instructions on how to build a tabernacle, and where they spend a good portion of their time complaining their heads off.

            Now, lets turn to section two of the wilderness wandering, the section that answers the question Why did it take forty years to get to the Promised Land from Egypt when it should only have taken a number of days? And, it had nothing to do with the fact that Moses and Aaron being men, did not ask for directions. No, it was something else. If section one was characterized by the beginning of grumbling and complaining, section two is characterized by a momentous lack of faith.

            The episode that consigned the Israelites to spend forty years in the wilderness is recorded in the thirteenth and fourteenth chapters of Numbers. It concerns a spy mission. Some of you may remember the mission. Moses commissioned twelve spies, one from each tribe, to go up to the Promised Land, check it out and report back. When they returned they had a classic good news-bad news report. The good news was it was a land of milk and honey, in other words a fertile and luxurious land. The bad news was it was occupied by big, smelly, ferocious looking people, with bad breath who physically towered over the scrawny Israelites.

            The report sent shivers down the spines of the Israelites. There was, however, a minority report.  Two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, had faith that no matter how big and smelly and ferocious the occupants of the land happened to be, with God on their side the Israelites would be able to defeat them.

            The Israelites favored the majority report, and It was this lack of trust that led God to decree that the generation that came out of Egypt, those adults twenty years and older, would die in the wilderness, never seeing the Promised Land. The only exceptions would be Joshua and Caleb. Israel would wander in the wilderness for forty years, long enough for that generation of adults, twenty years and older, to die off.

            Moses, of course, should have been exempt as well, however, look at what happened to him. I refer you to Numbers 20:1 on page 121 of the pew bible.


            The Israelites, the whole congregation, came into the wilderness of Zin in the first month, and the people stayed in Kadesh. Miriam died there, and was buried there.

            Now there was no water for the congregation; so they gathered together against Moses and against Aaron. The people quarreled with Moses and said, Would that we had died when our kindred died before the Lord! Why have you brought us the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness for us and our livestock to die here? Why have you brought us up out of Egypt, to bring us to this wretched place? It is no place for grain, or figs, or vines, or pomegranates; and there is no water to drink.


            By the way, the people who went to Israel with us a couple of years ago can attest to this.  As we have roadside stands during the summer of sweet corn and cucumbers and tomatoes and watermelon, they have road side stands in Israel with pomegranates.  They even have pomegranate fruit presses to in order to get fresh squeezed pomegranate juice.  They love their pomegranate juice!


            Then Moses and Aaron went away from the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting; they fell on their faces and the glory of the Lord appeared to them. The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and your brother Aaron, and command the rock before their eyes to yield its water. Thus you shall bring water out to the rock for them; thus you shall provide drink for the congregation and their livestock.


            Other than the whiny Israelites, so good so far. Next comes, Moses downfall.


            So Moses took the staff from before the Lord, as he had commanded him. Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, Listen, you rebels, shall we bring water for you out of this rock?


            See the problem?  Not, Listen, you rebels, shall God bring water for you out of this rock? but he said, Listen, you rebels, shall we bring water for you out of this rock?

In other words, instead of giving God the glory, Moses infers that he and Aaron, not God, are the ones providing the water.  Verse 11,


            Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff; water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their livestock drank. But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, Because you did not trust in me, to show my holiness before the eyes of the Israelites, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.


            After all Moses had been through with these folk, I would have cut him a little slack, but Im not complaining mind you. At least, Im not complaining about God, Im complaining to God.  Theres a big difference between the two, complaining to and complaining about, at least I hope there is.   And one more thing.  If you like anything at all in this message, or any message, its not me its the Holy Spirit.  Got that?  Not me, its the Holy Spirit!  Im just covering my bases here. I dont want to be like Moses here taking the credit for something God does. I don want to be left on the outside looking in!

            Then, finally, we have section three which encompasses the entire book of Deuteronomy, and contains Moses final words to Israel. In Deuteronomy Moses speaks to the generation that will enter the Promised Land, in which he leads them in a reaffirmation of the covenant into which they had entered with God at Mount Sinai, and once they do so, Moses ascends Mount Nebo, from which he could see the Promised Land, and he dies.

            Three sections.  Section one mostly one year camped at the base of Mount Sinai and the beginning of the Israelites whining, grumbling and complaining. Section two, answering the question why forty years of wandering when it should have only taken them days to arrive in the Promised Land? Finally, section three, Moses final words to the Israelites prior to their entering the Promised Land without him.

            As we reflect upon this forty year period of time in the life of the Israelites, two unattractive characteristics jump out at us the unattractiveness of constant grumbling, whining and complaining, and the unattractiveness of a lack of faith in God.

            I like the story of the woman who was full of miseries. Her pastor came by to see her one day and she began her litany: "The neighbor's children are so noisy...People at the church never come to see me...my arthritis is getting worse...the weather has been so terrible..." On and on she went with one complaint after the other. Finally she said, "But do you know, Pastor, I have had the worst headache all week, but suddenly it is gone." The pastor sighed and said, "Oh, no. Your headache didn't disappear. I have it now.

            Its no fun to be around a person like that, and its no fun to be in a church like that. And we are not like that at all, right?  Right? We dont whine and grumble and complain.  Right? Right?

            Its also no fun to be around people who exercise a lack of faith. Listen to these words from a guy named Bill Bouknight.  He said, Most people define themselves either by their problems or their possibilities. Fearful people wake up each morning and locate themselves on a problem chart. But people of faith should wake up and consult their possibility chart. What a difference faith makes!

            That certainly characterizes us. Right? Right?  People of faith.  People who consult our possibility chart and not our problem chart.  Right? Right?