“Grumbling on the Way to the Promised Land” (Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29)

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 30, 2018

“Grumbling on the Way to the Promised Land” (Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29)

Our text this morning is the Old Testament Reading from Numbers 11. At the start of this text we hear the Israelites grumbling against God and against his servant Moses. It says: “Now the rabble that was among [the children of Israel] had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, ‘Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.’”

This text, my friends, is a picture of us. For we too grumble and complain–against God, and sometimes against his servants also. How we grumble and complain! Even though, like the Israelites, the Lord has brought us out of bondage. Even though the Lord is leading us to the land he has promised. Even though he is providing for us along the way. And so our theme this morning: “Grumbling on the Way to the Promised Land.”

Today we will see how this Scripture serves as both a warning and an encouragement. It is a warning against us falling into unbelief. And it is an encouragement for us to find forgiveness and hope and renewal in Christ.

The setting for our text is this: The Lord had led his people Israel out of bondage in Egypt, through his servant Moses. The Lord had led them out into the wilderness, and he was bringing them up to the land that he had promised to their forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Yes, Israel had seen the Lord’s faithfulness to his promises of old. The Lord had heard their cry for deliverance, and he remembered his promises. He brought them out of bondage with a mighty hand. He brought them to Sinai and made a covenant with them there. He stayed with them, even though they had shown themselves to be an unfaithful people.

And the Lord provided for them along the way, in the wilderness, on the way to the Promised Land. He provided manna from heaven, quail in the desert, and water from a rock. He had done these things for them before, and he would do them again. The Lord was more gracious to the children of Israel than they deserved. And the Lord had set before them the promise of the land he would bring them into. It would be a land flowing with milk and honey and with all sorts of goodness and abundance.

And yet still they complained. Still they grumbled and murmured. They complained that the Lord’s provision along the way was not as good as the food they remembered from back in Egypt. “We’re sick of this lousy manna,” they murmured. “At least back in Egypt we had tastier food!” The irony, of course, was that back in Egypt they were slaves! And here the Lord had given them freedom, and he was bringing them up to a good land where they would have plenty. Yet they wanted to go back to Egypt. That was more familiar to them, even though it meant slavery. So they griped and groused and grumbled.

As I say, this is a picture of us. For we too grumble and grouse and gripe and complain and murmur. If we didn’t have something to complain about, we’d probably complain about that! “Why doesn’t God give us more to complain about? We’re feeling a little short-changed here, God!” What an unruly, ungrateful lot we are! Just like the children of Israel.

And so, not content just to complain against God, Israel also took it out on God’s servant, their pastor, Moses. He made a convenient target. The point is, when we grumble against God, we often take it out also on the people around us, the ones who are easier to blame. It’s been like that from the beginning, hasn’t it? Adam blamed Eve and thus he indirectly blamed God, who had given the woman to him. Eve, in turn, blamed the serpent. We always want to have somebody to blame, somebody else to take the fall for our own failings and shortcomings.

We grumble and complain, we fight and quarrel. Like Israel, we want to go back to Egypt. We have seen the Lord’s faithfulness to us, we have heard his promises, we have received his provision. Yet we want to go back to Egypt. We want to go back into slavery, into our previous bondage. At least that seemed familiar. We want to go back to the ways of the world, which are all around us and which are calling out to us. The worldlings we know are our friends and neighbors. We want to fit in, blend in, be like them. The culture calls to us, like a seductive siren beckoning us to the rocky shoals. And so we say, “Who needs this wilderness waybread? We’re tired of this–what is it?–‘manna.’ ‘Oh, that we had meat to eat!’ Let us go back to the fleshpots of Egypt!”

Think about how we envy the people of this world: “Why, they have their weekends free! They don’t get told they ought to go to church! Hey, I could sleep in on Sundays!” “You know, the people of this world have a lot more disposable income, don’t they? They don’t get pressured into putting their hard-earned money into the offering plate!” “Think of it! Nobody would ask me to serve in a church office! That’d be great!” “And then there are those hymns and the liturgy and all that sin-and-grace stuff. No, if I’ve got to have a little bit of religion, I’d rather have some upbeat entertainment and some practical how-to messages. Word and Sacraments? No, bread and circuses!” “Oh, that we had meat to eat!”

The warning for us here today is that we not fall back into unbelief. If we tire of God’s ways and long for the ways of the world, the danger is that we may just get what we’re wishing for. And that would be disaster. It is better for us to enter into life subsisting on the manna God gives than to feast on the fatness of the world and be cast into hell. The journey that God leads us on may not always be easy or luxurious, but it is the only path that leads to life.

And so then here is the encouragement for us today. Our gracious God does not cast us aside, even though we have grumbled and complained. For there is one who makes intercession for us. Just as Moses interceded for Israel–he pled on their behalf that they would be spared in spite of their sins, and they were–in a much greater way, our Savior Jesus Christ intercedes for us. Christ pleads on our behalf that we would be saved eternally, and we are! We are saved from God’s righteous anger against ungrateful grumblers. By grace we are saved for everlasting life in the Promised Land of heaven. Christ our Savior is interceding for us. His holy blood pleads for us before God’s throne of grace.

Moses felt the burden of the sins of his rebellious people. In a much greater way, Jesus bore the burden of our sins and the sins of the whole world. And he carried that unbearable burden to the cross, where he, the very Son of God, bled and died for us. Now the weight of our sin is lifted from our shoulders, and we are free. Hell holds no terror for us. Satan has no power over us. The Holy Spirit renews our minds and hearts, he renews our mouths and our attitudes. The promises of God enliven our steps and lift our drooping spirits, as we plod along through the wilderness of this world. Hope, the sure hope of heaven, lifts our vision beyond the horizon of the humdrum. The lifeblood of love flows through our veins, and we begin to love others with the love which we ourselves have received from God.

Will God provide for us along the way? Brothers and sisters, where is your trust? Where does Jesus direct you to put your trust? He would say to you today: “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink or what you will wear. Look at the birds of the air. Your heavenly Father feeds them. Look at the lilies of the field. God clothes them most splendidly. Are you not of more value than they? Your heavenly Father knows what you need, and he will provide it.” Yes, brothers and sisters, your heavenly Father will provide for you, everything you need. “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him give us all things?”

My dear friends in Christ, Jesus now is your freedom and contentment. Jesus now is your provision along the way. He is your promise of the sweet and blessed country to come. Jesus now is cleansing for your complaining and grace for your grumbling. He is the living bread that comes down from heaven. Eat of it and you shall live, forever.

“Oh, that we had meat to eat!” Well, I’ve got news for you today, dear friends, good news: Egypt ain’t got nothin’ on the kingdom of God! Therefore, not grumbling but grateful we will be on the way to the Promised Land!

Published in: on September 29, 2018 at 11:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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