We are in a series called ‘Old School.’ When we say ‘Old School’, these are the things we are not talking about. Do you remember the store Block Buster? You walked in to rent a VHS tape? Do you remember rotary phones? Do you remember when seat belts were those things you jammed into the seat because they were in your way? Do you remember when your parents washed your mouth out with soap? Do you remember when you did what was right regardless of how you felt about it? Do you remember prayer in school, back before we took God out of school?
Our ‘Old School’ series is about the Old testament. Remember, we only have thirteen weeks this summer to walk through a story that took 4,000 years. What have we covered so far? Abraham is a story about God’s timing. What do you do when you feel like God promised you something and nothing is happening? Moses is a story about how we respond to God. When God invites us into what He is doing, we wrestle with Him don’t we? Moses wrestled with God and finally said, ‘God find someone else to do this.’ Last week, the story of the Israelites being freed from slavery. It was a story about standing firm. Sam did such a great job of helping us enter into that story and experience what it had to be like to have a river in front of you and behind you, the most powerful army coming to make you a slave again. Sam shared what Moses said. It was the most courageous thing,
“Don’t be afraid. Stand firm and watch God do his work of salvation for you today.” MSG Exodus 14:13
Did you hear that? ‘Salvation work.’ Stand firm and watch God do his work of salvation for you. That is amazing.
Do you see that these stories are stories about us? Allow me to quickly explain. The Israelites were in slavery. At one time, we were in slavery, a slave to sin. The Israelites needed someone to save them because they had absolutely no ability to free themselves. When we were slaves to sin, we needed someone to save us because we have absolutely no ability to save ourselves. Because God loved the Israelites, God saved them. He did all the work. It was a miracle. Because God loves you, God saved you. He did all the work. It is a miracle. And when the Israelites faced certain death, God said, ‘Stand firm and watch God do his work of salvation for you.’ When we face hard times, what does God tell us? ‘Stand firm and watch God do his work of salvation for you.’
These stories aren’t old irrelevant stories. They are stories about us and what God is doing in us. I am so excited to continue this Old School series with you because it explains so many things about our lives. Today I want you to think about this question. If God saved me, then why do I face hard times? Why doesn’t God make my life comfortable and easy? Why do I face challenge after challenge? To answer these questions, we are going to continue with the story Sam gave us last week.
The Israelites were slaves. God does the unthinkable. Through plagues, God creates so much pain in Egypt, Pharaoh frees them. Pharaoh then regrets is decision to free them and comes after them to recapture them. God does the unthinkable. God destroys the most powerful army in a couple moments. Scripture says, in that moment, the Israelites were in awe of God. They just witnessed another amazing miracle from God.
Now they are headed to the promised land. A land filled with milk and honey. That journey from Egypt to Canaan should have taken them about two weeks. But, that’s not how God leads them. Instead, it took about two years to get to the promised land. I want to highlight every challenge they faced in the desert. And I want you to be asking, why would God free them and allow them to face challenges? And, isn’t it mean to make people face challenges? Buckle up, here we go.
Three days into the journey there is no water.
22 Then Moses led the people of Israel away from the Red Sea, and they moved out into the desert of Shur. They traveled in this desert for three days without finding any water. 23 When they came to the oasis of Marah, the water was too bitter to drink. So they called the place Marah (which means “bitter”).
24 Then the people complained and turned against Moses. “What are we going to drink?” they demanded. 25 So Moses cried out to the Lord for help, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood. Moses threw it into the water, and this made the water good to drink.
It was there at Marah that the Lord set before them the following decree as a standard to test their faithfulness to him. 26 He said, “If you will listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in his sight, obeying his commands and keeping all his decrees, then I will not make you suffer any of the diseases I sent on the Egyptians; for I am the Lord who heals you.” NLT Exodus 15:22-26
30 days into the journey, the food stinks.
1 They arrived there [wilderness of Sin] …one month after leaving the land of Egypt. 2 There, too, the whole community of Israel complained about Moses and Aaron.
3 “If only the Lord had killed us back in Egypt,” they moaned. “There we sat around pots filled with meat and ate all the bread we wanted. But now you have brought us into this wilderness to starve us all to death.”
4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Look, I’m going to rain down food from heaven for you. Each day the people can go out and pick up as much food as they need for that day. I will test them in this to see whether or not they will follow my instructions. NLT Exodus 16:1-4
Again, no water.
1 At the Lord’s command, the whole community of Israel left the wilderness of Sin and moved from place to place. Eventually they camped at Rephidim, but there was no water there for the people to drink. 2 So once more the people complained against Moses. “Give us water to drink!” they demanded.
“Quiet!” Moses replied. “Why are you complaining against me? And why are you testing the Lord?”
3 But tormented by thirst, they continued to argue with Moses. “Why did you bring us out of Egypt? Are you trying to kill us, our children, and our livestock with thirst?” NLT Exodus 17:1-3
Just when they get water, an army comes to kill them.
8 While the people of Israel were still at Rephidim, the warriors of Amalek attacked them. 9 Moses commanded Joshua, “Choose some men to go out and fight the army of Amalek for us. Tomorrow, I will stand at the top of the hill, holding the staff of God in my hand.” …14 After the victory, the Lord instructed Moses, “Write this down on a scroll as a permanent reminder. NLT Exodus 17:8-9, 14
Think about this. Why would God allow these struggles? Thy could be in the promised land by now?
Two months into the journey, Moses goes to meet with God.
1 Exactly two months after the Israelites left Egypt, they arrived in the wilderness of Sinai. 2 After breaking camp at Rephidim, they came to the wilderness of Sinai and set up camp there at the base of Mount Sinai. 3 Then Moses climbed the mountain to appear before God. NLT Exodus 19:1-3
…32:1 When the people saw how long it was taking Moses to come back down the mountain, they gathered around Aaron. “Come on,” they said, “make us some gods who can lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.”
2 So Aaron said, “Take the gold rings from the ears of your wives and sons and daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 All the people took the gold rings from their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4 Then Aaron took the gold, melted it down, and molded it into the shape of a calf. When the people saw it, they exclaimed, “O Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of the land of Egypt!” NLT Exodus 32:1-3
Everyone is sick of Manna, they want meat.
1 Soon the people began to complain about their hardship, and the Lord heard everything they said. Then the Lord’s anger blazed against them, and he sent a fire to rage among them, and he destroyed some of the people in the outskirts of the camp. 2 Then the people screamed to Moses for help, and when he prayed to the Lord, the fire stopped. 3 After that, the area was known as Taberah (which means “the place of burning”), because fire from the Lord had burned among them there.
4 Then the foreign rabble who were traveling with the Israelites began to crave the good things of Egypt. And the people of Israel also began to complain. “Oh, for some meat!” they exclaimed. 5 “We remember the fish we used to eat for free in Egypt. And we had all the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic we wanted. 6 But now our appetites are gone. All we ever see is this manna!”
…18 “And say to the people, ‘Purify yourselves, for tomorrow you will have meat to eat. You were whining, and the Lord heard you when you cried, “Oh, for some meat! We were better off in Egypt!” Now the Lord will give you meat, and you will have to eat it. 19 And it won’t be for just a day or two, or for five or ten or even twenty. 20 You will eat it for a whole month until you gag and are sick of it. For you have rejected the Lord, who is here among you, and you have whined to him, saying, “Why did we ever leave Egypt?”’” NLT Numbers 11:1-6, 18-20
Moses’ brother and sister elevate themselves and start a rebellion.
1 While they were at Hazeroth, Miriam and Aaron criticized Moses because he had married a Cushite woman. 2 They said, “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Hasn’t he spoken through us, too?” But the Lord heard them. 3 (Now Moses was very humble—more humble than any other person on earth.)
…9 The Lord was very angry with them, and he departed. 10 As the cloud moved from above the Tabernacle, there stood Miriam, her skin as white as snow from leprosy. When Aaron saw what had happened to her, 11 he cried out to Moses, “Oh, my master! Please don’t punish us for this sin we have so foolishly committed. NLT Numbers 12:1-3, 9-11
Why would God take a two week trip and make it a two year journey filled with struggle? Finally make it to the promised land. After experiencing God, fear stops them and shocker, they complain.
1 The Lord now said to Moses, 2 “Send out men to explore the land of Canaan, the land I am giving to the Israelites. Send one leader from each of the twelve ancestral tribes.” 3 So Moses did as the Lord commanded him. He sent out twelve men, all tribal leaders of Israel, from their camp in the wilderness of Paran.
…25 After exploring the land for forty days, the men returned 26 to Moses, Aaron, and the whole community of Israel at Kadesh in the wilderness of Paran. They reported to the whole community what they had seen and showed them the fruit they had taken from the land. 27 This was their report to Moses: “We entered the land you sent us to explore, and it is indeed a bountiful country-a land flowing with milk and honey. Here is the kind of fruit it produces. 28 But the people living there are powerful, and their towns are large and fortified. We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak! 29 The Amalekites live in the Negev, and the Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites live in the hill country. The Canaanites live along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and along the Jordan Valley.”
30 But Caleb tried to quiet the people as they stood before Moses. “Let’s go at once to take the land,” he said. “We can certainly conquer it!”
15:1 Then the whole community began weeping aloud, and they cried all night. 2 Their voices rose in a great chorus of protest against Moses and Aaron. “If only we had died in Egypt, or even here in the wilderness!” they complained. 3 “Why is the Lord taking us to this country only to have us die in battle? Our wives and our little ones will be carried off as plunder! Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?” 4 Then they plotted among themselves, “Let’s choose a new leader and go back to Egypt!” NLT Numbers 14:1-3, 25-30, 15:1-4
Let’s recap their two-year journey in the desert. Remember, they have experienced God do incredible miracles in Egypt. No one had ever seen God move more, except for maybe Noah.
There is no water, they complain and want to go back into slavery. There is no food, they complain and want to go back into slavery. They faced a war, God saves them. Moses visits with God and God doesn’t move fast enough so they make an idol and worship it. They become sick of the food God provided, they want to go back to Egypt, so God gives them quail. They think they know better than their leader and become angry with Moses and rebelled. And when they see the promised land, all they can see are problems, so they are filled with fear and complain. That fear made them want to go back to slavery in Egypt. And by the way, just two years earlier, they saw the most powerful army in the world destroyed.
When you read this two-year story, don’t you want to just jump into the story and say, “Guys, what are you doing? Just trust God – it’s so obvious. When you trust God, everything works out.” I remember hearing this story as a kid and thinking, ‘These people are nuts.’
You need to know this is not a story about come crazy people who can’t follow God. This is a story about us. When we accept Jesus into our lives, we begin our journey with God. It’s not going to take two weeks to find spiritual maturity. It’s going to feel more like twenty or forty years. As you start your journey, it’s not going to look like you think it’s going to look. The following may happen to you. You may face challenge after challenge. At every turn of life, you may want to complain and find yourself thinking, I want to go back to my old life. You may become sick of how God provides for you, you might want more. A leadership role, a title, people validating you. You may face things that will make you feel like you are in a war. You might think God isn’t moving fast enough and you will be tempted to return to your old sins. You will be angry at your spiritual leaders and think you know better than they and want to rebel. And right when you are about to have a huge break through, you might only see the impossible and you will be filled with fear and again, complain.
Do you see it? These stories aren’t about crazy people who don’t trust God, they are stories about you and me.
Ultimately, this story ends right before they are about to walk into the promised land. But instead, they rebelled against God. How? They allowed their fear to steal their courage, their trust in God. And God punished them by saying, ‘I can’t believe, after everything I have done for you, you still don’t trust me. Now you will walk for 40 years in this desert and die.’ Then, 40 years later, Moses explained why they faced hard times.
2 Remember how the Lord your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey his commands. 3 Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors. He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. 4 For all these forty years your clothes didn’t wear out, and your feet didn’t blister or swell. 5 Think about it: Just as a parent disciplines a child, the Lord your God disciplines you for your own good.
6 “So obey the commands of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and fearing him. 7 For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land of flowing streams and pools of water, with fountains and springs that gush out in the valleys and hills. 8 It is a land of wheat and barley; of grapevines, fig trees, and pomegranates; of olive oil and honey. 9 It is a land where food is plentiful and nothing is lacking. It is a land where iron is as common as stone, and copper is abundant in the hills. 10 When you have eaten your fill, be sure to praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.
11 “But that is the time to be careful! Beware that in your plenty you do not forget the Lord your God and disobey his commands, regulations, and decrees that I am giving you today. 12 For when you have become full and prosperous and have built fine homes to live in, 13 and when your flocks and herds have become very large and your silver and gold have multiplied along with everything else, be careful! 14 Do not become proud at that time and forget the Lord your God, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt. 15 Do not forget that he led you through the great and terrifying wilderness with its poisonous snakes and scorpions, where it was so hot and dry. He gave you water from the rock! 16 He fed you with manna in the wilderness, a food unknown to your ancestors. He did this to humble you and test you for your own good. 17 He did all this so you would never say to yourself, ‘I have achieved this wealth with my own strength and energy.’ 18 Remember the Lord your God. He is the one who gives you power to be successful, in order to fulfill the covenant he confirmed to your ancestors with an oath. NLT Deuteronomy 8:2-18
Do you remember the questions we started with today? If God saved me, then why do I face hard times? Why doesn’t God make my life comfortable and easy? Why do I face challenge after challenge?
God allows us to face hard times. God is humbling us and allowing us to be challenged. He does it to teach us, we don’t live by bread alone. That means, we don’t live by what we can accomplish, our strength and our material things. We live by the words that come out of God’s mouth. That means, you are brought to life only through a relationship with God. He wants us to remember, we live because God loves us. He wants to teach us to live in desperate need of God, not what we can accomplish, not our strength, not our material things. At every moment of our lives, God wants us to go to Him and put our faith in Him.
The only way for God to develop ‘trust in God’ into the Children of Israel was to allow them to face hard times. Remember, this is a story about us, too. The only way God can develop our ‘trust in God’ into us, is to allow us to face challenges.
I need to ask you a few questions.
Have you given your life to Jesus? Do you still feel like you are walking in spiritual darkness, a slave to sin? Do you wrestle with negative and harmful emotions, thoughts and hurts? You can experience freedom when you pray, ask God to forgive you and live inside of you.
Maybe you are a first generation Christian and today you feel like you are experiencing challenges. What is happening in you? Is your Christian experience like the Children of Israel? Are you complaining a lot to your friends about every small issue? Are you thinking God isn’t moving fast enough? Are you sick and tired of how God has saved you and you want more? Are you and your friends elevating yourself, thinking you know better than your spiritual leaders and wanting to rebel? Are you wanting to return to your old sins for some fun – some relief? When you face hard times, do you only see problems and do they make you live paralyzed in fear?
Maybe you are a second or third generation Christian. Have you forgotten that God has saved you? That God has allowed you to succeed? That God has given you your strength and energy? You think to yourself, ‘Look at what I have done. Look at my decisions. I really have been great.’ Ya, you probably are but have you forgotten, you are here because God pulled you out of slavery to sin?
The story of the Israelites walking through the desert is a story about us. The journey that should have taken two weeks took two years. They faced so many challenges. They responded so poorly. How are you responding to God?