A Table in the Wilderness

Intro: What is Satan’s most successful lie? Certainly near the top of the list is: God will not provide.

  • He tried it out early on when he tempted Eve to doubt God provision in the garden. Certainly Eve did not believe God’s explicit words of judgment, “You shall surely die”. But she also did not believe the implicit words of God, I have provided for you, you can trust Me”. The Lord had provided numerous trees with desirable and healthy fruit, and only forbid the fruit on one. Yet despite God’s adequate provision, Satan was able to convince Eve to doubt and sin.
  • Our study this month will focus on the powerful promise of God to provide. It is a promise that impacts our life and our faith every day. It lies at the heart of our prayers (give us this day our daily bread); our view of life (in Him all things consist), and our priorities (seek first His kingdom and all these things will be added to you.) In this study we will consider the sin of worry, the false interpretations of God’s promise to provide, and the threat of covetousness. But first we will go to an OT view of God as the Provider.

I. A Classroom in the Wilderness: When Israel was delivered from Pharaoh, and began the trip to Palestine, do you think they questioned the route? (Sometimes I question my GPS). There are shorter ways to get from Egypt to Palestine than through the wilderness of Sinai. Mount Sinai is about 200 miles out of the way, and the road is wilderness.

A. Why did God chose this way? He chose it because it was best for his people. This is what he says through Moses to the people of Israel after a forty year detour in the wilderness, just before they cross over into the promised land – Deut 8:11-18“Beware that you do not forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments, and His statutes which I command you today, 12 lest — when you have eaten and are full, and have built beautiful houses and dwell in them; 13 and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and your gold are multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied; 14 when your heart is lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage; 15 who led you through that great and terrible wilderness, in which were fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty land where there was no water; who brought water for you out of the flinty rock; 16 who fed you in the wilderness with manna, which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do you good in the end — 17 then you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth.’ 18 “And you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day. He led them in the wilderness, it says, to humble them and test them, to do them good in the end. What was the good that would come? Was it physical prosperity (flocks, gold, silver)? God’s purposes were higher, and more difficult to achieve. He desired to make His people completely dependent upon Him for everything. They had to learn it was God who would provide.

II. Israel Fails the Test: We can sketch the history of Israel from the exodus out of Egypt to the crossing of Jordan into the promised land:

  • The journey from Egypt to Mount Sinai where the law was given took about three months. (Ex. 14-19)
  • For almost two years the people of Israel stay at Sinai (law given, tabernacle planned and constructed). (Ex. 19 to the end; all of Leviticus, and Numbers 1–10.) So from Exodus 19 to Numbers 10 the people are in the wilderness of Sinai.

A. In Numbers 13 the 12 spies are sent out and 10 of them return with a discouraging report. (We are grasshoppers in their sight). Joshua and Caleb plead for the people to have faith in God’s promise, but their words are rejected. God speaks out in Numbers 14:11 – “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs which I have wrought among them? I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them.” Moses intercedes for the nation, and God relents from total destruction.

1. What follows are some very disturbing words of judgment. That entire generation had failed the test, and are sent back to school for 40 years… Num 14:20-2420 Then the Lord said: “I have pardoned, according to your word; 21 but truly, as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord — 22 because all these men who have seen My glory and the signs which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have put Me to the test now these ten times, and have not heeded My voice, 23 they certainly shall not see the land of which I swore to their fathers, nor shall any of those who rejected Me see it. 24 But My servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit in him and has followed Me fully, I will bring into the land where he went, and his descendants shall inherit it. …v. 29-3329 The carcasses of you who have complained against Me shall fall in this wilderness, all of you who were numbered, according to your entire number, from twenty years old and above. 30 Except for Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun, you shall by no means enter the land which I swore I would make you dwell in. 31 But your little ones, whom you said would be victims, I will bring in, and they shall know the land which you have despised. 32 But as for you, your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness. 33 And your sons shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years, and bear the brunt of your infidelity, until your carcasses are consumed in the wilderness.

III. Reviewing God’s Curriculum: When we consider the lessons God intended for Israel to learn, we can see that the wilderness was the perfect place for them to be. I see this as a two part curriculum. This is what they needed to learn.

A. Part 1 –You are helpless. Moses told them that these things were intended to “humble them”. God’s work cannot be accomplished among proud, arrogant or self-oriented people. Prov 3:5-7 – 5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; 6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths. 7 Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the Lord and depart from evil. It did not take them long to get this first part. On the way between Egypt and Sinai they came to realize they could not fend for themselves and without food they would die. Ex 16:2-32 Then the whole congregation of the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3 And the children of Israel said to them, “Oh, that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

B. Part 2 – I will provide. The second part of this lesson was the real test. Notice how God answers their complaints. Ex 16:4Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you. And the people shall go out and gather a certain quota every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in My law or not. V. 12-1512 “I have heard the complaints of the children of Israel. Speak to them, saying, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. And you shall know that I am the Lord your God.'” 13 So it was that quails came up at evening and covered the camp, and in the morning the dew lay all around the camp. 14 And when the layer of dew lifted, there, on the surface of the wilderness, was a small round substance, as fine as frost on the ground. 15 So when the children of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “This is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat.

C. “Nothing at all except this manna”… God provided bread from heaven (manna) throughout the wilderness training exercise. It never failed. Was this enough for Israel to know and believe in their benevolent God? The months passed, and soon the miraculous manna grew old, and was taken for granted or even despised. They felt no more wonder at God’s power and grace.

1. Notice their complaint: Num 11:4-64 Now the mixed multitude who were among them yielded to intense craving; so the children of Israel also wept again and said: “Who will give us meat to eat? 5 We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; 6 but now our whole being is dried up; there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes!” (the NIV says they began to crave “other food”, and wished they could be back in Egypt where they ate at “no cost”.)

2. God was angry with them so he tells Moses to tell them… “The Lord will give you meat, and you shall eat. You shall not eat one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, but a whole month until it comes out at your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have rejected the Lord who is among you and have wept before him saying, ‘Why did we come forth out of Egypt?”‘ (v. 18-20)

D. “Has the Lord’s arm been shortened?” It is significant to note that even Moses is in the classroom. He also needs to learn that it is Jehovah, not him, who will provide. Num 11:13-1513 Where am I to get meat to give to all these people? For they weep all over me, saying, ‘Give us meat, that we may eat.’ 14 I am not able to bear all these people alone, because the burden is too heavy for me. 15 If You treat me like this, please kill me here and now — if I have found favor in Your sight — and do not let me see my wretchedness!” This is part one – You are helpless. Now watch God provide. God sends His Spirit on 70 chosen men to help Moses deal with the people.

1. After Moses learns that God plans to feed meat to all of the people for a whole month, he is overwhelmed. How is this going to happen? Num 11:21-2321 And Moses said, “The people whom I am among are six hundred thousand men on foot; yet You have said, ‘I will give them meat, that they may eat for a whole month.’ 22 Shall flocks and herds be slaughtered for them, to provide enough for them? Or shall all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, to provide enough for them?” 23 And the Lord said to Moses, “Has the Lord’s arm been shortened? Now you shall see whether what I say will happen to you or not.”

2. God drove quail into the camp from the sea and the birds flew low enough to the ground that the Israelites were able to take all they wanted. (55 bushels a person) God had provided!

IV. A Table in the Wilderness. Do we learn the lessons of the past generations? Not very often. God’s design for his people is that they would know their history and teach it to the children, so that one generation learns from the past generations. Asaph authored the 78th Psalm in the days of King David. He describes his words as a parable that they had heard before and known. He says… Psalm 78:4-7 4 We will not hide them from their children, Telling to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, And His strength and His wonderful works that He has done. 5 For He established a testimony in Jacob, And appointed a law in Israel, Which He commanded our fathers, That they should make them known to their children; 6 That the generation to come might know them, The children who would be born, That they may arise and declare them to their children, 7 That they may set their hope in God, And not forget the works of God, But keep His commandments;

A. What was Asaph’s parable? See if you can recognize the events: Ps 78:12-16Marvelous things He did in the sight of their fathers, In the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan. 13 He divided the sea and caused them to pass through; And He made the waters stand up like a heap. 14 In the daytime also He led them with the cloud, And all the night with a light of fire. 15 He split the rocks in the wilderness, And gave them drink in abundance like the depths. 16 He also brought streams out of the rock, And caused waters to run down like rivers. 17 But they sinned even more against Him By rebelling against the Most High in the wilderness. 18 And they tested God in their heart By asking for the food of their fancy. 19 Yes, they spoke against God: They said, “Can God prepare a table in the wilderness? 20 Behold, He struck the rock, So that the waters gushed out, And the streams overflowed. Can He give bread also? Can He provide meat for His people?” 21 Therefore the Lord heard this and was furious; So a fire was kindled against Jacob, And anger also came up against Israel, 22 Because they did not believe in God, And did not trust in His salvation. 23 Yet He had commanded the clouds above, And opened the doors of heaven, 24 Had rained down manna on them to eat, And given them of the bread of heaven. 25 Men ate angels’ food; He sent them food to the full.

B. What constituted the rebellion of which Asaph is warning his generation? v. 18 – they tested God in their heart By asking for the food of their fancy. 19 Yes, they spoke against God: They said, “Can God prepare a table in the wilderness? What was the answer to their question? Can God prepare a table in the wilderness? Can He provide for His people? Over and over again God has done just that. His promise to provide is not just wishful thinking. Our faith in His provision, even when all seems to point against it, is not voiced in a vacuum. He has given us ample reason to believe and trust. We can learn from the classroom of the wilderness, and see the table He has always spread for His people.

Conclusion: What promise of God means more to you today than this one? God will Provide. Are you a Christian?

  • Lesson # 1you are helpless – Christ died for you when you were without strength.
  • Lesson # 2God has provided – Jesus died that you might live. You can be forgiven today.