The Lament of God

The Lament of God

God’s Word. Book of numbers 13 and 14. From Egypt now, through the wilderness, through the very southern edge of the promised land, Israel sits, as it were, like a rocket on the launchpad. You can hear the familiar words, at least in our movies. Houston, we have primary ignition and the rockets are roaring. The smoke and the steam are billowing out and that rocket just starts to lift and it hesitates and sits back down and everything fizzes out into nothing. And that’s where we are. As you look to the reading of God’s Word, if you join me in prayer, Father of all mercies, in your word, endless glory shine forth. And we ask them that you would reveal to us this day by the marvelous working of your Spirit, your words of life, that you would transform us through them, that we would reflect the brilliant glory of Christ Jesus, our Savior. For it’s in his name that we do pray, Amen. Beginning in verse one of chapter 13, the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, send men to spy out the land of Canine, which I am giving to the people of Israel from each tribe of their fathers, you shall send a man, every one, a chief among them.

At the end of 40 days, they returned from spying out the land, and they told him, We came to the land which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. However, the people who dwell in the land are strong and the cities are fortified and very large. But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are able to overcome it. Then the men who had gone up with him said, We are not able to go against the people, for they are stronger than we are. So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out. And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, We’re not ould that we have died in the land of Egypt, or would that we have died in this wilderness, why is the Lord bringing us into the land to fall by the sword? Our wives, our little ones will become prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt? And they said to one another, Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.

The word of the Lord, you please be seated. Chapters 13 and 14, they’re one of the most well known stories from the Book of numbers. The 12 spies are being sent into the promised land. Just as the Exodus was a defining moment for Israel, so too was the sending of the spies. Who are we? We are Israel, the people that our faithful God brought up out of the land of slavery in Egypt. Who are we? We are Israel, the unbelieving people who died in the wilderness rather than enter the promised land that our God was giving to us. The great what could have been turns into 40 years of wilderness wandering. And on display is an unbelief in all that’s inglorious and undignified vividness. Given where we are now in the story, it’s hard not to be taken aback somewhat of the sheer scale of Israel’s refusal to believe God. And instinctively, we say, how could they be so stupid? And here we see the power of unbelief, the power of unbelief in 4K HD writ large across the sky. A refusal to trust in the Lord, his faithfulness. And it’s going to cause them to distort what they see.

Because the Lord has set us free, we must walk by faith, trusting in his promises, especially in those moments that his goodness is the hardest to see. Sitting on the southern border of the promised land, Israel is now poised to begin the conquest of the land. And here we see the power of unbelief. The Lord spoke to Moses saying, send men to spy out the land of Canine. And we have now the sending of these 12. We call them spies, probably better to call them scouts. That would probably be more accurate. They’re not spies like we think of it. And some translations actually say just to explore the land. To the local inhabitants, they would have just been some random travelers. And we read in verses 17 to 21, Moses sends them and he says, See what the land is, whether the people who dwell in it are strong or weak, whether they’re few or many, whether the land that they dwell in is good or bad, whether the cities that they dwell in are camps or strongholds. Remember, it’s been 400 years since a family of 70 was last here. It’s completely unknown territory to all of Israel.

And they’re doing the smart thing. They’re checking out which way do we go, what’s in front of us. They take 40 days to travel, really hundreds of miles around the land. And specifically, he’s mentioned the city of Hebron. That’s the very place that Abraham purchased the burial cave. He and Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, and Leah are all buried there. This is the place that Jacob’s bones are going to be brought back to. It would have been a strong reminder of all the promises that God had given to his people. Verse 23 tells us on the way back, they did as Moses commanded. They cut down a branch of a single cluster of grapes. They carried on a pole and they brought with them fig and pomegranates. And notice in verse 27 what they tell Moses, We came to the land which you sent us. The 10 describe the land without that familiar qualifier which we’ve seen multiple times. The land which the Lord swore to give our fathers. About 14 times in the Book of numbers, we get that qualifier. The land is promised. The land is God is going to give to you. And in here, they just say the land you Moses sent us to.

Notice how it reframes everything. It’s not the promised land. Rather, it’s a land that’s inhospitable for Israel. Verse 27 and 28, It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. And then verse 28, the big but. But however, the people who dwell in the land are strong. The cities are fortified and very large. And they’re going on describing this. And they’re in the midst of it, Caleb comes and he hushes them. Verse 30, he hushes them and says, No, let us go up at once and occupy it for we are able to overcome it. If you have seen Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, remember the part where Gaston incites the people by grossly exaggerating the Beast and playing on their fears. And they all start singing Kill the Beast. That’s exactly what’s happening here. They’re inciting all of the people to the point where they want to say Kill Moses, Kill Aaron. They brought a bad report of the land. You could say evil report. And it doesn’t just mean it wasn’t favorable. It speaks to being deceitful and exaggerating. The land through which we have gone to spy out is a land that devours its inhabitants.

All the people we saw are giant, great height. They are giants and we seem like grasshoppers and sets off a chain reaction. All the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night, and all the people grumbled against Moses and Aaron. It’s saying everybody, three different ways express the entire group. And notice how they changed the narrative. Would that we have died in the land of Egypt, or would that we have died in this wilderness, why is the Lord bringing us into the land to fall by the sword? Our wives, our little ones will become prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt? Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt. This is nothing less than a wholesale rebellion against the Lord who’d rescue them from slavery. Listen to what they’re saying. If only we could go back to the luxurious life of hard labor and slaving with our children being drowned in the Nile. Our unbelief will cause us to revision the past. It distorts the present. Unbelief truly has the power to change how we see reality. I put this in her bulletin, this quote, but for all believers, the challenge is whether to trust the bare word of God’s promise or to have a vision limited by one of the observable realities before us.

Will I trust God’s word or will I rather have that distorted because of what I see in front of me? An obstacle too great to overcome. It’s not an accident that in the Book of Hebrews Chapter 3 specifically makes mention of this very incident that we’re reading of in numbers 13 and 14. There the office says, Take care, brothers and sisters, lest there be in any of you an evil and unbelieving heart leading you to fall away from the living God. And then he quotes from Psalm 95, As it is written, today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion. For who were those who heard and rebelled? Was it not those who left Egypt led by Moses? With whom was he provoked for 40 years? Was it not those whose sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that he would not let them enter his rest, but to those who are disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. That becomes the very picture of a warning for God’s people. The power of unbelief, where we completely distort what’s in front of us because of a hard heart, an unbelieving heart.

And yet even in this very low moment, we see the faithfulness of God in all of this. Finally, in Chapter 14, Verse 10, God shows up. And we hear from the Lord what we’re usually used to hearing in the Psalms from us, a cry of lament, both in Verse 11 and Verse 27 Chapter 14. It’s the Lord who says this. How long? How long will this people despise me? How long will they not believe in me in spite of all the signs I have done among them? We’re the ones usually saying. And now it’s the reverse. The Lord’s patience has run out and he laments his people, the lament of God over Israel. Now, this is important as we consider when we look at, particularly in the Old Testament, why were these books written? What is the import for us? Numbers is not meant to be understood as a travelog of Moses. Here are some random things that happened along the way. Dear diary, you won’t believe what I had for breakfast today. Manna. Oh, and by the way, this happened. And oh, by the way, this happened. And oh, by the way, this happened.

That’s not the purpose. The purpose is giving us a narrative of God’s salvation history. Taking us all the way from Genesis to revelation, the single story of redemption. And this fits into that. Because otherwise, people, if you don’t realize that people can think this is like the travelog. And it’s like God’s just grumpy dad yelling at disobedient kids in the back as you’re driving along, If you don’t knock it off, I’m going to pull over. I mean it. And that’s how people view God. He just seems grumpy. But it’s fit into an entire picture. This isn’t a travelog of problems along the way. The purpose of God’s Lament is to move Moses to intercession. God knows what’s happening all along. He knows what he has to work with. What is recorded is to make us ask questions about who is God? What’s the nature of sin and unbelief? What is the way of salvation and redemption? If all this seems familiar back in Exodus 32, we get a precursor of all this, Moses is on Mount Sinai and God is giving to him his covenant. And what’s happening in Israel in the camp below, they’re making the golden calves and they’re worshiping them.

And God threatens there to wipe out and start entirely over with Moses. And it’s the exact same here. And Moses, in both places, intercedes for Israel, reminding God of who he is so that we’re clear. God doesn’t need to be reminded of who he is. Moses in both places intercedes for Israel. The point is that we need to understand who God is. This was meant for Israel. It was meant for Moses. It was meant for us. We need to be minded of who God is. And Moses says to the Lord, Now, if you kill these people, verse 15, as one man, then the nations who have heard your fame will say, It’s because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land that he swore to give them, that he killed them in the wilderness. And now, please, let the power of the Lord be great as you have promised, saying, The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in his steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression. But he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers and the children to the third and fourth generation. Please pardon the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of your steadfast love, just as you’ve forgiven this people from Egypt until now.

And what takes place? Verse 20, the Lord says, I have pardoned according to your word. Why? Because this is what is true of who God is. Israel gets more than it deserves. He doesn’t blot them all out. He also gives a second chance to the next generation. The Lord is faithful. He is committed to Israel, even when Israel is not committed to Him. We also see God’s mercy and justice come together in this wilderness generation. In His mercy, He doesn’t just start all over. Yet there’s punishment for this faithless and unbelieving generation. The next generation, they will be a generation of hope and promise, but not this one. And the Lord lets the punishment fit the crime. As truly as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord, none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to test these ten times, have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. They got what they wanted. They wanted to turn around and not enter the promised land.

The Lord turns them around. They’re headed back towards the direction of Egypt. They were worried about their children dying in the wilderness. Well, their children are the ones who won’t die in the wilderness. They said the promised land was inhospitable and would devour them up. They will be devoured up in the wilderness. Four times they’ve said, if only we had died in the wilderness, that’s what they wanted. And that’s exactly what they will get. Be careful of what you ask from the Lord. Those 20 and older, the age of the soldiers were all going to die because these fighting men failed. They failed in the task that in front of them. And the 40 years of wandering is going to equal the 40 days of their travel. Verse 37 says the 10 faithless spies are struck down with the plague. Only Caleb and Joshua are spared. Of that current generation, they are the only two who are going to see the promised land. But even here, Israel’s unbelief continues. The very next day after all these things, the 10 are dead and they’ve heard these terrible things that are taking place. In verse 39, they tell Moses, here we go.

We will go to the place that the Lord has promised for we have sinned. And Moses said, why now are you transgressing the command of the Lord when you will not succeed, do not go up for the Lord is not among you unless you be struck down by your enemies. They don’t listen. They’re struck down by their enemies. A question is coming, well, why is this unbelief here? They said they were sorry after all. Isn’t that what the Lord wants? It was a failure to accept the seriousness of their rebellion against God. And now they are presumptiously doing what God said not to do. As one commentator said, they seem to assume that the atonement for their sin, which they admit requires nothing more than a confession. In their view, it’s only a matter of changing their mind and going into the land when they have failed to recognize that it is YAWA’s mind that needs changing. Remember, God doesn’t know anyone forgiveness because they asked for it. God is not a debtor to anyone. You see, unbelief wants to set the terms. Instead of a sorry, you have to forgive me. No. First, forgiveness is never a demand to be made by the one who’s done the wrong.

You wrong someone and then you don’t demand they forgive you. Forgiveness is a gift freely given, not something to be demanded. And Israel, in her rebellion, refuses to believe even after they’ve experienced God’s goodness. All they see is their unmet needs, their disappointed desires, their unfulfilled expectations. In our sin, we make everything about us. And this profound self centeredness, it distorts our vision. I’ve mentioned this before. It’s a true story. After a divorce, a mom raising two boys by herself, dead beat dad’s nowhere in the picture. And she worked really hard to provide for her two sons. This is the 1950s. Upward mobility was not very likely for a divorced woman. And she provided for her boys. Once a year, she took a week vacation to Florida by herself. And she left her two boys with their parents, their grandparents, and she gave them enough money. The grandparents would give them money every day where they could go down to the store and buy a comic book and get some candy every day. That was for the week. And the one son was thrilled. He loved that his mom got a chance to have a well deserved rest.

A week with his grandparents, daily comic books, candy. It was a highlight of his summer. His brother would refer to this as the time when mom would abandon us. He could not rejoice in her rest. He did not appreciate her hard work and her faithful care. The time when mom would abandon us because it was all about him. And that was the view that he actually took into his whole life. Everyone was a disappointment to him. They all failed his expectations. He never got what he thought he deserved. And it was this way, not only towards his family, it was also towards God. Just a resentment that life isn’t what it should have been. See how easy it is to change a narrative. Two brothers, the exact same event, but they see it so differently. Twelve scouts go out and they come back with two very different reports of the same thing. The same thing they saw in our unbelief. We can look at the landscape of our lives. We can catalog the failings of God and others to provide for what we wanted. The obstacle seemed too high. The challenge is too difficult. And in the midst of that, we can harden our hearts and refuse to believe.

Israel rejected the many signs of God’s redemption for them. He said, You tested me. You’ve rejected my signs. And it is that redemption that they’re rejecting that is carrying forward to its ultimate fulfillment. Again, numbers fits into a larger story. What they couldn’t do to atone for their sins is pointing ahead. Numbers, as all of the Bible, it points to the person and work of Jesus. It points beyond itself. The faithless generation of Israel is met in the person and work of Jesus, who is the true Israel of God, who accomplished everything that they failed at. And the cross of Christ is also a sign. It is a sign of the cost of God’s lament for his people. It is also a sign of the world’s rejection of the Lord’s Salvation in Christ. We hear one narrative, crucify him, crucify him. Because they refuse to believe. They change the narrative even from what they could see in front of themselves. They crucify the Lord of glory. Even as they refuse to enter into the promised land. And that’s why the author of Hebrews is saying to us, don’t be like that. Don’t harden your heart because of the deceitfulness of sin.

And we see how easy it is to change the narrative of our life, to change the story. The exact same thing. And in it, we can either see the faithfulness of God in how he has watched over us and preserved us and taken us by the hand through the midst of it. Or we can look and see how we have one more disappointment, one more failure, how woe is me? I deserve so much more than what I’ve got. And we see that not only in the lives of unbelievers, but we see that in the lives of believers, too. That’s why that warning comes to us to see and to look of the goodness and the mercy of God. And it’s that moment that captures us and think, am I changing this so that, one, I’m the victim of the story, or God is the villain of the story, or that somehow everything is now against me. And I look at all the things I’ve had to overcome, all the difficulties in my life. I didn’t get the fill in the blank. I didn’t get the mom and dad I wanted. I didn’t get the spouse I wanted.

I didn’t get the job I wanted. I didn’t get the college I wanted. I didn’t get the brothers and sisters that should have appreciated me the way that… It didn’t, didn’t, didn’t, didn’t. And then there’s this obligation of the world to somehow atone for our deficit. That is a miserable place to be on the edge of promise wanting to turn back into slavery. Thanks be to God that he is faithful and he comes into the midst of all of that, often self made misery, takes us to goodness. It just shakes us to say, look to the cross, look to my lament, look to what this cost me to be faithful to you, faithless people. That’s the good news of the Gospel. That’s the good news. And we then allow that to change and to permeate our whole lives. And where we have changed the story, the narrative, is to confess that is sin and have the Lord set us free to see with a new vision His glorious grace and mercy in front of us. Father, indeed, we confess that you are good, that you are righteous, that you are glorious. You are the fulfilling of your word, of all your promises.

They are yes and amen in Christ. And Lord, we also ask that you would forgive us for, Father, in our sin and in our unbelief, we have failed to see that. We have failed to call you good. And Lord, we do ask that you would forgive us. We do ask, Lord God, because of the wounds of our savior, of the atonement that he made, that that would cover us, that his righteousness would become ours. Because you love your people. We bless you. We worship you. You indeed are the God who fulfills his word. All praise, glory and honor belong to you. And this we offer you through Christ our Risen.

Disclaimer: Automated Sermon Transcription