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    Jun 20, 2010

    Potholes!

    Passage: Numbers 12:1-14:45

    Preacher: Eric Stapleton

    Series: Road Work Ahead

    Category: Old Testament, Evangelism

    Keywords: evangelism, fear, rebellion, courage, conquest, promised land

    Summary:

    We continue in Numbers as the nation of Israel gets closer to the Promised Land, they find that they are still afraid, too afraid to trust and obey God. Fear is like pothole . . . it is something that develops slowly over time and then suddenly has the potential to hinder our forward progress maybe even cause us to take a different path.

    Detail:

    Potholes!

     

    A pothole (sometimes called kettle and known in parts of the Western United States as a chuckhole) is a type of disruption in the surface of a roadway where a portion of the road material has broken away, leaving a hole. Most potholes are formed due to fatigue of the pavement surface. As fatigue fractures develop they typically interlock in a pattern known as "alligator cracking". The chunks of pavement between fatigue cracks are worked loose and may eventually be picked out of the surface by continued wheel loads, thus forming a pothole.

    The formation of potholes is exacerbated by low temperatures, as water expands when it freezes to form ice, and puts greater stress on an already cracked pavement or road. Once a pothole forms, it grows through continued removal of broken chunks of pavement. If a pothole fills with water the growth may be accelerated, as the water "washes away" loose particles of road surface as vehicles pass. In temperate climates, potholes tend to form most often during spring months when the subgrade is weak due to high moisture content. However, potholes are a frequent occurrence anywhere in the world, including in the tropics.

    The nature of a pothole is something that develops over time but when the bottom falls out it can be quite suddenly and unexpectedly. And according to the Wikipedia article they can occur just about anywhere including the Old Testament.

    I’m using the analogy of a pothole mainly because we’ve been in a series of ‘travel’ as the text in Exodus and now Numbers describes Israel’s journey out of bondage to the freedom of the promised land.

    Today, we’re going to cover Numbers 12 through 14. Let’s pray.

    Numbers 12:1–2 (NIV)

    Miriam and Aaron Oppose Moses

    12 Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. 2 “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” And the Lord heard this.

    What’s going here? Well, Moses married a Cushite or Ethiopian. Some scholars have postulated that this wasn’t a different or second wife, but referring to Zipporah, the Midianite. I disagree with that theory. First of all, he’d been married to Zipporah for fifty years or better at this point, why are they complaining now? Secondly, Midianites were descended from Midian who was descended from Keturah, the second wife of Abraham after Sarah died. Cush was Ham’s son who was Noah’s son. At this period in Israel’s history, a person’s national heritage was still generally reckoned with whom they descended from not a geographical region. An Ammonite was from Ammon, Moabites from Moab, Edomite from Edom, Levites from Levi, and Cushites from Cush.

     

    Hence the controversy. Moses married a daughter of Ham, not descended from Abraham or any of his sons. Why would he marry again? Zipporah probably died. Moses is probably pushing a hundred years old or better at this point. Not a lot of people are living to 120 or longer even this far back.

    So, you can picture Aaron and Miriam complaining about why Moses didn’t marry one of their own and how it would be bad for morale and how a man of his age and leadership role shouldn’t marry a younger, foreign woman with different colored skin. The Cushites were Ethiopian…noticeably different from everyone else.

    This wasn’t a sin for Moses to marry again even if Zipporah had still been living. This is important…they are simply questioning his judgment and probably about a number of things.

    So, God weighs in on it:

    Numbers 12:4–9 (NIV)

    4 At once the Lord said to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, “Come out to the Tent of Meeting, all three of you.” So the three of them came out. 5 Then the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud; he stood at the entrance to the Tent and summoned Aaron and Miriam. When both of them stepped forward, 6 he said, “Listen to my words:

    “When a prophet of the Lord is among you,

    I reveal myself to him in visions,

    I speak to him in dreams.

    7 But this is not true of my servant Moses;

    he is faithful in all my house.

    8 With him I speak face to face,

    clearly and not in riddles;

    he sees the form of the Lord.

    Why then were you not afraid

    to speak against my servant Moses?”

    9 The anger of the Lord burned against them, and he left them.

     

    But not without a little gift, check it out:

    Numbers 12:10–16 (NIV)

    10 When the cloud lifted from above the Tent, there stood Miriam—leprous, like snow. Aaron turned toward her and saw that she had leprosy; 11 and he said to Moses, “Please, my lord, do not hold against us the sin we have so foolishly committed. 12 Do not let her be like a stillborn infant coming from its mother’s womb with its flesh half eaten away.”

    13 So Moses cried out to the Lord, “O God, please heal her!”

    14 The Lord replied to Moses, “If her father had spit in her face, would she not have been in disgrace for seven days? Confine her outside the camp for seven days; after that she can be brought back.” 15 So Miriam was confined outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on till she was brought back.

    16 After that, the people left Hazeroth and encamped in the Desert of Paran.

    “Till she was brought back.” This matter wasn’t confined to just outside the tent.

    Now we know that Moses penned the first five books of the Bible including Numbers. As was the style, he didn’t write it in first person point of view, he wrote it in third person, as if he was a third person observing the events. He speaks of himself as a character in the story. Instead of saying, I raised my staff and the waters parted, it’s more like, “then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. There is actually a book in the New Testament that is written by a single author but it changes point of view about half way through from 3rd person to 1st person from “they did such and such” to “we did such and such and so forth” first person tells me which book that is gets a kiss. If this chapter in Numbers had been in first person it might have gone something like this:

    Numbers 12:1

    So, we were like in the tent and Miriam and Aaron are like all up in my face about me marrying that Ethiopian chick and junk. But I was chill, because that’s how I roll. But God was “like, yo yo, you guys are talking junk about my main man, Moses. Miriam, you like it white? Here’s white.”

    And God cold made her white as snow with leprosy.

    The reason why I point all this out is that even though this is God’s Word, He is still using human authors to pen it. We’re still getting their point of view and their emphases. This becomes more apparent when you read the gospels or even the prophets. Their personalities and the differences in their varying points of view become evident.

    Moses (and God) wants us to see something here. This point is where it went sour for Moses and this generation of Israelites. Only a few of the people in camp at this point will ever see the promised land. God’s anointed leadership is called into question. This questioning of authority starts and the top and it rolls downhill. And we see that over the next few chapters. Eventually, this questioning of authority causes Moses to stumble. This is the theme of these next few chapters in Numbers. It’s not just Moses that is being questioned, but God himself. And even though Miriam and Aaron repent there is a backlash against them as well.

    Why though? Why this questioning?

    Let’s go back to the text.

    Numbers 13:1–3 (NIV)

    Exploring Canaan

    13 The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. From each ancestral tribe send one of its leaders.”

    3 So at the Lord’s command Moses sent them out from the Desert of Paran. All of them were leaders of the Israelites.

    This is where the pothole analogy kicks in. In the previous chapters, we’re gearing up for a military campaign. Troops are being mustered. Fear is creating fatigue on the road surface there.

    This is it. They are about to embark on a military campaign. In the upper echelons of leadership, you think they haven’t been discussing this? It’s not about the Cushite wife folks, it’s about the uncertainty of the future. Really? God has delivered them from the hands of the Egyptians. This is different than that. Why though? Let’s go back to the text.

    Let’s look at this scripture from a different perspective:

     

    Deuteronomy 1:19–25 (NIV)

    Spies Sent Out

    19 Then, as the Lord our God commanded us, we set out from Horeb and went toward the hill country of the Amorites through all that vast and dreadful desert that you have seen, and so we reached Kadesh Barnea. 20 Then I said to you, “You have reached the hill country of the Amorites, which the Lord our God is giving us. 21 See, the Lord your God has given you the land. Go up and take possession of it as the Lord, the God of your fathers, told you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

    22 Then all of you came to me and said, “Let us send men ahead to spy out the land for us and bring back a report about the route we are to take and the towns we will come to.”

    23 The idea seemed good to me; so I selected twelve of you, one man from each tribe.

    So, whose idea was it? God’s or the Israelites? Moses penned both of these books of the bible, doesn’t he see contradiction? There really is no contradiction. Both are true. The people had an idea, they brought it to Moses, hence God, through Moses responds, “Sure, knock yourselves out.”

    Now those of you are a little more mature in your faith, know how this works. God speaks sometimes, in dreams, most often through the Word and very often through our circumstances and relationships. One concept of understanding God’s voice brought forth by man named Dan Allender. The Three Text theory. The primary text is God’s Word, the Bible. The other two are the Word that God is writing in and on you—your life, etc. and the world around you—what is God doing around you? Henry Blackably wrote a book called experiencing God and he pointed that the son sees what the father is doing and joins him in it.

    So, as you get to know the truths of God’s word, you begin to recognize His voice through other mediums, your life circumstances, relationships, the news, a movie, or a song on the radio. But to correctly discern God’s voice in those secondary sources, what has to happen first? You need to be well acquainted with the primary source of God’s truth our lives. So, maybe Moses had a dream or vision, God told him His desires, next day the people have idea about spying out the land. God’s Word confirmed, not that he needed, BUT the reason why it happened that way is so that Moses in the Deuteronomy account can throw it back in their faces—this was your idea and you didn’t follow through.

    God is trying to grow the people up. The people needed to own this promise and invest themselves in it. They needed to start acting in faith as opposed to just waiting for God to do something. Before, he delivered them from their enemies through miracles of nature. Now they are going in for hand to hand combat. Now, they had a taste of that on the way to Mount Horeb, but this is going to be more prolonged. Before, they didn’t have time to think about it…Moses just told Joshua to pick some men and get the job done against the Amalekites and so they did. Now, they’ve had time to think about it as they mobilize for battle. In the first eleven chapters of Numbers the fighting men were numbered and tallied. This is real. God wants them to see what they are up against so that they can trust Him all the more. That’s why he wants them coming up with ideas like sending spies into the land and checking things out. They need to own this.

    Numbers 13:17–25 (NIV)

    17 When Moses sent them to explore Canaan, he said, “Go up through the Negev and on into the hill country. 18 See what the land is like and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, few or many. 19 What kind of land do they live in? Is it good or bad? What kind of towns do they live in? Are they unwalled or fortified? 20 How is the soil? Is it fertile or poor? Are there trees on it or not? Do your best to bring back some of the fruit of the land.” (It was the season for the first ripe grapes.)

     

    Remember earlier in Exodus:

    Exodus 13:17–18 (NIV)

    17 When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” 18 So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt armed for battle.

     

    They weren’t ready for a prolonged military campaign just after crossing the Red Sea. They had just gained their national identity. But at this point, Numbers 13, after they’ve learned more about God, His provision, His promises, the submission of worship and the law, they’re ready to take the land.

     

    21 So they went up and explored the land from the Desert of Zin as far as Rehob, toward Lebo Hamath. 22 They went up through the Negev and came to Hebron, where Ahiman, Sheshai and Talmai, the descendants of Anak, lived.

     

    ANAK, ANAKIM (Āʹ năk, Ănʹ ȧ·kĭm), ANAKITES (NIV) Personal and clan name meaning “longnecked” or “strongnecked.” The ancestor named Anak had three children: Ahiman, Sheshai, Talmai (Num. 13:22). They lived in Hebron and the hill country (Josh. 11:21) before being destroyed by Joshua. Their remnants then lived among the Philistines (Josh. 11:22). These tall giants were part of the Nephilim (Gen. 6:4; Num. 13:33). Arba was a hero of the Anakim (Josh. 14:15). The spelling of “Anakim” puts the English plural “s” on to the Hebrew plural “im.”

     

    Numbers 13:27–30 (NIV)

    27 They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. 28 But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. 29 The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.”

    30 Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”

     

    Caleb sees where the report is going and immediately tries to quell the storm. He’s not successful though.

    Numbers 13:31–33 (NIV)

    31 But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” 32 And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. 33 We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”

     

    Now, they were exaggerating bit but they were giants like Goliath. Goliath was descended from these folks. It is scary stuff.

    What effect does this have on the people? A bad one.

    Numbers 14:1–4 (NIV)

    14 That night all the people of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. 2 All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this desert! 3 Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” 4 And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”

     

    They want to change horses as soon as things get rough. Imagine choosing slavery over freedom. That’s how scared they are.

     

    Numbers 14:5–9 (NIV)

    5 Then Moses and Aaron fell facedown in front of the whole Israelite assembly gathered there. 6 Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes 7 and said to the entire Israelite assembly, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. 8 If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. 9 Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.”

     

    Caleb and Joshua are equating fear with rebellion here. I don’t want to make light of their fear. It’s real and justified. But it was time for them to move forward in faith. I’m sure there are some in the camp freaking out, “why can’t God just do like He did to the Egyptians with the hail and the frogs and stuff? I don’t get it. I don’t want any glory here, just a nice condo on the bank of the Mediterranean.”

    There comes a time in a child of God’s life, when He asks that child to own their faith and move forward. And it usually means a great degree of discomfort and fear to do so because that child knows that reliance on anything else other than God will mean failure.

    I’m talking to us right here now. What is it for you? What kind of deeper investment of time, physical or emotional energy, resources…yourself, might God be asking of you. Chances are it’s going to be something difficult and this isn’t just limited to church stuff. Is there a relationship that needs mending? What is the trust barrier that needs to be breached so that you can have deeper more fulfilling and fruitful walk with God? Yes, I know the lyrics, “Jesus paid it all.” He did. Just like it was God who all by himself set the Israelites free from the slavery, so Christ has set us free from the slavery and bondage of sin. But, God wants his children to take the land and make it fruitful. For the Israelites, it was a physical and military conquest. For us it’s spiritual warfare.

    1 Corinthians 16:13 (NAS)

    13 Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.

     

    Philippians 1:27–28 (NAS)

    27 Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel;

    28 in no way alarmed by your opponents—which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God.

    2 Timothy 1:7–8 (NAS)

    7 For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.

    8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God,

     

    If God doesn’t want us doing anything with our faith then why these verses?

     

    God does want us to share our faith, to be fruitful and multiply spiritually. God created us for this stuff.

    Ephesians 2:10 (NIV)

    10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

     

    Just so you know, I’m not ending on this note, per se. That is the mission and the parallel but we have a few weeks to go in this series and there really is more Road Work needs to happen. Back to the text:

    Numbers 14:10–12 (NIV)

    10 But the whole assembly talked about stoning them. Then the glory of the Lord appeared at the Tent of Meeting to all the Israelites. 11 The Lord said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miraculous signs I have performed among them? 12 I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you into a nation greater and stronger than they.”

     

    Moses, as a “Christ-type” intercedes:

     

    Numbers 14:15–16 (NIV)

    15 If you put these people to death all at one time, the nations who have heard this report about you will say, 16 ‘The Lord was not able to bring these people into the land he promised them on oath; so he slaughtered them in the desert.’

     

    God responds:

    Numbers 14:20–23 (NIV)

    20 The Lord replied, “I have forgiven them, as you asked. 21 Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the Lord fills the whole earth, 22 not one of the men who saw my glory and the miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times— 23 not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their forefathers. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it.

    Detour!

    Numbers 14:25 (NIV)

    25 Since the Amalekites and Canaanites are living in the valleys, turn back tomorrow and set out toward the desert along the route to the Red Sea.”

     

    It’s done. They’re no longer going to the Promised Land….their descendents will. They won’t see God’s blessing in their lifetimes…those people who rebelled.

    Numbers 14:31–35 (NIV)

    31 As for your children that you said would be taken as plunder, I will bring them in to enjoy the land you have rejected. 32 But you—your bodies will fall in this desert. 33 Your children will be shepherds here for forty years, suffering for your unfaithfulness, until the last of your bodies lies in the desert. 34 For forty years—one year for each of the forty days you explored the land—you will suffer for your sins and know what it is like to have me against you.’ 35 I, the Lord, have spoken, and I will surely do these things to this whole wicked community, which has banded together against me. They will meet their end in this desert; here they will die.”

     

    As a nation, Israel was still to receive the promised land, but there was still a little more Road Work to be done before their path was clear. This pothole of fear had quite a detrimental effect on their forward progress.

    When God opens a door, you’re supposed to go through it. When He closes a door, don’t try to force it back open. That’s what he did to Israel here.

    Numbers 14:39–40 (NIV)

    39 When Moses reported this to all the Israelites, they mourned bitterly. 40 Early the next morning they went up toward the high hill country. “We have sinned,” they said. “We will go up to the place the Lord promised.”

     

    They realized what they lost…they saw the immediate consequences of the actions:

    Numbers 14:37 (NIV)

    37 these men responsible for spreading the bad report about the land were struck down and died of a plague before the Lord.

     

    So now, they’re all oops! We’re going to go now!

    No. God already gave them different orders. But they went anyway and Moses says, “Hey, come back you don’t have God’s blessing this time!”

    Numbers 14:44–45 (NIV)

    44 Nevertheless, in their presumption they went up toward the high hill country, though neither Moses nor the ark of the Lord’s covenant moved from the camp. 45 Then the Amalekites and Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down and attacked them and beat them down all the way to Hormah.

     

    Why doesn't God give them victory…they've repented right. Because God didn't want them to take the land out of compulsion…this was supposed to be a gift. He wanted them to be hungry for it. He wanted this trust relationship where he says, "you can do it!" And the people say, "when can we do it?"

     

    Why did all this happen? The Israelites are in the desert. They were in slavery in Egypt but in Egypt there was more predictability to life. It wasn't pleasant but it was 'safe'. They knew something better than the desert already so that is why they gravitated back toward it.

     

    Before we start feeling so sorry for their children, keep in mind, their children didn't know anything but the desert so they would have a much stronger appreciation for the land.

     

    That’s just it, there was just so much fear that needed to be put to death. I think there is a parallel for our lives here. Fear needs to be put to death in order for us to be fruitful for God’s kingdom. There is a season in our walk with Christ where God just seems to make things happen without much risk on our part. And then there is a season when God asks us to step out where we can’t see.

     

    That fear problem isn’t solved by me saying, “don’t be afraid” and listing a bunch Bible verses. We, me included, need to spend some meditating on these verses. We need to spend some time praying to God about where He wants us to step out in faith.

     

    As a body of believers, Mosaic, we’re about the business of our heavenly father. That isn’t just coming here on Sundays. God’s placed a fire and vision in Pastor John’s heart to take downtown for Christ. That’s why we’re here. We’re not merely here for this to be ‘our club’ serving our comforts, tastes, etc. We’re not FUBU—this isn’t “for us, by us.” This is for God. We’re trying to reach a broken world and we want everybody here to be a part of that.

     

    We, the leadership, have a plan for doing that this fall. It’s a plan that involves you. We’ll talk more about that when John gets back. In the meantime, I think we have more Road Work ahead of us. This week it was Potholes! Particularly, fear. Next week, we’ll talk about some other baggage that needs to get jettisoned along the way.

    >I asked God to take away my habit.

    >God said, No.

    >It is not for me to take away, but for you to give it up.

    >

    >I asked God to make my handicapped child whole.

    >God said, No.

    >His spirit is whole, his body is only temporary

    >

    >I asked God to grant me patience.

    >God said, No.

    >Patience is a byproduct of tribulations;

    >it isn't granted, it is learned.

    >

    >I asked God to give me happiness.

    >God said, No.

    >I give you blessings; Happiness is up to you.

    >

    >I asked God to spare me, pain.

    >God said, No.

    >Suffering draws you apart from worldly cares

    >and brings you closer to me.

    >

    >I asked God to make my spirit grow.

    >God said, No.

    >You must grow on your own! ,

    >but I will prune you to make you fruitful.

    >

    >I asked God for all things that I might enjoy life.

    >God said, No.

    >I will give you life, so that you may enjoy all things.

    >

    >I ask God to help me LOVE others, as much as He loves me.

    >God said...Ahhhh, finally you have the idea.