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“Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the LORD, and when he heard them his anger was aroused…” (Numbers 11:1)
Around 3500 years ago, God led his people, the Israelites, out of Egypt (Exodus 1-15). They had been slaves there for over 400 years, but God rescued them and set them apart as his very own people (Deuteronomy 7:7-8). Shortly afterwards, due to their persistent unbelief that God would faithfully and safely take them into a land of their own, the Promised Land (Canaan–or Israel), God brought judgment and chastisement upon them (Numbers 13-14).He sent them into the desert to wander for 40 years. All of the people aged 20 years or older were destined to die in the desert and to never enter the Promised Land because of their unbelief (Numbers 14:26-35, Hebrews 3:16-19).
The Israelites made many sinful mistakes in the desert such as idolatry, revelry, sexual immorality, testing the Lord and grumbling (1 Corinthians 10:6-10, Psalm 106). The younger generation, however, was humbled, tested and disciplined by the Lord during their desert sojourn (Deuteronomy 8:1-5). The Lord said to them, as they were entering the Promised Land:
“Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land that the LORD promised on oath to your forefathers. Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you.” (Deuteronomy 8:1-5)
We Christians face the same temptations the Israelites did in the desert. This is why the apostle Paul told the Corinthian Christians:
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them: their bodies were scattered over the desert.
Now these things occured as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: ‘The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry.’ We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did–and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test the Lord, as some of them did–and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did–and were killed by the destroying angel.
These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you’re standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Corinthians 10:10-13)
It is good for us to remember these Scriptures and to consider the faithfulness of God to Israel in all their desert hardships. As we focus on God’s faithfulness and providence, and as we believe God’s promises to us in his Word, we find the faith to trust him in all the hardships we face in this life. As we rely upon him and see him come through for us we become a thankful, praiseful people who declare the marvelous works of their God rather than a grumbling, complaining people who test the Lord by their unbelief.
“Moses told his father-in-law about everything the LORD had done to Pharaoh and the Egyptians for Israel’s sake and about all the hardships they had met along the way and how the LORD had saved them.
Jethro was delighted to hear about all the good things the LORD had done for Israel in rescuing them from the hand of the Egyptians. He said, ‘Praise be to the LORD, who rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians and of Pharaoh, and who rescued the people from the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that the LORD is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly.’ Then Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and other sacrifices to God, and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat bread with Moses; father-in-law in the presence of God.” (Exodus 18:8-12)
“Desert Triptych” features three events in Israel’s desert testings:
“Bread From Heaven”: Exodus 16
“Water From The Rock”: Exodus 17:1-7
“The Healing of The Waters”: Exodus 15:22-27