“For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God: the LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto Himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth. The LORD did not set His love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people” (Deuteronomy. 7: 6-7).
These words addressed to the nation of Israel reflect the special favour of God upon His chosen people. In our article last week, we discussed the Lord’s special blessings upon His people in their wilderness wanderings. We learnt that:
The Lord was present with them. The pillar of cloud and pillar of fire were visible symbols of God’s presence among His people. The cloud provided shade in the day, and the fire gave them light in the night. Through the cloud, God also guided His people along their journey.
The Lord provided for them. In the Exodus wanderings – lasting nearly 40 years – their clothes and shoes were “not waxen old” (Deut. 29: 5). God nourished them with manna from heaven, quail meat and water out of the rock.
Today, we will look into another aspect of God’s gracious dealings:
The Lord fought for them
The Lord granted them victory over their enemies. When the Amalekites attacked the Israelites in Rephidim, Jehovah fought for them.
While Joshua was leading the army in the battle, Moses, Aaron and Hur went up to the top of the hill. Interestingly, at the peak, the trio were “fighting” a unique battle: “And Moses said unto Joshua, Choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek: to morrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in mine hand. So Joshua did as Moses had said to him, and fought with Amalek: and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses' hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua discomfited Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword” (Ex. 17: 8-13). What an unusual way to win a battle!
When Moses and his leaders faithfully carried out God’s instructions, they gained a glorious victory. Ultimately, it was God Who fought on their side and defeated their enemies.
How did the Israelites respond to God’s rich blessings upon them? Did they appreciate His kind dealings? Instead of being thankful, God’s people despised His gracious favours upon them. They rebelled against Him and His servants, Moses and Aaron.
Sadly, because of their unbelief and disobedience, the adult generation of Israelites that were delivered out of Egyptian bondage never enjoyed the blessings of the Promised Land. With the exception of the two faithful spies, Joshua and Caleb, all perished in the desert sands: “But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness” (I Cor. 10: 5 cf. Num. 14: 32).
“At Kadesh-Barnea, they refused to enter out of fear of the inhabitants and out of unbelief in God’s promise (Num. 14; cf. Heb. 3: 7-19). For these sins and others, they were so judged by God that they lived and died in the wilderness during the next forty years. The word here translated ‘overthrown’ literally means ‘to spread out’. Wherever they wandered, the wilderness was covered with the graves and corpses of the disobedient (Num. 14: 29)” (Called to be Saints – An Exposition of I Corinthians by Robert G Gromacki).
Israel’s provocations against God
Psalm 106 describes Israel’s many provocations against God. At the Red Sea where they were being pursued by the Egyptian armies, the Lord parted the Sea and brought them safely across but “the waters covered their enemies: there was not one of them left” (v. 11). Impressed by their miraculous deliverance, the Israelites “believed … his words; they sang his praise” (v. 12 cf. Ex. 15). Sadly, this thankful spirit lasted only three days – “they soon forgat his works; they waited not for his counsel” (Ps. 106: 13). At the wilderness of Shur, they murmured against Moses when they had no water to drink: “So Moses brought Israel from the Red sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness, and found no water. And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they were bitter … And the people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink?” (Ex. 15: 22-24).
When God provided them with daily manna, they lusted for meat – they “lusted exceedingly in the wilderness …” (Ps. 106: 14a). Their inordinate craving for meat became a sin – a “lusting after evil things” (I Cor. 10: 6).
“This desire of theirs they dwelt upon till it became a mania with them, and, like a wild horse, carried away its rider. For a meal of meat they were ready to curse their God and renounce the land which floweth with milk and honey. What a wonder that the Lord did not take them at their word! It is plain that they vexed him greatly” (The Treasury of David).
They also “tempted God in the desert” (Ps. 106: 14b). In the desert wilderness where they were totally dependent upon the Lord to nourish and keep them, the Israelites took God’s goodness for granted.
In response to their provocations, God showed His displeasure – He “gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul” (Ps. 106: 13-15). May this verse serve as a solemn warning to us. If we lust exceedingly for something which God has denied or prohibited, or something which is injurious to our souls, God may give us our request but it may come “with a curse, for he sent leanness into their soul; he filled them with uneasiness of mind, and terror of conscience, and a self-reproach, occasioned by their bodies being sick with the surfeit, such as sometimes drunkards experience after a great debauch. Or this is put for that great plague with which the Lord smote them, while the flesh was yet between their teeth, as we read in Numbers 11:33. It was the consumption of the life” (Matthew Henry).
Brethren, let us therefore watch the cravings of our heart that they be neither sinful nor inordinate. Let us appreciate the Lord’s blessings. Be grateful for His every provision. Like the apostle Paul, let us say, “… I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Philp. 4: 11). May we learn not to presume upon the Lord nor to provoke to Him to anger. (… to be continued)