Change: Moses, Part II

Change: Moses, Part II
A Message on Numbers 11:1-15
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
July 18, 2021
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Numbers 11:1-15 (NRSV)

1 Now when the people complained in the hearing of the Lord about their misfortunes, the Lord heard it and his anger was kindled. Then the fire of the Lord burned against them, and consumed some outlying parts of the camp. 2 But the people cried out to Moses; and Moses prayed to the Lord, and the fire abated. 3 So that place was called Taberah,[a] because the fire of the Lord burned against them.

4 The rabble among them had a strong craving; and the Israelites also wept again, and said, “If only we had meat to eat! 5 We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; 6 but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”

7 Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its color was like the color of gum resin. 8 The people went around and gathered it, ground it in mills or beat it in mortars, then boiled it in pots and made cakes of it; and the taste of it was like the taste of cakes baked with oil. 9 When the dew fell on the camp in the night, the manna would fall with it.

10 Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, all at the entrances of their tents. Then the Lord became very angry, and Moses was displeased. 11 So Moses said to the Lord, “Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? 12 Did I conceive all this people? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child, to the land that you promised on oath to their ancestors’? 13 Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they come weeping to me and say, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ 14 I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me. 15 If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once—if I have found favor in your sight—and do not let me see my misery.”

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Last week Pastor Sarah explored how God called Moses through the burning bush to go to Egypt and face down Pharaoh to let the Hebrew people go. Today as we continue our sermon series on change we will jump ahead in the life of Moses and look at a part of his life that was not all smiles and roses, but instead was very difficult for him.

Both of the scriptures we read today are kind of… well… depressing. They’re not the happy clappy scriptures about God loving us no matter what we do. No, they are about a man being called by God to do things that are way, WAY beyond his comfort zone and that, instead of bringing peace that passes understanding, creates more angst and anxiety in his life.

You probably know the story. The Hebrew people, God’s people, are slaves in Egypt and a treated horribly. Like kill-the-babies-if-they-are-boys bad.

This is the world that Moses is born into. And things don’t get better during his lifetime, even though Moses, being adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter, grew up in the lap of luxury. Moses ends up killing a man and has to skedaddle when his nefarious deed comes to light.

The scripture we read today from the book of Numbers takes place after God has called Moses from tending sheep in the desert and after God goes before Pharaoh numerous times, telling, (sing) “Let my people go, UGH!” (If you know the song, “Pharaoh, Pharaoh,” then you’ll understand.)

The scripture we read today is after Moses leads them through the Red Sea to escape from Egypt. The Hebrews, numbering around 600,000, stopped at Mt. Sinai where Moses was given the 10 Commandments as well as other laws that we find in Exodus 20 and 21. They stay there for a little over 2 years and then, when the cloud over the tabernacle lifted, started following it.

And sure enough it’s not long into the trip before the “whiners” start complaining about things.

Many years ago Saturday Night Live (back when it was good) had a series of skits featuring a couple known as “Doug and Wendy Whiner.” As their name implies, they whined about everything. (In whining voice, “Hi, we’re Doug and Wendy Whiner…”) The skits, while funny, are also very irritating and annoying.

Well Moses had to deal with a whole bunch of whiners back when they were traveling in the desert. (A scholar with more time and brains that I have says that the Bible records 14 times the people formally came to Moses and whined about things after they left Egypt.)

Here is The Message paraphrase of one section of the scripture we read today: “Why can’t we have meat? We ate fish in Egypt—and got it free!—to say nothing of the cucumbers and melons, the leeks and onions and garlic. But nothing tastes good out here; all we get is manna, manna, manna.”

Manna, which comes from the Hebrew word for “what is it?,” was the food that God provided every morning for the Hebrew people to eat. They wanted food, and God gave them food. They wanted water, and God gave them water.

You’d think they would be thankful, right? They would say something like, “Wow, this is awesome! This manna stuff is great, and God even delivers it. And unlike Walmart pickup grocery orders there are never any substitutions. It’s so great to be free and able to be our own people without being beaten and forced to work like we were in Egypt. Man, I hated being a slave!”

That’s what you would think, but no. They whined. They complained. They griped.

Well guess what? God heard it. (God hears everything, of course, but still…) And when God heard it he got mad. Like extremely mad. Here’s what it says in verse 10: “Then the Lord became very angry…”

Back at the beginning of this reading we find God getting mad and sending fires to burn up people and possessions on the outskirts of the camps. What stops it? Moses prays to God to stop the fire, and God responds to Moses’ prayers and stops the fire.

You would think that the people would remember that, don’t you? You’d think they would be thankful to Moses. “Hey, quit your mouthing! Don’t you remember what God did a while back to all those folks who were complaining? So shut up, eat your manna, and be grateful for what you have.”

But no, they started whining again. And God got mad again. And at this Moses kinda loses it.

I think Moses by this point is physically and emotionally tired. He’s tired of trying to help people who do nothing but complain to him, people who don’t appreciate all the times he has interceded for them with God and saved them from destruction. He’s through. He’s done. No mas. He’s had it.

We discover this in verses 11-15 of the scripture we read today when Moses responds to God. Here is The Message paraphrase of his conversation with God: “Why are you treating me this way? What did I ever do to you to deserve this? Did I conceive them? Was I their mother? So why dump the responsibility of this people on me? Why tell me to carry them around like a nursing mother, carry them all the way to the land you promised to their ancestors? Where am I supposed to get meat for all these people who are whining to me, ‘Give us meat; we want meat.’ I can’t do this by myself—it’s too much, all these people. If this is how you intend to treat me, do me a favor and kill me. I’ve seen enough; I’ve had enough. Let me out of here.”

Wow! Pretty strong words, right? I think it shows just how exasperated Moses is at this point. He’s at the end of his rope and just can’t take it anymore. The pressure, the stress, has driven him to a breaking point.

Have you ever felt that way? Be honest, now. Maybe instead of asking you if you ever felt that way I should rephrase the question, “How long has it been since you felt that way”?

I think it’s safe to say if you haven’t felt that way at least once in the past year then consider yourself to be among a group of very few people. Stress happens to all of us. And yes, sometimes our imaginations can make things seem worse than they really are which causes even more stress.

But here’s the point I want to make: God is with us in our stress, during those “end-of-the-rope” times. God can help us tie a knot in the end of that rope and hang on. God is with us when we feel like we are, as my young nephew Mason Stegall once said years ago, “gonna have a come-apart.”

There is a myth about Christianity that goes something like this: If you accept Jesus as your savior then everything will go right for you all the time. You’ll be pretty or handsome, have plenty of money, your kids will behave, it will never rain on your day off, you will never have bad breath, your feet will never stink, and will have the perfect life.

While it is true that an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ will change your perspective and attitude, it will not make your life easy and perfect. As a matter of fact, it’s just the opposite.

Jesus tells the disciples (and us) in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble.” (NIV)

Not “You might have trouble,” or “You sometimes will have trouble,” or “Every now and then you will have trouble.” No. “In this world you will have trouble.” It’s not an option. It’s not avoidable. You will have trouble.

And yet in that same verse Jesus adds another sentence following that statement: “But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (NIV)

Following Jesus doesn’t mean a trouble-free life. Doing what God calls us to do shouldn’t be done in a quid pro quo mindset: “If I do this for God then all my troubles will go away.” No. In fact, just the opposite will happen.

God doesn’t call us to our comfortable places. And why should he? Doing something you are comfortable with doesn’t require faith, but doing those things that are out of your comfort zone, sometimes way, WAY out of our comfort zone, now that does require faith.

We see that in the life of Moses that we read about today. You would think that after all the miracles that the people had personally experienced in gaining their freedom from the Egyptians that they would be very grateful and thankful to Moses, who led them through some tough times. But instead we find that they gripe and whine and are ready to turn on Moses.

How quickly we forget all the bad things when we get nostalgic about the past. Psychologically our minds filter out the bad things and accentuate the good things, making the past seem much better than it actually was. We remember the pots of meat cooking, all-you-can-eat fish frys, cucumbers and melons and leeks and onions and garlic, but we forget about the labor involved in being slaves. We forget about the bad when we whine for the good ol’ days.

I think there are a couple of things we should take away from this scripture we read today.

First, and I’m going to be very blunt: quit whining so much. It’s much easier to whine than it is to work to fix whatever it is you are whining about.

This age of social media has caused so many of us to turn into (whiny voice) Doug and Wendy Whiner. If something happens that we don’t like in even the littlest bit, we can post on social media how outraged we are, inviting others to join in our outrage. And if we are honest (which we should be) it has gotten to where we are competitive in how outraged we are. We try to achieve a status symbol of being more outraged than anyone else. It’s called “comparative virtue signalling.” I call it whining. No matter what you want to call it, we need to stop it, or at least give an equal amount of effort toward correcting the problem as we do whining about it.

Second point I want us to remember is that you can’t please everyone, so try to please God instead.

Moses did what God had told him to do, and even had to climb up Mt. Sinai twice because he got so mad at the people for making the golden calf while he was gone that he broke the original set of 10 Commandments tablets. He went to Pharaoh over and over and over trying to convince him to let the people go, only to be rebuked all but the last time. And as hard as Moses tried, as much preaching and talking as he did, the people still grumbled and griped about him.

Years ago there was a song called “Garden Party” that had the lyrics in the chorus, “You know you can’t please everyone, so you got to please yourself.” As Christians I think we should say, “You can’t please everyone, so you got to please the Lord.”

Do what God says is right, knowing that there will be people who gripe and whine. Do it anyway. (Some of them are going to gripe and whine no matter what you do, anyway.)

So that is my challenge to you this week: Quit whining and do the right thing. Quit being a Doug or Wendy Whiner, putting so much energy and time into complaining about what is wrong. Instead work to make things better.

And do the right (Godly) thing, even when it isn’t popular and you know people will whine about it.

Remember that Jesus Christ himself, the Son of God, had to deal with whiners. Jesus came to earth in human form, walked and taught among us, and willingly went to the cross so that we could be reconciled to God. And people whined about it.

Do the right thing. Don’t be a whiner.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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