To recap, grumbling is a sign that you are in a spiritual wilderness. Second, fear is one reason Christians remain in the wilderness. And lastly, sin keeps us in the wilderness.
Let’s read from Deut 1:3-8.
3 In the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses proclaimed to the Israelites all that the Lord had commanded him concerning them. 4 This was after he had defeated Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon, and at Edrei had defeated Og king of Bashan, who reigned in Ashtaroth. 5 East of the Jordan in the territory of Moab, Moses began to expound this law, saying: 6 The Lord our God said to us at Horeb, “You have stayed long enough at this mountain. 7 Break camp and advance into the hill country of the Amorites; go to all the neighboring peoples in the Arabah, in the mountains, in the western foothills, in the Negev and along the coast, to the land of the Canaanites and to Lebanon, as far as the great river, the Euphrates. 8 See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land that the Lord swore he would give to your fathers—to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—and to their descendants after them.”
Moses and the Israelites find themselves exactly in the same place where they were 40 years prior. At Kadesh Barnea, where 10 out of the 12 spies gave a bad report and God forbid them to enter the Promised Land. 40 years have passed and they are in the very same place, Kadesh Barnea. There, God tells them basically, you’ve been here long enough. It’s time to get moving. When you are in a wilderness for 40 years, you get used to it. You get used to having lower expectations for your spiritual life. You get comfortable. You stop moving. There is a spiritual inertia that is difficult to overcome the longer we stay in the wilderness.
Grumbling becomes commonplace because it’s drudgery. The same thing–manna, quail, sand for miles and miles. God says, it’s time to enter the Promised Land, which for us, symbolizes the Spirit-filled life of a fruitful believer. v7 – break camp and advance into the HILL country of the Amorites. Another hill. v8 – go in and take possession of the land.
It’s time for Moses to lead his people into the Promised Land. Finally. The day he’s been waiting for. But something tragic happens. In the eleventh hour, Moses sins. Deut 1:37 doesn’t give much details. It just says the Lord was angry with Moses and therefore he was not allowed to enter. We get more details in Num 20. The Israelites entered the desert grumbling. And 40 years later, the Israelites are still grumbling. They are thirsty. And God gives Moses explicit instructions to gather the people and to speak to the rock and then water will gush forth. But instead of speaking, Moses strikes the rock, not once, but twice, in frustration, and water comes forth. And we read in Num 20:12–
12 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”
This incident is reminiscent of an event that happened in the same exact place 40 years prior. The people were thirsty. At Meribah, which is in Kadesh Barnea, Exodus 17 records how the people were thirsty and the Lord tells Moses to strike the rock and water will gush forth.
Same issue–grumbling over not having enough water. 40 years separate the two similar incidents. In the first one, God tells Moses to strike the rock but in the second incident, God tells Moses to speak to the rock. And because Moses struck the rock out of frustration instead of speaking to it, Moses, the faithful leader for 40 years, is prevented from going into the Promised Land himself. Why is this sin so terrible? Striking a rock instead of speaking to it. What’s the big deal?
We get help in interpreting this from 2 other passages. Psalm 106 and 1 Cor 10.
In Psalm 106:32, it reads,
32 By the waters of Meribah they angered the Lord, and trouble came to Moses because of them; 33 for they rebelled against the Spirit of God, and rash words came from Moses’ lips.
Moses’ sin involved the speaking of rash words.
1 Cor 10
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. 2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3 They all ate the same spiritual food 4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.
1 Cor 10:4 says that the rock that Moses struck was Christ. When Moses struck the rock at God’s command, I believe it was to show the people the gravity of their sin. Their grumbling was tantamount to striking Christ directly. It was a visible picture of what sin does to Christ. It was the sins of the people that caused Christ to be struck at Calvary. The first time, Moses was obeying God and teaching a lesson to the people about the consequences of sin. But the second time around, Moses took matters into his own hands. 40 years of being around grumblers had worn out his patience and instead of obeying God and speaking to the rock, he strikes the rock in anger.
Do you realize that you are striking Christ whenever you lack self-control and you speak out in anger? Even when Moses had every right to be angry, he sinned because he let his emotions get the best of him when God clearly told him to speak and allow the Word of God to convict the people of their sin rather than Moses’ visible display of frustration of striking the rock to convict the people of sin. And this sin prevented Moses from entering the Promised Land.
Practically, what can we learn from this passage?
Grumbling is a sign that you are in a spiritual wilderness. We were not meant to be in a wilderness. We were saved so that we can be filled with the Spirit and bear fruit and shine the light of Jesus to the world. Monitor your thanksgiving meter. What does your gratitude or your thereof reveal about your spiritual condition?
How do we get out of the wilderness? First, don’t be afraid. Be courageous. Take risks. We are surrounded by plenty of hill countries. We are surrounded by many things that might make us feel small like grasshoppers. We might stay in the wilderness because we’ve lowered our expectations so much that just coming on Sundays and getting by spiritually has become the new normal.
I want this church to move forward into the Promised Land. To take back lost territories for the Lord. To advance as an army of light. I want each person here to thrive spiritually. To be filled with the Spirit. To be excited that we have been set free by the Savior. And we are overflowing with thanksgiving because for the rest of our lives, we get to love him and serve him and serve our neighbors.
You have to fight for your spiritual fruitfulness. No one will hand it to you. To bear fruit, you have to remove the weeds, you have to water the land, you have to prune things from your life, even good things. Are you fighting for your fruitfulness? Do you prioritize your times with the Lord? You got to fight.
A second way out of the wilderness is confession of sin. When is the last time you repented? Are you careless with your words toward others? For Moses, rash words before the people was a sin because he failed to honor God before the people and he failed to trust him by obeying what God clearly told him to do. Are there things that God has asked you to obey, but you’ve been making excuses, or dragging your feed. Confess your sins.
Let’s not stop in the wilderness where we will grumble all the way to our graves. Let’s cross over to the Promised Land. One thing I can say about a fruitful, Spirit-filled Christian is that they are always thankful. No matter what is happening in their life, trouble, hardship, sickness, losing a job, whatever life throws at them, they are resilient and they can give thanks in all circumstances. Don’t you want to be a person like that?
We got to get to the Promised Land. Let’s live out Deut 1:21 as a church.
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.