WANDERING IN THE WILDERNESS
JOHN 3:14-15, ESV
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
NUMBERS 11:4-9, NIrV
4 Some people with them began to wish for other food. Again the Israelites began to cry out. They said, “We wish we had meat to eat. 5 We remember the fish we ate in Egypt. It didn’t cost us anything. We also remember the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. 6 But now we’ve lost all interest in eating. We never see anything but this manna!”
7 The manna was like coriander seeds. It looked like sap from a tree. 8 The people went around gathering it. Then they ground it up in a small mill they held in their hands. Or they crushed it in a stone bowl. They cooked it in a pot. Or they made loaves out of it. It tasted like something made with olive oil. 9 When the dew came down on the camp at night, the manna also came down.
If you were starving to death and someone handed you a piece of bread, would you say, "Ugh! I’m sick of bread! I'd rather have tacos!" Of course not! But that's sort of what the Israelites did to God. There was no food for them as they wandered in the wilderness, so God fed them a miracle meal of manna bread every morning. After munching manna for many months, the people of Israel stopped thanking God and started complaining. "Ugh! What I wouldn't give to eat the kinds of food we had when we were slaves in Egypt! I'd rather starve than take another bite of this boring bread!"
+ The Israelites mentioned the foods they ate in Egypt. What were they? (vs. 5)
+ How do you think God felt when the people complained about the manna he sent?
NUMBERS 11:10-17, NIrV
10 Moses heard people from every family crying at the entrances to their tents. The Lord became very angry. So Moses became upset. 11 He asked the Lord, “Why have you brought this trouble on me? Why aren’t you pleased with me? Why have you loaded me down with the troubles of all these people? 12 Am I like a mother to them? Are they my children? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms? Do I have to carry them the way a nurse carries a baby? Do I have to carry them to the land you promised? You promised the land to their people of long ago. 13 Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep crying out to me. They say, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ 14 I can’t carry all these people by myself. The load is too heavy for me. 15 Is this how you are going to treat me? If you are pleased with me, just put me to death right now. Don’t let me live if I have to see myself destroyed anyway.”
16 The Lord said to Moses, “Bring me 70 of Israel’s elders. Bring men that you know are leaders and officials among the people. Have them come to the tent of meeting. I want them to stand there with you. 17 I will come down and speak with you there. I will take some of the power of the Spirit that is on you. And I will put it on them. They will share the responsibility of these people with you. Then you will not have to carry it alone.
As his people moaned about manna and meat, Moses felt like a mom surrounded by a million whiny babies! God felt that way, too. But instead of moaning and groaning on his own, Moses cried out to God. “I feel like I have to drag these complainers around kicking and screaming. Please, just kill me now so I can finally be done with their whining!” It was obvious Moses needed a break. So God chose 70 men to help Moses deal with his troublesome people. To give them wisdom to solve the never-ending problems of their people, each man was given God’s Holy Spirit to live inside them.
+ What question did Moses ask God? (vs. 13)
+ Besides the 70 men, who else had the power of God’s Spirit with him? (vs. 17)
NUMBERS 11:18-23 AND 31-34, NIrV
18 “Tell the people, ‘Set yourselves apart for tomorrow. At that time you will eat meat. The Lord heard you when you cried out. You said, “We wish we had meat to eat. We were better off in Egypt. Now the Lord will give you meat. And you will eat it. 19 You will not eat it for just one or two days. You will not eat it for just five, ten or 20 days. 20 Instead, you will eat it for a whole month. You will eat it until it comes out of your noses. You will eat it until you hate it. The Lord is among you. But you have turned your back on him. You have cried out while he was listening. You have said, “Why did we ever leave Egypt?” ’ ”
21 But Moses said to the Lord, “Here I am among 600,000 men on the march. And you say, ‘I will give them meat to eat for a whole month’! 22 Would they have enough if flocks and herds were killed for them? Would they have enough even if all the fish in the ocean were caught for them?”
23 The Lord answered Moses, “Am I not strong enough? Now you will see whether what I say will come true for you.”
31 The Lord sent out a wind. It drove quail in from the Red Sea. It scattered them all around the camp. They were about three feet above the ground. They could be seen in every direction as far as a person could walk in a day. 32 The people went out all day and gathered quail. They gathered them all night and all the next day. No one gathered less than 60 bushels. Then they spread the quail out all around the camp. 33 But while the meat was still in their mouths, the Lord acted. Before the people could swallow it, he became very angry with them. He struck them with a terrible plague. 34 So the place was named Kibroth Hattaavah. That’s where the bodies of the people who had wished for other food were buried.
It’s not always a good thing to get exactly what you ask for. God promised to give the whining Israelites so much meat, it would start coming out of their grumbling little noses! With a mighty wind, he blew bunches of birds in from the sea. The ground was covered up to everyone’s knees with quail, little birds that taste like chicken. Everyone gathered enough of them to fill at least seven bathtubs! But before anybody could swallow their first bite, God punished his people with a deadly plague. After that, you’d think God’s people would never complain again. Sadly, you’d be wrong!
+ After eating meat for a whole month, how did God say the people would feel? (vs. 20)
+ When Moses asked God where he would get all that meat, what did God say? (vs. 23)
NUMBERS 20:2-13, NIRV
2 The people didn’t have any water. So they gathered together to oppose Moses and Aaron. 3 They argued with Moses. They said, “We wish we had died when our people fell dead in front of the Lord. 4 Why did you bring the Lord’s people into this desert? We and our livestock will die here. 5 Why did you bring us up out of Egypt? Why did you bring us to this terrible place? It doesn’t have any grain or figs. It doesn’t have any grapes or pomegranates. There isn’t even any water for us to drink!”
6 Moses and Aaron left the people. They went to the entrance to the tent of meeting. There they fell with their faces to the ground. Then the glory of the Lord appeared to them. 7 The Lord said to Moses, 8 “Get your walking stick. You and your brother Aaron gather the people together. Then speak to that rock while everyone is watching. It will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community. Then they and their livestock can drink it.”
9 So Moses took the walking stick from the tent. He did just as the Lord had commanded him. 10 He and Aaron gathered the people together in front of the rock. Moses said to them, “Listen, you who refuse to obey! Do we have to bring water out of this rock for you?” 11 Then Moses raised his arm. He hit the rock twice with his walking stick. Water poured out. And the people and their livestock drank it.
12 But the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron. He said, “You did not trust in me enough to honor me. You did not honor me as the holy God in front of the Israelites. So you will not bring this community into the land I am giving them.”
13 Those were the waters of Meribah. That’s where the Israelites argued with the Lord. And that’s where he was proven to be holy among them.
About a year before their 40 years of wandering were through, the Israelites reached a place without water. As was their habit, the people grumbled to Moses. God planned to miraculously give them water from a rock, something he’d done many years before. But instead of obeying God’s order, Moses threw a fit. “Listen up, rebels!”, he yelled. “Do we have to bring water out of this rock for you?” Instead of speaking to the rock, Moses struck it with his staff. Because he ignored God’s command in front of everyone, God would not allow him to lead his people into the promised land.
+ What did the people say as they complained? (vs. 3-5)
+ What reason did God give for not letting Moses lead the people into the land? (vs. 12)
NUMBERS 21:4-9, NIRV
4 The Israelites traveled from Mount Hor along the way to the Red Sea. They wanted to go around Edom. But they grew tired on the way. 5 So they spoke against God and against Moses. They said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt? Do you want us to die here in the desert? We don’t have any bread! We don’t have any water! And we hate this awful food!”
6 Then the Lord sent poisonous snakes among the Israelites. The snakes bit them. Many of the people died. 7 The others came to Moses. They said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.
8 The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake. Put it up on a pole. Then anyone who is bitten can look at it and remain alive.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake. He put it up on a pole. Then anyone who was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake remained alive.
Not long after God brought water from a rock, the wandering Israelites ended up in another spot without water to drink and only manna to eat. It doesn’t take a genius to guess how God's people responded to this – they complained, of course! But grumbling against God is a serious sin. At God’s command, an army of venomous snakes invaded the camp! The poisoned people cried out to Moses, Moses cried out to God, and God answered. He gave Moses instructions for an unusual cure: a metal snake on a pole. With a single glance in the bronze snake’s direction, a dying person was saved!
+ What did the Israelites say about the manna bread God gave them? (vs. 5)
+ How in the world could a bronze serpent cure a snakebite? Who healed the people?
JOHN 3:14-16, NIRV
14 Moses lifted up the snake in the desert. In the same way, the Son of Man must also be lifted up. 15 Then everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
16 God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son. Anyone who believes in him will not die but will have eternal life.
It can be fun to stand in the sun and play around with your shadow. Whenever you move, your shadow instantly copies you. If you jump, it jumps. If you dance, it dances. But shadows aren’t a perfect picture of you. They are just a flat and fuzzy and stretched or squeezed copy of something much better: a human being!
Reading the true tales of the Israelites in the Old Testament (the first half of the Bible) is sort of like staring at shadows. It’s wonderful to see God come to the rescue of his people with miracle after miracle. But these stories are like shadows compared to the greatest story God ever told: the story of his Son, Jesus!
Jesus lived about 1,500 years after Moses’ troublesome times leading a constantly complaining crew around the wilderness. One night, an Israelite leader named Nicodemus came to meet with Jesus. He did it secretly in the middle of the night, so no one would see him. Nicodemus had heard of Jesus’ many miracles. So he wanted to see for himself who this wonder-working guy was.
That night, Jesus said a thing that would sound really weird if we hadn’t just studied the story we did yesterday. Jesus said, “Like Moses lifted up the bronze snake in the wilderness, the Son of Man will be lifted up. And just like everyone who looked at the snake lived, everyone who believes in the Son of Man will have forever life.”
You might be asking, “Who is this ‘Son of Man’ character?” That’s a good question with an easy answer – it’s a special name Jesus used for himself. In the Bible books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, Jesus called himself the “Son of Man” over 80 times!
Do you understand what Jesus was teaching Nicodemus that night 2,000 years ago? The true story of Moses and the Bronze Snake was actually a shadowy picture of what Jesus was going to do to save the world from their sins. In the shadow story, Moses held a bronze serpent up high for everyone to see. But in God’s great story, Jesus was nailed to a cross that was raised up high for everyone to see.
In the shadow story, the grumbling Israelites were facing death from the fiery bite of venomous snakes. But in God’s great story, the sinful world was facing a forever, fiery death because of their sin!
In the shadow story, everyone who looked at the bronze serpent was saved from a one-time death. But in God’s great story, everyone who believes in Jesus will be saved from forever death and be given forever life in God’s good kingdom!
Jesus’ nighttime chat with Nicodemus teaches us to pay extra attention when we read God’s Word. As we study the shadow stories of the Old Testament, we should be on the look out. We should think about how each and every mighty miracle is pointing us to God’s great story: the one where Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead!
+ What was lifted up high in Moses’ story? What was lifted up in Jesus’ story?
+ How is the story of Jesus better than the shadow story of Moses and the serpent?