The book of Numbers and chapter 11 - now, I did not intend doing a series in the Psalms, but the Lord intended it obviously, and that's why we're going to be in the Psalms a little bit later. But this is the context of the Psalm that we're going to read later on - and indeed it's important to know when you are reading the book of Psalms, that often there is a context, an historical context, to the things that David, or the other Psalmists, are expressing.
Numbers chapter 11 and we'll read from verse 1: "And when the people complained, it displeased the Lord:" - now to put you in the picture, the children of Israel are wandering now in the wilderness - they've been delivered from Egypt and from slavery, they've crossed over the Red Sea and they're wandering now in the wilderness - "and when they complained it displeased the Lord and the Lord heard it; and his anger was kindled; and the fire of the Lord burnt among them, and consumed them that were in the uttermost parts of the camp. And the people cried unto Moses; and when Moses prayed unto the Lord, the fire was quenched. And he called the name of the place Taberah: because the fire of the Lord burnt among them. And the mixt multitude that was among them fell a lusting: and the children of Israel also wept again, and said, Who shall give us flesh to eat? We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick: But now our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes. And the manna was as coriander seed, and the colour thereof as the colour of bdellium. And the people went about, and gathered it, and ground it in mills, or beat it in a mortar, and baked it in pans, and made cakes of it: and the taste of it was as the taste of fresh oil. And when the dew fell upon the camp in the night, the manna fell upon it. Then Moses heard the people weep throughout their families, every man in the door of his tent: and the anger of the Lord was kindled greatly; Moses also was displeased". Verse 18, God said to Moses: "And say thou unto the people, Sanctify yourselves against tomorrow, and ye shall eat flesh: for ye have wept in the ears of the Lord, saying, Who shall give us flesh to eat? for it was well with us in Egypt: therefore the Lord will give you flesh, and ye shall eat. Ye shall not eat one day, nor two days, nor five days, neither ten days, nor twenty days; But even a whole month, until it come out at your nostrils, and it be loathsome unto you: because that ye have despised the Lord which is among you, and have wept before him, saying, Why came we forth out of Egypt?". Verse 31: "And there went forth a wind from the Lord, and brought quails from the sea, and let them fall by the camp, as it were a day's journey on this side, and as it were a day's journey on the other side, round about the camp, and as it were two cubits high upon the face of the earth. And the people stood up all that day, and all that night, and all the next day, and they gathered the quails: he that gathered least gathered ten homers: and they spread them all abroad for themselves round about the camp. And while the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was chewed, the wrath of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord smote the people with a very great plague". And we know that the Lord will bless His own inspired word.
Now keep your finger in Numbers chapter 11, because we're going to be looking down that text. But our main text this morning is Psalm 106, Psalm 106 and only one verse, but we'll read a couple of verses just to get the context - Psalm 106 (keeping your finger in Numbers 11) and verse 13. Now this is speaking of the children of Israel, again in the wilderness - OK? - so it's the same context and the same situation. Verse 13: "They soon forgot his works; they waited not for his counsel: But lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, and tempted God in the desert." - now this is our text - "And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul".
'He gave them their request, but sent leanness into their soul'. Let's bow in a moments prayer: Father, this is Your word and we need Your Spirit to come and take the words from off these pages and write them upon the tablets of our hearts. Fill by Thy Spirit, we pray, Oh God, in Jesus name. Amen.
Another translation of the Hebrew says this: 'So He gave them what they asked for, but sent a wasting disease upon them'. Another translation says: 'He gave them their demands' - stronger than 'requests' now - 'the demands of their heart, and He thinned the numbers of them by disease and death'. Now if you look at the beginning of the Psalm, you'll note in verse one that it begins with praise: 'Praise ye the Lord, oh give thanks unto the Lord'. And if you look at the end of the Psalm, you find that it ends with praise: 'Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting'. But between the start and the finish of those two doxologies of praise, we have an historical record of the misfortunes, the fallings, the sins and the transgressions of the children of Israel as they walked in the wilderness. Now this is our first lesson: it's important never to forget history. I know that it's sometimes dry reading the book of Numbers, and Exodus, and Leviticus, and Deuteronomy - and sometimes those are the books, that if we're going to skip over any when we're reading the word of God, we'll skip over them. But we need to see, today - and I believe we're going to see - how important the history of Judaism is, the history of the children of Israel - because it's by knowing these important things of history, especially biblical history, that we can learn their mistakes and we can know how to avoid them in our individual walk, in our church, in our lives.
Now, Israel's history here - I believe - is recorded by the Holy Spirit of God for one reason primarily. It is here, and this Psalm is written, probably by David, to illustrate all human sin. He wants you, and I, and the whole world - the people he was speaking to at this moment in Judaism, and the people that followed after him, and the Christian church now - to see the psychology of sin, to see the steps of degradation and depravity that we as human beings, whether consciously or unconsciously, step into in our minds and hearts, the moment we decide, or are enticed into sinfulness. In fact, the whole Psalm, as you read it, is not simply a personal confession - it's not like Psalm 51, where David gets on his knees and cries to God for his adultery, that we were thinking about last week, with Bathsheba - this is a national confession. He is not reciting his own personal sins, but he is reciting, confessing, and acknowledging the sins of the whole nation before God.
Look at the Psalm, the first few verses recite Israel's sins in Egypt before they were delivered by God in the hand of Moses. Then, as you go further into the Psalm, it talks about the sins within the wilderness, in their desert wanderings. And then it even goes on further, nearer the end of the Psalm, to speak of the sins of the children of Israel in the promised land, in the land flowing with milk and honey - Canaan. Now, as we come to the word of God today - and indeed as we come to the word of God any day - how should we read this passage, and the verse that I have brought before you? Well, you read it the way you ought to read all of the word of God, in other words: you ought to put yourself in the context! Put yourself in the passage, use the word of God as a mirror - ask yourself, 'Well, what is God saying to me through this verse? What does this mean for our situation here in our church, and in the land of Ulster?' - because this is a national confession. Should we bemoan our transgressions? Should we, like Israel, be crying onto God, asking God to forgive us for our transgressions, our iniquities, and our sins against His name, against His holiness, and His holy law? Should we be crying to God for mercy? Should we be praising God, as he does at the end of the Psalm, that God's mercy is infinite, that it never fails, that His loving kindness endureth forever? Well, I believe we ought to, and we ought to look at this verse, this morning, very seriously, verse 15: 'He gave them their request, but He sent leanness into their soul'.
The historical context for the Psalm, as I've already said, is Numbers 11 - turn to it with me now, Numbers 11 - and you'll also find it quoted in Psalm 78, where the writer there says: 'They', the children of Israel, 'tempted', or tested, 'God in their heart by asking meat for their lust. Yea, they spake against God; they said, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?'. Now what had happened here? It's quite a complicated story. The children of Israel are out of Egypt now, and God is taking them on their wilderness journey to the promised land, but they are a mixed multitude. Now what does that mean? Well, when they left Egypt to go to the promised land, they didn't leave alone. If you go into the book of Genesis you find - and in the book of Exodus also - you find that when they left Egypt, there were some Egyptians [who] left with them, there were some Semites left with them also - in other words, derivatives from the Jewish race long ago, in the beginning. But a different 'hotchpotch' of nations and people, who didn't all worship the Lord God, saw their opportunity to perhaps leave Egypt, and left with the children of God and clung onto them. What happened was, God told His own people, 'I'm going to feed you Myself', right? 'I'm going to give you angel's food! The food that God gives! The bread of heaven, and you're going to - and you have to - eat that!'. Of course, the mixed multitude wasn't under that regulation, so they just ate meat. They went into the desert and they found some animal, or some bird, and they just fed away, and ate it, and cooked it, and enjoyed themselves - and their God was their belly. And Israel looked on at this, and they thought to themselves 'What are we putting all these restrictions and regulations upon ourselves, when they can get away with eating a good feed of a plate of meat?'. And they turned to God and said: 'God! Why can't we have meat? Why can't we do what they're doing?'. And God gave them their request, but it brought leanness to their soul.
I want you to see this, because it is the subject of lust. And we thought last week on the subject of lust, we thought more of sexual lust - as David eyed, and saw, and scoured Bathsheba with his eyes that night, and he focused on the wrong thing. And it all started, way back, when he took many wives - you remember all the process of how he lost his purity before God. But let me say this: lust, in the Bible, is not always a sexual sin. Lust speaks, and testifies, of any unholy, unhealthy, unrighteous desire of a man within his heart. Passion! Desire after what is wrong! Now the problem with the people in Numbers 11, and in the Psalm that we read, was one thing - and I want you to get this: they became dissatisfied with God. Right? God didn't 'do it for them' any more. God didn't give them that thrill. And what happened was, the spiritual law kicked in that we thought about last week, which is: that we conveniently forget how God has blessed us, and the relationship that God has to us, when we are contemplating and feeling the passions of lust within our soul. Isn't that right? When we are tempted, when we are presented with sin, the last thing on our minds - and that we want on our minds - is God!
We live in a consumer society, don't we? And in the shops, and in the town, because we are a prosperous nation - and no matter how poor you might think you are at the moment, believe me, in comparison with the rest of the world, and to what we used to be here, you're quite well-off - and most of us can walk into a shop and we can say: 'I see it! I like it! I must have it!'. Now inevitably, that attitude will flow into the spiritual realm if we are not careful. And in our sin, because we see it - lust of the eye - we like it - lust of the flesh - we must have it - pride of life! And before we know it we've become a 'consumer-Christian' in the realm of sin. And in that moment, we learnt - remember? - that all consciousness of God fades away, all the blessings that He has poured into our lives that ought to mean something to us disappear into oblivion! As Dietrich Bonhoeffer (sp?) said, we repeat it: 'When lust takes control, at that moment God loses all reality. Satan does not fill us with hatred of God, but with forgetfulness of Him'. We forget we're saved, we don't want to contemplate what God has done in our lives. When you're about to sin, you don't remember the date, and the hour, and the place that you knelt before the Lord, and before the cross, and got saved - do you? You don't do it! You don't think of the myriad of times that God has protected you, God has guided you in your life. You don't think of the passage of Scripture that you were reading - or maybe weren't reading! - in the morning. You don't think of the gift of prayer that He has given you, and the riches of His grace that is sufficient for you to get out of the fix, and the hole, that you're in at that moment - why? Because most of us want to do it! Let's be honest...that old man inside.
And that's what the Israelites did, if you look at Psalm 106 and verse 13 it says: 'They soon forgot his works'! They forgot what God meant to them, they forgot what God had done for them, they forgot His works and '...they waited not for his counsel'. Verse 21 says: 'They forgot God their Saviour'! And because of that their downfall came, and they give in to what I have called 'fleshly obesity' and 'spiritual bulimia'. God gave them their request, but he sent leanness into their souls.
I want you to look at Numbers 11, and we're going to go down it in the time that's left, and we're going to take time to go down it all. The reason why I've called it 'fleshly obesity' is, you'll know obesity - and I know all too well - is an over-intake of food, and it begins to show on you. Bulimia is a craving for food that is never satisfied - why? - because the food is always, habitually expelled from the body, which brings leanness to the body. Now we're talking in the spiritual realm, we're talking about obesity in the flesh, carnal, obesity of sin, feeding yourself with sin until you can't take any more sin, until sin makes up your whole body, your whole metabolism operates, and ticks, to the time of sin! What happens is: that brings spiritual bulimia. Your spirit will never be satisfied with the obesity of the flesh, nevertheless it brings more and more leanness to it - it destroys you!
Now the first lesson I want us to learn - this is all a digression, degradation into sin and there's a path, there's a pattern, there's a formula - and I hope, if you're almost on the brink of beginning this, or you're maybe in the middle of it, or you're maybe at your wit's end of it, that you'll see this, and that you'll waken up! The first thing is: an attitude of discontent with God and His ways. An attitude of discontent with God and His ways - verse 1 of Numbers 11: '...and when the people complained', they murmured - they complained! Who knows anybody who complains? Huh, everybody! And sometimes we're guilty of it ourselves, aren't we? Complaining, and murmuring, and gossiping, and backbiting, and saying that famous sentence: 'I'm going to tell you this, but don't repeat it', or, 'I wouldn't say this to their face, but you know that...'. Right? They began to complain. Now I believe that this is the process, the beginning - how it begins, even in our lives - the process of backsliding, the process of spiritual leanness - and you've seen it! Christians get together in a social way, and the company begins to discuss a matter, and talk about it, and perhaps (and I don't want to be 'superior' here) - but perhaps with the limited knowledge that they have about a subject, biblically, or a matter practically within the church of Jesus Christ - they come to their conclusion! And usually that conclusion suits their own particular lust! That's human nature - and you know what I mean - a few people on a Sunday night begin to discuss how long is given (and this is something that's on my heart) how long is given to the preaching. And maybe they think there's too much time, and other legitimate things are pushed away, and then they debate this until they conclude that the Scriptures should be relegated to epilogue status! It's happening all around, in the churches around us - the tendency is everywhere, and what is the real reason? What is the reason? They are succumbing to their own lust - probably because when they hear the word of God preached, they don't understand a lot of it, because they don't read the word of God at home, they don't study it at home. And then when it's preached it's over their heads - now I know that some preaching can be over their head, and preachers are guilty of that, and I'm guilty of that. But is it the lust, or is it because there is sin in the life and when the word of God - like the children were learning - the light, the laser light, of the word of God scorches their life, they don't want to hear it! Now let's face it, no one likes being made uncomfortable. But you know, most moral or theological departures from orthodoxy, or from holy, sanctified living - you will probably find [were] conceived in an unholy huddle, where carnal Christians who were discontent with God, His ways, His standards, and His precepts decided that they knew better!
They began to murmur. Now I want to make this practical to you. Does it depress you to come to church? Now I'm not talking about the facade of church, and the outside, peripheral things - I'm not talking about that, I'm talking about coming to meet with God. Do you find it hard to get out of bed of the morning? Well, I find that hard - to get out of bed in the morning. But do you stop there, and not get out of bed, because there is not that desire enough within you, the lust for sleeping, or the lust for staying at home is more than the lust - if I can say it reverently - the desire, and the passion after God! Is reading the word of God more boring for you than anything that you can possibly conceive of? Let alone coming twice on a Sunday to listen to it preached for half an hour or more? Is prayer not an issue in your life, simply because you just don't do it? It doesn't turn you on, you've never seen God in a miraculous way, answering your prayers. And here's the crux, here's the principal: do you view God's principles and standards as restrictive upon your freedom? Now if you see God in that way, my friend, you're not seeing my God! Because my God lives for freedom! My God is freedom!
Have you begun to have an attitude of discontent with God and His ways? But secondly: they had an ingratitude for their present existence. Now this is where history really does baffle me it, but in a way it doesn't because I can see myself in these Israelites, and I can see the psychology of a sinner. Look at verse 2, God's anger, because they complained, He was displeased and He heard it, '...and his anger was kindled; and the fire of the Lord burnt among them, and consumed them that were in the uttermost parts of the camp. And the people cried unto Moses; and when Moses prayed unto the Lord, the fire was quenched'. Now what happened? Because they complained God was displeased, because He was displeased, He heard and His anger was kindled and He sent down fire from heaven - and some people, probably around the edges and periphery of the camp, were wiped out because of the fire of God. So what do they do? They run to Moses, run to the man of God! When you're in trouble run to the Pastor, run to the church, run to your spiritual uncle! Isn't that what we do? Pray for me! 'Moses, pray for me!'. What did Moses do? Onto his knees, and he prayed to God, and what happened? It stopped!
Now what did they do next? Verse 3: 'He called the name of the place Taberah: because the fire of the Lord burnt among them. And the mixt multitude that was among them fell a lusting: and the children of Israel also wept again'. Now this, I've called this: the omnipotence of forgetfulness. This is the sinner's omnipotence - his all ability to forget! To forget what Christ did at the cross, to forget what Christ means to you, to forget how God has blessed you in your life. And at the moment - at that moment when the hairs on the back of your neck rise, and the warm sweat comes onto you, and you're about to contemplate sin - you forget Him! The blindness of the sinner who has just witnessed the consequences of sin, a particular sin, and turns round and commits the exact same sin after they have been saved from it! Is that what you're doing? They forgot that their present existence was from the hand of God.
Let me ask you why you're saved? It wasn't because you made a decision some night, you know. It was because Jesus Christ died 2000 years ago, and if He hadn't died you could make all the decisions you like and they would come to nothing. But it's because He died - that's what you've to thank God for - it's because the Holy Spirit revealed to you that He did die, and He gave you the grace to trust Him, and to make that decision. What about your family? What about the blessings God has given you? What about wealth, success, your job? Who has given you your home, the roof over your head? Who has given you the clothes that you wear? If I asked you that, you would probably say, 'Oh, God did. David, I believe God gave me all these things - of course I believe that!'. Now listen: I'm not talking about a wink and a nod towards God, that when you do something you pray that He blesses it. I'm asking you the question: do you realise that every good and perfect gift comes down from above, from the Father of lights? That what you are, and what you have at this moment of time, is because God has given you these things? But the tragedy could be that those very things that you have desired after, and you have brought to yourself, and brought into your life, are the very things that are making you forget God.
You know, one of the hardest things to handle in life is not failure, but success. What do you do in your life, practically speaking? Do you realise that the place where you are is because of God? That's why they - it says they forgot Him and they sought not His counsel - they didn't seek God's guidance. You see, when you have an important decision to make, do you seek God's face? Do you rely upon your own wisdom, your own expertise and experience, or do you seek God's face in prayer and search His word for an answer? He wants to tell us the decisions that He wants us to make!
But thirdly: they envied - verse 4 - they envied the unconverted and the carnal. 'The mixt multitude that was among them fell a lusting: and the children of Israel also wept again, and said, Who shall give us flesh to eat?' - the rabble, the mixed multitude, the unbelievers. And what's happening today in our world, and in our churches? The teenager sees the club, they see the pub, and the bar, they see their friends going in - and they hear on a Monday morning about the great time that they had together, vomiting over one another's shoes and dancing all night! They see the hard men, the 'Casanovas', and all the girls that they can get! They see it and they think: 'That's much more exciting than Christ!'. Isn't that right? Or the young graduate sees the executive, the lifestyle, and the luxuries, and the perks that can be achieved quicker if you're in the right crowds, and you learn the right tricks, and they think, 'What am I missing by sticking to Christian principles and precepts? This is a dog-eat-dog world, it's survival of the fittest, and if you don't fight - you'll lose!'. You can trace the pattern of envy right back to sexual behaviour in teenagers, to the way, at times, we can run our churches as businesses.
How do you view the world? Do you copy the world? Do you ape the world when it suits you? Do you naively, superficially, look upon it as something that is tasty and attractive? Or do you see it transparently? Can you see through all the facade, all the rubbish? Can you see past the bright lights and the thrills, to the broken homes, to the venereal diseases, to the substance addiction? Can you see that? Because if you don't - and most likely you're the child of a believer, a Christian parent - the reason is, is the devil has duped you. He is the angel of light, he is a liar from the beginning, he is the father of lies - and that is just how he entraps people in his serpent-way, to get them into the world. And when he gets them in, the sad thing is, he usually entices them by what we find in verse 5: he makes them fantasise about the greener grass. Look at it: 'We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick'. They were murmuring about what they remembered in Egypt - they were in the middle of slavery, but they forgot readily that God had saved them, all they could remember was the great food that they had, and now they don't have any food. They're free! They're saved! But the grass is greener on the other side of the Red Sea. Isn't that always the way? It's the psychology of sin again. You take an alcoholic, and I guarantee you that a lot of them for the rest of their days will still have a temptation to drink. The very thing that maybe destroyed their life, destroyed their marriage - because we are so sinful, that thing still has a pull upon us. One author says this: 'The grass might be greener, but it has no nutritional value'. And when you eat of that grass, it's only the appearance, it's only the sinful attraction - and he gets you! And what ultimately happens is found in verse 6, look at this: 'But now our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes'. This is the thing I want you to notice: that the gifts of God devalued for them!
Where did it all start? An attitude of discontent with God and His ways; secondly: an ingratitude for their present existence; thirdly: they began to envy the unconverted, and the carnal; fourthly: they fantasised about the grass greener on the other side - and then what happened? The gifts of God devalued for them! Their soul dried away and they said disdainfully, 'Is there nothing for us to eat only this old manna?'. Manna was God's good gift, manna was described as angel's food - bread of heaven - and at one time they were satisfied by God's manna! But because of their downward process of degradation, God and His gift devalued for them! Verse 35 of Psalm 106 says: 'They were mingled among the heathen and they learned their works'. The hymn writer expressed it poetically, and well, when he said: 'Where is the blessedness I knew when first I saw the Lord? Where is the soul-refreshing view of Jesus and His word? What peaceful hours I once enjoyed, how sweet their memory still - but they have left an aching void that the world can never fill'!
You see, this is sin's vicious circle - it goes round and round. When you sin your fellowship is broken with God, then when you hear the word of God it makes you uneasy, so you try not to hear or read the word of God because you don't want to be made uneasy. And let's face it: we don't want to feel uneasy! And it's the continual, vicious circle of the deceitfulness of sin - and the amazing thing is this: all these steps, so far, were before they committed the sin! You see, sin isn't an act, it's as much an attitude.
Do you have no desire after God's gifts? Do you have no desire after prayer? Do you have no desire to hear or to read the word of God? Do you have no passion in you to fellowship with your brothers and sisters in Christ, and at every opportunity be among them? Have you no desire to go out to that world and shout at the top of your voice that Jesus died for sinners? If not, consciously or unconsciously, you've probably been grazing in the other field, with the greener grass - you've probably pitched your tent towards Sodom.
But finally, and I want to leave this with you: God - and this is tragic - God often lets you stay in your sin until it sickens you. We see it in verse 19 and 20: 'Ye shall not eat one day, nor two days, nor five days, neither ten days, nor twenty days; But even a whole month, until it come out at your nostrils, and it be loathsome unto you: because that ye have despised the Lord which is among you, and have wept before him, saying, Why came we forth out of Egypt?'. This is amazing, God answered their sinful request! Spurgeon says: 'Prayer can be answered in anger and denied in love' - and because a man gets the desire of his heart from God, does not mean that it was a spiritual desire. How many of you - and let's think about this - have seen a man become richer, in body, in intellect, but poorer in soul? How many young people have you seen get married, and acquired a family, and no longer have time for God? How many Christian preachers have acquired a reputation, or an education, and lost the Spirit's anointing - because they fed the flesh and not the spirit? It says that 'it came out of their nostrils' - that's disgusting isn't it? Do you know why? Because it is disgusting!
I want to exhort you, as we close, not to waste your Christian life or your unsaved life any more in sin. But do what Daniel did, who purposed in his heart that he would not eat the king's meat, and out of all the candidates for government, he out of them all, prospered the most. He starved the flesh, and God fed his spirit.
Let us pray, and if you are backslidden, you need to repent and plead the blood of Christ in your life, and leave sin and follow Christ. If you're not saved, you need to do the same: turn from your sin, plead the blood of Christ, and follow Him. But we all need to do business with God on a daily basis - and keep short accounts with Him - and if you need to, be done with sin and do it now. Now unto Him that is able to keep us from stumbling, be eternal glory, dominion, and power in Christ's name. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the tape, titled "The Malnutrition Of The Soul" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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