Strength for the Journey: “Are You Calling Me a Liar?” – Numbers 14, part two

lies1Some of you may have seen the American television series “Lie to Me”, that ran on the Fox network between 2009 and 2011. The show follows the research and drama of Dr. Cal Lightman (played by Tim Roth) and his colleagues from “The Lightman Group” as they assist in investigations by applying special facial science markers. They believe most everyone gives certain “tells” when they are offering a lie – that our face and expression often “gives us away”. Interpreting what are called “micro expressions” they scrutinize body language observations during both formal and casual interrogation. The character of Dr. Lightman was based on a real psychologist by the name of Dr. Paul Ekman, who is accepted as an expert on such body language and facial expression discernment. Ekman worked from a lab at the University of California, San Francisco, where he received forty years of research grants from the National Institute of Mental Health to study nonverbal behavior – beginning in 1963. He accepted a professorship at the University of California, San Francisco in 1972. His famous book, “Telling Lies”, was published by 1985. Some of you may have seen the fruits of his study in a documentary series that he collaborated on with John Cleese for the BBC called “The Human Face”.

Dr. Ekman’s theory was simple; “Only a very tiny percentage of people can hide a lie”. Even when we try, our face and body doesn’t naturally allow us to hide it well. He may be right. At the same time, many people don’t really RECOGNIZE THE TRUTH. They aren’t intentionally telling a lie, they just aren’t telling what is factually true. A lie isn’t just an inaccuracy – it is a deception. Unfortunately, many people are living in a deception, so they cannot discern truth about their situation, which looks to them to be completely normal. Have you ever noticed how your eyes adjust to the low light in a room? After a time, your mind accepts the darker setting as normal. In some ways, a setting filled with deception is like that. We can live a life of darkness and a false picture or deception, but wrong will quickly begin to look normal, and even RIGHT in our eyes.

This can happen even to believers. We can WORRY, but call it CONCERN and thereby make a personal exception to this destructive and disobedient behavior. We can get ANGRY and call it “righteous indignation” allowing our heart to raise and our face to flush while flexing of the muscles of the flesh without question about our inflated EGO. We can excuse SUBSTANCE ABUSES as a natural response to PRESSURE. We can overlook SEXUAL MISDEEDS as simple MISTAKES, in spite of the fact that many choices were made along the way to set the stage for the deeds themselves. We have lots of ways to deceive ourselves and those around us – and for many of us that lifestyle has sadly become a normal part of our daily life. For some of us, we enter a church today, suppressing guilt and avoiding the prick of truth. We tell ourselves that tomorrow will be different.

Key Principle: The truth of our life is not how we evaluate it – but how our Creator sees it. We can accept wrong as right, and believe our own lies. He knows the truth, and meets us in GRACE to bring it to our attention.

In our lesson today, we focus on a slice of a story from the desert. We followed in the last study the same passage, Numbers 14, but we skipped many verses in the heart of the passage on our last pass – specifically the dialogue between Moses and God. We need to return to that “close up” picture of God’s interaction, because it exposes key truths about the way we view God and ourselves – and how HE responds to our darkened heart.

Let’s start with a clear view of the sin that set up the exchange between God and Moses:

In our previous study of this passage, I tried to make the point that “God only dances with us when He leads.” The whole point of a walk with God is NOT to pull Him into our lives, but to open ourselves to that He can pull us from our lives into HIS WAY. The very act of a walk toward God is gently transformed into a walk IN God and WITH GOD. The problem of our stubbornness is clear – we like to lead God. God’s desire for us is to experience what it feels like to be in His arms, and allow Him to lead us across the dance floor of life with confidence. He doesn’t want our life as a believer to be full of stumbling and humbling awkwardness – that occurs mostly because of our resistance to His leading.

In the intensity and stark reality of the desert, God’s people quickly lost the veneer of celebration of God’s leading from Egypt – showing themselves as more addicted to the predictable, if scant, comforts of the past slavery over the challenges and possible disappointments of the future trust in God.

• Numbers 1-10 reported the preparations for the journey away from the Mountain of the Law.

• In Numbers 11, they no sooner called “Wagon’s Ho!” and a rising tide of complaints between the people of God, and their leaders unfolded. The people complained of God’s provided menu in Numbers 11 and God’s designated leader in Numbers 12.

• When the spies returned in Numbers 13, the people wept over the report of the challenge ahead. Very quickly, sadness yielded to anger, and anger to bitterness. Bitter voices moved people toward action – and rather than change WITHIN, they sought to change the circumstances.

We saw their disobedience and its severe and devastating end in the earlier lesson. An army of men was butchered, and as they fell, they knew they did so in defection, guilt and disobedience. As their life’s blood flowed from them, they didn’t even have the satisfaction that they fell for a good cause. They lay on the ground with the full understanding that God warned them, and they walked the other way.

I want to stop and back up the tape… I want to move closely to the sounds of the dialogue between Moses and God BEFORE the devastation, but after the bitter voices. There was a moment before the drop fell into the pool. I want to freeze that moment, and see what we can learn from it. Our text opens with some questions – and God is the One asking them.

God asked two closely related questions to Moses (14:11):

Numbers 14:11 The LORD said to Moses, “How long will this people spurn Me? And how long will they not believe in Me, despite all the signs which I have performed in their midst?

First, how long will the people continue to “spurn” Him? The idea of the Hebrew word “naw-ats’” is to despise, blaspheme or reject God. Look closely at that word, because it reveals something about how God FELT about the lack of belief of His people. He felt PERSONALLY REJECTED by their unbelief in His ability to provide and care for them. It was a form of such defamation that He considered it BLASPHEMY.

Have you ever been guilty of BLASPHEMING GOD? All it takes, from His perspective, is WORRYING, FRETTING, CRYING because you don’t think God will come through on His word. Remember, God sent the spies into the land. God promised the people a home – and their unbelief in His ability was deeply offensive to Him.

Look specifically at the activities that God included in the SPURNING:

• Crying and weeping about a bad report from the spies (14:1).
• Harboring bitterness and anger toward God’s appointed leaders as they followed God (14:1b) that led to open rebellion against them (14:4).
• Concluding they would have been better off in the hands of the world (14:2).
• Open verbal doubts about God’s goodness and His keeping of His word (14:3).

Second, akin to God’s question about spurning, He asked: “How long will they not believe in Me, despite all the signs which I have performed in their midst?” The question is basically the same, but adds another dimension to God’s complaint – the emphasis on history. God was offended at their disbelief, but He was even MORE offended that they DISCOUNTED all the works He had done on their behalf prior to the current test.

Have you written off God’s gifts in your past, discounting His incredible works and tossing aside His favor in your past as you peer into your uncertain future? Has God not been at work for you in your life? Has He not provided you with many wonderful people and scores of things to make your life better? Are you not BLESSED? The Lord was specifically offended at the way the people became forgetful and unthankful for the blessings He had liberally provided.

Next God told Moses of a possible solution (14:12):

Numbers 14:12 “I will smite them with pestilence and dispossess them, and I will make you into a nation greater and mightier than they.”

God was clear – “You, Mo, you are okay. You are someone I can build upon. The people – I would suggest – are probably not going to be able to “go the distance” and stick with you or Me!”

Even to the casual observer it appears that when the people lost hope in God, God lost hope in them. Is that the lesson? Is it true that we can only count of God when He can count on us? I trust that is NOT the case- or we are all in great trouble! A careful look through the Bible will lead you to conclude that God DID NOT truly intend to follow through. How can I say that?

Psalm 103 reminds us of God’s character (shared in many portions of the Word… 1 “Bless the LORD, O my soul, And all that is within me, [bless] His holy name. 2 Bless the LORD, O my soul, And forget none of His benefits… 5 Who satisfies your years with good things, [So that] your youth is renewed like the eagle. … 7 He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the sons of Israel. 8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious, Slow to anger and abounding in loving kindness… 10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, So great is His loving kindness toward those who fear Him. 12 As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us. 13 Just as a father has compassion on [his] children, So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. 14 For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are [but] dust.

If that is NOT true, why did God SAY to Moses that was something He was inclined to do? Because God was not only preparing to WORK ON THE PEOPLE, but preparing to WORK IN AND THROUGH THEIR LEADER.

Before God could effectively work in a generation, He needed to stir up the hearts of the leaders of the people. He needed them to LEARN to have compassion – by FIGHTING FOR THE PEOPLE – and interceding on their behalf. He enlisted the argument with Moses by offering a stern position. He pulled compassion from Moses and challenged him to show a defense of the people.

Moses responded to God in prayer (14:13-19)

There are two very striking portions in the center of the passage. The first is the prayer of Moses, where we can clearly see how God was working in his heart. His words offer us a window to the softness that must come when we deal with people and their sinful deception:

Moses interceded for the people. God was at work, molding the leader. To see that work in progress, let’s look at the prayer of Moses. His argument was clear:

First, Moses was concerned about God’s testimony. He said:

Numbers 14:13 But Moses said to the LORD, “Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for by Your strength You brought up this people from their midst, 14 and they will tell [it] to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that You, O LORD, are in the midst of this people, for You, O LORD, are seen eye to eye, while Your cloud stands over them; and You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. 15 “Now if You slay this people as one man, then the nations who have heard of Your fame will say, 16 Because the LORD could not bring this people into the land which He promised them by oath, therefore He slaughtered them in the wilderness.

Moses wasn’t simply arguing that killing the people was in bad taste or would hurt his feelings – he made the point that God’s rescue was for a GREATER PURPOSE.

A real believer is always concerned with God telling His story to the world. Our good isn’t enough – it must be HIS GOOD.

Second, Moses was concerned about His people’s destiny. He said:

17 “But now, I pray, let the power of the Lord be great, just as You have declared…”

He had no argument that God should show Himself in power and according to His Word. He merely argued that God’s exposure of Himself was not only in JUSTICE, but equally in MERCY. Look at the THEOLOGY OF MOSES and see a wondrous picture of the Father in Heaven:

18 The LORD is slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear [the guilty], visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth [generations].’ 19 “Pardon, I pray, the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of Your loving kindness, just as You also have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.”

• Slow to anger: He is (“arek afim”: slow to flare the nose). God is tempered in reaction. He isn’t defensive, and doesn’t “flare up” easily.

• Abundant in loving kindness: (rav chesed: full of love that will not let go). God’s default isn’t fickleness, but faithfulness. He is a LOYAL God. He doesn’t let go easily.

• Forgiving iniquity: (naseh avown: bearing the guilty).

• Forgiving transgression: (naseh pasha: bearing the rebellious breaches).

• By no means clear the guilty: (v’nakeh lo yanakeh: doesn’t acquit the guilty without penalty).

• Vising the iniquity of the fathers on the children: (pawkad avone avoth al-benim: appointing the guilt of the fathers to the children). Don’t forget, the passage includes the truth that BOTH BLESSING AND PENALTY are forwarded to the next generation. This principle is as linked as CAUSE AND EFFECT in our world. God blesses the children of those who follow Him in a variety of ways. He also spurns those in the generations who follow a rebel.

God said He desired to wipe out the people in the desert and start over with Moses. God offered him a chance at EGO over INTERCESSION. It was a test. God nudged Moses from wounds over unfair criticism by his followers and family to choose to intercede FOR them, not complain ABOUT them.

Moses learned to increasingly and instinctively step in the path of the bullet for the people he led. A good leader was becoming a GREAT LEADER – because He interceded with a bigger view than “what was good for him” in mind. He argued for God’s testimony before the world – but raised no hint of wound over the personal unfairness of his critics. He sought God for OTHERS – even those who were overtly CRITICAL OF HIM PERSONALLY. As he prayed, Moses decreased, and God increased. In true humility, this desert shepherd became dramatically more effective.

Moses fell before God sowing in tears, and there he heard the promise of God that his people would one day reap in joy. Moses Wrestled verbally with God for the lives, of his people – and there he heard God’s plan for their future peace.

God replied to the prayer of Moses

The prayer of Moses set up the second important part of the text – HOW GOD RESPONDED. That reply revealed how God viewed the people, and what HE WOULD DO about their obstinacy and continued rebellion. The pattern is worth a closer look!

The Lord both judged and pardoned (14:20-38):

How did God respond to His people in their sin? The short answer is this: it depended on how they responded to HIM. God is ready to bring GRACE to the repentant, but He will not dismiss the work of the arrogant.

Because they did not repent, He said He would not pour a full blessing on the people. He would pardon them because of Moses’ intercession (and not destroy them), but He would not give them what was prepared for them. Benefits are curtailed when self-rebellion is accepted.

God’s Robbed Blessing: 14:20 “So the LORD said, “I have pardoned [them] according to your word; 21 but indeed, as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the LORD. 22 “Surely all the men who have seen My glory and My signs which I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness, yet have put Me to the test these ten times and have not listened to My voice, 23 shall by no means see the land which I swore to their fathers, nor shall any of those who spurned Me see it.

God’s grace would keep the people alive (20). Moses’ plea was effective. The people would not die that day. Death would come in normal course.

God’s testimony would be seen by those who observe His works (21). Egypt would not see the deaths over time as God’s inadequacy – and the testimony of the Lord would increase in the eyes of the lost world.

God’s justice in the face of rebellion would withhold from mutineers and rebels the place promised to the fathers (22,23). This didn’t delight God – it CHEATED Him from giving more. He WANTED them to let Him lead them to the celebrations of their long awaited homeland. His promise was His delight – but they robbed Him of giving them that blessing.

It wasn’t the ACTIONS of the people, but their heart that God was looking at. We have all seen the tears. They were NOT the tears of those who were broken over sin – but they were saddened by the consequences of loss that followed the discovery of their guilt!

God’s Continued Reward: 14:24 “But My servant Caleb, because he has had a different spirit and has followed Me fully, I will bring into the land which he entered, and his descendants shall take possession of it. 25 “Now the Amalekites and the Canaanites live in the valleys; turn tomorrow and set out to the wilderness by the way of the Red Sea.”

God observed the heart of Caleb and saw his softness (24). That is what delighted Him! He wanted then (as He wants now) those who will trust Him enough to see the fearful challenges of the future through His promises- not their weaknesses.

God would grant the sons of Caleb an impossible victory – He would give them choices lands that were held by strong foes (25). He is not equal to our struggles – God is the Master of all of them. There is no power to match His command; no foe equal to His might. He only requires that His people trust Him, and He will move for them and with them.

Note before we leave this important exchange that it wasn’t the MOMENTARY defection from God that brought harsh judgment, but the long term and incessant dispute with God’s right to lead. That is ALWAYS the case. Rebellious actions come from a resistant heart!

God Hears: 14:26 The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, 27 “How long [shall I bear] with this evil congregation who are grumbling against Me? I have heard the complaints of the sons of Israel, which they are making against Me.

We must be mindful that God hears our angry, bitter and grumbling heart when we pull away from Him and insist that His way is not GOOD, because it is not EASY.

God recognizes our growth: 14:28 “Say to them, ‘As I live,’ says the LORD, ‘just as you have spoken in My hearing, so I will surely do to you; 29 your corpses will fall in this wilderness, even all your numbered men, according to your complete number from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against Me.

God expects us to be more mature with age. He is more tolerant of the very young, but that tolerance must not become license. With each rejection, our hardness becomes MORE SET – callousness kills tenderness toward God (28,29). For those who are young, God is willing to walk the path with you – and pull on your heart. You may feel that tug strongly, as He calls you to a path that follows Him. With each passing year, that tug may feel less profound- because you grow stronger in SELF. Be warned, and respond early.

God offers GRACE: 14:30 Surely you shall not come into the land in which I swore to settle you, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun. 31 Your children, however, whom you said would become a prey– I will bring them in, and they will know the land which you have rejected.

God keeps His promises, but He will do so without the extraordinary blessing that was both promised and prepared for the rebel (30,31). God found a way to bless the family by blessing a future generation. This allowed Him to keep His word, but not enable their sin and overlook their rebellion.

God dealt with rebels: Those who had not softened, He would show the end of rebellion. He said: 14:32 But as for you, your corpses will fall in this wilderness. 33 Your sons shall be shepherds for forty years in the wilderness, and they will suffer [for] your unfaithfulness, until your corpses lie in the wilderness. 34 According to the number of days which you spied out the land, forty days, for every day you shall bear your guilt a year, [even] forty years, and you will know My opposition. 35 I, the LORD, have spoken, surely this I will do to all this evil congregation who are gathered together against Me. In this wilderness they shall be destroyed, and there they will die.'”

Where is the GRACE OF GOD in this?

Keep reading. He knew people that turned their heart to Him, and His response was altogether different. Numbers 14:36 As for the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land and who returned and made all the congregation grumble against him by bringing out a bad report concerning the land, 37 even those men who brought out the very bad report of the land died by a plague before the LORD. 38 But Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh remained alive out of those men who went to spy out the land.

Look closely. God’s treatment of leaders was not the same as His treatment of followers. He has less tolerance for those who lead others astray (36,37). He also has great reward for those who lead as He desires! He provided extraordinary blessing to those who stood for Him against the defectors (38).

Here is the point:

The truth of our life is not how we evaluate it – but how our Creator sees it. We can accept wrong as right, and believe our own lies. He knows the truth, and meets us in GRACE to bring it to our attention.

Blessing comes from obedience. When obedience is breached, blessing comes from repentance and softening toward God. Hardness begets hardness – and robs people of the blessing God is not only willing, but anxious to pour into their lives.

In a speech made in 1863, Abraham Lincoln said, “We have been the receipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prospertiy; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.” Can we not instinctively see the danger?

Billy Graham once preached: “The strongest principle of life and blessings lies in our choice. Our life is the sum result of all the choices we make, both consciously and unconsciously. If we can control the process of choosing, we can take control of all aspects of our life. We can find the freedom that comes from being in charge of our life. So start with what is right rather than what is acceptable. “If you don’t make a decision, then time will make it for you, and time will always side against you.”