TiO 45 – The Story – Wandering


The Main Idea

The people of Israel leave the foot of Mount Sinai, having camped there for a year, and move towards their goal, the promised land of Canaan. But their grumbling and complaining catches up to them and they cry out to be allowed to return to Egypt, even after 2 of their spies say that God will give them the land of promise. As a result, they end up wandering in the desert as they await both the deaths of the generation who escaped from Egypt and, sadly, of Moses himself.

Warm Up Questions: (Choose 1 or 2)

Q1: How do you feel about snakes?

Q2: What kind of birds do you like to eat the most?

Q3: If you could choose only one food to eat for a whole year, what would it be?

Q4: In thinking about Jon’s sermon, what questions or insights about this part of The Story did you come away with? 

Dig a Little Deeper

The people leave Sinai but despite the continual provision of God they continue to complain at every turn and in every circumstance.

Act 1: God Sends Quail (pp. 71-73)

“‘Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow, then you will eat meat.’”

It seems that no matter what God provides to the people of Israel they always have something to complain about. So, in the previous chapter they complained that there was no food and God provided manna, a substance that seems to have been like wafers baked from seeds. But the people complained. So, they demanded meat and God provided it. But he was not happy that he had to do this in the midst of their complaining and so accompanying the quail that he provided, he also made them sick and many people died.

Act 2: Miriam and Aaron Complain (pp. 73-74)

“Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. ‘Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?’ they asked. ‘Hasn’t he also spoken through us?’”

As if Moses did not have enough problems trying to keep the people in line and trying to satisfy their requests, now his brother Aaron and his sister Miriam start to complain. You have to expect that the complaint about the Cushite wife is just an excuse because it seems that their real issue was being overlooked as leaders and prophets. God called a meeting, explained the favourable position that Moses had, and then struck Miriam with leprosy as a punishment. After a week of disgrace, Miriam was healed and she was able to enter the camp again—lepers were segregated from the rest of the people as some forms of it were very contagious.

Act 3: Spies in the Land (pp. 74-78)

“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites.’”

At this point it seems like the wandering of the people of Israel has come to an end. They were three years out of Egypt and right on the border of Canaan, the promised land. And, seemingly, all it was going to take was a plan to capture the land and they would be home. So, they gathered together a representative from each tribe of Israel—one family grouping for each son of Jacob, later name Israel—and sent those 12 men into Canaan to survey the land and its inhabitants. Each came back and said, “The land is rich and there are powerful people there.” But only two said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” The people sided with the pessimists and God met out a severe punishment: no one who saw the miracles and power of God in Egypt—where everyone was begging to return—will see the promised land, that whole generation will die wandering in the wilderness.

Act 4: The Sin of Moses (pp. 78-79)

“And the Lord said to Moses, ‘… speak to that rock before [the people of Israel] and it will pour out its water.’”

Moses, furious with the people of Israel for, once again, complaining against God, makes a terrible mistake. Rather than doing what God tells him, and speaking to the rock to release its water, he raises his staff and hits the rock, not once but twice. And the rock produces water but the punishment for his disobedience is harsh: Moses will see, but not enter into, the land of promise.

Act 5: Perils in the Desert (pp. 79-83) 

“The whole Israelite community set out ….”

The people of Israel wandered for 40 years in the desert. Keep in mind that their wandering happened all within close proximity of their end goal, the land of Canaan. And not only did they grumble but they faced opposition in the form of nations who either would not let the people of Israel pass through their lands or who were outright hostile and sent armies to oppose them. Through all of this God was faithful to protect his people—even though he punished them occasionally for their continued ungratefulness.

Act 6: The Death of Moses (pp. 83-88)

“Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, who did all those signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.”

While Moses was not allowed to enter into the promised land, God did allow him to see it. And, after blessing and challenging the people to serve God and obey him and after commissioning Joshua to lead the people in his place, Moses died.

Looking back at the story, there are two themes: complaining and disobedience and victory over enemies. Despite having recently (within about 3 years) seen God’s power as he defeated the Egyptians and delivered the people of Israel from them, the people of Israel complain. But, each time an obstacle came into their way God’s hand delivered them from the obstacle.

  • Complaining and Disobedience

Through the first half of chapter 6 we hear the complaints of the people. They are dissatisfied with the provision of God for them, they are tired of wandering, they want to go back to Egypt. Even Moses lets his anger cause him to falter in his trust for God. All of this dooms the generation who experienced the hand of God deliver them from Egypt to wander the desert, never being able to enter the land of promise, a land which remained only a few days journey from where they were during the whole of their 40 year journey.

Q1: Why did the people complain, that is, what situations throughout chapter 6 resulted in complaints?

Q2: What were the result of the complaints? What were the immediate results and what were the long-term results?

  • Victory over enemies

Once the fate of the people was decided in the middle of chapter 6—that they would wander in the wilderness for 40 years—the narrative turned to the resistance the people of Israel faced in the form of the inhabitants of their land of wandering. However, every nation that resisted the people of Israel was soundly defeated.

Q3: What were the circumstances of the military victories that the people of Israel experienced?

Q4: What purpose might God have had for aiding these victories? 

Next Steps

A few years ago there was a campaign, started by a church in the United States, to encourage and remind people not to complain. They created and sent out rubber bracelets that had printed on them “No Complaining”. It was a rousing success, at least in that church. People stopped complaining and, instead, began to focus on those things in their lives that were blessings from God. Despite seeing God work, we often look back to more stable times and long for “Egypt”.

Q1: Are there times in your past that you look back fondly on and long to recapture? These are not nostalgic memories like “Wasn’t it nice when our kids were younger” but, instead, times that you really desire to return to so that you can avoid the trials of the present. Talk about those times and why you long to be there and not where you are.

Q2: Have you experienced the deliverance of God from hard times? In what way does (or can) this knowledge of deliverance help as you face the present or the future?

Q3: Do you complain a lot? Do other people think you do? Would it be possible to go a week, a day, an hour, without complaining? How would a focus on blessing in all circumstances change the way you live?

Challenge: go for a day without complaining. When you do feel like complaining turn that into positive action, encouraging or frank communication, and a refocus on the goodness of God. Be prepared to report back to your group next week about the results of this experience.

Pray for each other as you seek to live a life of celebration for the goodness that he has given and the trials he has brought you through.


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