Through the highly ordered and functional creation that is all around us God shows us that HE EXISTS. But to see what God’s PERSONALITY is like, we must examine how He interacts with the human race.
Our Creator reveals His character to us through the history recorded in the Bible. As we worship today, we will ponder a part of the Old Testament in which God reveals at least five of His character traits.
Different vitamins provide different health benefits for the body. In the same way, God reveals His character traits to us in order to produce healthy reactions in our souls. Today, as you see each different part of God’s character revealed ask yourself, “What reaction does this part of God’s character produce in my heart?”
LORD Almighty, through Your word You have revealed to us that you are three persons, but only one God. Our minds do not understand this, but through the faith you have created in our hearts, we believe it. It is impossible for us to know You unless You make Yourself known to us. So, help us to know You LORD. Reveal Your personality to us through Your Holy Word, and change us by who You are. Amen.
The LORD promised Abraham that his descendants would be a great nation and that they would be given a land of their own to live in and enjoy.
In our sermon reading for today, the physical descendants of Abraham are on the verge of entering into that land that God had promised.
The Israelites were camped about 105 miles southwest of Jerusalem at a place called Kadesh Barnea in the desert of Paran.
So the people would have good idea about what the Promised Land was like, the LORD told Moses to arrange for a group of 12 spies to scout out the land for forty days. Before they left, Moses instructed them:
“18See what the land is like and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, few or many. 19What kind of land do they live in? Is it good or bad? What kind of towns do they live in? Are they unwalled or fortified? 20How is the soil? Is it fertile or poor? Are there trees on it or not? Do your best to bring back some of the fruit of the land” (Numbers 13:18-20 NIV).
When the spies came back they said that the land was wonderful, just as the LORD had told them. But ten of the spies also reported that the people who lived there were too mighty to fight against. They spread this message throughout the camp:
“The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). 33We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them” (Numbers 13:32b-33 NIV).
So the people of Israel panicked and began talking about choosing a new leader and returning to Egypt.
Moses and Aaron didn’t know what to do. Thankfully, two of the scouts had a different message for the people. Joshua and Caleb, told the people not to be afraid. They said:
“…The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. 8If the LORD is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. 9Only do not rebel against the LORD. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up. Their protection is gone, but the LORD is with us. Do not be afraid of them” (Numbers 14:7-9).
It is here that our sermon reading picks up the account.
SERMON READING Numbers 14:10-24 (NIV)
10But the whole assembly talked about stoning them. Then the glory of the LORD appeared at the Tent of Meeting to all the Israelites. 11The LORD said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miraculous signs I have performed among them? 12I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you into a nation greater and stronger than they.”
13Moses said to the LORD, “Then the Egyptians will hear about it! By your power you brought these people up from among them. 14And they will tell the inhabitants of this land about it. They have already heard that you, O LORD, are with these people and that you, O LORD, have been seen face to face, that your cloud stays over them, and that you go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. 15If you put these people to death all at one time, the nations who have heard this report about you will say, 16‘The LORD was not able to bring these people into the land he promised them on oath; so he slaughtered them in the desert.’
17“Now may the Lord’s strength be displayed, just as you have declared: 18‘The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.’ 19In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now.”
20The LORD replied, “I have forgiven them, as you asked. 21Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the LORD fills the whole earth, 22not one of the men who saw my glory and the miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times—23not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their forefathers. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it. 24But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it.
FIRST HYMN TLH 18 verses 1-3
“The LORD is Powerful, therefore…
…He is to be Trusted.”
11The LORD said to Moses, ‘How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miraculous signs I have performed among them? (Numbers 14:11 NIV).
When Pharaoh wouldn’t let the Israelites go, God sent ten devastating plagues on Pharaoh’s people and their land.
When the Israelites fled from Egypt, the LORD went before them, leading them with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.
When they came to the shores of the Red Sea God opened up a path through the waters, making the waters stand up on either side like walls.
But when the Egyptian army followed, God closed the path and drowned the whole army of Pharaoh.
As they travelled through the wilderness God fed the people with bread that formed on the ground overnight like dew. He supplied them with meat by causing great flocks of quail to settle down in their camps.
The LORD is powerful. That much is obvious. In the case of the Israelite people, He was powerful FOR THEM. He used His great might, not to destroy them, but to set them free and keep them safe.
When God then told the Israelites to take the Promised Land as their own because He was giving it to them, they should gone into the land with confidence. But their sinful hearts responded to the LORD’s power with doubt instead of trust.
May God forgive us when we do the same.
God made our dead, unbelieving hearts alive. Even though even though we were dead in sin and living in a world if lies and superstitions, God was powerful enough reach through all that and make us His people through the message of His Son Jesus.
When the LORD directs you and me to do that which seems foolish or impossible, may our response ever be trust. For the LORD is not only powerful, He is powerful FOR US, and therefore He is to be trusted.
SECOND HYMN WS 784 verses 1-2
“The LORD is Just, therefore…
…He is to be Feared.”
“The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation” (Numbers 14:18b NIV).
People like the idea of a God who loves mankind. But some take God’s love too far, and make Him into an unjust God. They say that God loves sinners so much that in the end he just won’t punish anyone for their sin. This isn’t what the Bible says.
God does describe Himself as a loving God, but also a just God. He does not leave the guilty unpunished. A person cannot live their life according to their own rules and expect that God will smile on them after their death. In the judgment, those who have denied the God of the Bible will be denied by Him.
The LORD is just, therefore He is to be feared.
When we sinners think about God’s justice and our sinfulness, fear of God’s punishment creeps into our hearts, for our sins are many.
In the red Hymnal there is a hymn called, “Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted”. It’s about Jesus suffering on the cross. The second verse reads:
“Tell me, ye who hear Him groaning,
Was there ever grief like His?
Friends through fear His cause disowning,
Foes insulting His distress;
Many hands were raised to wound Him,
None would interpose to save;
But the deepest stroke that pierced Him
Was the stroke that Justice gave” (The Lutheran Hymnal, Hymn 153, v.2).
The stroke of justice that should have fallen on sinners, fell on Jesus instead. By His wounds, we are healed.
Because of Jesus, our “fear” of God is no longer an utter terror, but is now a respect, an awe and a love for the God who loved us so much that He was will take the fall for us.
So, what does a Christian do when he starts to fear God’s judgment over his sins? He takes them to God in honest confession. He takes them to the cross of Christ, where they fade to nothing in the light of Jesus’ sacrifice.
I’ll let you converse with God about your specific sins at home, in your private prayers. Right now let’s confess our sins together, in a general way, and listen again God’s gracious reply.
CONFESSION AND ABSOLUTION
“The LORD is Patient, therefore…
…He is to be Praised.”
19In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now” (Numbers 14:17-19 NIV).
From the very beginning the descendants of Abraham complained. When Moses appeared before Pharaoh the first time, Pharaoh refused to let the people go. Pharaoh also decided to make the work of the Israelites harder to teach them a lesson. The leaders of Israel complained to Moses, saying:
“May the LORD look upon you and judge you! You have made us a stench to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us” (Exodus 5:21 NIV).
In turn, Moses complained to the LORD, saying:
“…O Lord, why have you brought trouble upon this people? Is this why you sent me? 23Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble upon this people, and you have not rescued your people at all” (Exodus 5:22 NIV).
Over and over the people of Israel cried out against God, saying that He was not taking care of them properly. They suggested that perhaps God was leading them out into the desert just to kill them all!
How foolish and shortsighted they were.
God’s immense patience is seen throughout His dealing with Israel, and throughout His dealing with us. For we can be foolish and short-sighted too. Don’t we find ourselves fretting about the state of the economy, about the government, about our own health problems. Many are the worries that we allow to weigh our hearts down, instead of taking them to the LORD in prayer. Instead of diligent prayer, our spirits cry out in frustration, “What are You thinking LORD? How can this be good for us?”
But the ever patient LORD works things out according to His wise plan. And He patiently carries us along as while we pout and whine and complain like little children.
The LORD is patient, and patient with you and me, therefore He is to be praised.
THIRD HYMN TLH 34 verses 1-2
“The LORD is Loving, therefore…
…Let us also be Loving.”
“The LORD replied, ‘I have forgiven them, as you asked. 21Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the LORD fills the whole earth, 22not one of the men who saw my glory and the miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times—23not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their forefathers. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it’” (Numbers 14:20-23 NIV).
Like Jesus Himself would do on the Cross of Calvary, Moses stepped between the LORD and the sinful people. Boldly, Moses begged God to forgive them instead of destroying them. God listened to Moses, and forgave their sin once again.
But even though God forgave the people, this generation of doubters would die in the wilderness. They would not acquire the land that God had promised to Abraham.
The LORD is loving, but sin has consequences in this life.
Sometimes the consequences for one man’s sin, fall on more people than himself. When parents sin, sometimes the consequences fall on their children too.
“The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 14:18).
What the LORD says here sounds all wrong to our ears. How can God be just and loving if He punishes the children for what their parents did!
God’s love is a wiser love than ours. He is not ashamed to send pain on the children of sinful parents so that they will not follow their parents’ evil ways down to the grave and hell. God’s love will carry the consequences of sin to the third or fourth generation if that’s what it takes to turn the hearts of the children back to the True God.
The LORD is loving, therefore, let us be loving too. But let us not love in the way the world does. Let us not love with a flimsy and self-serving love, but with a true love that is guided by our LORD’s perfect Word.
FOURTH HYMN WS 776
“The LORD is Faithful, therefore…
…His people are Faithful too.”
“But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it” (Numbers 14:24 NIV).
That the LORD is faithful to those who follow Him is seen in the story of Caleb’s inheritance.
Caleb had seen the richness of the land. He had faithfully encouraged the people to take it because the LORD had given it to them. God had recognized Caleb’s good confession and had promised that he would possess his own part of the land
But even so, Caleb had to go back into the barren wastelands of the Sinai peninsula with the rest of the Israelite people. For forty years he would wander the desert with them. He had been faithful. He had received God’s promise. But He would have to wait all the same.
The generation of those who had tested and doubted the LORD perished one by one in the desert, but Joshua and Caleb remained. Forty five years later the LORD kept His promise to Caleb, and gave him his own plot of ground in the Promised Land.
The LORD is faithful, therefore so are His people. Let us always be faithful to Him. Let us seek His blessing on everything we do. Let us seek His wise counsel in every question. Let us seek His loving forgiveness for every sin. The LORD is faithful, so let us depend on Him. Amen.