In some ways I hate reading about the Israelites in the wilderness. It seems there are some very long, drawn out chapters that tell me nothing. But every once in a while, I will find myself learning in reverse from the Israelites. By that, I mean I learn what not to do! So here are some of the things I have learned not to do from the good ol’ Israelites.
1. Do not complain about God’s provision.
There comes a point when the Israelites are tired of God’s manna. They want meat they say. They do not want any manna they say. They want to go back to Egypt they say. God begins to burn with anger, and Moses gets very aggravated. The Israelites should know that getting God angry is never a good thing. He decides to give them what they want. He forces them to eat only meat for a whole month until they literally become sick from it. Sounds peachy huh? But then, once the meat comes, they all became devouring pigs, over-indulging, and God despised it, causing a severe plague to strike many of them dead.
It may seem drastic, but how many times do we become so materialistic that we begin insulting God with our ungratefulness? Has God not provided everything for us? Has God not blessed us with those things that we seem to think are no longer good enough? I’m not saying we shouldn’t ask for things or buy them, but we also must be careful to foster that life of thanksgiving. As Job said, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” (Job 1:21b)
2. Do not disrespect those God has put in authority over you!
This lesson comes from two specific Israelites–Miriam and Aaron. They began criticizing Moses, the leader God appointed over them. They complained about who Moses married and that God apparently only spoke to him. They didn’t understand why he was the only one to hear from God. This made God so mad, that he gave Miriam leprosy for a week! God also essentially told her, “I’ll reveal myself in visions to prophets but not to Moses. He is more than that. He is the sole man I trust, so I will speak to him plainly. He sees me as I am. Why do you criticize him then?” WHOA! Think on that for a moment–the relationship of Moses and God! Humbling!
We may not like what our leaders are doing, whether locally, in our job, or nationally, but they are still the appointed leader and deserve our utmost respect! I don’t know that God would make you a leper for your disrespect, but He doesn’t need to anymore. Often times, it just makes you the social outcast for you disrespectfulness. You know what I mean. We have all seen someone completely disrespect a leader in private or public, and they are scrutinized for it. Paul even said, “Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished.” (Romans 13:1-2)
3. Do not let your circumstance determine the abilities of God.
I am sure you know the situation I am talking about. The Israelites have come to the edge of their promised land. They send 12 scouts in. When they return, ten of the twelve choose to focus on the great cities and people who will crush the Israelites if they try anything. The other two, Joshua and Caleb, choose to believe that God has already given them this bountiful land. They choose to believe that if God is on their side, there is nothing to fear. They remembered the God who delivered them from Egypt. However, the ten were more convincing to the rest of Israel, and they were all punished for it except for Caleb and Joshua. They all let the circumstance dictate how powerful, victorious and capable God is when it should be the other way around. Knowing how capable, victorious and powerful God is should dictate their circumstance.
In our life, it is no different. God has called us to specific purposes. He has given us dreams that are in all realistic sense is too big for us. You see, that was the problem, the Israelites fell to the sin of being “realistic.” Yes, by every human standard, they were giant food. Yes, by every human standard, I am ill-qualified to lead an orphanage, but God! God is bigger than a giant, and could win the victory for them. God is also more than able to qualify and prepare me for doing exactly what He desires from me! What I see cannot determine what God can do! My God can do all things; NOTHING is impossible for God!
4. Do not ignore God’s specific instructions.
This lesson is brought to us specifically from Moses and Aaron. The Israelites were complaining once again that they needed water. God instructed Moses and Aaron to speak to the rock at Meribah and then water would come forth. On a simplistic level, Moses and Aaron were obedient. They gathered the people around the rock, and God displayed His power through Moses and Aaron. Water did flow from the rock, however; they did not speak to it. They struck it! In God’s eyes, to do what HE wants the way WE want is still disobedience.
When God gives a specific instruction, even if we come to the same result, we must obey the methods God lays out. He has a purpose for everything. In this case, it was to show His holiness and power to the Israelites.
5. Do not put God in a box of His past behavior.
Directly tied to the last point is this one. It is in fact the same story. The background knowledge that applies to this lesson is that this is not the first time water has come from a rock. In Exodus, at Mt. Horeb, God commands Moses to strike a rock for water to flow from it. At Meribah, Moses and Aaron followed the same pattern rather than doing what God actually said to do, to speak to the rock. They put God in the box of His past behavior.
Though God is indeed the same God of yesterday, today, and forever, that doesn’t mean his signs and wonders must repeat themselves in the same way. I have heard, and even said, that it seems like God doesn’t move like He used to anymore. Perhaps that is because He so much bigger than His past performances. I think it is safe to say that Jesus never performed the exact same miracle. One blind man he wiped mud on and to another he just commanded it. Today God does still do the “old-fashioned” miracles that are medically impossible. But in learning this lesson I am challenged with this thought. Could it be that God has also changed the way he operates in our developed society by giving to us and using doctors? Could they not be an avenue of God’s miraculous hand? Yes we should listen to the voice of God and be open to being used for God’s glory, but don’t put God in a box and blame Him for working outside of that box. No box can contain who He is or all that He can do.
6. Do not put other God’s before the One True God.
We all know the story. It was continuous and I am not even sure where to start. Time and time again, Israel allowed the pagan gods to infiltrate their homes and lives. They gave their love and attention to them instead of to God. As you go into the prophets, you see God compare them to an adulterous woman, even a prostitute. God commanded Hosea to marry a prostitute as an example of God’s undying love for Israel though she continues to be unfaithful.
God is a jealous God, a consuming fire, and He will not share His glory with any other god. We must make Him center and core of our lives. Social media, pride, video games, friends, family, and every good thing can easily take the place fo God in our lives today. We can get caught up in letting every spiritual leader be our source when it needs to be directly from God for ourselves. God has opened the way up for us to approach God openly and freely, yet we still turn to every little thing in our lives rather than God. And when we think about it, we are not different from the Israelites. The gods may have changed, but the concept is the same, and God is just jealously pursuing our hearts. So lets learn from the Israelites and return to that God that loves us so dearly, so selflessly and so unconditionally!
I realize there are many more lessons in reverse from the Israelites, and I may add to the list as God continues to show them to me. If you know of one, please, please, please share in comments below and I will add them to this list. God has given us His word and these stories so we can learn from them. Here are just 6 little lessons, but I KNOW there are so much more than this blog can hold. I could probably write a book about the lessons in reverse from the Israelites. Maybe I will someday.