Numbers 11:10-15

Sermon preached on September 22, 2013 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2013. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

"God won't give you more than you can handle."

Is it true? I think if you asked Moses here he'd disagree. His complaint is precisely to this point. In verse 14 he said that the burden placed on him was too heavy. God has given him more than he can handle. Moses asked the Lord,

"Why have you brought
this trouble on your servant?
What have I done to displease you
that you put the burden
of all these people on me?
Did I conceive all these people?
Did I give them birth?
Why do you tell me
to carry them in my arms,
as a nurse carries an infant,
to the land you promised
on oath to their forefathers?
Where can I get meat
for all these people?
They keep wailing to me,
'Give us meat to eat!'
I cannot carry all these people by myself;
the burden is too heavy for me.
If this is how you are going to treat me,
put me to death right now—
if I have found favor in your eyes—
and do not let me face my own ruin."

Leading the sinful people of Israel was too much for Moses. He was at his wits end.

I think the saying, God won't give you more than you can handle, was made up by someone who hadn't experienced the horrors of great suffering. It seems like something that would be on the lips of Job's friends—those he called, 'miserable comforters'. When someone is feeling totally overwhelmed and he hears words like that, it can cause him to feel like he's not a really a good Christian because he doesn't measure up. It can cause him to ask,

"If I am supposed to handle this, then why can't I handle it?"

But the Bible doesn't teach that God won't give you more than you can handle. I suspect that this saying came from the fact that the Bible tells us that God won't allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says,

"No temptation has seized you
except what is common to man.
And God is faithful;
he will not let you be tempted
beyond what you can bear.
But when you are tempted,
he will also provide a way out
so that you can stand up under it."

But that's about temptation. You won't be tempted beyond what you can bear. But temptation is different than experiencing horrors that are so great that they overwhelm you. You can experience horrors that crush you. You can be kept from sin in such experiences—yet nevertheless, those horrors can so overwhelm you that you can despair of life. The apostle Paul tells us about his experience with this in 2 Corinthians 1:8–9. He wrote,

"We do not want you to be uninformed,
brothers, about the hardships
we suffered in the province of Asia.
We were under great pressure,
far beyond our ability to endure,
so that we despaired even of life."

Paul says that the pressure they were under was 'far beyond' their ability to endure. Simon J. Kistemaker tells us that this pressure was both physical and spiritual. (2 Corinthians, Baker, p. 49)

"The danger Paul incurred was so great that he describes it as an extremely heavy load that he was unable to bear physically. More than that, spiritually he lacked the necessary strength and entered into a state of despair… He expected the end of his earthly life unless God himself intervened and, as it were, brought him back from the dead."

Philip E. Hughes writes, (2 Corinthians, p. 18)

"it was an experience that weighed him down to excess and beyond the normal power of endurance, so much so that he could see no possibility of survival."

Christians can experience great pressure that can overwhelm them. If you read the first part of Lamentations 3 you'll see a description of someone who was overcome with grief. He says, (Lamentations 3:1–13)

"I am the man who has seen affliction
by the rod of his wrath.
He has driven me away
and made me walk in darkness
rather than light; indeed,
he has turned his hand against me
again and again, all day long.
He has made my skin and my flesh
grow old and has broken my bones.
He has besieged me and surrounded me
with bitterness and hardship.
He has made me dwell in darkness
like those long dead.
He has walled me in so I cannot escape;
he has weighed me down with chains.
Even when I call out or cry for help,
he shuts out my prayer.
He has barred my way
with blocks of stone;
he has made my paths crooked.
Like a bear lying in wait,
like a lion in hiding,
he dragged me from the path
and mangled me and left me without help.
He drew his bow and made me
the target for his arrows.
He pierced my heart with arrows
from his quiver."

In verse 20 he goes on to describe how his soul was downcast within him.

In Psalm 88:15–18 the psalmist said to God,

"I have suffered your terrors
and am in despair.
Your wrath has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me.
All day long they surround me like a flood;
they have completely engulfed me.
You have taken my companions
and loved ones from me;
the darkness is my closest friend."

Darkness is my closest friend? What horrors Christians have undergone.

Bruce Hunt was a missionary to Korea when the Japanese invaded before WW II. The Japanese persecuted the Christians with a terrible ferocity. Hunt was himself arrested and put in prison. Later he wrote a book called, "The Korean Pentecost" which tells us about the great working of God in Korea. But part of the book describes the horrors of what the Japanese put Christians through. They were beaten, tortured with hot irons, subjected to water torture. Other terrible tortures were inflicted on them with bamboo shafts. It was horrific. Pastor Choi Han Gee lost his mind under the torture. He became insane. (The Korean Pentecost. p. 122, 123) One of the other pastors attempted suicide. Another was able to endure the torture and was released with orders not to talk about Jesus. He said that freedom was the greatest temptation of all. He so wanted to stay out of the torture chamber that he had a great struggle with his freedom.

I've mentioned before the tragedy that came upon the wife of the great reformer, Ulrich Zwingli. In October 1531 the Five States declared war on Zurich and the resulting battle, Zwingli was killed. She not only lost her husband, but a son, a brother, a son-in-law, a brother-in-law and some of her most intimate friends. (Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 8 p. 186)

I can't imagine the horrors that people have experienced. Can you imagine being sent to Auschwitz concentration camp? What horrors people, even Christians, have experienced.

The second thing we should see from our text is that

these troubles came upon Moses when he wasn't aware that he was doing anything wrong.

Moses said to God,

"Why have you brought
this trouble on your servant?
What have I done to displease you
that you put the burden
of all these people on me?"

This is one of the great mysteries. God sometimes brings trouble upon the greatest of His servants. He brought trouble upon Moses, upon Jeremiah, upon Elijah. In 1 Kings 19:4 we read about the prophet Elijah, who fled because Queen Jezebel was seeking to kill him,

"He came to a broom tree, sat down
under it and prayed that he might die.
'I have had enough, LORD,' he said.
'Take my life;
I am no better than my ancestors.'"

He had been very zealous for the Lord and His glory, (1 Kings 19:14) yet great trouble came upon him.

Now the great lesson for us in all this is not to depress you. This topic is discouraging in some ways. The Christian life is to be a life of joy and peace. Yet there are times when it seems that God places us in situations where joy and peace are hard to find. But it's not impossible.

For the great lesson from our text is that

Moses went to God for relief from His troubles.

This is key. Our strength isn't enough. We need God's strength. This is what Paul taught us in 2 Corinthians 1. He continued,

"Indeed, in our hearts we felt
the sentence of death.
But this happened that we might
not rely on ourselves but on God,
who raises the dead."

John Calvin writes on Paul's experience in 2 Corinthians 1.

"Paul does not measure his strength in connection with help from God, but according to his own personal feeling of his ability. Now there can be no doubt, that all human strength must give way… even saints themselves should be in danger of an entire failure of strength, that, being put in mind of their own weakness, they may learn, agreeably to what follows, to place their entire dependence on God alone."

The reason I gave so many examples of God's people going through great trials is to help you realize that some day you may find yourself in a similar situation. You may face a situation where you feel totally overwhelmed and it may seem that you are facing nothing but darkness.

But one of the things we need to remember in darkness is that many of the greatest saints have experienced the same thing.

Going through such things doesn't mean that God is displeased with you. In such situations there is a great bond with the best of God's servants.

After Zwingli's wife suffered the loss of all those people, it would have been easy for some person to say to her,

"What did you do?"

Implying that she must have committed some great sin for such tragedy to come upon her. No. No. That's what Job's friends did to him. In such a situation you need to call to mind that the greatest of the saints have been in just such a situation.

In that situation one of the greatest things they have taught us is that that is when we need to lean upon God the most.

In 2 Corinthians 4:7–12 the apostle Paul wrote,

"But we have this treasure in jars of clay
to show that this all-surpassing power
is from God and not from us.
We are hard pressed on every side,
but not crushed;
perplexed, but not in despair;
persecuted, but not abandoned;
struck down, but not destroyed.
We always carry around in our body
the death of Jesus, /so that the life of Jesus
may also be revealed in our body.
For we who are alive are always
being given over to death for Jesus' sake,
so that his life may be revealed
in our mortal body.
So then, death is at work in us,
but life is at work in you."

We are jars of clay. We are easily broken. We cannot stand on our own.

Yet you'd never know that by looking at how some Christians act. They are filled with pride and think that they're so strong.

Christians, recognize how dependent you are upon Jesus for strength. Without Him we can do nothing. Without Him we cannot stand for a second. Christians, draw close to God. Ask Him to fill you with His strength. Only that can keep you.

But going deeper in this point, what we should understand is that when great darkness comes to us,

we share what Jesus went through.

Jesus went through darkness so He can and will help you in it.

Moses was pointing us to Christ here. He was the leader of God's people. He was carrying them, interceding for them. He felt overwhelmed because of their disobedience.

Jesus knew such feelings. In Luke 22:44 we read about Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane,

"And being in anguish,
he prayed more earnestly,
and his sweat was like drops of blood
falling to the ground."

Jesus said to His disciples, (Matthew 26:38)

"My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow
to the point of death."

Our sins crushed Him. His strength was like it was being overwhelmed. Luke 22:43 tells us that an,

"angel from heaven appeared to him
and strengthened him."

Our sins overwhelmed Him. On the cross He cried out,

"My God, my God,
why have you forsaken me."

You, as a servant of Jesus, may go through similar horrors.

But be assured, because Jesus was forsaken, because He died, because He rose again—you are going to emerge from the darkness into His wonderful light. Because Jesus was forsaken means that you will never be forsaken. Jesus knows what you're going through. That means that you can go Jesus and know that He can sympathize with our weakness in the darkness, (Hebrews 4:15) and help us as we go through it.

Secondly, for you Christians who have never experienced such horrors—

how good God has been to you.

How much you should appreciate God's mercy to you. God is so good to many Christians that they actually believe God won't give them more than they can handle.

We have so little idea of the horrors that God so often keeps us from. Moses was here complaining about his work and his difficulty with the people. If we examine the rebellion of the people under Moses can see Satan's hand in it. Satan was trying to destroy God's people in the wilderness. Later he disputed about Moses' body. He was doing everything he could to take God's love off the Israelites. What a trial the people were for Moses. Satan was behind it.

What this means for you is that

you must never underestimate the ferocity of the attacks that Satan can bring against you.

He is like a roaring lion seeking to devour us. He hit Job with one hammer blow after another. Satan doesn't hit like a girl. As a Christian you'd never want to say to Satan,

"Hit me with your best shot."

It would be totally wrong to seek a confrontation with Him. In the Lord's Prayer Jesus told us to pray to be delivered from evil.

Bruce Hunt tells the story of Miss Ahn Youngae, a girl from the north of Korea. She went to the prison where a fellow Christian was being held hoping to give her some clothes, a Bible and toilet paper. She was questioned about her connection with the prisoner- (an older Christian woman) and her attitude towards shrine worship. She replied that she believed shrine worship to be idolatry. She was imprisoned. A year later she was released because she was dying. She lingered a month after her release. During that time she had periods of discouragement. One woman even questioned her faith for these reasons. Hunt said of that,

"I only realized as I never realized before, that the devil has no mercy, and does not even leave 'the brand snatched from the burning' to die in peace.'"

Do you appreciate the many times in which God has kept Satan away from you? Do you appreciate that His mercies are new every morning?

Lastly, for those of you who are not Christians. Our text shows you that

unless you get God's help, evil will overwhelm you.

You need Jesus to save you from your sins. Go to Him today.