Numbers 11:4-6 (2)

Sermon preached on September 15, 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.

A few weeks ago there was a tragic story in the news about two female hikers who got lost at Roque Bluff State Park in Maine. They were rescued, brought back to their mini-van, but then almost immediately took a wrong turn on the road, drove into the ocean and drowned. They drove down a no exit road and down the boat ramp at the end of it into the water. When I first heard the story I wondered how they did it. But people in the area said it was actually easy to do if you were not familiar with the area. Why would anything like that be easy? The evening it happened was dark and rainy. I saw a picture of the boat ramp and I was expected to see a stop sign, but there was none. Someone said that there was a "Pavement Ends" sign on the road just before the boat ramp, but that it was partially obscured by bushes. I found that amazing—you have a road that just goes into the ocean and all you have is a "Pavement Ends" sign. That's a bit of an understatement. I'd never interpret a "Pavement Ends" sign to mean that if you don't stop in a few seconds you're going to be in the ocean. I'd take it to mean that the paved road was going to turn into a dirt road.

You can't blame those women if there was not a serious warning sign. If there's a big stop sign and someone drives into the ocean, then you can fault them. Not far from where we vacation in Nova Scotia there's a cable ferry that we take all the time. It's at the end of a road and the road basically just ends at the ferry ramp. The ferry ramp is just like a boat ramp—you can drive right into the water. But just before the ferry there are two stop signs and a flashing red light. In spite of that I've often wondered if anyone has ever driven into the water there. There's no barrier or anything to stop them. There are no rumble strips that make noise and cause a vibration to alert inattentive drivers.

It's amazing how we can miss or ignore warnings. It happens all the time.

In Nova Scotia it seems that every few years people are swept out to sea because they go out on the rocks near the ocean to watch a storm. Everyone in Nova Scotia knows you're not to do that because it's dangerous. A lot of the tourist places have warning signs. At Peggy's Cove, one of the most popular seaside tourist sights has a sign that reads,

WarningInjury and Death Have Rewarded Careless Sight-seers HereThe Ocean and Rocks are Treacherous Savour The Sea From a Distance

You would think that a sign that essentially says, "People have died here—be careful," would get people's attention. But some people ignore the sign and get too close.

One of the causes of the greatest air disasters of all time, the crash of two 747's on the runway of Tenerife airport—was that the captain of the KLM plane that was ready for takeoff was too anxious to get going and to a certain extent, he ignored warnings from both his co-pilot and flight engineer. As soon as they were lined up for takeoff, the captain started his takeoff roll. The co-pilot immediately told the captain that air traffic control had not given them take off clearance. The pilot momentarily stopped his take off roll and told the co-pilot to ask for clearance. But before it was given he said, "We're going," and again started his take off roll. The flight engineer then heard the tower instruct a Pan Am plane on the runway to report when they were clear. He heard the Pan Am crew reply, "OK, we'll report when we're clear." The flight engineer then expressed his concern to the captain, saying, "Is he not clear, that Pan American?" The captain emphatically replied, "Oh, yes," and continued the takeoff. The two planes then collided on the runway, and 583 people were killed.

Ignoring warnings. It can be deadly. Shimei, the man who cursed David when he was fleeing from Jerusalem, was told by King Solomon that if he left Jerusalem he would forfeit his life. What did he do? He left Jerusalem!

Abner warned Asahel to stop running after him. He said, (2 Samuel 2:22)

"Stop chasing me!
Why should I strike you down? How could
I look your brother Joab in the face?"

But Asahel kept chasing him. A short time later Abner thrust the butt of his spear into Asahel's stomach and Asahel died.

All those examples are of people ignoring warnings from other human beings and having tragedy come because of it. How much more should we pay attention to warnings that come from God. One of the truths that we see from our text is that

when God warns us we really need to pay attention.

In verses 1-3 of Numbers 11 we have an incident where the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the Lord. Fire from the Lord burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp. The people cried out to Moses and he prayed to the Lord and the fire died down. The people were spared. That was a great warning.

You would think that after that the children of Israel would have learned not to complain against the Lord. But as incredible as it seems, in verse 4 we see that the rabble among them began to crave other food and complained. The complaining soon spread to the whole people. (verse 10)

There are three lessons for us here.

First, we should understand that God's patience is not unlimited.

One of the great characteristics of God is that He is slow to anger. When the Lord came down and proclaimed His name before Moses He said, (Exodus 34:6–7)

"The LORD, the LORD,
the compassionate and gracious God,
slow to anger,
abounding in love and faithfulness,
maintaining love to thousands,
and forgiving wickedness,
rebellion and sin."

God is patient with us. He does not treat us as our sins deserve. (Psalm 103:10) He is kind and merciful to us.

Yet we must always remember that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. We are to be in awe of Him. We are to love and obey Him. When He warns us about our sin, we need to pay attention. For Exodus 34 continues, (verse 7)

"Yet he does not leave
the guilty unpunished…"

God is slow to anger but His patience is not unlimited. When Moses interceded the fire died down. But here the people complained again and they were severely punished for it. Near the end of the chapter we read, (verses 33–34)

"But while the meat was still
between their teeth and
before it could be consumed,
the anger of the LORD
burned against the people, and he
struck them with a severe plague.
Therefore the place was named
Kibroth Hattaavah, because there
they buried the people
who had craved other food."

The second lesson we see from our text is that

we really need to train our hearts to pay attention to God's warnings.

Human hearts are fickle. How prone they are to ignore warnings from God.

One of the amazing things about people is how quickly they can go from being greatly afraid of God to being filled with pride and standing in opposition to Him.

Consider the Israelites here. They abused the kindness of God. John Calvin writes,

"there was something monstrous in this madness, that, when they had just been so severely chastised, and part of the camp was even yet almost smoking, and when God was hardly appeased, they should have given way to the indulgence of lust, whereby they brought upon themselves a still more severe punishment."

We see the same thing in Numbers 16. Korah, Dathan and Abiram and many of the Levite leaders rebelled against Moses and the Lord. The glory of the Lord appeared to the entire assembly and God told Moses and Aaron to separate themselves from the assembly so that He could put an end to them all. They were almost all destroyed. But Moses interceded and warned the people to move away from the rebels. The ground split under Korah, Dathan and Abiram and swallowed them alive. Fire from the Lord also came down and consumed the 250 men who had allied with the rebels and who were offering incense.

The people who survived were terrified. They fled and shouted, (Numbers 16:34)

"The earth is going to swallow us too!"

What a close call they had! They were trembling before the Lord. Yet, what happened? In verse 41 we read,

"The next day the whole Israelite
community grumbled against
Moses and Aaron. 'You have killed
the Lord's people,' they said."

Then the assembly gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron.

How could that be? They saw the earth open and swallow other rebels. They saw fire from the Lord come down and consume some of the other rebels. They ran away because they were so afraid. Then, the very next day they challenge Moses and God. How could that be?

It's the way that our hearts are naturally. Jeremiah 17:9 says, (ESV)

"The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it?"

The KJV says that the heart is deceitful above all things and, 'desperately wicked'. The heart, on its own, is a disaster. It ignores warnings from God.

One of my favorite Canadian singer/songwriters wrote a song that has a line in it about this. It says,

"Red flags waving at me, I'm just waving back."

That is so true. Our hearts are so corrupt that God can have the earth swallow other people, He can send fire down from heaven and consume them and, as far as lasting effects go, we can be totally unaffected. The next day we're back to normal—ready to indulge in the same sin that caused the other people to be destroyed.

We need to train our hearts to pay attention to God's warnings. Our hearts don't naturally pay attention for long.

Now this means two things for us.

First of all, we must train our hearts to truly repent.

Repentance is more than being afraid of the consequences of our sin and not wanting them to come upon us. Repentance is more than being afraid of God. The Israelites, when they saw the fire from the Lord among them, burning the outskirts of the camp—they cried out to Moses to pray to the Lord and stop the fire. They didn't want to be punished.

That's not repentance. No one in their right mind wants to get punished for their sins.

True repentance is also more than being sorrowful. Judas was sorry that he betrayed Jesus. If someone is sorry for their sins—that's good. But true repentance goes much deeper than that.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it this way,

"Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, does, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience."

Repentance is a grace. It comes from God. (2 Timothy 2:25) We need God to work repentance in us.

The problem with us is that we want the wrong things. One of the problems with the Israelites in our text is that they were focused on their desires. The rabble among them, literally, in verse 4, (Timothy R. Ashley, Numbers, NICOT; p. 208)

"craved a craving"

Or 'lusted a lust'. (John Calvin) They wanted what they wanted. They were slaves to their desires.

John Murray writes, (Redemption: Accomplished and Applied, p. 114)

"Repentance consists essentially in change of heart and mind and will."

Repentance essentially has to do with the inner man. It manifests itself outwardly but it has to do with our heart, mind and will.

So a key element in repentance is going to God and asking Him to change us. We need to have grief over our sin, not just because of the punishment that comes from sin, but we need to see sin for what it is and hate it. Sin is against God and we need to ask God to change our desires so that we would desire His will.

Rather than running away from God, we need to get down on our knees before Him and ask Him to change our corrupt hearts. We need to be changed. We need to have the attitude, (Luke 22:42)

"not my will, but yours be done."

But we should do more than ask God to help us repent.

We should also consider God's providences and use them as helps to encourage us to repent.

But someone may say that God doesn't warn us like He did in the Old Testament. We don't have fire that is burning the outskirts of the camp like it did in our text in response to a specific incident. We don't have prophets in our midst to correctly interpret such incidents.

That's true. And we have to take care. We dare not be like Job's friends who misread God's providences.

But that does not mean that we cannot use God's providences to help us with repentance. Psalm 32:9 tells us not to be like the horse or mule, who have no understanding. Ecclesiastes 7:2 says,

"It is better to go to a house of mourning
than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of every man;
the living should take this to heart."

This means that we can and should use God's providences to help us to hate our sin and to turn from it.

Isaiah 42:23–25 confirms this. It says,

"Which of you will listen to this
or pay close attention in time to come?
Who handed Jacob over to become loot,
and Israel to the plunderers?
Was it not the Lord,
against whom we have sinned?
For they would not follow his ways;
they did not obey his law.
So he poured out on them his burning anger,
the violence of war.
It enveloped them in flames,
yet they did not understand;
it consumed them,
but they did not take it to heart."

Isaiah 41 also tells us to consider God's providences and understand. In the judgments that befall people, in the blessings that come to God's people. These things happen, (verse 20)

"so that people may see and know,
may consider and understand,
that the hand of the Lord has done this."

In God's providences you are to consider and understand, and turn from your sin. Don't be like the people here, who, when they saw the fire die down, sinned again.

Lastly, for those of you who are not Christians, this shows you that

you need to repent and turn to Jesus.

Your desires, those things you love instead of God—unless you turn from them they will destroy you. Go to Jesus today.