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    Yahweh Provides for Us

    Sabbath Day Sermon, Saturday 11 August 2001

    "Is there a limit to the power of Yahweh?" (Num.11:23, rNEB)

    It was in May 1944 that the American 442nd Regiment Combat Team landed in Naples (Napoli), Italy. One of their number was ordered to set up a kitchen and supply tent. In doing so he observed twelve Italians, men and women, lurking in the trees, watching with fearful eyes. Then one called out, "Signore, we clean - kitchen, clothes, anything you want." "Quantre lire?" (Low many lira?) shouted the American. "No, no lire", came the reply. "Is nothing to buy. You give us garbage." Thinking the Italians might be farmers wanting garbage for fertiliser, he said, "Sure, go ahead; help yourself." Whereupon the Italians surged forward to the tins, cramming the slop into their mouths, potato peelings, congealed stew, coffee grounds. The American stood aghast. He had seen his fellow GI's stub out cigarette butts into their mess kits, and others spit in the cans. "Stop," he cried, "You can't do that. You can't eat ..." "You promised," wailed the hollow-eyed Italians. "We work ..." The American turned away, all but sick. So this was what it was like. He had not seen hunger before. (From True Stories of World War II, Reader's Digest, 1981).

    Our passage under study is taken from the Book of Numbers in the Old Testament. Chapters 10-36 tell us about the wanderings of the Israelites in the desert after they had escaped from Egypt, and before they settled in the land of Canaan. Over and over again three stark words stand out - hunger, thirst and weariness. German theologian Claus Westermann confessed that he had never grasped the terror of those words until he read those chapters whilst suffering as a prisoner of war. There are situations where a dry crust of bread is accepted as a gift from heaven. The truth is, as Westermann says, the man who has no knowledge of God's saving preservation does not really know God.

    John Austin Baker, Bishop of Salisbury (England), in his book, The Whole Family of God, writes: "Just once in my life, that not for long, I had to do without food because I had no money. It was a piffling hardship not worth talking about, but it gave me a glimpse I have never forgotten of what it might be like to be in that position again and again with no prospect of rescue such as I had."

    Praise God we have never had to starve in our family yet though I think at least a couple of you here may have had some experience of what it is like to go short of food, for example, in the last war. But there has never been a time when there haven't been people on the earth who haven't been suffering from hunger. It is happening today - and it is a terrible experience to go through.

    It is hard for us to conceived what it must have been like for those Israelites walking through that roastingly hot desert in the middle of nowhere with not a single sign of food anywhere. Only two of us have lived in tropical climates though at least four of you have lived in very hot conditions. Imagine being in a place where there isn't a single tree or drop of water and having to trust in God to feed you and provide you drink. Well, that is what it was like for those people. It was hell. And yet Yahweh expected them to exercise faith that He would deliver them in the same dramatic way He had done in taking them across the Red Sea. But when your belly is groaning and your mouth parched, and when you are weary with exhaustion, the flesh has a tendency to ignore the Spirit.

    We have been complaining because of rain and overcast weather the last few days, haven't we? We're insane doing so. Look at God's provision all around us! Sunshine, water, seeds to sow, harvests to reap - but sometimes He leads us into the wilderness, lest we take these basic blessings for granted and fail to recognise that in the last resort He is the giver of all. Everything. And because He is the giver of everything and not just the things which are invisible to us, He also provides for us in the wilderness too. It may not be lavish provision, it may not be luxurious, but it is enough - just enough - so that out of us can be squeezed gratitude for the small blessings of life. That is not to say that Yahweh is jealous for gratitude - that is to fundamentally misunderstand Him - but it is to say that a life without gratitude is sour.

    God hates it when we take anything for granted just like a parent hates it when a child takes what it has for granted. Just because the water and food keeps pouring into our bellies doesn't mean that we have the right to assume that they are our automatic right - they aren't. We have to get into the right mindframe and start seeing reality for what it is - namely, all that we have is only because God has actually given it to us, and not because it's some kind of immutable "right". When you start seeing blessings as "rights" you immediately start taking an arrogant and selfish view of things which quenches out the Spirit. And when nations start getting prosperous as we are here in the West, people start getting arrogant and selfish and forget who actually prospered them.

    If we don't feel gratitude in our hearts for the very simplest things in life, then there remain some very basic lessons in discipleship to be learned. If we aren't grateful for the prosperity around us, then we have got things out of proportion. And then we may have to learn some elementary lessons the hard way.

    An American friend was telling me a couple of days ago about someone he knew who was a millionaire. He was very proud of his high economic status and took his wealth for granted. So the Lord taught him an object lesson on dependence and humility by not only taking the millions away from him but by actually putting him millions in debt! That really brought him down to his knees. Yahweh took care of the debt but kept him living simply thereafter! From then on he stopped "expecting" wealth but learned to live contentedly with what God gave him.

    We have got to learn how dependent we are on Yahweh not only for the good things of life but for life itself. This is not an easy lesson for those who believe that salvation is in any way dependent on their good works. Yahweh does not operate a bank. You can't deposit some "good works" with Him and expect Him to pay you back with interest. You cannot hire the Creator of the Universe to do your bidding. We have to learn - and the sooner we learn it the better for us - that we are in no position to bargain with Him about anything, that He is truly Sovereign in everything. What He gives, He gives, and what He takes away, He takes away - and the chances are we aren't going to understand why because we are measuring life with a carnal ruler. One thing we can be sure about, though, is that everything that happens ultimately is to teach us the true way to be.

    When the Israelites were led through the wilderness of Sinai they needed the hurting experience of hunger, thirst and weariness so that they might learn to hear the answer to the question, "Is there a limit to the power of Yahweh?" They knew the answer when He provided manna in the wilderness, water out of the rock, resting places by the way, flocks of quail, and a means of healing when they were bitten by snakes.

    Well, the question that Moses asked remains: "Is there a limit to the power of Yahweh?" Who amongst us much cares when the going is good? But what when it is not so good? Sometimes the roughness is of our own making. If we are honest, we become more conscious of Yahweh's provision in the rough times, especially when all our backups like parents and friends are no longer there to help us. The Israelites had one another. But think of poor Elijah in the wilderness, all alone, being fed by birds with bread each day. What if those birds hadn't turned up? It took much faith to believe that God would send him birds with bread in their beaks each day, but he did it. The diet was pretty awful - plain bread and water, but it was what he needed. He was a man lonely and desperate because the Israelite people had rejected the message God had given him to deliver and were trying to kill him for his trouble. Think of Jeremiah. But Yahweh was blessing Elijah out there in the wilderness escaping from those who wanted his blood. Out there, in that blisteringly hot environment, Yahweh spoke to him and he heard. What more wonderful blessing than to actually hear the voice of Yahweh speaking to you - the real one - the one that makes your whole soul tremble and shake!

    I met a Canadian prophet a short while ago and we shared notes on our experience with the voice of Yahweh. And we both agreed that when God speaks to man, man shakes because of the power and awesomeness of the Creator! How different is the voice of God from the voices of our subconscious or the voices of demons!

    Sometimes our difficulties are caused by circumstances not of our own making - things over which we have no control. Think of the Great Depression in the 1920's which sent a wave of hunger across the whole world, even the rich capitalist world. People were starving in the most industrialised nations in the world like Germany and the United States. And sometimes we have to idly stand by watching in despair as a marriage breaks up before our eyes, a loved one is taken away in sudden death, or a son gets mixed up with the wrong sort of company and ruins his life. Then Moses' rhetorical question becomes alive for us as we cry out, "Is there a limit to the power of Yahweh?" And yet we know - deep down we know even when it seems as though He is limited - we know that there is no limit to the power of the Almighty. We really know it. We would really like to believe that God will provide in our wilderness journey - in the bad times.

    Now there is one incident in these desert wanderings of the ancient Israelites which is of special significance. It was the time when the people were suffering from poisonous snake bites and dying left, right and centre. In countries like India thousands of people die from snake bites every year. So it's not difficult to appreciate the terror of those Hebrews. In meeting this desperate situation, Moses did a strange thing - he made a brass image of a snake, nailed it on a pole, and lifted it up so that everyone could see it if they wanted to. Now I guarantee if you turn up at the Pharmacy or the Hospital with a snake bite the doctor isn't going to fasten a brass snake to a stick and invite you to look at it! Yet that's what Yahweh commanded Moses to do. Why? The people were informed that if they looked at the image they would be cured and their snake bites wouldn't be fatal. Yahweh would provide healing.

    There are some who responded to the question, "Is there any limit to the power of Yahweh", by answering "No", looked up at the brass serpent, and were healed. Others replied, "Yes, there is a limit", didn't look up, and died. Notice that no-one tried to bargain with Yahweh by saying: "Lord, heal me, look at all the good things I have done!" No-one tried to parade their good deeds. And Yahweh didn't ask them to. He simply told the people straight that if they listened to His condition and believed, that they would be saved! And His condition, at that moment in time, was that they look up at this impaled brass serpent.

    God can do nothing for us when we are in a state of unbelief. Absolutely nothing. So when those Israelites told Moses to take the brass snake away, they buried their faces in the sand, tossed in agony, and died.

    This, then, is the one simple, clear message that we need to hear. And that message is that Yahweh does provide for His people, even in the wilderness - even when we are going through rough patches: but in order to gain from all He provides, it is necessary to believe - not in what we want to believe, but in what He wants us to believe!

    And what does He want us to believe? Yah'shua (Jesus) tells us very clearly:

      "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life" (Jn.3:14-15, NKJV).

    Is there any limit to the power of God? Apparently there is, but the limit is not on Yahweh's side, it is on ours. God offers us His gifts, but he does not force our hand open to receive them. Such is the terrible reality of human free will that God, who implanted it, will not infringe it. And if He did, we would not be responsible human beings any more but manipulated puppets on a string.

    All of this applies to the greatest gift of all that Yahweh has provided in the wilderness of our human stupidity, wilfulness, and failure - Christ lifted up on a cross for the world to see. The extraordinary fact is the power of Yahweh in this to heal. This power has been so widespread, so operative, even in what appeared hopeless situations of human degradation as well as in cultural circles, that the question might be asked, is there no limit? But there is - and that limit exists on man's side, not God's. Some will not believe - the majority, in fact. But for those who do, however, the promise set out in the fourth Gospel, as elsewhere in the New Testament, is firm - "that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life" (KJV). Note the words "in Him", implying confidence in a person and not assent to theology. Here then is God's provision - eternal life though Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) crucified and risen - a provision so great, so available, who would wish to set a limit?

    If you have never received Yah'shua (Jesus) as your Lord and Saviour, then I invite you to do so in your heart now and confessing Him with your mouth to two or more witnesses. Then you are looking at the source of eternal life and the power to cancel out all your sins, just as those Israelites looked up at that bronze serpent and were healed of poisonous snake bites. For sin is deadly, and if we do not have it dealt with by the only Person who can, then the price for buring our heads in the sand is eternal destruction.

      "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved" (Jn. 3:16-18, NKJV). Amen.

      This page was created on 18 October 2001
      Last updated on 18 October 2001

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