#3 The “IF Series”



TEXT:         Numbers 11:1-35


INTRO:       One of the things that create in us the questions of “What if …” are things that take us by surprise, tragedies and crisis can often precipitate such statements like “What if …” 


Hardships create emotional states that invite this kind of thinking, even with people of faith.  While this is understandable, the failure to keep standing in faith during a time of hardship can create disappointment with God, with others, with self, and create the kind of thinking and resulting action that moves us away from God instead of toward him. 


Hurting people can find themselves saying, “If only God would give me what I want, I would serve him faithfully…” etc.


When life doesn’t go the way we want God to make it go for us we can lose heart in trusting Him, or follow him grudgingly – which only makes Christianity look foolish to non-believers.  Sometimes non-Christians deal with suffering better than Christians, and this should never be the case.  However, if we trust God even in the midst of the worst situations God can bring something beautiful out of our live and trust in Him that others will see!


ILLUS:  He wrote some of the most beautiful music in the history of humanity. Yet his life could not be called beautiful; it was full of tragedy. By the age of ten, both parents had died. He was raised begrudgingly by an older brother who resented another mouth to feed. Even as an adult, his life was difficult. His first wife died after 13 years of marriage. Of 20 children from two marriages, ten died in infancy, one died in his twenties, and one was mentally retarded. Eventually he went blind and then was paralyzed from a stroke. Yet he wrote great music-music of profound praise, thunderous thanksgiving, and awe-filling adoration.

    Who is this victim of so much tragedy? Johann Sebastian Bach-a Lutheran and perhaps the world's greatest composer of church music. Perhaps it was because Bach knew the depths of tragedy that he also knew the heights of faith and praise.

    So when we seem to be in the depths of despair, look up, for the Lord is going to bless us and others. – Source Unknown


The ultimate foolishness of saying something to God, “If only you would give me what I prefer” is that you are putting God in the place of the servant and playing that role of master!  This is the reversal of a true relationship with a good God.


And this is precisely where we find Israel after just getting their freedom from Egypt, now in a wilderness they don’t like – although much better than the slavery they had in Egypt.  They were on their way to a grand land flowing with milk and honey, but in this journey they didn’t like what God was giving them because it became boring to them!


Some of the “rabble” who traveled with them, those being called rabble where those who had left Egypt with them, but weren’t that committed to God.  They stirred up the complaints over the food God was miraculously giving them until those in Israel complained with this statement:  “If only we had meat to eat!”


PROP. SENT:    The Bible teaches us that God asks of us to trust Him when He directs our paths, paths that sometimes include less than what we wanted or expected.  Failure to trust Him even when we don’t understand will only breed resentment in our spirit, and flow out as complaints.


I.   CALLOUS ATTITUDE   Num. 11:1-9


A.   Initial Correction!  Num. 11:1-3

1.   The Israelites had recently been freed from slavery in Egypt.  They had witnessed God’s mighty hand in opening the Red Sea and destroying their enemies – as well being loaded down with all the wealth of Egypt as they left. 

2.   Essentially God had given Israel all their “back pay” as slaves for the past 400 years, as they left Egypt the Egyptians poured on them gold, silver, and all the wealth of Egypt.

3.   The wilderness wasn’t the Promise Land, but it was still better with God’s help that Egypt had been!

a.   Gratitude should have been their overwhelming response to God, but instead the people of God complained over their “hardships.”

b.   How quickly they had forgotten the many years of slavery and abuse!

c.   Sometimes this happens to new Christians when they discover that living for God doesn’t always become a bed of roses!

d.   They could have shown the unbelievers among them what wonderful fruit trust brings to the surface after facing a flood of troubles.


ILLUS:    Do you know how cranberries are harvested? When the fruit is ripe, the cranberry bog is flooded with water. As the water covers the bush, the ruby red berries separate from the bush and float to the surface where they are gathered and distributed to cranberry lovers around the country.

     When the flood waters of trouble and trials sweep over your soul, what is the result? Is fruit "meet for the Master's use" released to bless and meet the needs of the hungry world around you? – Source Unknown


4.   God knew it was important to check this bad attitude, and so as a “gentle” punishment He sends fire on the outskirts of the camp.  This was a very measured punishment that did not destroy much, but was intended to teach them about gratitude and complaining.

a.   They came running to Moses crying, and Moses prayed for them and God stopped the fire.

b.   Hopefully lesson learned!  (But we will discover it wasn’t!)

c.   God does not bring pain into our lives to destroy, but does allow it to teach.


B.   Inconsolable Complainers!   Num. 11:4-9

1.   Maybe the lesson of the fire would have held, but there were those in the community of faith who were not along for the mission of God, they were along because they wanted to stay with their goodies from Egypt – in the text they are called “Rabble” meaning in the original text was “non-Jews” who had left Egypt with them.

a.   These people had come along for the Promise Land of Milk and Honey” – but they had no interest in the covenant God of Israel.

b.   They only wanted back their power and wealth, and since Egypt had been decimated, they came along for what they could get out of this journey with God, not for what they could give.

(1.   Their concerns were self.

(2.   Their presence only encouraged a bad attitude toward God.

(3.   They wanted “more” than what God was giving them right now!  If only we had meat to eat!” Num. 11:4b

(4.   And, their influence corrupted God’s true people!

(5.   They “remember” the “fish they had in Egypt, the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic” – at “no cost!”

(6.   This just proved they were the “non-Jews” because the Jewish people didn’t have memories like that, they had been slaves!

c.   Unfortunately their attitude infects God’s people who had been graciously given by God Manna each day. (See Num. 11:7-9)

2.   Exaggerated complaining breaks out, “But now we have lost our appetites; we never see anything but this manna!”  Num. 11:6

a.   They lost sight of God’s miraculous provision, and only see God’s failure to give them what they want!

b.   Too many Christians live with frustration and anger because they assume God didn’t come through in time for them on things that happen, so they assume that “if only” things would have been the way they wanted instead of the way God allowed their lives would be better.

c.   We allow things to clog up God’s flow in our lives through excuses!


ILLUS:    An estimated 500,000 tons of water rush over Niagara Falls every minute. On March 29, 1948, the falls suddenly stopped. People living within the sound of the falls were awakened by the overwhelming silence. They believed it was a sign that the world was coming to an end. It was thirty hours before the rush of water resumed. 

    What happened? Heavy winds had set the ice fields of Lake Erie in motion. Tons of ice jammed the Niagara River entrance near Buffalo and stopped the flow of the river until the ice shifted again.

    The flow of God's grace in our lives can be blocked by cold indifference. -- Merle Mees in Fresh Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching (Baker), from the editors of Leadership.


3.   Even God’s goodness to them didn’t correct their bad attitude!

4.   Don’t assume if you have a bad attitude toward God that one good thing God does for you will remove that attitude.


II.  CATCHY ATTITUDE!  Num. 11:10-15


A.   Infected Agreement!   Num. 11:10-12

1.   The complaining goes viral!  Even Moses catches the complaining spirit around him.

a.   We pick up the attitudes of those we hang around!

b.   Moses complains to God about the complainers and complaints!

2.   The fact was that the people could care less about anyone else, including what God wanted, they were miserable and they wanted everyone to know it and be miserable too!  Hence they wailed at the entrance to their tents together!

3.   A lousy attitude can cause us to want misery for others too!


ILLUS:   Like the two shopkeepers who were bitter enemies.  Their stores were right across the street from one another, and they tracked each other’s business every day!  As a customer walked into one store, the owner would glare out the front door at his rival and break out in a big smile!  One night an angel ap­peared to one of the shop owners in a dream and said, “I will give you anything you ask, but whatever you receive your competitor will receive twice as much!  If you choose to be wealthy, he will be twice as wealthy.  Do you wish to live long and healthy?  He will live longer and have better health.  What is your wish?”  The man frowned, thought for a moment, and then said, “Here is my request, strike me blind in one eye!”  Rather than choose blessings for himself and his enemy he chose to suffer so that his competitor would suffer more! – Source unknown


4.   Moses gets sidetracked with their spirit now too:

Numbers 11:11-15 (NIV)
11  He 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?
12  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?

5.   This is the problem with a bad attitude; you tend to forget all the good you have experienced because you are bathing in the pain of what you lack now.


B.   Impossible Appeal?   Num. 11:13-15

1.   Moses now sounds like the complainers:  Numbers 11:13-15 (NIV)
13  Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, 'Give us meat to eat!'
14  I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me.
15  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."

a.   It is hard to spend time with complainers and not act like them too!

b.   Wow, Moses was so distraught that he even asked God to just kill him now!

2.   God would start with Moses – important to get the leader’s heart right in order to have him help the people to do the same.

a.   God wasn’t trying to crush Moses with the weight of leadership!

b.   God was trying to help Moses become skilled as a leader, and help him.


ILLUS:    There is a legend about a grandfather clock that stood in a corner for three generations, faithfully ticking off the minutes, hours and days-its means of operation was a heavy weight suspended by a double chain. One of its new owners, believing that an old clock should not bear such a load, released the weight. Immediately the ticking stopped. According to the legend, the clock asked, "Why did you do that?" The owner replied, "I wanted to lighten your burden." "Please put my weight back," replied the clock. "That is what keeps me going." – Source Unknown


3.   Moses’ error was in thinking that he was supposed to take care of the people’s needs – he forgot that this was God’s hand, not his.

a.   It can wear anyone down if all they hear are complaints!

b.   And it can wear anyone down if they believe they are responsible to meet everyone else’s needs, only God can do that.




A.   Impressive Answer!  Num. 11:16-17

1.   God has an answer to Moses’ cry for help!  And it is an impressive answer!

a.   God asks Moses to gather 70 of the best leaders in the camp!

b.   These were not just anyone, but those who have proven themselves as capable leaders in the past.

c.   God is not indifferent to the weaknesses we have, and He isn’t just going to clobber us every time we get worn down.

2.   God’s plan is to take these 70 choice leaders and take some of the power of the Holy Spirit that was on Moses and put it on them as well.

a.   In this way Moses would have support and help, but not just from more men, but men who were Spirit led.

b.   It wasn’t just about more gifted leaders, but leaders who would be full of the Holy Spirit like Moses had been.

c.   The answer was practical, and powerful.


ILLUS:    Try this simple experiment. Collect 365 little sticks, toothpicks, if you wish. Tie them together. Now try to break the bundle with your hands. No matter how strong you are, it will be a tough job. Make a smaller bundle, say 30, and it is still too difficult to break. But take just one at a time and, no matter how weak you are, you'll be able to break each one. You're exactly the same person who tried to handle all the sticks together, but this time you changed your way of solving the problem, and it became much easier. "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof" (Matt 6:34). – Source Unknown


3.   God did want to help!  But help wasn’t about more meat; it was about more power from Him!

a.   Too often we fail to see God’s answers are different from what we think they should be.

b.   We want meat; He wants men and women who are filled with His Spirit.


B.   Inexcusable Actions!  Num. 11:18-23

1.   Both the people and Moses still continue to have doubts in spite of the fact that God was going to raise up another 70 Spirit filled leaders!

a.   The people continued to wail – but God is going to give them what they want, in fact, give them so much meat it will come out of their nostrils and until they loathe it.  (Num. 11:20)

b.   Moses doubts how God is going to fulfill this promise, stating to God how even if they slaughtered all their flocks there wouldn’t be enough meat for everyone. (Num. 11:22)

c.   Obviously Moses is still thinking he has to come up with the solution, he doesn’t see how God can answer this promise of so much meat!

2.   What is truly amazing in all this is that everyone seems to have forgotten about the power of God over the Egyptian empire, the crossing of the Red Sea by making a path through it, and all the other things God had already done in his Power.

a.   Even when we have had past miracles we tend to default to complaining with each new challenge.

b.   Bitterness is the fruit of distrust.

c.   God addresses Moses’ lack of faith: Numbers 11:23 (NIV)
23  The LORD answered Moses, "Is the LORD's arm too short? You will now see whether or not what I say will come true for you."


C.   Individual Accountability!  Num. 11:24-35

1.   Moses simply goes out and tells the people what God had said.  He also brought with him these elders who would now share the responsibilities with him.

a.   Since Moses was doing what God asked, God now honors His word and the Spirit of God falls on the 70 elders with him in the Tent.

b.   These 70 elders are filled with the Spirit of God and begin prophesying as evidence of it. 

c.   Interestingly enough, there were two other elders who were recognized as elders too but were not in the Tent with the other 70, but God found them and filled them with the Spirit too and they were prophesying.

d.   Because of this a young man ran out of concern to Moses to have them stop!

e.   Joshua spoke up to Moses to put a stop to these other two since they had not come to the Tent of meeting like the other 70.  (Num. 11:28)

2.   Moses’ response indicates that he was regaining his proper focus again; notice that instead of being jealous or concerned that God wasn’t following his expectations instead focuses on what was important to God!

a.   Moses says, “Are you jealous for my sake?” (Num. 11:29a) – meaning it isn’t about Moses, it is about what God wants!

b.   Moses can now relax in God’s power, not his own. 


ILLUS:   It is said that the way the natives in the East collect honey without being stung by the bees is quite remarkable. They are not protected by their clothing for they hardly wear any. And yet, although surrounded by clouds of angry bees, they rarely suffer. The explanation given is that these natives are quite passive, deliberate in their movements, making no effort to protect themselves, not attempting to drive the swarm away. If a bee settles upon them, it does not sting them any more than it would attempt to sting a piece of wood. The Westerner, on the other hand, is nervous, restless, combative; he attempts to frighten the bees, is manifestly scared himself, makes a noise, gesticulates, runs away, and ends by being badly stung. Our troubles in life compass us about like bees. If we fret and fume, we shall feel the sting and miss the honey. But if we live in quietness and confidence, we shall taste the sweetness and escape the sting. – Source Unknown


c.   Moses was back on track again, and expresses the heart of a true leader and God’s heart by responding to those concerned: Numbers 11:29b (NIV) But Moses replied, "…I wish that all the LORD's people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!"

3.   How different things would have been by trusting God!

a.   Moses and the 72 elders who were Spirit filled now had the right focus; unfortunately not everyone was Spirit filled and had their focus restored.

b.   They were about to learn the hard way!

c.   Each was responsible for their response to God.

4.   God gives them what they wanted, MEAT – and lots of it.

a.   Sometimes the worst thing that could happen is for God to answer our prayers our way!

b.   “If only we had meat…” – look what God gives them, just what they wanted! Numbers 11:31-34 (NIV)
 Now a wind went out from the LORD and drove quail in from the sea. It brought them down all around the camp to about three feet above the ground, as far as a day's walk in any direction.
32  All that day and night and all the next day the people went out and gathered quail. No one gathered less than ten homers. Then they spread them out all around the camp.
33  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.
34  Therefore the place was named Kibroth Hattaavah, because there they buried the people who had craved other food.

c.   The price tag for their “If only…” had resulted in sickness and in some cases death.  They complained God didn’t give them what they wanted, and when He did they were nearly destroyed.

5.   They should have trusted God, He had given them bread from Heaven, it was what they needed, even if it wasn’t what they wanted.

a.   This is an important lesson for us today!

b.   Will you trust God when He doesn’t give you what you want?

c.   How many “If only…” have you used with God?


CONCLUSION:   When we find ourselves saying to God, “If only” we may be preparing ourselves for less than what God has in store for us.  Such a statement reflects doubt about what God is doing, or has done for us.  It is like calling God on the witness stand, where we serve as the judge instead of Him.  Yes, there are times in our walk with God that things won’t go our way, or we don’t understand “why” – but those who trust in Him will never be disappointed.  As the old hymn stated, “Trust and obey, for there is no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to the trust and obey.”