Wednesday after Laetare - Numbers 11:1-35 - March 18, 2015

Order of Matins (pg. 32)
Opening Hymn - 425 All Depends on Our Possessing
Office  Hymn - 426 The Lord My Shepherd Is
Closing Hymn - 54 Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah

1)         The lesson for we heard read a moment ago can be divided into two parts. The first part for our consideration is the complaint of Israelites against the Lord and His called servant, Moses. From this episode we can learn something necessary for the Christian life. Moses writes, “Now the mixed multitude who were among them yielded to intense craving, so the children of Israel wept again and said: ‘Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions and the garlic; but now our whole being is dried up; there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes.” (Numbers 11:4-6) I am not sure who this “mixed multitude” consists of. Perhaps it is some foreigners or Egyptians who left Egypt with the Israelites. Perhaps it is a small rabble of complainers within the ranks of Israel who did not want to flee Egypt in the first place. Whoever this rabble consists of isn’t important. What they do is important. They “yielded to intense craving.” Another way to translate the phrase is that they, “fell a lusting.” (KJV) Whoever they are, the lusted exceedingly for their former life of bondage and slavery because bondage and slavery had certain perks. Life was bitter and their toil was loathsome, but at least they had fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic to eat. This mixed multitude within Israel submitted to the desires of their flesh, the lust of their tummies, and that lust of their tummies erupted from their throats in bitter complaint against the Lord. Their complaint was centered on food, what their Lord had been putting in their mouths.

2)         So the Lord responds in kind and promises to send quail once again but this quail is not sent to in blessing. It is sent in judgment. The Lord says to Israel, “You shall eat, not one day, nor two days, nor five days, nor ten days, nor twenty days, but for a whole month, until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have despised the Lord who is among you and have wept before Him saying, ‘Why did we ever come up out of Egypt?’” (Numbers 11:19-20) The Lord gives these covetous complainers exactly what they want. They are not satisfied with what the Lord feeds them so the Lord gives them their desire. The Lord turns them over to their lusts and lets them wallow in their lust. Their lust and covetousness is so great that “he who gathered least gathered ten homers,” which is a lot for one person, too much for one person in fact. They spread their quail out all over the camp, indulging their gluttony and exalting the desires of their sinful flesh. The Lord often punishes sin with more sin. We see other examples of this in the Scriptures and in the lives of men. The Lord allows man to wallow in his lusts so that man may see a bit of the consequences and come to repentance. The idea is that by punishing sin with more sin, the man will be so tormented by his sin that He relents and returns to the Lord. Often this is not the case, as we see in the final end of this mixed multitude. “But while the meat was still between their teeth, before it was chewed, the wrath of the Lord was aroused against the people, and the Lord struck the people with a very great plague.” The chapter closes with the naming of that place Kibroth Hattaavah, the graves of gluttony.

3)         From this the Lord wants to teach us once again to be mindful of our sinful flesh and its desires, lest we fall prey to them and ultimately be overcome by them. In this instance is was the lust for different, and more, food, instead of the food God had graciously given them. But each man’s flesh temps him to different things and in different ways. One person’s flesh drives them to lust for the flesh of others. Another person’s wicked heart drives them horde money and possessions for themselves and to take comfort in the amount that has been stashed away. Still another’s sinful desires leads them to covet another’s job, house, spouse, abilities, or lifestyle. Others yet are tempted by their flesh to pride and avarice so that they become puffed up, conceited, easily angered or easily hurt by others. The devil is the master of a thousand arts. Each of you he tempts according to your temperament, according to the desires of your heart, and according to the weaknesses of your unique sinful flesh.

4)         We must be on guard against how our flesh works against the Holy Spirit who dwells in our hearts by faith. Remember the words of St. Paul to the Galatians, “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like.” (Galatians 5:17, 19-21) Against these, and many other intense cravings and desires, we must be constantly vigilant, lest through them the devil entice us into sin and harden us in our sin as he did to this mixed multitude who did not mortify their desires but instead sought every way they know how to fulfill them. St. James reminds us of this deadly progression in James 1:14-15, “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.  Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” Against our desires we must hold to the cross of Jesus, remember that He offers us the free forgiveness of the sins we have committed. That same cross of Christ reminds us, in the hour of temptation, that we ought to, with the Spirit’s aid, fight temptation because of the love of Christ which drove Him to die for the very sins we are be tempted to perform.

5)         The second part of the text that we want to consider is the outpouring the Holy Spirit on the seventy elders of Israel, two of whom were not present in at the Tabernacle, yet still received the gift of prophecy and the Holy Ghost for that moment. Joshua, Moses’ lieutenant, is offended that these men refused to join Moses to share in his holy office and responsibilities. He says they should be silenced. Moses replies and says, “Oh that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!” (Numbers 11:29) Moses wants all the Lord’s people to be able to prophesy so that they themselves are able to speak the word of the Lord to their brothers. This would lighten Moses’ load considerably, but it would also be a great aid against such temptations to yield to sinful cravings, if they could have the word of the Lord continually in their hearts and on their lips. St. Paul writes, “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.  The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:16, 22-24)

6)         What Moses desires is given to all believers in the New Testament through Holy Baptism, which is the washing of rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit. (Titus 3:5) With the Holy Spirit’s aid we are able to withstand temptation and fight the cravings of the sinful flesh. With the Holy Spirit’s aid we have God’s Word upon our hearts and on our lips to help us in the hour of temptation, so that we can recall the words of our Lord and forsake covetous words and instead fill our mouths with the pure food of the Word of God. For that is all that prophesying entails, speaking God’s Word. So we are to speak God’s word to ourselves in the midst of temptation and fleshly craving. So we are to speak God’s Word to our hearts and call forth courage in the hour of doubt and despair. You have the Holy Spirit, given to you in Baptism, present in the Absolution and preaching, and active in the faith in your heart. With His heavenly aid, fight temptation, beloved of God. Fill your mouths not with your fleshly cravings but with His holy Word, for man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God. Amen.

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