Harvest this year will be different. Usually churches are full of flowers, vegetables and fruit. Usually all of God’s bountiful supply through creation is on display. Usually there’s some apple opportunely placed by the pulpit for the minister to have a quick snack while the choir would sing a well prepared anthem. Usually our hearts at harvest, have at least some semblance of thankfulness, appreciation and gratitude for what God has provided.
But this year is anything but usual. It has been one of the most unusual years in living memory. Who would ever have thought that we would be confined to our houses, that schools would shut down, that businesses across the board would be facing bankruptcy, that facemarks would be the new fashion, that churches would be closed. This year hasn’t only be different, it has been down right difficult and it looks as though it is going to be difficult for some time yet to come. Our news is dominated by this different world and the difficulties that lie ahead of us: increased unemployment, reduced manufacturing, decreased stock, increased anxiety and depression; it looks like there’s a long cold hard winter ahead.
On the cusp of that winter, people still gather for harvest and where once our thoughts were dominated by thankfulness and gratitude because of God’s provision, it might be that now gratitude towards God is as sparse as our plates.
Maybe that means that this year’s harvest needs treated differently, maybe we should treat this harvest as gathering in and storing up truths in our hearts in preparation for the first flakes of winter that are starting to fall. To make sure, as the hymn writer puts it, that all is safely gathered in, ‘ere the winter storms begin.’
We need to gather in and prepare for the winter storms because as the season of our lives change, as things become different, as the difficulties start to set in, they can be the first push that starts us off down the road of distance that leads to doubt and despair.
That’s a slippery road to find ourselves on, it always seems to be winter, and it’s a road on which there seems to be this growing distance between us and God. God seems far away, out of sight, out of earshot, it seems like He’s left us, abandoned us to starve and freeze in the tundra. As we walk that road and our footsteps thud on the frozen ground we find that we pass the signpost and enter the village of doubt. We breath on the window and with our sleeves bunched up in our hands, we rub the glass hoping to peer inside, but there’s nothing there. It seems as if God’s words, His promises, His provision, His character are just like that house, empty and it looks like the next stop for us on the road map of life is despair.
None of us want to travel along that road to those destinations, but it can be very easy to slip on to it when winter comes freezes the roads around us. So to stop us from slipping on to that road, let’s get ready for winter ahead with a trip to the desert.
In Exodus 16 we find God’s people in the beginnings of their wilderness wanderings in the aftermath of their exodus from slavery in Egypt. Here God’s people been thrust into something different, different from what they have ever know in their generation, they’ve moved from slavery to freedom, from death to life, and with this new difference they now find themselves encountering difficulties. In Exodus 16 it is firstly hunger and then in Exodus 17, thirst sets in. What does this change of circumstance change in their attitudes? They move from gratitude to grumbling.
It didn’t take long for that attitude to set in and for the grumbling to start. If you look at verse 1 you see there how long they’ve have been out in the wilderness and it hasn’t been long. It is only two and a half months since God parted the waters of the Red Sea before them, since they walked on dry ground, since the culmination of plague after plague upon Egypt, since God showed his powerful hand in delivering them from slavery.
Gratitude didn’t last long, it didn’t take long for the grumbling to set in. We can see this in v.2:
And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
Do you see there how this different stage of life, this new difficulty has lead them down the road of distance and doubt and despair? So much so that they let their minds wander to what they think were the good old days back in slavery in Egypt, they wish God had simply killed them there where they had comfort. It looks like not only has grumbling set in, but delusion as well.
What’s happened these people? How has this different stage of life, this new difficulty lead them to saying these things? What is the source of their grumbling? To find the source, we have to look at where it’s directed. In verse 2 the whole congregation is directs their grumbling towards Moses and Aaron, those men are God’s representatives to these people and though the grumbling is directed in voice towards them, in heart it is directed towards God. Moses confronts the people with that truth in verses 7 & 8:
v.7: what are we, that you grumble against us?
v.8: the LORD has heard your grumbling that you grumble against him—what are we? Your grumbling is not against us but against the LORD.”
The grumbling is directed at God, at His heart. It is directed against every word He has spoken, every promise He has made, every provision He has graciously given. And as we see this grumbling directed towards His heart we can find its source in the hearts of the people. What is it though that is in the hearts of these people? What is it that has been brought out by their change in circumstance and the difficulty in which they find themselves? What is in their hearts is disbelief, distrust and doubt.
They don’t believe or trust or have confidence that the hand that has delivered them from slavery will now provide for them. They doubt the covenantal character of God, the person of providing promises that is their God. These people doubt the very person whose hand has lead them through history to this point and as they return to their old companions of disbelief, distrust and doubt, and you can’t help but think, “What is wrong with this people?” Are they blind, deaf, or just plain stupid?
How can they disbelieve God when they were spared the suffering from every plague? How can they disbelieve God when their children were spared after they painted the frames of their doors and death passed over Egypt?
How can they distrust God when He gave them their freedom, when Pharaoh let them go and when they passed through the waters of the Red Sea on dry ground?
How can they doubt the one who has kept His word and never broken any of His promises?
What is wrong with these people? What don’t they get? What don’t they understand? What can’t they see? They have known, and seen and touched the very promises of God and still don’t get it.
We shouldn’t be too harsh on them though, we shouldn’t be so quick to heap down judgement on them. Why? Because we are all too similar. How quick have we been to disbelieve God and when we have seen Him at work in our lives and the lives of others? How quick have we been to distrust Him when He has walked with us through the fire and the floods, when He has seen us through long hard winters? How quick have we been to doubt that He will keep His word, that He will keep His promises, that He will provide?Thousands of years may divide us, but our hearts are far too similar to these people. Don’t we disbelieve, we distrust, we doubt and what is God’s answer to that?
What is God going to do with His people then since He has seen and known their hearts by hearing their grumbling? Is God going to bring an end to His providing promises for His people? Have they gone too far this time? Have they pushed their luck one time too many? Is this it? No, in response to their grumbling, God gives grace; in response to their hard hearts, He shows them His tender mercies. God isn’t going to put an end to His providing promises, instead God is going to have them taste (and then in the next chapter when they grumble again, he’s going to have them drink) His promises. His children are going to taste and drink God’s promises and see that God is good, He is faithful, He provides, His promises can be trusted.
Look at what God says in v.11/12:
And the LORD said to Moses, “I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel. Say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.’”
And what happens, we know the story so well that we can missed the miracle of God’s word coming true as He graciously provides for the needs of His people, v13-15:
In the evening quail came up and covered the camp, and in the morning dew lay around the camp. And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground. When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat.”
While God’s people grumble, God is gracious.
But you may say, so what? That was then, and that was for them, but what about me and what about now? What about us? As life bears down on us, we still turn and grumble to God saying:
“Oh God don’t you get it, we’re starving here, we’re in the midst of winter, everything is different, life is so difficult.”
And God says, “I know, but haven’t I promised to provide and don’t I keep my promises?”
But our grumbling continues and we start again, “but God you don’t get it . . .”
And He says, “I know, but haven’t I promised to provide and don’t I keep my promises?”
But God. . .
“Child, I know, but haven’t I promised to provide and don’t I keep my promises?”
“But . . . God how do I know? I’ve never tasted manna in the desert, I’ve never drank from the water from the rock?”
“Haven’t you my child? Maybe it’s time you tasted and drank to see that I am good, that I am gracious, that I provide.”
What happened in that desert, is not meant to be a picture that we look to and pray, thinking that our plates will always have plenty or that our cupboards will always be full because God will provide like some Genie granting wishes from heaven. What happens in that desert is meant to point us to how God provides for His people fully in the person of His own Son, Jesus Christ.
Jesus takes up this story in the New Testament and He shows us how what happens here with God providing for the people of Israel is a preview of what God will fully do through Him as Jesus satisfies spiritual hunger and quenches spiritual thirst. Look at Jesus words from John 6:35- 40:
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”
As we look and see Jesus, we see God’s providing promises for His people and how they find their place in a person. Jesus is the ultimate expression of how God has not withheld His hand but instead stretched wide His hands on a cross to show us how far He will go to keep His promises and to provide for His people. We are meant to look at the cross, see God’s provision in the past and have confidence that He will provide in the present and for the future. God’s people are meant to have that confidence because God’s acts of redemption in the past are the rock solid foundation for their shaky feet when life is different and difficult.
The psalmists are expects in looking back to God’s redemptive acts for confidence for the present and future. They constantly look back to the Exodus, to God’s deliverance of His people; they look back to God keeping His promises in the past for confidence that God will keep them in the present and for the future. That was the foundation of faith for the people in the Old Testament, and now for God’s people in the New Testament the pattern is the same but we now look to the cross, it is in the cross that we place our confidence, that we place our faith. We are meant to look at the cross, and see God’s provision for us in the past and have that give us the fuel needed to face the present and the future, knowing and trusting that God keeps His Word, that He cares and He provides for His people. Paul tries to get us to come to terms with that in Romans 8:32 as he says:
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
God does not and did not, deliver His people, only to destroy them; He does not, and did not, save His people, only to leave them to rot. He has redeemed us with a price higher than silver or gold, and since He has done that wil He will provide for us? Will He not be with us? Will He not see us Home? Winter may be coming, life is going to be different and difficult but if we look and see how God’s providing promises in the past provide for us still, then we can warm our hearts and say with Paul:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? . . . For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Isn’t that fuel for the winter ahead? Isn’t that something to put our faith in to close the distance, and to drive away disbelief, distrust, and doubt? Isn’t that something to store up in your heart before the winter storms begin?
We put our faith in God’s providing promises that provide for us still, we look to His son and in looking at Him we see that we can have a harvest in our hearts everyday. When we see Him, and what He has done, His provision silences the grumbling and then gives voice to our gratitude despite the differences or difficulties today or tomorrow may bring. With faith in God we have something to hold on to, something that nothing or no one can ever take away. With faith in God we’ll always have something to be thankful for, even if the cupboards are bare, even if the bank balance is empty, even if your stomach rubbles with hunger and your throats with thirst.
That’s what God’s providing promises still provide for us, a harvest in our hearts everyday and a storehouse for the winter ahead.
Prayer: Father, may it be that this harvest we gather up these truths in the storehouses of our hearts in preparation for the winter ahead. Will you work in us by your Spirit so that we come to see how you have provided fully for your people through your Son Jesus Christ; that we see how Your providing promises provide for us still. As we see those wonderful truths and store them up, will you warm and thaw our cold frozen hearts so that even in the differences and difficulties we will not fall into distance from you, or disbelief, distrust or doubt of you. Give us strength and courage to be people who do not grumble despite the weight of the world. Help us to be people who are grateful because we have something to hold on that no-one or nothing can take away and we have something to be ever thankful for because of what you have done for us in your Son, the Son of God who loved us and gave himself up for us. It is in His name that we pray.
The original for this sermon can be viewed here at Newmills Presbyterian Church YouTube channel.