Faithlife Sermons

The Lord Speaks

In the Wilderness  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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The Aim of the Sermon: I want you to treasure the Bible and Obey it.

Structure of the Sermon


One of the reason Robert felt like God was leading us to the book of Numbers is because like Israel, we find ourselves “in the wilderness” if you will. God has saved us. He has assembled us. He has grounded us in His covenantal love. And He has promised us glory in the future. We have redemption and salvation in our past and we have glory in the future. We believe God has called this small people Christ Fellowship Travelers Rest to grow up into maturity so that the nations are blessed through us. To this end we long and pray and strive.
In these first two chapters of numbers we find the people of God in the wilderness. And here we get introduced to three pillars that will uphold this people, this community. We find the three reasons this community will indeed become what God has chosen them to become.
Let us pray.
As you might notice, our text today is extremely long. It is also filled with very difficult names to pronounce. I am torn between what I think I should do and what I think will be most helpful. I cherish God’s Word and so there is a part of me that wants to read every word of this. At the same time my aim in preaching is for you to understand what is going on. With that in mind, I am have adopted this method. I am going to read several portions of the text while briefly summarizing what I do not read.
Let us read:

God’s Fellowship with Man Rest on Three Pillars

Pillar #1 | God’s Word

Numbers 1:1–4 ESV
1 The Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying, 2 “Take a census of all the congregation of the people of Israel, by clans, by fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, every male, head by head. 3 From twenty years old and upward, all in Israel who are able to go to war, you and Aaron shall list them, company by company. 4 And there shall be with you a man from each tribe, each man being the head of the house of his fathers.
Summary of Numbers 1:5-16
From verse 5-16, God identifies one descendant from each of tribes of Israel that Moses and Aaron are to gather for the purpose of taking the census.
The twelve men were as follows:
Elizur from Rueben
Shelumiel from Simeon
Nahshon from Judah
Nethanel from Issachar
Eliab from Zebulun
Elishama from Ephraim
Gamaliel from Manasseh
Abidan from Benjamin
Ahiezer from Dan
Pagiel from Asher
Eliasaph from Gad
Ahira from Naphtali
Numbers 1:17–19 ESV
17 Moses and Aaron took these men who had been named, 18 and on the first day of the second month, they assembled the whole congregation together, who registered themselves by clans, by fathers’ houses, according to the number of names from twenty years old and upward, head by head, 19 as the Lord commanded Moses. So he listed them in the wilderness of Sinai.
Summary of Numbers 1:20-46
The results of the census were as followed
Moses and Aaron conducted the census as commanded, and the results were:
Reuben = 46,500
Simeon = 59,300
Gad = 45,650
Judah = 74,600
Issachar = 54,400
Zebulun = 57,400
Ephraim = 40,500
Manasseh = 32,200
Benjamin = 35,400
Dan = 62,700
All in all, there were 603, 550 men eligible to serve in the military.
John 3:31–34 ESV
31 He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. 32 He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. 33 Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. 34 For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.
2 Corinthians 2:11–13 ESV
11 so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs. 12 When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, even though a door was opened for me in the Lord, 13 my spirit was not at rest because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I took leave of them and went on to Macedonia.

Pillar #2: God’s Peace

Numbers 1:47–54 ESV
47 But the Levites were not listed along with them by their ancestral tribe. 48 For the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 49 “Only the tribe of Levi you shall not list, and you shall not take a census of them among the people of Israel. 50 But appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of the testimony, and over all its furnishings, and over all that belongs to it. They are to carry the tabernacle and all its furnishings, and they shall take care of it and shall camp around the tabernacle. 51 When the tabernacle is to set out, the Levites shall take it down, and when the tabernacle is to be pitched, the Levites shall set it up. And if any outsider comes near, he shall be put to death. 52 The people of Israel shall pitch their tents by their companies, each man in his own camp and each man by his own standard. 53 But the Levites shall camp around the tabernacle of the testimony, so that there may be no wrath on the congregation of the people of Israel. And the Levites shall keep guard over the tabernacle of the testimony.” 54 Thus did the people of Israel; they did according to all that the Lord commanded Moses.
Numbers 1:53 ESV
53 But the Levites shall camp around the tabernacle of the testimony, so that there may be no wrath on the congregation of the people of Israel. And the Levites shall keep guard over the tabernacle of the testimony.”
Hebrews 10:11–18 ESV
11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. 15 And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, 16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” 17 then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” 18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

Pillar #3 | God Presence

Numbers 2:1–2 ESV
1 The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, 2 “The people of Israel shall camp each by his own standard, with the banners of their fathers’ houses. They shall camp facing the tent of meeting on every side.
The rest of chapter two tells us where each tribe was located in relationship to the “Tent of Meeting.” Rather than reading it, you can see it on the screen. Notice a couple things:
God is at center. God is the center not only physically but in every way. The people demonstrate this by pitching their tents in such a way that they are facing the place where God dwells.
The Priests are a barrier. Around God are the priests who are to keep the people at a safe distance so that they are not destroyed by the wrath of God. This was a vivid picture of the distance between God and man, and it points us to the problems that arise when a Holy God dwells with sinful people. [We will deal with this in the weeks to come].
John 1:14 ESV
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 2:18 ESV
18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?”
When dealing with Narrative I always like to summarize it in my own words so that we can sort out all of the details and get to the core or the essence of what has transpired. Ill do this with a few statements.
God spoke to Moses.
Moses delivered the message to the people.
Moses and Aaron saw that the instructions were carried out by the people
In the end the camp of Israel had been so arranged that God dwelled in the center of the people.
When dealing with narrative, so many different element make up the story. This makes honing in on one particular idea, theme or truth sometimes challenging. Therefore I do so knowing that there is so much to be said in this passage. As I narrow it down to one point, I know that there is much I wish to say that I can’t. I encourage you to faithfully attend during this sermon series and study the CG Journal for this is rich text.

Treasure the Bible by Listening and Obeying

I select this as my main truth for two primary reason:
It is how the book begins. Numbers 1:1 begins with, “The LORD spoke to Moses.”
The exact phrase “The Lord spoke” can be found roughly 45 times in this book. As in these first two chapters, the entire book consist primarily of the LORD speaking.
These two facts should make this plain, we will not understand what is going on in the book of Numbers if we do not understand the significance of this phrase, “The LORD spoke.” My hope is to show you the significance of God’s speaking in the community of His people. I will do so by making several observations about this act of God - His speaking.

Consideration #1 | God’s Awesomeness

Numbers 1:1 ESV
1 The Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying,
I admit, I struggled to pick a word to capture what I meant. Surprising ended up being the best I can do. If my choice of words leaves you puzzled about what I mean. Let me attempt to illustrate.
In 2006, I moved from Elyria, Ohio - a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio - to North Greenville University. I had every intention of studying a year of math and then transferring to Clemson University to study engineering. I had no intention of dating anyone. However, the third day on campus I met this girl that I could not keep my eye off of. As every guy in here knows, that when you find that girl who is beautiful whom you find attractive there is this sense this awareness that she is out of your league. She is way up there and you are way down there. This feeling of great inferiority makes initiating conversation challenging. It also makes her communication with you surprising in a sense. Why would this amazing, beautiful, sweet young woman take interest and talk to me?
I knew that sense of surprise when Jessie - who is now my wife - communicated with me. I felt like the luckiest guy on campus as I sat across from her at the Cherrydale CFA and watched her bite into the crispy golden brown nuggets and hot waffle fries. It amazed me that she would sit out on the swings of NGU until late at night talking with me. I loved getting her texts, or opening up my computer to find a FB private message, or e-mail. I saw her high and lifted up, way out of my league. Guys like me are not suppose to be with girls like her! Yet, surprisingly she chose to come near and speak to me.
If that doesn’t capture this for you maybe an example from Scripture will. Jesus one day walked into the city of Jericho with a large crowd of men and women surrounding him. Suddenly he stopped, looked up into a tree and spoke, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today” (Lu. 19:5). This surprised the crowd, for Zacheus was a chief tax collector - a deplorable and irredeemable man. He was a sinner. The crowd saw Jesus as a man of God. Maybe he was a prophet, maybe he was the Messiah, maybe he was Elijah come back from the dead. There were different opinions about Jesus but all of them saw Jesus as elevated. He was in a lofty place in their minds. They saw Jesus way up there and they saw Zacheus as way down there. This explains their comments to each other, “When they saw [Jesus speaking to Zacheus], they all grumbled, ‘He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner!” This caught the crowd by surprised. How does Jesus who is so lofty speak and entertain a sinner, someone so lowly?
To catch the surprising nature of what occurs in Numbers 1:1 we need to reminded of who here is speaking and to whom he is speaking.
We are told the “LORD” spoke. Who is the LORD? He is the Creator of heaven and earth. He is the Alpha and the Omega the beginning and the end. He is the eternal One. The Almighty. He owns all things and stands in need of nothing. He is righteousness and justice. He is the King of all kings and the Lord of all lords. He sits on a throne stationed in the heavens and the earth is His footstool. He is wise. He knows everything. There is nothing He cannot do. All that is find its existence in Him. God is the supreme being! He is robed in splendor and majesty, and all beings both human and spiritual hold an inferior place.
Moses is a man. Not only is he a man, he is a sinner. He has a speech problem. He is guilty of murder. He knows very little. He is stubborn, argumentative, and at times even rebellious.
Yet, God speaks to him.
This calls to my mind the words of the psalmist:
Psalm 8:3–4 ESV
3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, 4 what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?
Consider the surprise of Solomon as he considers the fact that God dwells with people that God communes and speaks to men.
2 Chronicles 6:18 ESV
18 “But will God indeed dwell with man on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, how much less this house that I have built!
The gap between God and us is infinitely wider than any human demographic. The fact that God would bend down so low to commune with you and I is stunning. The reason we are not amazed and astounded by such a reality reveals that we do not see God as He is. Our view of Him is too low, too common. As our result our view of self remains too high and too elevated. We have made our selves too much like God and we have made God too much like us. As a result we take for granted this truth, “God has spoken to us!” Oh, if only we knew how amazing this was, if only we knew the majesty of the one speaking, we would listen. We would give attention. We would stop what we are doing. We would say to each other, “Shut-up, stop, pay attention, God is speaking!”

Consideration #2 | God’s Simplicity

Numbers 1:1–2 ESV
1 The Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying, 2 “Take a census of all the congregation of the people of Israel, by clans, by fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, every male, head by head.
Recently I have been trying to consume large chunks of Scripture. One of the means by which I consume Scripture is through Audible. I found an amazing version of the NLT on audible. The man’s voice is amazing, I could listen to it all day. In preparation for this sermon series I went for a run/walk on the trail and listened to the book of Numbers in one setting. Three things stood out to me. Three things that led me to say the Lord speaks Unspectacularly.
First, the Lord spoke a lot! As I mentioned earlier, the phrase “The LORD spoke” occurs roughly 45 times in the book. Every time the story enters a new development, it is the marked by the LORD speaking. Things that are spectacular are rare. They don’t happen often. They are seen or experienced from time to time, but they are not everyday. In the book of Numbers, the Lord speaks often and regularly. We are not shocked to see God speaking. Instead, it is a regular expected event in the wilderness.
Second, it occured to me that when the Lord spoke it was most often an unspectacular occasion. God’s voice did not sound like thunder. Lighting did not flash across the sky. The ground did not shake. Moses did not fall to the ground in fear and trembling. There were no trumpet blasts. There was no burning bush that did not turn to ash. There was no talking donkey carrying the message of God. There was no healing of the sick to accompany the Words spoken. Instead, what we find is God simply speaking to Moses. No pomp and circumstance. Just plain communication.
Third, the contents of the message is kind of disappointing. Think about it. What if I told you today, God was going to be at my house and he had a message for you. Would we not make time for it? You might be too busy for Family Meal but you would make time for this. God has a message for you.
So, you cancel your plans to lay on the couch in your stretchy pants and watch Netflix to come hear from God. As you ride to my house to hear from God, you dream with your family about what it is God might say. Maybe he will tell you who the antichrist is. Maybe he will reveal who it is you should marry, which college you should attend, or whether or not should take a the new job you are considering. Maybe you come hoping God will explain the Trinity or the relationship between God’s sovereignty and man’s choices.
But, when you arrive - when you finally hear God speak - he tells you to go home sweep the house and dust off the furniture.
Is this not what we find here in Nu. 1? God speaks, but His message contains no motivational charge. It doesn’t reveal some hidden truth nor does it answer some profound question. Instead, God’s word comes to Moses as instruction. Nothing special just take a census and arrange the camp. It is hard to believe that this time in God’s presence this word from God encouraged, comforted, challenged, or even convicted Moses. The message was probably not inspiring. Moses probably didn’t grab his phone and post a quote from the sermon all over social media.
We need to make note, that although God sometimes speaks with might and power, he also speaks regularly and unspectacularly. Sometimes His word is accompanied by the memorable and unforgettable, and other times - and dare I say most of the time - He simply speaks. The majority of the christian life looks much more like meeting with God in Numbers 1 than hearing from God in Exod. 19.

Consideration #3 | God’s Knowledge

Num. 1:1 | “In the tent of meeting”
When I speak of the Lord speaking to us relationally I have a few things in mind:
First, He is present with us. He is near and not far away. I remember working at the Cliffs the last couple of years I attended NGU. I worked up at the Cliffs @ Glassy. My club manager’s name was Dan. All of us had a good relationship with Dan. We knew he wanted us to succeed. He was on site with us. He worked the shift with us. We could sit in his office and ask questions, talk about issues, make suggestions. We had a relationship with Dan. He could gather us around and give us instruction, he could speak to us, and we would listen. He knew us and we knew him. He was accessible. He was present.
Sometimes, Manager Dan had to deliver to us a message from corporate. Now, we did not know those at corporate. They did not know us. Sometimes they would send us a message with new instructions for how we were suppose to do this and that. This was often frustrating. Our frustration would be voiced with expressions such as, “They have no idea what they are talking about. They are not here. They do not understand. What they are telling us to do is stupid and they would be able to see that if they knew us, if they knew what we are doing.” Getting instruction, getting a message from someone who is not present who is not near and aware of you and your circumstances can be mightily frustrating.
Thankfully that is not the context of God’s speaking to us. He is present right now. He is near. He knows. He understands you better than you understand yourself. He knows your thoughts even before you attempt to articulate them with words on your tongue. He knows the trouble your having with your children, he knows you are tired because your new born keeps waking up in the middle of the night, he knows you are afraid the stock market might crash, he knows that you are weary in doing good. He knows all these things. When God speaks to you He does so as one who is near and present to you. He is not distant and disconnected.
Second, He has history with us. In this first verse we read that the Lord spoke in the wilderness of Sinai. This is not the first time Moses and God met together. God had spoken to him from the burning bush. God had led and guided him through the ten plagues, the institution of the passover, the Exodus, the parting of the Red Sea, revealing of His glory on Mt. Sinai, and the giving of the Ten Commandments. They have been together long enough to have inside jokes.
What we find in Numbers 1-2 is rooted in a context of covenantal love than has been firmly established in God’s grace and mercy. God speaks to Moses as one he loves not as if he were speaking to a stranger. He speaks to Moses with His power and love convincingly demonstrated in times past. When Moses enters into the tent of meeting, when he turns his ear toward heaven to listen, he does so knowing that God loves Him. God is for Him not against Him. How does Moses know? Because God has acted in history; they have walked together. They have talked together. God has performed wondrous acts and Moses and witnessed them.

Consideration #4 | God’s Wisdom

Num. 1:1 | “The Lord spoke on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt…”
Do you notice the specificity of the day and time? The is a particular message for a particular time. God led Moses and by leading Moses he led the people. He directed them. He spoke and they knew what to do. God did not bring them out of Egypt, drop the Ten Commandments in their laps and say, “Go for it!” Instead, God brought them out of Egypt and then committed to go with them day by day leading them step by step. As they came to knew issues different scenarios, God was there in that time and in that place to guide them by His Word. Moses would come to God and God would be faithful to communicate, faithful to direct, and faithful to guide.
This is glorious for at least a few reasons:
First, God knows what to do. Have you ever been stuck - unsure of what step to take? Have you ever been overwhelmed? Have you ever gone to people you count on for advice and their advice just makes you more confused? Imagine being in Moses shoes - leading millions of people with all their problems and needs. Can you imagine what comfort, what relief, it must have been for Moses to know that he could go meet God and discover what to do? Here in our presence there is one with perfect wisdom ready to instruct, ready to lead and ready to guide. He has never been puzzled by a scenario. He has never had to go seek someone else’s counsel. Nope. In all things, he knows the exact thing that needs to be done.
Second, God frees us from the pressure to perform. There is something very freeing in this for Moses. He has only to listen and obey. God instructs and guides and Moses most obey and implement. But, the success or failure of the plan falls no longer on Moses’ shoulders but on God’s. Do you see? By coming to God and following God’s Word, Moses was able to lay down the responsibility of whether or not it was successful.
Leadership is stressful. If you have ever had to lead a group of people, it can be very challenging. Am I doing the right thing? Am I doing the best thing? What if it all falls apart? What if my decisions prove foolish? What if I make a mess of everything? We expect much of leaders. We prais them when we they do well. And, we ridicule and boo them when they perform poorly. But here is this unspectacular conversation between God and Moses we find something beautiful. We find God shouldering the load of responsibility as Moses acts as the servant of God. Moses comes before God and gets his guidance. He then leads the people to do what God instructed. If the plan fails, it’s not on Moses but on God. If it goes off track, God is there to take the blame.
There is great freedom, great ability to be relieved of anxiousness and worry when we look to God for direction and then get up and go obey. As Paul says our aim is not success in the eyes of men. It is love with a clear conscience. It is being able to go to God, hear from him what is pleasing to Him and then going and doing it. This is our duty to walk with God. To hear his instruction and obey. The produce, the result is in His hands. What freedom there is for each of us if only we get this.

Consideration #5 | God’s Love

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