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Transitions:  The Wilderness

Sunday Morning Bible Study

March 23, 2019


Over the next four weeks, Caleb and I will be looking at four different times in the life of God’s people when they faced transition.

Our church is in the middle of several transitions this year, and that’s one of the things that’s driving our series.

At the end of the year, Caleb will become the new Sr. Pastor, and I will be one of his assistants.

Yet the subject of “transitions” goes way beyond what’s happening at church.

Life is filled with “Transitions”.

Some are wonderful – like getting married, birth of a child

Some are hard – like the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, failing health

Some are carefully planned – like buying a new house

Some are unexpected – like an automobile accident


Another word for “transition” is “change”.

I really don’t like change.

The older I get the more I like to know what to expect.

I have about five favorite restaurants, and at each one there’s one particular thing I’ll order from that restaurant.  I know what to expect.

The problem with the “same”, is that life doesn’t stay the same.

Life is like riding a roller coaster – there’s all kinds of ups and downs, and sometimes you don’t know what to expect around the next corner.
It can be terrifying or exhilarating.

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In life, whether you like it or not, you are on that roller coaster of change.
The question is, how will you ride it?

The Wilderness

The time of “transition” I’m going to examine today was what took place in the wilderness for the nation of Israel.

Israel’s 40 years in the wilderness covered that transition from being enslaved in Egypt, to entering the Promised Land.

For Israel, this transition came because they were praying for it.

(Exodus 2:23–24 NKJV) —23 Now it happened in the process of time that the king of Egypt died. Then the children of Israel groaned because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry came up to God because of the bondage. 24 So God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.

In answer to their prayer, God raised up Moses to deliver the nation from slavery.
The deliverance started with the ten plagues, and came to a completion with God parting the Red Sea so Israel could leave Egypt.
Video:  Ten Commandments – Red Sea Parted

Yet as powerful as it was to get out of Egypt, that wasn’t God’s end game.

God wanted to get the people to the Promised Land, and that required going through the wilderness… a time of transition.
The many stories of this wilderness time are lessons for us as we are in the process of moving forward in life.
(1 Corinthians 10:6 NLT) These things happened as a warning to us, so that we would not crave evil things as they did,

We’ll look at three vignettes during this wilderness time…


(Exodus 17:8–13 NKJV) —8 Now Amalek came and fought with Israel in Rephidim. 9 And Moses said to Joshua, “Choose us some men and go out, fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in my hand.” 10 So Joshua did as Moses said to him, and fought with Amalek. And Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. 11 And so it was, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. 12 But Moses’ hands became heavy; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. And Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. 13 So Joshua defeated Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.

When we are in transition, we will find ourselves facing plenty of battles.

Sometimes we look at the Amalekites as an illustration for the flesh, and indeed some of our greatest battles in times of change are the battles of our own flesh.

Exo. 17:11 when Moses held up his hand


Prayer wins the battle

Moses raised his hands because he was crying out to God in prayer.
I sometimes wonder how Moses came to the conclusion that he needed to keep his hands up for the battle to be won.

Did he raise his hands for a minute, then let them down, then raise them up … and watching the battle line go forward and back?

However it happened, Moses and his little group on the hilltop realized that Moses needed to keep crying out to God in order for Joshua to win the battle.
When Paul was telling the Ephesians about the spiritual armor we must learn to wear, he wrote,

(Ephesians 6:17–18 NKJV) —17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; 18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints—

Prayer is vital to spiritual warfare.

The prophet Daniel wrote about wrestling in prayer over a difficult situation, when an angel showed up (Dan. 10:12-14).

(Daniel 10:12–14 NKJV) —12 Then he said to me, “Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard; and I have come because of your words. 13 But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; and behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left alone there with the kings of Persia. 14 Now I have come to make you understand what will happen to your people in the latter days, for the vision refers to many days yet to come.”

The angel explained that he had been in a great spiritual battle, and he had come as a result of Daniel’s prayer – it had taken him 21 days to get there.

If you are going through a difficult time of transition – you need prayer.  You need to pray.  You need others to pray.
Prayer wins the battle.

Exo. 17:12 Aaron and Hur supported his hands


We need each other

In the battlefield, Joshua learned that he needed Moses praying in order to win.
Moses was learning that he too needed help.
Moses needed Aaron and Hur to steady him and lift up his hands.
When you are going through a difficult transition, understand that God doesn’t want you to go through it alone.
There is strength in numbers.
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Paul said that we are all members of the body of Christ, and that we need each other.
(1 Corinthians 12:26 NKJV) And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.

The next vignette…


As Israel moved through the wilderness they received God’s Laws, they got organized, and they built a portable worship center called the Tabernacle.

And then they moved right up to the border of the Promised Land.

At God’s direction, Moses sent twelve spies into the land of Canaan to check it out.

(Numbers 13:23–14:2 NKJV) —23 Then they came to the Valley of Eshcol, and there cut down a branch with one cluster of grapes; they carried it between two of them on a pole. They also brought some of the pomegranates and figs. 24 The place was called the Valley of Eshcol, because of the cluster which the men of Israel cut down there. 25 And they returned from spying out the land after forty days. 26 Now they departed and came back to Moses and Aaron and all the congregation of the children of Israel in the Wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh; they brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land. 27 Then they told him, and said: “We went to the land where you sent us. It truly flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. 28 Nevertheless the people who dwell in the land are strong; the cities are fortified and very large; moreover we saw the descendants of Anak there. 29 The Amalekites dwell in the land of the South; the Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the mountains; and the Canaanites dwell by the sea and along the banks of the Jordan.” 30 Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, “Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it.” 31 But the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we.” 32 And they gave the children of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, “The land through which we have gone as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great stature. 33 There we saw the giants (the descendants of Anak came from the giants); and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.”

14:1 So all the congregation lifted up their voices and cried, and the people wept that night. 2 And all the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron, and the whole congregation said to them, “If only we had died in the land of Egypt! Or if only we had died in this wilderness!

Num. 13:30 Let us go up at once and take possession


Move Forward

Times of transition are scary at times.
There’s nothing we’d rather do than to get back to where life was safe.
Yet most of that time we don’t have that luxury.
For Israel, they often talked about going back to Egypt.

The problem is, you really can’t go back.

Time marches on and stops for no one.

The movie “The Great Escape” (1963) is the true story of allied POWs and their attempts to escape a German prisoner of war camp.
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Did you get that last little bit?  It was his 17th tunnel.

You’ll never get out of that prison camp if you quit digging.

The Israelites heard two accounts – one about how wonderful the Promised Land was, and the other about how hard it would be ahead.
Both accounts were accurate – the question was which one would inbluence their choices?
The people chose to follow the latter account and refused to move forward.
Instead of moving into the Promised Land, they will be delayed 40 years.

Num. 14:2 the children of Israel complained



There are actually three different Hebrews words that are translated “complain” in the books Exodus-Deuteronomy.
(Numbers 11:1 NKJV) Now when the people complained, it displeased the Lord; for the Lord heard it, and His anger was aroused. So the fire of the Lord burned among them, and consumed some in the outskirts of the camp.
complainedanan   (Hithpael) complain, murmur

1x in the wilderness

(Deuteronomy 1:26–27 NKJV) —26 “Nevertheless you would not go up, but rebelled against the command of the Lord your God; 27 and you complained in your tents, and said, ‘Because the Lord hates us, He has brought us out of the land of Egypt to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us.
complainedragan – to murmur, whisper; complain, grumble
The Hebrew word used here and 12 other times in the wilderness is:
complainedluwn / לון – to grumble, complain, murmur

13/14x in the wilderness

The wilderness use is all in six chapters: Ex. 15, 16, 17; Num. 14, 16, 17

It’s always accompanied with the preposition “against”.

The most common target of their complaints is Moses.

For those of you in leadership, you will hear the same kinds of grumbling and complaining.

Sometimes it seems justified – sometimes leaders are super dumb

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I’m not trying to justify being super-dumb, but sometimes God chooses to use those of us who might be “super-dumb”.

(1 Corinthians 1:27 NKJV) But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty;

Even though their complaints were initially aimed at Moses and Aaron (Num. 14:2), the root of the problem the people had was with God.

(Numbers 14:26–27 NKJV) —26 And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, 27 “How long shall I bear with this evil congregation who complain against Me? I have heard the complaints which the children of Israel make against Me.

Sometimes we identify a person or a leader as the chief change agent in our transition.

It might be a doctor who is treating your illness.

That stupid boss who doesn’t know what he’s doing.

That a family member who isn’t acting responsibly.

The bigger issue is this – do you trust God to work, even if there’s a dumb person involved?

Paul wrote,

(Philippians 2:14–15 NKJV) —14 Do all things without complaining and disputing, 15 that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,

My complaints during these times of transition affects my testimony to the world that is watching. 

The last vignette…

Bronze Serpent

(Numbers 21:4–9 NKJV) —4 Then they journeyed from Mount Hor by the Way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the soul of the people became very discouraged on the way. 5 And the people spoke against God and against Moses: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread.” 6 So the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died. 7 Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord that He take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.

Num. 21:9 he looked at the bronze serpent

We might criticize the Israelites for their constant complaining, but they were complaining about things we would consider legitimate things to complain about – like food and water.

Isn’t that reasonable to complain about food and water?
Yet is it reasonable to complain when God has consistently provided exactly what they’ve needed?

God sends the “fiery snakes” as a way of teaching a lesson.

Moses fashions a bronze serpent and puts it on a pole.
If you wanted to be healed from the fiery snake, you had to be sure to look up at the snake.

Jesus explained it as a matter of faith.

Faith is the opposite of complaint.
If I truly trust God, I’m not going to complain.
Jesus said,
(John 3:14–15 NKJV) —14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.


Trust Jesus

Ultimately, the way through the transitions of life is by trusting in God, trusting in Jesus.
Some of us find it hard to trust anyone because we’ve been let down so many times.
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And yet as hard as it is to trust, this is exactly what we need if we’re going to move forward in life.
King Solomon wrote:
(Proverbs 3:5–6 NKJV) —5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; 6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.
As any recovering addict will tell you, one of the earliest steps they learned to take in their recovery was step 3, surrender:
We make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God.
When an addict chooses to not surrender to God, they will find the same thing that Luke Skywalker found when he watched Yoda lift his X-wing out of the swamp:

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Though some recovery programs are pretty vague as to what that looks like to trust God, the Bible is quite clear.
You need to put your life in Jesus’ hands.
Jesus went on to say in John 3,

(John 3:16 NKJV) 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.

It starts with that first step of faith.
God loved you so much that He sent His Son to die on a cross and pay for your sins –to survive and find eternal life, you need to look up at Jesus and trust Him.

Other Wilderness Stories

Exodus 15:22-27 – Marah – bitter waters made sweet

Exodus 16 – Manna in the wilderness

Exodus 17:1-7 – Massah/Meribah – Water from the Rock – strike it

Exodus 18 – Jethro – share the load – elders

Exodus 32 – Golden Calf – stay on track with Jesus

Exodus 40:34-38; Numbers 9:15-23 – Led by the pillar of cloud

Numbers 11:1-15 – Complaining about food, remembering Egypt

Numbers 16-17 – Korah – questioning leadership, fruitful proof

Numbers 20:1-13 – Moses’ sin at Kadesh/Meribah – speak to the Rock

(Psalm 81:7 NKJV) You called in trouble, and I delivered you; I answered you in the secret place of thunder; I tested you at the waters of Meribah. Selah

(Psalm 95:8 NKJV) “Do not harden your hearts, as in the rebellion, As in the day of trial in the wilderness,

Numbers 21:16-18 – Spring up O well

The wilderness is a desert – there is very little water.

There will be times of great thirst.

Three instances –

Massah – strike the rock
Meribah – should have spoken to the Rock
Beer – sing to the Rock

Numbers 25 – Baal Peor – idolatry