Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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In the Wilderness

Leslie Basham: Why did God’s people have to wander the desert for forty years? Here’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss. 

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: The sin that destroyed the Children of Israel and kept them out of the Promised Land really came down to a single root, and it is this sin of discontentment. 

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Monday, June 23, 2014. 

Here’s Nancy in the series "Cultivating a Contented Heart." 

Nancy: Over these next several sessions, I want to share with you from my heart and from God’s Word what I believe is one of the single greatest reasons that so many of us as Christians spend our lives wandering around in a spiritual desert rather than enjoying the abundant life that we know Jesus Christ came to give us. 

I meet so many Christians who are frustrated, who are defeated, who when they get honest will admit that they are not really experiencing this abundant life that Jesus Christ came to give. There are a number of reasons that this can be true, but I want to focus on one particular reason today that I think affects most of us particularly as women. 

Let me ask you to turn in your Bibles if you would to 1 Corinthians chapter 10. We’re going to look at a number of passages, but this passage gives us a starting place, 1 Corinthians chapter 10. In the first part of this chapter, Paul gives a little bit of a history lesson and it is important in this setting because for Paul’s Gentile readers, many of them probably were not familiar with some of the Old Testament history of the Children of Israel. Some of us perhaps may not be familiar either. If you are newer to the faith, some of this may be new to you as well. So that is why Paul repeats some of what we read about in the Old Testament. 

At the beginning of this passage, Paul begins by listing a number of the blessings. Some of them are spiritual and some of them physical blessings that were experienced by the Jewish nation that God redeemed out of Egypt. He begins in verse 1, 1 Corinthians chapter 10 and says,

For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud . . .

Now, I want you to notice that word “all” because it appears several times in these verses. The Children of Israel (this is harkening back to the Old Testament days) were all under the cloud. That is a reference to the cloud of God’s Shekinah glory that accompanied the Children of Israel as they went out of Egypt and toward the Promised Land. “And they all passed through the sea” (v. 1).

What sea is that? The Red Sea. As God delivered them, they walked through on dry ground. Then you remember how the Egyptians drowned in that same sea that had been a dry pathway for the Children of Israel. 

They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ (v. 3–4).

Now we know that God provided physical water from rocks in the wilderness for the Children of Israel to quench their thirst and God provided manna, bread from heaven, and God provided meat, quail when they needed that to eat. So there was literal physical provision. But this physical provision from God was really a picture of deeper needs that God meets—our spiritual needs. The Scripture is saying here that it was Christ who was the source of that provision. It was Christ Himself who was God’s provision.  

So here we see that there were spiritual blessings that the Children of Israel enjoyed. They all enjoyed these blessings, the physical and spiritual blessings. God led them all; God delivered them all; God provided for them all; they all experienced these blessings.

We know when we come to the New Testament that you and I as children of God have been redeemed, and we have been blessed Paul tells us in Ephesians chapter 1 with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ.

So no matter what our life may look like down here on earth today, the fact is, and by faith we embrace it, that we have received every spiritual blessing. All of us who are in Christ have experienced every spiritual blessing that God has to give, and that is because we are in Christ. 

Now when we get to verse 5 in 1 Corinthians 10, we see a turn in the thinking. Paul says in verse 5,

Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.  

They all experienced all these great blessings, but with most of them, God was displeased, and they ended up coming to ruin and destruction. Now when it says God was not pleased with most of them, that raises the question in my mind: With how many was God not pleased?  

Well, the Scripture tells us. In Numbers chapter 1 we read that approximately 600,000 men above the age of twenty came out of Egypt when they were redeemed out of Israel. Now when you add wives into that number, there were easily one million adults who were delivered out of Egypt. Forty years later another count was taken. You read about it later in the Book of Numbers, and at that point we read that only three of those one million adults lived to enter the Promised Land. Only three out of one million. With all the others, God was not pleased. All the others had been destroyed in the wilderness.

By the way, if you do a little calculation here, that will tell you there was an average of more than seventy funerals every day for forty years out there in the wilderness. That’s a lot of dying. God was not pleased. 

Now, Paul tells us in verse 11 in 1 Corinthians chapter 10 that "these things happened to them as examples and they were written down as warnings for us." That says it is important that we understand what it is that happened out there in the wilderness. Why nearly one million people perished in the desert; we need to learn from their example and be warned based on what they learned. 

So the question is:

  • What are we to learn from their example? 
  • What are we supposed to be warned about? 
  • What was God not pleased with? 
  • And why did they never enter the Promised Land—one million adults with the exception of three?  

And that raises this question:

  • Why are so many Christians today wandering through the wilderness, going around in circles in their Christian life, rather than enjoying the Promised Land, the abundant life that Jesus Christ came to give us?

Paul explains beginning in verse 6 why these Israelites perished in the wilderness. He says there were two things that they did if you summarize these versus. First of all, he says that they lusted for evil things that God had forbidden. We read in verse 6,

Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry.” 

We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died (vv. 6–8).

So Paul says one of their problems is that they craved evil things that God had forbidden. They followed after idols, and they followed after sexual immorality. These are evil things that they never should have longed for. But there is another problem they had and that is they craved good, legitimate things that God had not given them, and then they grumbled when they didn’t get what they wanted. And that is going to become the focus of our discussion here. Verse 9 tells us,

We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did—[some of your translations use the word murmur there] and were killed by the destroying angel (vv. 9–10).

Now we all know that it is not good to lust after evil things. But I wonder how often we remember that it is also a grievous thing in God’s sight to demand good things that God has chosen not to give to us, and then to murmur and grumble and whine and complain when we don’t get what we want. The sin that destroyed the Children of Israel and kept them out of the Promised Land really came down to a single root. It is the sin of discontentment. 

Discontentment—wanting something that God had not given them; that it was not God’s time to give them. They insisted on having things they wanted that God had not provided, and the Scripture says God considered this a very serious sin. Do not grumble as some of them did, and they were destroyed in the wilderness. And so Paul says,

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the [fulfillment] of the ages has come (v. 11).  

And then Paul says in a very practical way to us as New Testament believers,

So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to mankind (v. 12–13).  

Now this is a very common verse, most of us are familiar with it. But have you ever stopped to realize the context of this verse?

It is in the context of talking about this sin of grumbling and murmuring, complaining and whining. Paul says, “You’re going to be tempted to complain. You’re going to be tempted to murmur. Everyone is!” But,

God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it (v. 13).

Now we go back into the book of Exodus and we read in Exodus chapter 13 the whole instance where God delivered the Children of Israel after 400 years of being in captivity, in bondage, in slavery. God delivered them by His great power. He redeemed them and brought them out of Egypt. He led them into the wilderness. He led them into a desert, and then we know that God led the Children of Israel to the Red Sea. 

And you remember with the Red Sea in front of them, mountain ranges on either side, and the Egyptian army breathing down their necks behind them, the Children of Israel found themselves now in Exodus chapter 14 in a place where they were hopelessly hemmed in. There was no way out, except if God were to intervene on their behalf. So they had not been out of Egypt now for a matter of days and they came to the Red Sea. There was no apparent way of escape,  and they were terrified.   

We read in chapter 14 that the Children of Israel said to Moses, I’m in verse 11,

Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, "Leave us alone! Let us serve the Egyptians"? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert! (vv. 11–12).

Now if you know something about what precedes this chapter, is it true that the Children of Israel said to Moses when they were in Egypt, “We want to stay in Egypt. We love it here. We love serving Pharaoh. We love being his slaves.” No! For years they had cried out in their bondage to be delivered, and God heard their cries and delivered them. 

But now when they are faced with this first challenge after they come out of Egypt. Instead of crying out to the Lord who had delivered them and asking the Lord now to deliver them again, they begin to murmur and whine and grumble against Moses who was God’s representative. “It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” (v. 12)

Now what was God’s response to the murmuring and the whining of the Children of Israel? Well verse 30 tells us, “That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore” (v. 30).  

Now we come to the next chapter, Exodus chapter 15. We find after the Red Sea crossing they’ve gone three days into the wilderness, they’ve had this great celebration that took place after they got through the Red Sea. They are praising God as it is easy to do when we’ve just experienced God’s power and deliverance. 

Now they’ve gone three days into the wilderness, and they’ve come to a place where there is no water. Now that is a pretty serious situation to be in for one million adults plus children, to have nothing to drink. Obviously they can’t go long in that situation. Then when they do come to water, it is a place that they named Marah, which means bitter, because the water is contaminated. It is bitter water that they can’t drink. 

So what is their response? What do you think would be their response after having just seen God defeat the whole Egyptian army and take them through the Red Sea? You’d think they would say, “Oh Lord, You’ve done it before, You can do it again. We praise You because we know that You are able to provide for our needs in this circumstance.” 

But no, that is not the response. Verse 24 tells us, Exodus chapter 15, “The people murmured against Moses, ‘What shall we drink?’” They turned to Moses and said, “You got us in this mess; you’ve got to get us out of this mess.” Verse 25 tells us, “Then Moses cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a [tree]. He threw it into the water and the water became sweet.” 

Once again, God performs a miracle. He hears their whining, He hears their murmuring, and in response God does a miracle. He sweetened the bitter waters. And right after that, He leads them to a place that is an oasis, Elim.  The place where there are twelve wells of water.

See, the wells of water, the oasis, was just ahead. God had the provision in mind. He knew how He was going to meet their needs. But rather than trust him, they whined, they grumbled, they murmured. Then God out of His mercy and grace performed a miracle to meet them at their point of need. 

Well you would think, Surely they’ve learned their lesson now. Next chapter, Exodus chapter 16. This is all within two months of leaving Egypt. Within two months of leaving Egypt, they have all these experiences of coming up against obstacles. We see their response each time. Now they come to a place called the Wilderness of Sin. In this wilderness they come to the experience of having no food. First they’d had no water, now they have no food. Verse 2 tells us,

The whole [congregation] murmured against Moses and Aaron. . . . "If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt. There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death” (vv. 2–3). 

Now our emotions sometimes make us irrational. It makes us believe and think and say things that really aren’t true, that we know aren’t true. First of all, they had no desire to die in Egypt. They did have food to eat in Egypt, but they were the slaves of the one that provided that food. They experienced great hardship even though Pharaoh did meet their needs for food. Second, they accuse Moses of having brought them out into this desert with the intent of starving them to death. You see, unbelief and murmuring and discontent make us believe things that just aren’t true. They make us falsely accuse God and God’s servants when we run into these circumstances. 

Now, the passage goes on to tell us that God heard their murmuring as God always hears my murmuring and yours. When we complain, God hears it. The Scripture says in verses 7 and 8 of Exodus 16 that their murmurings were against Him. They thought they were murmuring against Moses and against Aaron, but God says, “Truly your murmuring is against Me.”  

So what did God do this time in response to their murmuring? Well, the Scripture goes on to tell us that God rained down manna and quail. He performed another miracle. They murmur, and God does a miracle to meet their needs. He says in verse 12, “At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.”

So once again God took this opportunity of their need, their lack, to reveal His power, His love, His goodness, and His greatness. God’s purpose was that He wanted the Children of Israel to get to know Him. He wanted them to know what He was like. To know what He was able to do. They’d lived all these years in Egypt without really knowing God, and God was bringing these tests about in their lives as He does in our lives because He wants us to see what He can do when we have no other resources available. 

Next chapter, Exodus chapter 17; we’ve been in chapter 14, chapter 15, chapter 16 and now we come to the next chapter. You’d think, Surely they’ve learned now. They’ve seen so much of the goodness and the power of God. Now they came to a place known as Rephidim where once again there was no water. You would think that this time they would say, “Oh God! You provided water before, you made those bitter waters sweet, you took us to that oasis, and so this time we’re going to trust you. Lord, just show us what you have for us. Would you supply the water we need?” You would think that is how they would respond, right?

Not this time. Once again, verses 2 and 3, “They quarreled with Moses and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’” You can just hear the demand in their voice and the implied statement, “Do it now. Do it now; give us what we want."

Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?" But the people were thirsty for water there, and they murmured against Moses. They said, "Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”

This is sounding like a broken record. One more time, same kind of response. And how does God respond to their murmuring? Yet a fourth time God does a miracle, each time. In verse 6 God told Moses, “Strike the rock and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So how did God respond to their murmuring? In each of these four instances—when they were at the Red Sea, when they came to the bitter water, when they had no food, when they had no water—each time they murmured, they grumbled, they whined, and what did God do? He performed a miracle. He met their need. He revealed His power. 

These miracles were signs of God’s mercy and His grace. And isn’t that how God often does it with us? We’ve come up to a difficult situation, we complain, we’re discontented with what we have, we want something we don’t have, and over and over again as you look back in your life can you see times when God came and met with you anyway? When He provided your need. Not because we were thankful, not because we expressed faith. We were immature and childish and demanding, and we said, “God, meet my needs now.” In some cases we can look back and see God had mercy on us.  He didn’t give us what we deserved for our murmuring, He did a miracle. He provided for our needs.

In the next session, we’re going to see that God didn’t always respond with miracles. He wanted His children to grow up and to learn how to respond in belief. But in these early stages of their experience with God, He wanted them to see His grace, to see His power, and to get to know Him.

Father, how we thank You that You deal with us in mercy, that You don’t give us what we deserve. So many times when we murmur, when we’re unbelieving, when we’re doubting, when we falsely accuse You or Your servants, You come and You say, “I’m going to meet your need anyway. I’m going to supply for you. I’m going to do a miracle.”

Lord, as we look back, we thank You for those times when You’ve just demonstrated Your power and Your goodness and Your love and Your grace. We don’t deserve it Lord, but we are so very grateful. We say, “Would You teach us to develop a thankful heart and to cultivate a contented heart with Your provision.” We pray in Jesus name, amen.

: It is so easy to let complaining slide, to pretend it is not a sin. I know that message from Nancy Leigh DeMoss has convicted a lot of listeners about this important issue. One way to avoid complaining is to keep our minds focused on the Lord, rather than our circumstances.  Nancy’s here to tell you about a unique way to keep your mind focused on the Lord, rather than on situations you’re tempted to complain about.

Nancy: One of the most popular and requested resources we have offered in recent years is a series of CDs called Hidden in My Heart. Some of you have heard me talk about these before.

These are Scripture passages set to lullaby music. Now, you may be thinking, Why would I want those? I'll just tell you that over the years I have listened over and over and over again to the CDs in this Hidden in My Heart series because I love getting the Scripture into my heart with this calm, soothing, peaceful music.

I'm delighted to share with you that volume 3 is now available. It is a little different from volumes 1 and 2. It's still the lullaby music, but it is a journey through the life of Jesus.

The fifteen pieces on this album trace the life of Jesus from His birth, through His life, through His death, His resurrection, and His ascension. They take key Scripture passages and set them to music that is just so refreshing and encouraging. The words will minister grace to your heart. They will encourage and strengthen you.

Leslie: We’ll send you Hidden in my Heart, Volume 3 as our way of saying "thanks" for your donation of any size. Your gift will help us continue bringing Revive Our Hearts to you each weekday and call women to freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness in Christ.

This offer is available all this week, so let us hear from you by June 27—one CD per household.  Ask for Hidden in My Heart when you call with your gift. The number is 1-800-569-5959, or support the ministry by visiting

Leslie: How does God react when His people complain? Tomorrow Nancy will take you back to the Old Testament to see the results of the people’s complaining. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the NIV unless otherwise noted.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.

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About the Teacher

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love for Christ and His Word is infectious, and permeates her online outreaches, conference messages, books, and two daily nationally syndicated radio programs—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him.

She has authored twenty-two books, including Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, Seeking Him (coauthored), Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, and You Can Trust God to Write Your Story (coauthored with her husband). Her books have sold more than five million copies and are reaching the hearts of women around the world. Nancy and her husband, Robert, live in Michigan.