THANKFULNESS (LESSON 2)
Tonight we are going to look at what can happen when you stop being thankful to God. And you may not have realized it, but when you stop being thankful to God, it can have some serious consequences. One of the biggest consequences of having an ungrateful attitude is that you might miss out on something great that God wants to do in your life.
And that is just what happened to a certain group of people that we are going to read about. Instead of being thankful to God, these people complained and rebelled and missed out on something wonderful that God wanted to give them. Hopefully, we can learn from the mistakes they made.
First, let's give you a little background on the people we are going to read about. They were called Israelites. For almost 300 years, they were held captive as slaves in a place called Egypt. The Israelites had to do hard manual labor, and the Egyptians were very cruel to them. But all the while, the Israelites prayed to God to free them from slavery and, finally, God answered their prayers and sent Moses to lead the people out of captivity. Then God promised to be with them and to lead them to a place that would be more beautiful than they could imagine. So let's pick up the story from when the Israelites were first set free and God had conquered all of the Egyptian soldiers who were chasing them.
Exodus 14:30 to 15:2 reads, "Thus the Lord saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the seashore. And Israel saw that great work which the Lord did upon the Egyptians: and the people feared the Lord, and believed the Lord, and his servant Moses. Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the Lord, and spake, saying: I will sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea. The Lord is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation: he is my God, and I will prepare him a habitation; my father's God, and I will exalt him."
The song of praise the Israelites sang to God goes on and on for another 16 verses and ends with these words from their lips: "The Lord shall reign forever and ever" (verse 18).
So the Israelites started off being thankful to God, but very soon after that, they stopped being thankful. Let's see how fast it happened. Exodus 16:1-3, "And they took their journey from Elim, and all the congregation of the children of Israel came unto the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departing out of the land of Egypt. And the whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured (complained) against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness: and the children of Israel said unto them, Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots (pots of meat), and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger."
* It's only been a month and a half, and the Israelites are complaining and being unthankful to God. And why? Because their food has run low and they are hungry. Look at how quickly they went from praising to complaining. After only 45 days. Didn't they believe God's promise that he would supply all of their needs? Giving them food would have been easy for God to do.
And we are sometimes guilty of doing the same thing the Israelites did. The slightest thing doesn't go our way, and instead of trusting and waiting on God, we complain and stop being thankful. And the minute we start complaining, Satan jumps in and makes us think we are missing out on something the world has to offer. He'll say, "Remember back when you were cheating and scamming? You always had money. You were never lonely." Satan will trick us into remembering our past sinful life as something better than what it was.
The Israelites had the nerve to say in that verse we just read, "Oh, that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full!" They are remembering it all wrong. They never sat by pots of meat and ate all they wanted. They had been slaves who were treated cruelly and killed. Exodus 1:13-14 tells us how they were treated. It reads, "And the Egyptians made the children of Israel to serve with rigor: and they made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in mortar, and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field: all their service wherein they made them serve was with rigor."
So our first lesson that we can learn from the Israelites is that when you are unthankful and begin to complain, you can be tricked by your old sinful nature into thinking that you are missing out on something from your past life. Don't you know that where God is leading you is better than anything you ever knew before you were a child of God's? What was so great about the past? Waking up with a hangover? Being shot at by some rival gang? Worrying about catching AIDS or getting someone pregnant? Standing in front of the judge while he sentenced you? Going to your friend's funeral? In the past, you were a slave to sin just like the Israelites were slaves to the Egyptians. But now God is trying to do a new thing in your life, so remain thankful and trust Him!
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* Now back to the story. Let's see what happened to the Israelites next after complaining about no food. Exodus 16:11 reads, "And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, "I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel: speak unto them, saying, At even ye shall eat flesh, and in the morning ye shall be filled with bread; and ye shall know that I am the Lord your God."
So even though the Israelites complained, God still provided for them. He sent forth this food called manna. It came down like rain from the sky. It was the perfect food. And God also made these birds called quails fly low so that the Israelites could easily capture them and have meat for dinner that day. And from that day forward, every day the Lord would send the manna down from heaven.
But the Israelites weren't through being unthankful. Later they complained because they didn't have any water. And then eventually they even complained and said that they were sick and tired of the manna. Can you imagine having the nerve to tell God that you are sick and tired of something he is generously giving you? Let's read what they said. Numbers 11:4-6, "And the mixed multitude that was among them fell a lusting: and the children of Israel also wept again, and said: Who shall give us flesh to eat? We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic: but now our soul is dried away: There is nothing at all, besides this manna, before our eyes." The Israelites were basically saying, "Manna for breakfast, manna for lunch. I'm sick of manna!" They were acting like spoiled ungrateful children.
Now, you might be thinking, "I'd never be ungrateful to God and complain like that." But we do the same thing. We will one day, for example, say, "Lord, help me get a job." And at first we praise God for the job that He provides to us. Then before you know it, you are complaining, "I hate this job."
Be thankful for what God gives you. Maybe if you are thankful with the small things, He will bless you and give you even bigger things. But if you are ungrateful, God might just have to teach you a lesson. That's what he did to the Israelites after they complained about the manna. Numbers 11:18-20 reads, "And say thou unto the people, Sanctify yourselves against tomorrow, and ye shall eat flesh: for ye have wept in the ears of the Lord, saying, Who shall give us flesh to eat?' for it was well with us in Egypt. Therefore the Lord will give you flesh, and ye shall eat. Ye shall not eat one day, nor two days, nor five days, neither ten days, nor twenty days; but even a whole month, until it come out at your nostrils, and it be loathsome unto you: because that ye have despised the Lord which is among you, and have wept before him, saying, Why came we forth out of Egypt?"
Remember when your mom or dad would say, "I'll give you something to cry about"? Well, God gave the Israelites something to cry about. He gave them so much meat that it was coming out of their nostrils!! God hears our complaints, even when we mutter them under our breath.
The lesson we can learn from the Israelites here is that if you are unthankful and complain too much, God might just give you what you deserve. For example, He might say, "Oh, you don't like the job I got for you? Then maybe you will like collecting unemployment." Of course, God always forgives our unthankful ways if we sincerely ask Him to, but sometimes He will teach us a lesson.
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And the Israelites just kept messing up. Their unthankfulness led to a lack of faith in God. God still wanted to lead the Israelites to the Promised Land, but as we will see in this last chapter, because of the Israelites' wrong attitude and unbelief, they never made it. The Israelites had finally arrived to the place God had been leading them. All they had to do was defeat the Canaanites and take over the land. They had God's assurance that they would be successful. But let's see how they refused to trust in God. Numbers 13:27-31, "And they told him, and said, We came unto the land whither thou sentest us, and surely it floweth with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it. Nevertheless the people be strong that dwell in the land, and the cities are walled, and very great: and moreover we saw the children of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the south: and the Hittites, and the Jebusites, and the Amorites, dwell in the mountains: and the Cannanites dwell by the sea, and by the coast of Jordan. And Caleb stilled the people before Moses, and said, Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it. But the men that went up with him said, We be not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we. And they brought up an evil report of the land which they had searched unto the children of Israel..."
* Even with all God had already done for them, they didn't trust Him, they weren't thankful, and now they were again complaining. The Israelites were afraid to go forward.
When you have a thankful heart, that means that you meditate on the things that God has done for you. Those things are never far from your mind. And because you remember what He has done in the past, you can face the future with confidence that the Lord will never leave you or forsake you. But the Israelites had forgotten about the goodness of God and His provision. So now they are stuck in their tracks, afraid to move to the place that He is trying to lead them.
So finally God had had enough. And because of their unthankfulness, they forever lost the chance to see the Promised Land. Numbers 14:26-32 reads, "And the Lord spake unto Moses and Aaron, saying, How long shall I bear with this evil congregation, which murmur against me? I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel, which they murmur against me. Say unto them, As truly as I live, saith the Lord, As ye have spoken in mine ears, so will I do to you: your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness, and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from 20 years old and upward, which have murmured against me, doubtless ye shall not come into the land, concerning which I sware to make you dwell therein, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun. But your little ones, which ye said should be a prey, them will I bring in, and they shall know the land which ye have despised. But as for you, your carcasses, they shall fall in this wilderness."
The original Israelites that God had freed from Egypt spent the next 40 years wandering in the wilderness until they all died. Forty years were wasted! And finally when all but two of the original group died, God then lead the children of those dead unthankful unbelievers into the Promised land. None of the older Israelites made it in except Caleb and Joshua. The others missed out.
What about you? What are you missing out on because of lack of faith and an unthankful attitude? The young men and women I first shared this Bible study lesson with had already spent three months, six months, a year locked up at a juvenile prison facility, wandering there perhaps because of an unthankful, rebellious attitude. Some of us are "free," but our lives are not as full as it could be because we do not trust God and remain thankful. If you are a child of God, you are free from the penalty of sin. But until you learn to be thankful to God, you will just be wandering around, and you may even miss out on what God wants to do for you right now.