************ Sermon on Numbers 11:23 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on October 20, 2002
"Is the Lord's Arm Too Short?"
I A Short Arm?
A "Is the Lord's arm too short?" That's what our text asks. "Is the Lord's arm too short?"
What a humorous image! Think of Zacchaeus. Though he was an important and busy official, this short little man had to climb a tree. That was the only way he could see Jesus over the heads of all the people taller than he was. Is God too short like Zacchaeus?
Think of a short farmer picking his olives. No matter how he jumps and stretches, he just cannot reach the olives that even young boys can reach. Think of a short herdsman trying to lift a lamb over the wall of the sheep pen. His arms are just too short to push the lamb over. Is the Lord like the short olive farmer or herdsman?
Today, of course, we would think of someone short behind the steering wheel of a car. You know the image: way forward on the seat, the eyes peering over the top of the steering wheel, the feet barely reaching the gas pedal or brake. Or, think of someone short reaching for a plate on the top shelf of the cupboard. In front of a house full of guests, they end up standing on the chair to get a plate almost anyone in middle school grades can reach. Is this what God is like?
"Is the Lord's arm too short?" This is another way of asking whether the Lord's arms do not reach far enough. Whether He is weak and powerless.
B You have all heard of the Washington sniper, now nicknamed the tarot-card killer. In a deadly 18-day spree the unseen sniper has leveled his rifle at 11 people, seemingly picked at random, as they went about the ordinary chores of their day: mowing the lawn, pumping gas, vacuuming the minivan. According to Newsweek 300 cops, FBI agents, prosecutors and forensics experts have been over the measly evidence – a few bullet fragments, a tarot card, a spent shell casing – dozens of times. So far the police seem totally unable to catch or stop the killer. The long arm of the law doesn't seem so long, does it?!
"Is the Lord's arm too short?" This is another way of asking whether the Lord is limited in what He can do. Is the Lord like the police? Is He unable to do what He wants to do? Is He helpless in what He can accomplish?
C "Is the Lord's arm too short?" Our passage is not the only place this question is found in the Bible. We also find it twice in the prophecy of Isaiah.
(Is 50:2) Was my arm too short to ransom you? Do I lack the strength to rescue you?God's question through Isaiah asks the same sort of thing as His question to Moses. Is God weak and powerless? Is God ineffective and helpless? Is God lacking in strength and ability? "Is the Lord's arm too short?"
(Is 59:1) Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.
A "Is the Lord's arm too short?" The reason for the question is unbelief. The unbelief of the people. The unbelief of Moses.
First of all, we see the unbelief of the people. After a three-day march, the Israelites came into the Wilderness of Paran and remained there for some time. While there they began to feel sorry for themselves. They "complained about their hardships in the hearing of the LORD." What a barren, forsaken wilderness! How long was this to go on?
From general complaints about hardships the Israelites moved to specific complaints about food. In this instance, the complaining started among the aliens who had left Egypt with the Israelites. They stubbornly persisted in their complaints in spite of the Lord's fire that had consumed some of the tents on the outlying parts of the camp. Gradually their spirit infected all the people. So they all began to complain:
(Num 11:4-6) "If only we had meat to eat! (5) We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost--also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. (6) But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!"Thus the people despised the manna the Lord gave them. They declared that they were getting sick and tired of the whole business. They no longer saw God's blessings as blessings.
Do you see what the Israelites are doing? They are looking backward rather than forward. They are looking backward to Egypt rather than forward to Canaan. They are looking backward in nostalgia rather than forward in faith. Not only do they think the past is better than the present, they also think it is better than the future. They think there is no way that the blessings of Canaan can equal the blessings of Egypt.
To use the phrase of our text, the Israelites think the Lord's arm is too short. They think God is weak and powerless. They limit God's power and might and ability.
B We should be able to expect more of Moses, the leader of the people, than of the people themselves. We go back one chapter in Numbers. There we hear Moses talking to Hobab, his brother-in-law:
(Num 10:29,32) "We are setting out for the place about which the LORD said, 'I will give it to you.' Come with us and we will treat you well, for the LORD has promised good things to Israel ... If you come with us, we will share with you whatever good things the LORD gives us."Notice, Moses can talk with hope and optimism about the "good things" the Lord has in store for Israel.
But after hearing the complaints and rebellion of the people, Moses has his own pity party. He complains to God about the people. He complains to God about the burdens of being the leader. He complains to God about the lack of spiritual support that he gets.
(Num 11:12-15) Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their forefathers? (13) Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, 'Give us meat to eat!' (14) I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. (15) If this is how you are going to treat me, put me to death right now--if I have found favor in your eyes--and do not let me face my own ruin."
Every spiritual leader needs the support of the people he is leading. He needs their cooperation. He needs their encouragement. He needs their prayers.
A couple of weeks ago when you gave Tim and I a gift for Pastor's Appreciation I told you about pastors who feel lonely, rejected, discouraged, and disheartened. Like Elijah under the broom tree, they want to quit, they feel all alone, they think their ministry is going nowhere. It is hard to minister, it is hard to write sermons and to preach, when you feel that way.
When I left my last congregation one of my widows told me she had prayed for me every single day. And, more than one person here has told me the same thing. That is the kind of support pastors need. And, that is the kind of support Moses was looking for.
In response, God tells Moses that if the people want meat, He will give them meat. In fact, He will give them so much meat that it will be the only thing they will eat for the next month – every breakfast, lunch, and dinner the only thing on the Lord's menu will be meat. "For a whole month – until it comes out your nostrils and you loathe it ..." (vs 20).
Moses has his doubts about God's promise to provide meat. Moses doubts God's ability to keep that promise. Moses says,
(Num 11:21-22) "Here I am among six hundred thousand men on foot (think of all the women and children on top of that), and you say, 'I will give them meat to eat for a whole month!' (22) Would they have enough if flocks and herds were slaughtered for them? Would they have enough if all the fish in the sea were caught for them?"God, You got to be kidding! Do You realize how much meat this is?!
To use the phrase of our text, Moses also thinks the Lord's arm is too short. He also thinks God is weak and powerless. He also limits God's power and might and ability.
C "Is the Lord's arm too short?" Both Israel and Moses would say "Yes. Yes, the Lord's arm is too short. Yes, the Lord cannot do everything. Yes, there are limits to God's power and might and ability. Yes, the Lord is weak and powerless. Yes, the Lord's arm is too short."
Isn't that amazing? Isn't it amazing that they can say that after all they have seen and heard? Isn't it amazing that they can so quickly forget all that the Lord has done?
Let me remind you of what Israel and Moses have seen the Lord do. They have seen Him provide manna every single morning, so there is no hunger in the camp of Israel. They have seen Him make water come from a rock, so there is no thirst even in the heat of the desert. They have seen His fiery cloud protect them at night and lead them by day. They have seen Him destroy Pharaoh and his army – the world's most powerful army at that time. They have seen Him part the waters of the Red Sea. They have seen Him visit the ten plagues upon Egypt. They have heard how the Lord opened the womb of an old and barren Sarah. They have heard about the Lord raining down fire and brimstone upon Sodom and Gomorrah. They have heard how God opened the gates of the heavens and the earth so the earth was covered with a flood. They have heard about the Lord's six days of Creation: how He made heaven and earth and everything in them out of nothing; how He formed man from the dust of the earth and breathed into him the breath of life so that man became a living being.
After all of this, Israel and Moses should know, they should know that the Lord's arm is not too short. They really have no excuse, do they?!
D But now what about us? Are there times when we think the Lord's arm is too short? Are there times when we think the Lord cannot do everything? Are there times when we put limits to God's power and might and ability? Are there times when we think the Lord is weak and powerless?
Let me ask you a question, congregation: How big is your God? Is He able to do anything, anything He wants to do? Is He strong enough and big enough to do any miracles, bring any healings, provide for any needs? Is He able to intervene on behalf of His people? Do you have a great God? Does He speak and it is done? Does He command and it stands fast? Does He know how to show Himself strong on behalf of them that fear Him?
How big is your God, congregation? Is He always bigger than what you need?
"Is the Lord's arm too short?" Israel and Moses have no excuse for saying that it is. And, if possible, we have even less of an excuse. I say that because we have seen a virgin conceive and give birth. We have seen the cross and the grave of Christ. We have seen Satan thrown down from heaven. We have seen the gates of hell beat back. We have seen that "The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor" (Mt 11:5). We have seen the ascension of Christ to God's right hand. We have seen the outpouring of the Spirit. We have seen hard hearts softened and renewed. We have seen the coming of the Kingdom. We have seen time after time in our own lives that the Lord's arm is never too short.
III The Lord Shows His Power
A "Is the Lord's arm too short?" Having said that, the Lord showed Israel and Moses the opposite.
First, the Lord put His Spirit on 70 elders. These 70 became prayer partners of Moses. It was the job of the 70 to strengthen Moses in his intercession with God; it was their job to support Moses and encourage him; it was their job to help Moses carry the burden of the people.
Second, the Lord sent quail and more quail and more quail. He sent a blizzard of quail. They dropped around the camp of Israel until they formed piles 3 feet deep.
B "Is the Lord's arm too short?" There can be no doubt the Lord's arm is not too short. He provided for both the spiritual and physical needs of His people. He gave Moses the spiritual support and encouragement that this man of God needed. He gave the Israelites all the quail they could eat, and then some.
There can be no doubt that God can do anything, anything that He wants to do. There can be no doubt that ours is a big God, an awesome God, a God of might and power.
"Is the Lord's arm too short?" That really is not in doubt, is it?! What is in doubt – as with Israel – is whether we will learn to lean on our God of might and power.
At our last parsonage we had a problem with squirrels. They learned to lift the lid on our bird-feeder and helped themselves to the bird seed inside. Not only did they steal what belonged to the birds but they also threw out and scattered everywhere the seeds they did not like and made a big mess.What squirrels do with the electrical wire, we have to do with the almighty power of God. We have to rest or lean or depend upon that power alone. You see, we are in danger when we reach out one hand to Him while still leaning on something else.
At first we would hit our picture window and they would jump off; but after a while they merely turned their head and looked at us. Then we tried running outside. But before we got within ten feet of them they would climb up a tree and jump to a power line that stretched high over the lawn. There they sat and scolded us for interrupting their lunch.
This power line carries a heavy current of electricity. If I would grasp it from a tree or a ladder, death would be as swift as a lightning stroke. But on that power line the squirrels suffered no harm. The secret is that when they contacted the wire, they touched nothing else. But if I were to touch the wire, the tree or the ladder would act as a ground, and the electrical current would burn through me. Because the squirrels rested wholly upon the wire, they were unharmed. But because part of me would touch the wire and another part of me would connect to the ground, I would be fried.
"Is the Lord's arm too short?" I repeat, that really is not in doubt, is it?! What is in doubt – as with Israel – is whether we will learn to lean on our God of might and power.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
Back to Index of Sermons Page