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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Matt's Messages - Nowheresville

“Nowheresville”
Life in the Wilderness
June 10, 2007
Numbers 21:10-35

Two weeks ago, we read about the famous part of Numbers 21, the part where Moses lifted up a snake on a pole and any Israelite that looked in faith upon it was healed of a poisonous snakebite.

This week, however, we are going to read about the not-so-famous part of Numbers 21. In fact, I thought about just skipping over these verses this week or simply jumping off of them into the exciting and almost comedic story of Balaam in Numbers 22 through 24 (which we’ll be studying the next 2 weeks).

These verses, Numbers 21:10-35, are not so famous, but they are in God’s Holy Word for a reason. In fact, they are useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness so that Lanse Free Church is fully equipped for every good work.

But it doesn’t seem that way when you first read them.

In fact, it seems like they come from “Nowheresville.”

Before we start reading, let me ask you a question:

Where is Israel geographically located in Numbers chapter 21?

Are they in the Promised Land?

Not yet. They were sent away from the Promised Land and had to wander in the wilderness for 40 years while an entire generation passed away.

Are they in the Sinai Peninsula? Not any more.

They are actually making their way up towards the Promised Land from the Sinai Peninsula. [Map]

Are they passing through Edom?

No, Edom told them to take a hike. They weren’t allowed to pass through.

So they are going the long way around, this is very much desert area.

They were at Mount Hor. And we’re not sure where they wre when they had the Snake on a Pole.

And here’s where they are in verse 10.

“The Israelites moved on and camped at Oboth. Then they set out from Oboth and camped in Iye Abarim, in the desert that faces Moab toward the sunrise. From there they moved on and camped in the Zered Valley.” Stop there for a second.

They have gone around Edom.

They are now going around Moab. That’s important. Moab is going to be important for the next several chapters.

Which side of Moab are they on? What does the verse say?

“Toward the sunrise.” That would be on the East side.

Where were they in between? Oboth and Iye Abarim.

Anybody know where those places are?

On the maps that I looked at this week, there were possible places with question marks after them.

And the commentaries that I read didn’t know either. V.12

“From there they moved on and camped in the Zered Valley. They set out from there and camped alongside the Arnon, which is in the desert extending into Amorite territory. The Arnon is the border of Moab, between Moab and the Amorites. That is why the Book of the Wars of the LORD says:’...Waheb in Suphah and the ravines, the Arnon and the slopes of the ravines that lead to the site of Ar and lie along the border of Moab.’” Stop there.

Did you follow all of that?

I’m not sure where the Zered Valley is, but the Arnon is a big gorge that’s right about here. North of Moab, across the Jordan from Jericho.

The other places are mysteries to scholars. Most scholars can’t make sense of the quote in verse 14, “Waheb in Suphah and the ravines, the Arnon and the slopes of the ravines that lead to the site of Ar and lie along the border of Moab.”

It says here that that’s a quote from a book that doesn’t exist any more, “The Book of the Wars of the LORD.”

Maybe it was a song that was memorized for soldiers to remember the geography of the land.

It’s not clear. And what I kept thinking as I read it this week, was that these places don’t really exist any more. Not only does the book not exist, but many of the cities don’t either. They’re really out in the middle of Nowhere.

Jump down to verse 19 and you’ll see it even clearer.

“Then they went from the desert to Mattanah [no one is sure where that is], from Mattanah to Nahaliel [no one is sure where that is], from Nahaliel to Bamoth [no one is sure where that is], and from Bamoth to the valley in Moab where the top of Pisgah overlooks the wasteland.”

Pisgah is a place that is known. If you have a map, it is to be associated with Mount Nebo (in the same mountain range) which is probably on your map.

But a lot of these places are kind of “Nowheresville.”

They don’t exist any more, and they might not have been much to look at at the time.

Nowheresville.

I can just imagine the little Israelite kids in the back of the mini-van saying, “Are we almost there yet? How many more minutes until we get there, Moses?”

Nowheresville.

You know, there are a lot of places in the Bible like that, aren’t there?

We’ve seen that there are genealogies that have long lists of dead peoples’ names.

Well, there’s also travelogues that have long lists of dead cities’ names.

Places that don’t exist any longer and might not have been much to look at at the time.

Why would those places be listed in the Bible?

Why would God make sure that these place names got recorded?

Why would God work so hard to make sure that these Nowheresvilles were preserved in His Holy Word and passed down for over 3,000 years to make it into our worship gathering today?

Well, one reason is that it provides historicity. That is, these things really happened, and these cities really existed and so listing them shows some of the historicity of the biblical accounts.

And that’s really helpful for archeologists whose discoveries validate the historicity of the biblical stories.

These things really happened.

But what about these places that an archeologist will never find? And they really didn’t have much to do with the story anyway.

I mean (v.19) “from Mattanah to Nahaliel, from Nahaliel to Bamoth...” And so on.

There’s a lot of the Bible that’s like that, isn’t there.

What do you do with that?

I was listening to David Powlison this week give a talk on how to apply the Bible to our lives, and he said this, and it stood out for me and I thought immediately of this passage: “God deals with the details. God names names. He knows people in situations.” That’s one of the things that those passages do for us. They tell us that God cares about real little people in real little places.

I put it this way: #1. GOD KNOWS US IN NOWHERESVILLE.

Have you ever wondered if God really knew your name?

I mean there are a lot of people on this planet. More than 5 billion people.

Have you ever wondered if God really knew your name?

Have you ever felt small and in a corner?

I sometimes look up in the big sky at all stars at night, and I wonder if God really knows me.

There are not just a lot of people that are living right now, but there are a lot of people who are dead and gone.

Have you ever spent any time in cemetery?

It seems like I’ve been visiting them a lot recently. Row upon row of people many of whom no one living remembers.

Maybe their name is remembered. But many are simply forgotten.

You and I will probably be there, if the Lord tarries, in another 150 years.

Our own relatives will struggle to remember the details of our lives.

We don’t live in an important metropolitan center.

Have you ever tried to explain to some city person where Lanse is?

I talk to lots of people who only have a vague idea of where State College is!

Have you been to Peale, Pennsylvania? It’s a ghost town just a few miles from here.

I’m sure that most of you have been there. And some of you were there when it was a bustling little town, a stop on the Beech Creek Railroad.

But it’s Nowheresville now.

And all of the grainy black and white pictures of the people who lived there remind me of where I am going, humanly speaking.

Feel small yet?

Sometimes, I do.

But this is the truth: God knows us in Nowheresville.

“from Mattanah to Nahaliel, from Nahaliel to Bamoth...”

From Nowheresville to Nowheresville to Nowheresville.

God knows.

And God is there.

God is here today.

Jesus said that God not only knows our name, but He knows how many hairs are on our head. That’s harder trick for some of you than it is for me, but God knows us!

God knows us right here and right now.

We are not too insignificant for Him.

Not because we are so wonderful. We are insignificant.

But God is wonderful and in His inscrutable love, He knows us. Down to our most intimate thoughts.

God knows us in Nowheresville.

Does that speak to your heart?

What kind of applications can you draw from that?

I helps me to relax. To rest. Knowing that God knows me even if I’m relatively insignificant.

I’ll be honest with you. I’d like to be significant. And I know that in my small circle of influence, I have an important significance and a role to play.

But in the most schemes of things, I am just a blip on the radar. Here today and gone tomorrow.

But instead of getting uptight about it and trying to muster up some significance on my own, I can just relax, and know that God’s got it covered.

He knows me.

He knows where I am.

He knows what I’m up to and what I’m doing.

He knows me in Nowheresville.

That’s a comforting thought.

Over the last two days, I’ve been trying to finagle some airline tickets for Heather and Robin to go to Western Canada to see Heather’s grandfather whose wife died in April and the rest of the family for a wedding.

And I had these ideas about what this awesome trip was going to be like and how cheaply I could get it for if I finagled some air-miles.

Well, it was not working smoothly at all. And I began to get uptight. I know that’s hard to believe!

But I did. And I was really thankful yesterday as I was working through that, that I was also working on this sermon, because even if I failed and it didn’t work out like I wanted, I knew that God knew where I was.

He knows me in Nowheresville.

And that was a comforting thought.

And it leads to the next one. God not only knows us in Nowheresville, He takes care of us in Nowheresville.

#2. GOD PROVIDES FOR US IN NOWHERESVILLE. V.16

“From there they continued on to Beer, the well where the LORD said to Moses, ‘Gather the people together and I will give them water.’ Then Israel sang this song: ‘Spring up, O well! Sing about it, about the well that the princes dug, that the nobles of the people sank– the nobles with scepters and staffs.’”

Where is Beer?

Nobody knows. Somewhere East of Moab. Towards the desert.

The name Beer means “Well.” So it was a little place where they dug for a well, and they found water.

A Nowheresville named “Well.”

Did you notice anything different about this story than a couple of other ones that we’ve read about in Exodus and Numbers?

God says to Moses, “Gather the people and I will give them water.”

No grumbling necessary!

No murmuring needed!

God just gives them the water they need.

God provides for them in Nowheresville.

God cares so much for His people. He loves to provide for their needs.

You know that. You’ve seen it. You’ve experienced it yourself.

Have you had a need that God has met? Maybe in way you never expected?

A healing? A raise? A check in the mail? A job?

God provided us with airline tickets yesterday, really at a moment when I had almost given up hope that it would work out.

God loves to provide for His people.

Even in the middle of nowhere. Especially in the middle of nowhere!

Because that show Him to be glorious!

If God reaches down and cares for the little people like you and me, that shows that He is an amazingly powerful and gracious God.

So He does it all day long, all week long, all year long 24/7/365.25!

God provides for His people in Nowheresville.

There is no greater proof of this than Jesus Christ Himself.

When Jesus came, did He arrive in a royal chariot marching into Rome, the capitol of the world? He could have.

No, He showed up in Nowherseville, Bethlehem in Judea!

And then did He rise to the throne and kick out the Romans? No, He didn’t even have a house!

And He died outside of the city, the death of a rebel–crucifixion.

But as He did that, He was providing for His people.

“He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God...”

He opened up a Well in Nowheresville!

In fact, whoever drinks the water from His well, “will never thirst.” He said, “Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Jesus Christ died on the Cross to provide eternal salvation for all who repent and receive Him as Savior and Lord and become children of God by faith alone in what He did on the Cross.

If that’s you, then you’ve had drink from the well that won’t run dry.

“...a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

How should we respond to a God like this?

We sing!

That’s what Israel did. They wrote a song about God’s gracious provision.

God was here in Nowheresville, and He gave us water to drink!

“Spring up O well, within my soul, Spring up O well, and make me whole. Spring up O well, and give to me, that life abundantly.”

You know that grumbling can’t exist when there is heartfelt singing.

So we need to rejoice. We need to thank God that He provides for us right in the middle of our Nowheresvilles.

Maybe you need His provision today. He knows. Don’t grumble. Don’t murmur and complain.

Trust and rest in knowing that He knows.

And bring Him your needs and watch Him work.

And sing when He comes through!

And last, but not least, #3. GOD GIVES US VICTORY IN NOWHERESVILLE.

We’re looking at verse 21.

Israel is right here. [Map.]

They want to get into here.

And they need to go through the land of the Amorites to do it.

Is this land the Promised Land?

No. They aren’t looking for this land in what’s called the Transjordan Area.

But they have to go through it. So they are polite, and ask. V.21

“Israel sent messengers to say to Sihon king of the Amorites: ‘Let us pass through your country. We will not turn aside into any field or vineyard, or drink water from any well. We will travel along the king's highway until we have passed through your territory.’ [Just like they asked Edom. And Sihon responds just like Edom did! V.23] But Sihon would not let Israel pass through his territory. He mustered his entire army and marched out into the desert against Israel. When he reached Jahaz, he fought with Israel.”

Unlike cousin Edom, however, Israel fights back. V.24

“Israel, however, put him to the sword and took over his land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, but only as far as the Ammonites, because their border was fortified. Israel captured all the cities of the Amorites and occupied them, including Heshbon and all its surrounding settlements.”

God gave them victory! V.26

“Heshbon was the city of Sihon king of the Amorites, who had fought against the former king of Moab and had taken from him all his land as far as the Arnon. That is why the poets say: ‘Come to Heshbon and let it be rebuilt; let Sihon's city be restored. Fire went out from Heshbon, a blaze from the city of Sihon. It consumed Ar of Moab, the citizens of Arnon's heights. Woe to you, O Moab! You are destroyed, O people of Chemosh! He has given up his sons as fugitives and his daughters as captives to Sihon king of the Amorites. But we [Israel] have overthrown them; Heshbon is destroyed all the way to Dibon. We have demolished them as far as Nophah, which extends to Medeba.’ So Israel settled in the land of the Amorites.”

God gives His people victory from Nowheresville.

And there is more. V.32

“After Moses had sent spies to Jazer, the Israelites captured its surrounding settlements and drove out the Amorites who were there. Then they turned and went up along the road toward Bashan, and Og king of Bashan [Deuteronomy tells us that he was a really big guy] and his whole army marched out to meet them in battle at Edrei. The LORD said to Moses, ‘Do not be afraid of him, for I have handed him over to you, with his whole army and his land. Do to him what you did to Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon.’ So they struck him down, together with his sons and his whole army, leaving them no survivors. And they took possession of his land.”

Wait a second!

Did I just read what I think I read?

That last sentence: “And they took possession of his land.”

Israel now owns land?

What’s going on here?

Well, if you put together all of the Nowheresvilles that we just read about that Israel conquered, they now control all of the territory that we call the Transjordan (Across the Jordan from the Promised Land).

Maybe it’s not such a Nowheresville after all?

What’s being fulfilled here?

The Abrahamic covenant.

Is that still in effect? After all this time?

There is offspring here. We’ll see how much in the next few weeks.

And there is land here. Not the Promised Land yet but some honest to goodness real estate.

And there is blessing here. In spite of how Israel has acted, God is still graciously blessing them.

In fact, the whole story of Balaam for the next 3 chapters is all about blessing.

God is keeping His promises.

And one of them is victory.

Not every battle but the whole war.

God gives victory to us in our Nowhersvilles.

From little Father Abraham, one man in Southern Iraq.

To a teeming mass of Israelites camped across the Jordan river on the plains of Moab having victory over all of the Transjordan area.

God gives victory to His people.

What’s the application here?

Fight!

Not physically, with swords, but spiritually with gospel words.

Our battle now is not with flesh and blood.

And our weapons are not the weapons of the world.

Our weapons now are gospel weapons.

But we still fight!

And we are still on the offensive–taking ground for the Lord.

The Christian life is warfare, spiritual warfare, but it’s not primarily defensive.

It’s offensive!

It’s invasional. It’s incursional.

We fight for the Lord and we take ground.

And we should do it without fear. Look again at verse 34.

“The LORD said to Moses, ‘Do not be afraid of him, for I have handed him over to you, with his whole army and his land.”

You know what He says to you?

“Don’t be afraid! Greater is He that is in you than He that is in the world! I have handed him over to you, with his whole army and his land. You’ll soon crush Satan under your feet!”

Don’t be afraid. And fight!

Take territory for the Lord with the gospel.

Two nights ago, I thought I was having a heart attack.

I had made two mistakes that day. I had exercised too much and eaten too many baked beans at Ernie and Rike’s surprise party.

So, I was both very sore and full of certain gases.

And at 2 in the morning, I woke up in excruciating pain in my middle.

I’m 99.99% sure that it was sore muscles and pardon the expression, “gas pains.”

But I thought it must be a heart attack, and I went into shock. Start shivering all over and got scared.

And I woke up my wife and she talked me down from it and made sure that I was okay.

And I lay there thinking and thinking and thinking.

And here’s what helped me get back to sleep.

I know that God knows me, even in my bedroom in Nowheresville.

And I know, because of Jesus, where I’m going if He sends for Him.

And so I can rest on Him. I don’t have to be afraid. I don’t have to be scared.

Was a scared? Yes, I was. For a time.

But I don’t have to be.

He won’t leave me or forsake me.

He won’t leave my wife or my kids or forsake them.

He won’t leave Lanse Free Church or forsake them.

God knows us in Nowheresville.
God provides for us in Nowheresville.
And God gives us victory in Nowheresville.

We have nothing to lose and all to gain.

Let’s trust Him, rejoice in Him, and attack the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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