The Bitter Disappointment
May 10th, 1959 @ 8:15 AM
THE BITTER DISAPPOINTMENT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-10-59 8:15 a.m.
You are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message. At this early morning hour we are following the life of Moses. And if you turn in your Bible to Numbers 13 and 14 you can easily follow the message; the Book of Numbers chapter 13 and 14 [Numbers 13-14]. And the title of the message is The Bitter, Bitter Disappointment.
The twelfth chapter of the Book of Numbers, the sixteenth verse, says, “And afterward the people removed from Hazeroth, and pitched in the Wilderness of Paran” [Numbers 12:16]. And then in the next chapter and the twenty-sixth verse, “And they come to Kadesh, Paran” [Numbers 13:26]. That was the longest and weariest part of the long journey.
In Deuteronomy 1:19 Moses in describing it said, “And when we departed from Horeb we went through all that great and terrible wilderness…and we came to Kadesh Barnea.” For something like ten months or eleven months the great throng had been pitching their tents at the base of Mount Sinai.
And while they were there the pattern of the tabernacle was given to Moses. The Ten Commandments were placed in his hands, and all of the Levitical, and civil, and ceremonial, and the health laws, and the laws that you know of our Jewish people today, all of them were given at Mount Sinai in those approximately eleven months [Exodus 20:1-31:18]. Then, after they had remained there at the base of Mount Sinai for almost a year, they make that long, long journey through the burning wilderness and finally come to the hills that announce the beginning of the land of promise.
“And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Send thou men, that they may search the land of Canaan, which I give unto the children of Israel” [Numbers 13:1-2]. That’s the way the thirteenth chapter of Numbers begins. And Moses speaking of it in the after years said in Deuteronomy 1:20:
And I said unto you Ye are come unto the mountain of the Amorites, which the Lord our God doth give unto us.
Behold, the Lord thy God hath set the land before thee: go up possess it, as the Lord God of thy fathers hath said unto thee; fear not, neither be discouraged.
[Deuteronomy 1:20, 21]
It would be very difficult for us to enter into the illimitable, immeasurable, indescribable gladness and joy of this leader Moses and of the people as they looked and just beyond their promised home. Like the haze of the land was welcome to Columbus, so the hills announcing the immediate presence of Palestine beyond was welcome to this weary group who for the last more than a year now have been in the burning wilderness of Sinai.
They are a people who every day strike tents and every day pitch their tents; wandering, finding a home, seeking water, and now at last they are there. And with what a sigh of relief must Moses have breathed and as he thought, “The battle is almost won. The war is almost over. The task is almost done.” They stand there the whole nation and Moses at their head at the very entrance to the Promised Land.
You know that is a strange thing how God does with His people. Moses had no other thought but that the children of Israel would enter into the Promised Land by his hands. He would lead them into their home of rest. As he saw visions, the brooks of water, every man under his vine and under his fig tree, at final last a home and rest; all of the dreams of his life, all of the effort and work of his hands, now to be so gloriously consummated as they enter into Canaan’s fair and Promised Land.
He had no intimation of the forty years that were to follow. It never entered into his calculations that the people would turn back from entering into their promised possession [Numbers 14:1-4]. God veiled from his eyes the illimitable, terrible disappointment that was immediately to follow.
And I say, isn’t that something in the providence of God that He does for us all? He veils from our faces those terrible tragedies that lie ahead. You don’t know them. You never dream of them. They never enter into your plans or your calculations. God hath veiled them from your face. And it is a kind providence.
Think of it. Some of you who have been through a valley so deep, had you known it, had you been aware of it, it would have broken your life and broken your spirit and broken your heart years and years before it came. So dark, so deep, so tragic, so terrible, that however otherwise life might have been filled with light and gladness, just the knowledge that the deep, deep valley lay ahead would have annulled all of the sunshine of your life. It is a providence of God that He veils from our faces these dark and terrible days that lie ahead.
For example, God hides from our faces the time of our own departure and our own death. I do not know it. It is a kind providence that I do not. How shall I die? When shall I die? Where shall it be? God veils all of these things from our lives. It is the kindness of heaven.
So it is here in the life of Moses. Through the years of the Exodus of the journey, now coming to the Promised Land, Moses worked and gave his life and led the way with a great and wonderful assurance that the time was at hand when he would lead his people into God’s promised inheritance.
He didn’t know. He didn’t realize. God hid it from his face, and it was a providence of the Lord, a kindness of heaven. It is for you. All of us, let me say it this way; if you have not already gone through those dark days, they are coming. Many of you already know of them. You have been through them, but it was the kindness of God that veiled them from your eyes. So with Moses; God hid from him those forty terrible years that were yet to come.
Now it happened like this. They send spies to search the land in the twenty-first verse of the thirteenth chapter of Numbers. So the spies went up and searched the land [Numbers 13:21]. They ascended by the south, they entered Palestine from the south and went all through the length and breadth of the land [Numbers 13:22].
And they came unto the brook of Eshcol, and cut down from thence a branch with one cluster of grapes, and they bare it between two upon a staff; and of the pomegranates and of the figs.
The place was called the brook Eshcol, the brook of the bunch of grapes, cluster of grapes, because of the cluster of grapes which the children of Israel cut down from thence.
And they returned from searching of the land after forty days.
So they come to Moses, and to Aaron, and to the congregation of Israel which is at Kadesh right at the south of Palestine—
and they told them and said—
We came unto the land whither thou sentest us; surely it floweth with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it. There were the pomegranates, the figs, and the beautiful luscious cluster of grapes.
Nevertheless the people be strong that dwell in the land, and the cities are walled, and very great: moreover we saw the children of Anak there.
And the Amalekites dwell in the land of the south: and the Hittites, and the Jebusites, and the Amorites, dwell in the mountains: and the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and by the coast of the Jordan.
And Caleb stilled the people before Moses, and said, Let us go up at once, and take it, possess it; 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 so they brought up an evil report of the land which they had searched unto the children of Israel, saying, The land, through which we have gone to search it, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people that we saw in it are men of a great stature.
And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and naturally so, and so were we in their sight.
Ah, you can hardly believe it! Were it not that you live in that kind of a world every day, “It can’t be done, it’s too big a task, it’s too much, it can’t be done!”
As I read and thought through this message, because of where we are in the heart of this city, I could not help but notice, as they describe the impossibility of conquering the land for God, they especially noticed these cities. “And the cities are walled, and very great” [Numbers 13:28]. And in Deuteronomy 1:28 it’s repeated again, “The people is greater and taller than we; the cities are great and walled up to heaven; and moreover we saw the sons of the Anakim there.”
The cities overwhelmed them. It does anybody. How do you win a great city? How? Well, most of our downtown churches have said, “It can’t be done.” Most of them have said, “There’s no need to provide for children. Nobody’s going to bring their children in a great downtown city.” Then others say, “There’s no need to provide for young people. They’re all gone to the beach, or they’re gone to the mountains, or they’re gone to the lake, or they’re gone riding, or they’re gone on picnics. And there’s no need to provide for families. They’re not coming. They’ve gone to the show. They’re watching television. They’re out. They’re in a thousand other different directions.” And so practically all, if not all, of these downtown city churches have refused the great illimitable responsibilities around them and have said, “It’s too big. The walls are too high. The people are too hard. It can’t be done.”
Only two, Caleb and Joshua, only two stood up and said, “It can be done. And by the grace of God we can do it” [Numbers 14:6-9]. It just depends on whether you think you can or not, for God is on the side of those who think they can. I could never be persuaded that it pleases God for a great city to lose its lighthouse and its witness for Jesus. Out there on the fringe somewhere you’ll find a church.
Out there in suburbia somewhere, where the life is quiet, and the grass is green, and things are still, out there you will find a church. But in the heart of a teeming city, where there is finance, and commerce, and merchandising, and the drive of thousands of people, why, you don’t expect Jesus. You don’t expect God. You don’t expect to find the Lord in the city. “The cities are walled up, and very great” [Numbers 13:28], The cities are great and walled up to heaven! We couldn’t win a city
Well, that’s what they said. That’s what they said. And they couldn’t. If you don’t believe you can have a great children’s program in a city, you can’t. If you don’t believe you can have a great young people’s program in a city, you can’t. If you don’t believe you can have a great preaching ministry in the city, you can’t. You don’t believe you can build a great lighthouse for Jesus in a city, you can’t. But if you believe you can, you can. It’s just up to us.
“And they brought back a discouraging report” [Numbers 13:31-33]. Well, when the spies got through making their report, thirty-eight of them, “It can’t be done” [Numbers 13:32-33]. Two of them, “It can” [Numbers 13:30, 14:6-9].
All the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept all night.
And the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron: and the whole congregation said unto them, Would God we died in the land of Egypt! or would God we died in this wilderness!
And wherefore hath the Lord brought us up unto this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? were it not better for us to return unto Egypt?
Ah! I guess that’s human nature. One man stand up and say, “It can be done.” And another stand up by his side and say, “Sure it can be done!” Then thirty-eight of them stand up and say, “It is impossible. Those cities are walled unto heaven” [Numbers 13:28]. And I guess that’s human nature. They listen to the thirty-eight, “and wept, and cried [Numbers 14:1], and would God we had stayed down there slaves of the Egyptians, or would God the sun had burned us up in the wilderness” [Numbers 14:2].
Then they did the cruelest thing that you could imagine. And this broke the heart of Moses the man of God. “And they said one to another, Let us make a captain, let us elect a captain, and let us return into Egypt” [Numbers 14:4]. Now they had done that one time before. But the time before when they had done it, Moses was gone and they thought he was dead. He was up there in the top of that mountain talking to God, and he is gone over—he is gone about six weeks, two weeks over a month—and he was gone so long that they thought an evil beast had devoured him or he had fallen into an abyss [Exodus 32:1]. So they said, “Let us elect us a captain” [Numbers 14:14].
But this time they say that when Moses is standing in their presence. “And they said one to another,” where Moses could hear them, “let us make a captain, and let us return into the land of Egypt [Numbers 14:4]. And Moses fell on his face before the assembly of the congregation of the children of Israel [Numbers 14:5]. It broke his heart. And every dream that he had ever had fell in pieces to the ground. All of the hopes, the plans, all of the promises fell into dust and ashes. And Moses fell on his face before the congregation of the children of Israel. This was the end of the way. And look at the awful and terrible sentence of God:
Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow turn you and get you into the wilderness by the way of the Red Sea . . .
As truly as I live, saith the Lord . . . so will I do to you:
Your carcases will fall in the wilderness . . .
Ye shall not come into the land, concerning which I sware to make you dwell therein, save Caleb and Joshua.
Your little ones, your wives and your children, which you 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 carcases shall fall in this wilderness.
And your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years, and bear their unfaithfulness, because your carcases shall waste in the wilderness.
After the number of the days in which ye searched the land, even forty days, each day for a year, shall ye bear your iniquities.
I the Lord have said, I will surely do it unto the all this evil generation, that are gathered together against Me: in this wilderness they shall be consumed, and there they shall die.
[Numbers 14:25, 28-35]
Ah, ah, Moses, Moses! And once again:
And the Lord said unto Moses, How long will this people provoke Me? and how long will it be ere they believe Me? . . . I will smite them with the pestilence, and disinherit them, and I will make of thee a greater nation and mightier than they.
I’ve heard that before haven’t you?
That congregation stood there because of the prayerful intercession of Moses once before when they made the golden calf. And God said, “Stand aside Moses and let My wrath consume them [Exodus 32:10]. And out of thy loins I will raise Me up a people who will do My will” [Numbers 14:12]. And Moses prayed the prayer, “O God if Thou wilt forgive their sin—: and if not, I pray Thee blot my name out of the book which Thou hast written” [Exodus 32:32]. And for Moses’ sake God pardoned the people [Numbers 14:20].
That’s the people who stand before him now saying, “Let us elect another captain who will lead us back into slavery and into Egypt” [Numbers 14:4]. Their very life, their very existence, was due to the prayerful intercession of the man of God [Exodus 32:32]. Now they say, “Let’s elect us another leader and go back into our chains, and into our night, and into our servitude.”
Here it is again. “And the Lord said to Moses, Moses I will smite them. I will disinherit them, and I will make of thee a greater nation and mightier than they” [Numbers 14:12]. And once again Moses chooses to suffer affliction with the people of God rather than enjoy the privilege of becoming a new Abraham and the father of a new nation [Hebrews 11:25]. And Moses said:
If Thou shalt kill this people as one man, the nations which have heard the fame of Thee will speak saying,
Because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land which He sware unto them, therefore hath He slain them in the wilderness.
I beseech Thee, let the power of my Lord be great . . .
The Lord be longsuffering . . .
Pardon, I beseech Thee, the iniquity of this people . . .
And the Lord said, I have pardoned according to thy word: I have forgiven them for thy sake.
What a man! What a man! He prays saying, “Lord, for Thy glory I beseech Thee spare the people” [Numbers 14:19]. What a man; nothing for him, just for the glory of God and the people.
Now look at His closing and submissive will. And when the people heard the terrible sentence, “Tomorrow, tomorrow turn you, get you into the wilderness by the way of the Red Sea” [Numbers 14:25]; and for forty years to wander in the pitiless sands, the scorching rocks, the terrible mountains of that awful indescribable place; when they heard that sentence they said:
No we will rise up and go in and possess the land. And they rose up early in the morning, and gat them up into the top of the mountain, saying Lo, we be here, and will go up into the place which the Lord hath promised: for we have sinned.
And Moses said, Wherefore now do ye transgress the commandment of the Lord? it shall not prosper.
Go not up for the Lord is not among you; that ye be not smitten before your enemies.
For the Amalekites and the Canaanites are there before you, and ye shall fall by the sword: because ye are turned away from the Lord, therefore the Lord will not be with you.
But they presumed to go up unto the hill top . . .
Then the Amalekites came down, and the Canaanites which dwelt in that hill, and smote them even unto Hormah.
But you look, look at this in the fourteenth chapter of Numbers in the forty-forth verse, “Nevertheless the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and Moses departed not out of the camp” [Numbers 14:44]. When the sentence was passed, Moses meekly bowed his head, “The will of the Lord be done” [Numbers 14:41-43]. Those others, “We will arise and do it” [Numbers 14:44]
You can’t do it in your own strength or in your own power, however ingenious you are, however gifted and talented. If God is not with you, you can’t. “The Lord is not with you; go not up lest ye be smitten before your enemies [Numbers 14:42]. No, they said, We will go up anyway” [Numbers 14:43-44]. And away they went into disaster and into defeat. But it says, “There stayed in the camp the ark of the covenant of the Lord and Moses” [Numbers 14:44]. He bowed his head in meek submission to the will of God.
And you know why, I think? I think it was this. By that time Moses was beginning to see that the land that he looked for and the city was not in this earth. It was not in Palestine. It was not in the Holy Land. But the country he looked for was on the other side. “A city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” [Hebrews 11:10] And life is somehow like that.
As you grow older all of those dreams of conquest, all of those grandiose schemes somehow they change, and you begin to look beyond the horizon and beyond the transient moment of the day and the hour. And there are visions of another country, and another place, and another city [Hebrews 11:14, 16]. And I think Moses began to lift up his eyes beyond this earthly Canaan to that other and heavenly Promised Land which lies on the other side of the divide.
And he bowed his head and meekly accepted the sentence of God, the bitter, bitter disappointment. But he learned that he was a pilgrim and a stranger in the earth [Hebrews 11:13], seeking a country that is yet to come of which we also are fellow pilgrims and fellow strangers, looking up to another land and another place; our heavenly and eternal home [Hebrews 11:14, 16]. If we didn’t have the promise, and if we didn’t have the hope, of all creatures we would be most miserable [1 Corinthians 15:10]. But God hath prepared some better thing for us over and above and beyond [Hebrews 11:40].
Now we’re going to sing our hymn of invitation and appeal. Somebody you give your heart to the Lord [Romans 10:8-13], somebody you put your life in the fellowship of the church [Hebrews 10:24-25]; while we sing this song, while we make the appeal, would you come? In this great throng in the balcony around, on this lower floor, down one of these stairwells, into the aisle up here to the front, “Pastor, I give you my hand today. I give my heart to the Lord.” Or, “I’m coming into the fellowship of this church.” A child, a youth, a family, or one somebody you, while we sing this song, would you make it now? While we stand and while we sing.