This week's lesson is a relatively peaceful interval between two major rebellions. In preparation for entry into the Promised Land, God moved the camp after more than a year at Sinai. Much had been accomplished: the temple was built and its various sacrifices were given to graphically foreshadow the cross as never before, the Old Testament "church" was organized; health, criminal, and civil laws were issued; and a method of communication via trumpets was introduced. The similarities to the Seventh-day Adventist Church before and immediately following 1888 are striking.
But, like the 1888 era, things were not all good. The way taken from Sinai was rugged and difficult. Discontent began in the mixed multitude and quickly spread to willing Israelites leading to open expression, unbelief, outright rebellion, and punishment. The ostensible reason for the discontent was the food, but from the family jealousy that resulted from appointment of the 70 elders, it is clear that the fundamental reason was doubt over the leadership of Moses. The Lord was clear, they were not doubting Moses so much as His leadership. Following 1888, it is remarkable how the authority of the messengers with "heavenly credentials" and especially His prophet was challenged and even questioned.
Questioning the leadership of those the Lord allows in sacred office is a very delicate matter. Those who have been privileged to study and have come to love this "most precious message" must be aware that our enthusiasm to promote and teach it can be misinterpreted as criticism. Like the mixed multitude, we can borrow vestiges of old attitudes that justify any means because "we are right." We forget that our duty is the great commission to "go tell" the everlasting gospel, not to persuade by argument. The persuasive wooing is gently done by the Holy Spirit.
Just like Israel, many see problems within the Adventist camp. Some believe they are entitled to express their displeasure by robbing God of His tithe and offerings. If God places us in a position to call for change in love, it will never entitle us to offend another of His requirements. On the brink of entering the Promised Land, the Lord expanded the burnt offering sacrifice to be accompanied by a grain offering. We remember Cain and Abel's offerings. "Cain brought an offering to the Lord of the fruit of the ground, and Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock … (Gen. 4:3-4, NASB). In other words, Abel brought both the grain and lamb offering. The lamb represented identity with the Lamb of God, slain from the foundation of the world. The Lord required these grain offerings with every burnt offering to teach the lesson that the products of man's efforts were acceptable solely on the basis of the spilled blood. Only when the sinner acknowledges this need, can he expect God to accept the dedication of the fruits of our labors to God.
Are you in a church leadership position and, like Moses, have become weary and discouraged because you see little progress, either in your congregation or yourself. Are you weary of what seems like constant resistance? The answer always is in joining Moses on his face in front of the tent of meeting. God has provided rest, but we can enter it only by faith. Waggoner explained the concept of rest in the Lord: "It is sin that brings weariness. Adam in the Garden of Eden had work to perform, yet he had absolutely perfect rest all the time he was there, till he sinned. If he had never sinned, such a thing as weariness would never have been known on this earth. Work is no part of the curse, but fatigue is" (The Everlasting Covenant, p. 308; Glad Tidings ed.). As workers for the Lord, we may feel physical fatigue, but mental, emotional, and spiritual fatigue can, by faith, be given to God, and we can claim His promised rest.
In the rebellion following the report of the spies, we must humbly acknowledge a parallel to the rejection of the message given in 1888. Numbers 14:1-2 emphasizes that the entire congregation was involved in the rejection. Yet, we know that three, a prophet, and two messengers remained faithful to the message. Caleb and Joshua urged the people to exercise faith in God's promises. In what must have been an allusion to the fire/cloud that protected Israel, Joshua declared that the giant people of the land had lost their protection. The margin says the literal word translated "protection" is "shadow," (Num. 14:9). As with the golden calf incident, the Lord responds to the peoples' rebellion by telling Moses He will smite them and make Moses and his progeny into a great nation. In his pleading on their behalf this time, Moses argues that if God does that, people who have heard of it will think "Because the Lord could not bring this people into the land which He promised them by oath ..." (Num. 14:15-16, NASB). God did not abandon His church when we rejected the message that was to prepare His people for entry into the Promised Land of heaven. Instead, He continues to protect us while we wander in the wilderness.
Did our church leadership understand everything that was involved in the rejection of the message in 1888? Most of them thought they had legitimate concerns, and President Butler urged, "stand by the old landmarks." But their short-sightedness has become clear as history continues now some 120 years. Our beloved church desperately needs to openly accept the message of Christ our Righteousness, and many still are suspicious to even investigate because there has been no emphasis on the 1888 message by the leadership. Truly, we are Laodicea who does not discern her true condition. God gave Israel the trumpets for special communication just before entry into the Promised Land. As Ellen White frequently admonishes, the trumpet must be given a certain sound.
A dedicated student of the message penned this analysis some 50 years ago:
"The rejection of the message of Christ's righteousness, which was in reality the beginning of the 'loud cry,' was a subconscious reaction of the carnal heart at enmity with God and His righteousness; it was an undeliberative and unknown sin. It was nonetheless responsible and exceedingly serious. The people of Israel knowingly rejected the recommendation of the two spies; they unknowingly rejected God's leadership in a program of the immediate conquest of the Promised Land. The Jews knowingly rejected the claims of an obscure Galilean; they unknowingly rejected the Son of God and the Father who had sent Him ('Brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also,' Acts 3:17, NASB). Likewise, it appears that the brethren of 70 years ago knowingly rejected what they mistakenly assumed was merely an uncalled-for re-emphasis of the doctrine of justification by faith as presented by some apparently imperfect and fanatical messengers; in reality, unknowingly, they rejected the beginning of the 'latter rain' and 'loud cry.'"
May God give us His agape grace should He give us the privilege of proclaiming this "most precious message."