Challenging Authority

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Several times in today’s Bible reading* we see challenges to authority. And challenging authority was not a good thing!

Anyone who’s had children knows that children will at some point challenge authority. They will test boundaries. We see it in nature, too as young lions challenge the dominant male. These are natural challenges. It’s part of growing.

But challenging authority isn’t always good. In fact, in some circumstances, it can be downright dangerous! What would happen if a fresh-out-of-bootcamp soldier challenged a career military strategist?

When it comes to challenging God, His wisdom, and those Whom He has chosen to represent Him, it’s also natural. But God calls us to supernatural living. And rejecting God’s authority, wisdom, and representatives is sinful. Submitting to God’s authority means to take our rightful position in the chain of authority. Remember Rule #1 of the Christian Life: God is God and you’re not.

I remember a TV commercial for Chiffon Margarine in 1974. Someone offers “Mother Nature” a taste of some creamy buttery spread. She smiles and insists that it’s her sweet, creamy butter. The announcer tells her that it’s not butter, but margarine. She growls back, “Don’t you know? It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature!” as she calls forth thunder and lightning. It was a cute commercial at the time.

Yes, I know that there’s not a real “Mother Nature”. But the point I’m making is that we shouldn’t try to challenge the authority of a sovereign. “Mother Nature” made it thunder and lightning in a TV commercial. But God — the true Sovereign in the universe — is infinitely more upset when His creation challenges His authority.

So what were the challenges to God’s authority in today’s readings?

Numbers 11 records the people’s complaints that all they have to eat is manna. Note that this is pretty early in their forty-year trek. God miraculously provided manna to His people six days every single week for forty years (that’s well over twelve thousand days!) as they wandered the desert. But they weren’t satisfied with God’s miraculous provision. They wanted something else. They wanted to go back to Egypt.

Like Lot’s wife, they longingly looked back, blissfully remembering how “wonderful” life was “back then”. Enslaved. Without God.

Despite God’s miraculous deliverance from Egypt, through the divided waters of the Red Sea, and God’s special gift of manna every morning, they actually wanted to go back to Egypt. They wanted to go back into slavery! They believed their Egyptian bondage was better than God’s freedom. They believed slavery to the Egyptians was better than God!

Going back to a 1984s TV commercial for Wendy’s, I can almost hear the people crying out to Moses, “Where’s the [meat]?” God said, “You want meat? I’ll give you meat!” Like Paul describes in Romans 1 the very thing they craved was the very thing God used to judge them. God gave them meat alright! Moses tells us that all of the people caught quail that day. The person who collected the least number of quail caught six bushels of quail! There were so many quail that they were waist-deep for twenty miles in every direction!

While the meat was still between their teeth, before it was chewed, the Lord’s anger burned against the people, and the Lord struck them with a very severe plague.”
Numbers 11:33 (CSB)

Important Lesson: Be careful what you ask for!

Numbers 12 tells us that Moses’ brother Aaron and their sister Miriam questioned Moses’ call as God’s representative. They raised a smokescreen that their beef with Moses was that he had married a Cushite woman. Some have speculated that this woman may have been Moses’ second wife who was from Ethiopia (the meaning of “Cushite”). Thus, some have accused Aaron and Miriam of racial hostilities.

God gave Moses, Aaron, and Miriam prophetic gifts. (Exodus 4:15, 15:20), yet God called Moses — not them — to the special task of being God’s official representative and leader. God struck both Miriam and Aaron with disease and Moses interceded, asking God to not hold this sin against them. That, my friends, is a picture of forgiveness.

Numbers 13 tells us about the spies Moses sent to scout out the Promised Land. All of the spies agreed that the Promised Land was truly a land flowing with milk and honey. In fact, they brought back a cluster of grapes so large that it took two men carrying the cluster on a pole to make it back to Moses.

Ten of the twelve spies, however, looked at the challenges rather than God’s promises and told Moses it would be impossible for God’s mighty army to take the land. But Joshua and Caleb disagreed. They believed that God is faithful and would give them the land, if they would only take it. And yes, it would require a few battles. But they would be successful if they dared. The spies challenged God’s Sovereignty.

The solid majority vote said it couldn’t be done. And it shouldn’t be done. And God judged the ten spies for their lack of faith. All ten — and an entire generation of God’s people — would die off as they wandered in the desert for forty years. Only the spies Joshua and Caleb would live to re-enter the Promised Land.

Unfortunately, these wouldn’t be the last times God’s people challenged God’s authority.

Application

It’s easy for us to look back and say that we wouldn’t act like the children of God in the desert. We would trust God. We wouldn’t challenge His authority. Right?

But we do it every single day. The people of God promised that they would do everything God said. (Exodus 19:8) But they didn’t.

What are some areas that you challenge God’s authority? What changes do you need to make to take your rightful place in the chain of command under His authority?

* Chapters covered in today’s reading:
Numbers 10
Numbers 11
Numbers 12
Numbers 13
Psalms 90