In this study of the Book of Numbers, we’ll find a group of people that wandered in the desert for forty years, unable to enter the Promised Land because of their complaining, grumbling, and lack of faith. The New Testament tells us that their story was written to warn us (1 Corinthians 10:6) so that we would not make the same mistakes and suffer the same consequences. God sent his only Son to die to buy our freedom from the sin that leads to discontentment, and we find our own promised land of peace and contentment in the life he gives us.
By exploring Numbers we can come to identify the reasons for our complaining, learn contentment while being authentic about the difficulties of life, accept short-term hardship in light of the greater good of God’s ultimate deliverance, recognize the relationship between complaining and worry, and discover how to realign with God’s character and promises.
Together we will learn contentment as we discover more of our incredible God who truly is more than enough. Only God can fill that ache inside and help us focus on his provision and purpose in the midst of life’s joys and pains.
The participant workbook includes five days of lessons for each week, combining study of Scripture with personal reflection, application, and prayer.
Other components for the Bible study, available separately, include a Leader Guide, DVD with six 20-25 minute sessions, and boxed Leader Kit (an all-inclusive box containing one copy of each of the Bible study’s components).
About the Author
She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Bible Theology and enjoys teaching God’s Word to diverse groups and churches within the body of Christ. She is a contributor to Girlfriends in God online devotional as well as Proverbs 31 ministries First Five app. She is the author of seven Bible studies (The Names of God, Romans, Elijah, Numbers, First Corinthians, Joseph, and Jeremiah) and four books (Total Family Makeover, Total Christmas Makeover, 30 Days of Prayer for Spiritual Stamina, and Dare to Hope). Melissa makes her home in Pickerington, Ohio, with her pastor husband and four kids.
Read an Excerpt
Numbers - Women's Bible Study Participant Workbook
Learning Contentment in a Culture of More
By Melissa Spoelstra
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2017 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
CONTENT IN DELIVERANCE
The LORD is my strength and my song;
he has given me victory.
This is my God, and I will praise him —
my father's God, and I
will exalt him!
Weekly Reading Plan
DAY 1: ACCUSTOMED TO SLAVERY
Today's Scripture Focus
Exodus 1 and 3
Have you ever been so accustomed to something difficult in your life that it became the norm for you? I have friends who can't imagine life without migraines or back pain. Others have miserable marriages or children who are addicted to drugs. Life is hard for all of us. Certainly the Israelites were not immune to hardship.
Before we begin our study in the Book of Numbers, we need some background from the Book of Exodus to understand why the people of Israel ended up complaining in the wilderness. In the coming weeks we will relate with these men, women, and children who were struggling to learn contentment. So, who were they? Where did they come from? Why were they longing to go back to slavery?
The story of the Israelites began with a family that included Abraham and his son Isaac. Isaac had twin boys, and one of them was named Jacob. After Jacob wrestled with God one night, God changed his name to Israel (Genesis 32:28). The twelve tribes of Israel descended from this family had settled in the land of Canaan. When a famine ravaged the land, God had already divinely prepared a place for them in the land of Egypt through Jacob's son Joseph. The Book of Genesis ends with God's rescue of His people, who were then living in the land of Goshen in Egypt with the favor and support of Pharaoh.
However, it didn't take long before things began to change for the Israelites.
Read Exodus 1:6-14 and answer the following questions: What changes took place in Egypt after Joseph died?
What were the concerns of the new Egyptian king regarding the Israelites?
What became the daily realities for the people of Israel?
If we were to keep reading in Exodus, we would find that a later pharaoh not only enslaved the people but even ordered that all newborn boys be killed in attempt to quell the Israelite population (1:15-22). When we begin digging into the Book of Numbers, we will find a man named Moses leading the people in the wilderness after having brought them out of slavery in Egypt. But long before he became a leader, his mother hid him in a basket as a baby in order to save him from execution.
As a mother, grandmother, aunt, sister, or friend, can you imagine the hardship and stress that every pregnant Israelite woman must have experienced? If she delivered a girl, the baby would live. Otherwise, the child that had grown in her womb for nine months would be killed. These were dark times for God's people.
According to Exodus 12:40-41, the Israelites had lived in Egypt for over four hundred years (though there are disagreements about the exact time frame in other biblical passages). Nevertheless, a world of slavery was all they were accustomed to when Moses returned to lead them out of bondage. We need to remember this history as we see the Israelites complain about God's deliverance. Getting out from under slavery would shake the status quo. It would mean venturing out into the unknown.
Like them, sometimes we must learn to accept difficult circumstances. However, when God intervenes for our rescue, we then must learn to respond with faith rather than discontent.
If you could cry out to God to deliver you from one thing or circumstance right now, what would it be?
If you were in charge of your own rescue, how would you want God to bring this deliverance?
What can be difficult for us is that often we aren't sure of what God's plan is. Is God calling us to accept tough times and learn through them, or does He want us to follow Him in faith as He makes big changes in our lives? This challenging question can foster discontentment. If God wants us to learn through our trials, we will be tempted to complain about the need to persevere. And if God says it is time for our deliverance, we may not like the changes and risks that will accompany it.
Contentment comes as we learn to listen for God's instructions and follow them because we believe He has our best interests in mind.
Contentment comes as we learn to listen for God's instructions and follow them because we believe He has our best interests in mind. Sometimes it's hard to reconcile that the best thing might be a wrecked car, autoimmune disorders, concussions, and fighting kids. These are the things that have hit home for me in the last few months. So, how can we know whether to sit tight and accept our circumstances or to get moving and pursue change? To help answer that, let's see how the people of Israel transitioned out of Egyptian oppression.
Read Exodus 3:1-15, and choose one of the two options below:
Draw a picture of the scene here, using speech bubbles to sum up what Moses and God said to each other:
Summarize the gist of this passage in 3-4 sentences:
God communicated with Moses in a burning bush. Boy, do I sometimes wish God would be that dramatic in giving me instruction! But for most of us, the bush doesn't burn. Even though God's instructions were difficult and Moses didn't feel qualified or excited to lead God's people, he knew what God was asking him to do. God said to him, "I have promised to rescue you from your oppression in Egypt. I will lead you to a land flowing with milk and honey — the land where the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites now live" (Exodus 3:17). It would be a long, difficult journey, but the instructions were pretty clear.
I desire that burning bush clarity, but I can easily forget what is available to help me discern God's directions. God has not changed. He is still "I AM WHO I AM." God said to Moses, "This is my eternal name, / my name to remember for all generations" (Exodus 3:15). That includes our generation! God heard the cries of His people in Egypt, and He hears our cries as well. God still speaks to us today.
When I was in high school, I worried that I would not find God's will. What if I went to the wrong college or married the wrong person? My pastor at the time shared this statement that greatly helped me as I sought to listen for God's voice:
"If you do God's will, you can't help but find His will."
He explained that the Bible is full of instructions and examples of things we know are God's will for us to do:
study His Word
seek the Holy Spirit's help in applying God's Word
be a part of a church community
serve the poor
find wisdom in a multitude of counselors
The list could go on and on. The reality is that I often neglect the things I know God has called me to do, and then I worry I won't find my way in the decisions of life. What about you? Here's what we need to remember: If we will walk closely with God, we can be assured that the great I AM will lead us.
While God has never used a burning bush in my life, He has used His Word, the counsel of others, the peace of His Spirit (or the lack thereof), experiences, and opportunities to guide me. So, if you aren't sure whether you are called to be content in your trials or content in following God to a place of deliverance, then simply start with what you do know.
Look at the bulleted list of things that are God's will above, and put a star beside anything you would like to pursue more wholeheartedly. Now spend a moment in reflection, asking God to help you identify one action step you might take in that area in order to hear His voice more clearly.
My action step for today to do what I already know is God's will:
One time I cried out to God, asking Him what He wanted me to do, and I felt a Holy Spirit nudge when I looked up and noticed the overflowing dishes in the sink. I wanted Him to say, "Start some new project" or "Volunteer to feed the homeless." Instead, He reminded me that before I could handle more, I should start with the things I already knew needed to be done. Each of us can start with one simple act of obedience and then build on it with another and another. This will dispel our apathy and discontent as we follow God's directions one step at a time.
Let's not grow too accustomed to "slavery" as the Israelites did. God will rescue us from all of our trials, whether in this life or the next. For now, we need to listen closely for His voice so we can know what next steps to take.
Won't you join me in clinging to the great I AM and listening for His direction? As we do God's will as laid out in Scripture, we will discover God's personal will for our lives.
Talk with God
Spend a few moments focused on God's character. He is the great I AM.
Brainstorm other names for God that come to mind:
Now ask God to help you discern your next steps regarding the thing or circumstance you identified earlier, asking Him to give you contentment with His plan as He reveals it to you. If you want, write your prayer or the steps God reveals in the margin.
DAY 2: WHEN LIFE GETS HARDER
Today's Scripture Focus
My identical twin daughters both have forms of alopecia, which is an autoimmune disorder that causes hair loss. The older twin has no hair, eyebrows, or eyelashes. She lost her hair when she was twelve years old, and now at sixteen she has grown accustomed to wigs and makeup. The younger twin started to lose hair at thirteen but has managed to keep it these past three years. A few times she has developed bald patches, and she has seen a dermatologist to receive injections in hopes of regrowth.
Recently I went with my younger daughter for injections, and for whatever reason, my mind wandered to my older daughter, thinking, "What if she were to get her hair back, too?" Pictures of her as an elementary-age girl flashed through my mind as I tried to envision what she would look like now as a young woman with hair. I quickly stopped myself from traveling too far down this path. Tears brimmed in my eyes as I fought the battle for my mind. I believe God can do anything, but I don't want to waste mental and emotional energy wishing and whining. I also know that hoping for something that isn't likely to happen can be all-consuming.
Read Proverbs 13:12 in the margin. Write a few sentences about a time you found this verse to ring true in your life:
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.
We can all relate to hoping for things that haven't happened yet. Maybe we thought we were going to get a promotion, adopt a child, or get some financial relief, but it just never materialized on the timetable we expected. Our hope was deferred, and our hearts were sick. This is where we find the Israelites today. Even though they had grown accustomed to slavery, they began to hope when God sent Moses with a message of deliverance.
Even though Moses heard from God as the "I AM" in the burning bush, he still struggled with self-doubt.
Read Exodus 4:1-17 and answer the following questions:
What were Moses' concerns about telling the Israelites about God's deliverance?
How did the Lord equip and assist Moses in tangible ways?
After hearing how God would help him, how did Moses respond?
"The kings of Egypt believed they were descended from the pagan god Ra, so Pharaoh thought it beneath his dignity to humble himself before the God of the Israelite slaves."
The Lord called Moses to give the message of deliverance, but he wanted someone else to do it. He was not content in his calling to assist others in need of deliverance.
Describe a time when you felt that God wanted to use you to help others but you weren't excited about it:
What were some of the reasons you didn't want to get involved?
Getting involved in helping others can be scary. What if they don't want help? What if people are critical of how we serve? What if the commitment lasts longer than we anticipated?
I can think of times when I wasn't sure I wanted to get involved in ministry. When I became a small group leader for middle school students at my church, I knew it would mean sacrificing one night every week. It also meant that parents of these teens might complain about what I taught or how I led. If I decided it wasn't working out, I knew I would feel bad about stepping down. Self-doubt can keep us from the important work God has appointed us to do.
I knew God was calling me to get involved. He reminded me that He would assist me, guide me, and use me. Recently I got together with four gals who were in my small group during their middle school years and now are entering their senior year of high school. What a blessing it was to see where they are headed in life and to realize that I've played a small role in pointing them toward Christ.
How have you seen God bless you as you've gotten involved in the lives of others?
Whether it's Sunday school students, friends, people in your Bible study or small group, neighbors, or family members, God chooses to use us as His hands and feet as we help others along the path to freedom.
Moses found that, initially, the Israelites welcomed his assistance.
Read Exodus 4:29-31, and describe in a few words the reaction of the people to the message and miracles of Moses and his brother, Aaron:
Can you imagine what it must have felt like to hear that, after hundreds of years of slavery, God saw their misery and was concerned for their welfare? This is one of the ways God calls us to help one another: to remind each other that God sees and cares.
When suffering is long, we can easily lose sight of hope and forget that our God is a deliverer. But He hasn't forgotten about us. We must learn contentment in seasons of waiting, recognizing that God's plan doesn't always make sense and certainly isn't always easy. In fact, many times life seems to get more difficult just before a time of deliverance.
While the people of Israel initially welcomed Moses' message of deliverance from Egyptian bondage, they quickly changed their posture at the first sign of increased hardship. Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and asked him to let the people go to the wilderness to worship God for a special festival. Pharaoh responded that he didn't recognize the Israelite God and that Moses and Aaron were distracting the people from their work.
According to Exodus 5:6-9, what did Pharaoh do in retaliation for this request?
On the heels of their newfound hope that God saw and cared about them, the Israelites found that their burdens increased.
Can you think of a time when you were encouraged by God's promises but then soon found life getting harder rather than easier? If something came to mind, jot it below:
After going to a retreat or conference, I often float home on a spiritual high only to find fighting kids, a broken appliance, or something much more serious testing my faith. Contentment in deliverance means staying the course in believing God despite major setbacks. Like the people of Israel, we are likely to lose faith when things don't happen the way we thought or on the timetable we expected.
"Straw was an essential ingredient in Egyptian brick making, as it was the bonding agent that held the clay together."
Read Exodus 5:19-23, and note the responses to the new brick quota by the following people:
The Israelite foreman's words to Moses:
Moses' words to the Lord:
The people and Moses responded with complaints when deliverance didn't come right away, and life got harder. It would have been unrealistic for them to respond with joy over having to meet new and seemingly impossible demands. But we see that God welcomes our heartbreak and disappointment. We can go to Him about our feelings with authenticity.
Listen to God's response to Moses' complaints as you read Exodus 6:1-9, and write below any information God reveals about Himself in these verses (names or character traits):
God didn't shame Moses and the people for being upset. He encouraged them to believe Him as the powerful, all- sufficient God of their ancestors. In the midst of fiery trials, God reaffirms who He is and what He will do. Through His names, God reveals His character. God was calling the people to redirect their attention from their present sufferings to His character and love.
Complaining is like a rocking chair: It gives us something to do, but it doesn't get us anywhere.
Excerpted from Numbers - Women's Bible Study Participant Workbook by Melissa Spoelstra. Copyright © 2017 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
About the Author 4
Week 1 Content in Deliverance: Exodus 1-15 10
Week 2 Content in Preparation: Numbers 1-10 40
Week 3 Content in Uncertainty: Numbers 11-14 74
Week 4 Content in Obedience: Numbers 15-20 106
Week 5 Content in Opposition: Numbers 21-26 136
Week 6 Content in Blessings: Numbers 27-36 164
Video Viewer Guide Answers 198
Digging Deeper Week 1 Preview 199