Psalm 106:13-15 (KJV)- “They soon forgat his works; they waited not for his counsel: But lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, and tempted God in the desert [RSV- They had a wanton craving in the wilderness and put God to the test in the desert]. And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul.”
Numbers 11:18-20 (RSV)- And say to the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat; for you have wept in the hearing of the LORD, saying, “Who will give us meat to eat? For it was well with us in Egypt. Therefore the LORD will give you meat, and you shall eat. You shall not eat one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, but a whole month until it comes out at your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have rejected the LORD who is among you, and have wept before him, saying, “Why did we come forth out of Egypt?’”
Sometimes the worst thing that can happen is for us to get our own way.
A lean soul is the result of God allowing someone to have what He does not want them to have.
Our Key Texts provide a somber reminder that we need to be unselfish in our prayers. The Lord had indeed wonderfully provided daily bread for the children of Israel in the wilderness every day, in fact for forty years. It was a marvelous “bread from heaven” called the manna but they were not satisfied. They demanded that someone provide meat for them and God gave them their request. He caused a strong wind to blow a literal rain of quails upon their camp. But He sent leanness into their soul. The children of Israel gorged themselves on meat, but it caused a great plague and many died.
Be careful of what you are asking because you might very well get it! Covetousness angers God because it is rooted in pride and spills forth in ingratitude. Covetousness is defined as an excessive desire for wealth or possession or an excessive desire for anything in our lives that we seek more readily than God. The RSV calls it a “wanton [-unrestrained or excessive] craving”. The Bible says, “And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul” (Psalm 106:15). What a dreadful prospect! God actually sent leanness into their souls.
And that is the topic I want to share with all of you this morning – LEANNESS OF OUR SOUL.
There are 4 things about the leanness of our soul that I would like to talk about today:
• The Definition of “leanness of soul”
• The Causes of a lean soul
• The Consequences of a lean soul
• The Cure for a lean soul
(I) THE DEFINITION OF ‘LEANNESS OF SOUL”
The KJV Dictionary defines leanness as:
• Destitution of fat; want of flesh; thinness of body; meagerness
• Want of matter; poverty; emptiness; as the leanness of a purse
• In Scripture, want of grace and spiritual comfort.
Commentator Barnes comments– “The Word translated “leanness” is from a Hebrew verb – to make thin; to cause to waste away; to destroy. The radical idea is that of “scraping” and hence, it means to become lean, to waste away. It occurs only here in Isaiah 10:16, rendered “leanness” and in Micah 6:10 rendered “scant”. It means here that THE EFFECT OF ALL THIS ON THEIR SOULS WAS SIMILAR TO THE EFFECT ON THE BODY WHEN IT WASTES AWAY BY DISEASE OR WANT OF FOOD.”
Matthew Henry comments: “An undue desire, even for lawful things, becomes sinful. God showed his displeasure for this. He filled them with uneasiness of mind, terror of conscience, and self-reproach. Many that fare deliciously every day, and whose bodies are healthful, have leanness in their souls: NO LOVE TO GOD, NO THANKFULNESS, NO APPETITE FOR THE BREAD OF LIFE, AND THE SOUL MUST BE LEAN.”
In summary, a lean soul is one that is in a state of spiritual apathy and dryness [no love to God, no thankfulness, no appetite for spiritual things or for Christ – the manna or the Bread of Life]. The word “soul” here refers to our emotion, our intellect/mind and our will. It is a soul that has wanton cravings for the things of this world and for his own self. It is soul that is rich in material and earthly things; but poor towards God and in the things of God. It is a soul that is lacking of the grace, blessings and presence of God. It is a soul that is wasting away like cancer eating into the fatness of our physical bodies. Materialism and wanton cravings eat into our soul just like cancer.
(II) THE CAUSES OF A LEAN SOUL
WE FORGET WHAT WE HAVE DONE
Psalm 106:6- Both we and our fathers have sinned; we have committed iniquity, we have done wickedly.
The process begins with ingratitude. We forget the mercy and the grace of God and begin to think we deserve something more than what we have.
WE FORGET WHAT GOD HAS DONE
Psalm 106:7- Our fathers, when they were in Egypt, did not consider thy wonderful works; they DID NOT REMEMBER the abundance of thy steadfast love, but rebelled against the Most High at the Red Sea.
How soon do we forget that the God of the Red Sea knows what is best for us. The manna diet was so perfect and healthy that the Bible states “there was not one feeble person among them (Psalm 105:37). The manna was light and healthy, suitable for their wilderness life. Cucumber, melon, fish and garlic would not have nutritionally helped them in their long desert journey. Yet they still longed for that.
WE CANNOT WORSHIP
Psalm 106:12-13a- Then they believed his words; they sang his praise. BUT they soon forgot his work.
Of course, we can still go to church and sing praises to God but worship is impossible because of the rebellion in the heart.
The children of God praised God but they still continued in their wickedness.
Wickedness and worship do not mix.
WE CANNOT WAIT
Psalm 106:13b- they did not wait for his counsel.
The heart of the problem is always the HEART. The text says that “they did not wait for His counsel.” A lean soul is generally preceded by GOOD, GODLY COUNSEL, LEFT UNHEEDED.
I have counselled many members from this church and there were many who had already made up their willful decision to go their own way and yet they came to see me because they wanted me to stamp my approval on their selfish ambition, unspiritual decision and unwise choices. As a pastor, I would counsel them with the truths and principles from the Bible and yet they had already made up their mind to pursue what they had been craving for. Upon hearing my counsel which contrasted their craving or covetousness, they left our church. One lady even argued with me – “Pastor, how can this be so wrong when it was God who answered my prayer?” But my point is – like the children of Israel who cried so hard and so persistently to God about their carnal craving to the point that God gave in to their wrong requests, so could God give in to her request but the consequence is LEANNESS OF SOUL.
There are so many members from our church today who have their cravings to work overseas fulfilled but spiritually there is leanness in their souls. They manage to earn their dollars but spiritually they are not vibrant. They have allowed consumerism, materialism and the allures of the rich country to enter their souls and eat away their love and desire for God.
So those of you who are craving to go overseas to work, please do seek God’s will and do not base your decision on just answered prayers alone. Remember, divine guidance is not hinged just only on circumstantial sign (answered prayer or open door) but there are many other factors to be considered too like- commanding scripture; the compelling Spirit; the counsel of the saints; common sense and circumstantial signs.
I see another antithesis of this example in Fernand. He was offered to go to UP Diliman to pursue his PHD. Later the door for him to work in Korea was also opened. I was sure he was very tempted to go. But he sought God and he sought our counsel – I remember it was in our pick-up car. His concern was always the perfect will of God and his ministry with the Youth Church. Finally, after much struggle, he put aside his craving and follow God’s will so that he could pursue his PHD in Cebu that could still allow him to serve as a Youth Director in our church.
These are the causes of a lean soul based on our Key text from Psalm 106:6-14.
However, from Mark 4:18-19 and some other Scripture references, I find 6 bad habits that also will cause leanness to come upon our soul.
Mark 4:18-19- Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word, but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.
LUSTING FOR CARNAL PLEASURES
The children of God lusted for meat, fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and the garlic of Egypt rather than the God-given manna. They were bored with the heavenly provision and they craved for the things they enjoyed in the bondage of Egypt. They were sick of eating manna. They were tired of picking it up every morning. Suddenly the sweet smell of melon, the crunchiness of the cucumbers, the liquorish flavors of the leeks, and the pungent aroma of the garlic aroused their taste buds and created a CRAVING DESIRE in their minds. It was fun to taste the variety of life, though they were in slavery. Suddenly the bondage of Egypt became more desirable than the wilderness and the future promise of the Land of Canaan. They had the rare opportunity to feast on the heavenly menu but their CARNAL DESIRES longed for something more. They murmured against God and questioned Moses about it. God was furious about their reaction. God gave them what they requested but they had to pay a price for that. He sent leanness into their soul. Some translation quotes it as wasting disease.
Yearning for “Egypt” here speaks of COVETING THE THINGS OF THIS WORLD, its bounty and fullness, its NATURAL provision. But with it comes the leanness of the soul.
When our carnal desires are more than our spiritual thirst, we see the presence of God decreasing in our lives. That is because Galatians 5:17 says, “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.”
We may be doing everything in our relationship with God – meditating, praying and working for the Lord. But the desire becomes a replacement for the provision for God. How often we take for granted the heavenly supplies in our lives and long for something that may not be a perfect fit for our current life. We ask for things, thinking that it is essential for our current life. We forget that our Savior knows the best, yet we CRAVE for that special thing we lack. At that time, nothing else seems better enough. Our God might grant us our prayer request but beware of the spiritual leanness that comes with it. What is the point of receiving something from the Lord, if it brings leanness to our souls and thereby discourage our Heavenly Father? God’s kingdom is within us and any decrease in that means the world has grown more in us.
Mark 8:36- What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?
DWELLING ON LIFE’S WORRIES
We all have a habit of worrying and fretting about some of the pressures and issues of daily life.
When we worry too much about the earthly things, there is tendency that we lean more to it than towards God. Worry drains our spirit and our soul.
PREOCCUPATION WITH “THE DECEITFULNESS OF WEALTH”
Money and wealth are deceitful. They will lie to us. They will woo you – “If you lose me, you lose a very large part of your life. If you lose me, you lose what life can be for you. I am your life. Do you realize how big I am? Life will be real life if you have me. I give you life.”
Jesus says in Luke 12:15- “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” In other words – IT IS A LIE. DON’T LISTEN. “Take care and be on your guard”.
When we are too preoccupied pursuing wealth, leanness of soul will set in. Life does not consist in having lots of things. Life consists in knowing God. Life is knowing God.
DESIRING FOR OTHER THINGS
Leanness of soul can subtly develop in a person who loses sight of the things of God and begins indulging in “the desires for other things.” The more complex our lives get by the addition of “other things”, the more we get spread thin in the things of the Lord. And what is the predictable result? Busyness of body and mind but leanness of soul and spiritual drought.
I remember Pastor James prophesying to this lady against forgetting God after He has blessed her with a job. She came to my office for counselling at the lowest point of her life as she had no job. I prayed for her and not long after she had a job. But then she began adding so many other things [like 2 more “unnecessary” jobs and another course in the university] to her already packed up schedule to the point she has no time today to take care of her son [who is a special child] and even coming to church. This is an example of a Christian who is too busy in body and mind at the expense of her spirituality. Having what she wants – jobs plus other desires but leanness of soul.
FAILING TO HEAR THE WORDS OF THE LORD
Hence the importance of personal Bible reading.
Hence the importance of attending a church where the Word of God is preached.
FAILING TO SEEK GOD IN PRAYER
Jeremiah 17:5-6 – This is what the LORD says: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose HEART TURNS AWAY FROM THE LORD…..He will dwell in the PARCHED PLACES OF THE DESERT, in a SALT LAND where no one lives.
Without this spiritual diligence towards the Lord in seeking Him in prayer, we can end up “running on our own steam.”
(III) THE CONSEQUENCES OF A LEAN SOUL
REJECTION OF AUTHORITY
Psalm 106:16, 32- When men in the camp were jealous of Moses and Aaron, the holy one of the LORD….They angered him at the waters of Meribah and it went ill with Moses on their account.
When one rejects God’s message, he will often reject God’s messenger.
Immediately after the children of Israel rejected the manna of God and asked for meat in Numbers 11, the very next chapter begins with the rebellion of Meriam and Aaron against Moses.
Those who rebel against spiritual authority usually are those with leanness of soul because they have craving or covetousness in their hearts for the authority and power of a senior pastor.
Psalms 106:19-21- They made a calf in Horeb and worshipped a molten image. They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass. They forgot God, their Savior, who had done great things in Egypt.
When the truth is rejected, then lies must follow:
There is worldliness –“They did not destroy the peoples, as the LORD commanded them, but they mingled with the nations and learned to do as they did. They served their idols, which became a snare to them. They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons; they poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters which they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan; and the land was polluted with blood. (Psalm 106:34-38)
There is whoredom – “Thus they became unclean by their acts and played the HARLOT in their doings” (Psalm 106:39)
BREAKING OF COVENANT WITH GOD EVEN THOUGH GOD KEEPS IT
Psalms 106:45- He remembered for their sake his covenant, and relented according to the abundance of his steadfast love.
Psalms 106:29- they provoked the LORD to anger with their doings, and a PLAGUE broke out among them.
The plague was so bad that many died and their bodies were buried at KIBROTH-HATTAAVAH.
The lust of your flesh, the lust of your eyes and the pride of life- carnal covetousness and cravings for things that are not in the will of God will not only lead you to leanness of you soul but ultimately death of your soul. The rich fool in Luke 12:15-21 fell into the deceitfulness of his wealth and God took away his soul that night.
Just recently, I received a call from Singapore informing me that my nephew, the son of my second brother died suddenly of heart attack after going for a jog. My nephew wasn’t even 40 years old yet. He and my 2 nieces all had a hard life after the business of my father went bankrupt and especially more so after my second brother died at the age of 42 because of gullet cancer. My nephew had to work in the construction site just to send he and his sisters to school. He purposed to be rich which he did. There was a breakthrough in his career after he made a pact with this “voice” to honor all his dead ancestors. You could say he made a pact with the devil to get wealth. Business opportunities began to come in to the point it went so big as to have him dealing business with Ramon Ang, CEO of San Miguel, Philippines and some top guns businessmen in Indonesia. Soon he upgraded from a government flat in Toa Payoh to a bungalow house with swimming pool; from a Japanese car to a BMW. He even bought a condo each for his 2 sisters. He was literally like this rich man in Luke12:15 – “The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully.” But he stored up everything for himself and for his family. His two sisters were all born again but he had no interest in God. He thought his soul could enjoy all the abundance of his riches which he had worked for just like what the rich man had thought in the parable – “I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat and be merry” (verse 19). The treasure of my nephew like this rich man in the Bible was relaxing, eating, drinking and fun. He even brought his whole family, together with his mum and his two sisters and brother-in-law and nieces to Europe for a tour – all at his expense. That was his life. The riches in his barns made it possible until that fateful day when he suddenly collapsed of heart attack, leaving behind his wife and two sons. “But God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So it is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:20-21).
You will be buried in your own grave of lust and lose everything including your own soul.
(IV) THE CURE FOR A LEAN SOUL
Psalm 106:30-31 – Then Phinehas stood up and interposed, and the plague was stayed and that has been reckoned to him as righteousness from generation to generation for ever.
When the children of Israel indulged in sexual immorality with women of Moab and God sent them a plague to punish them, the High Priest Phinehas had the courage to intervene by taking a spear in his hand and went after the man of Israel into the inner room and pierced both the man of Israel and the woman, through her body. Thus, the plague was stayed from the people of Israel (Numbers 25:7-9).
Left to ourselves we would be like this man of Israel- so wanton in our flesh as to commit immorality flagrantly that would invoke the wrath of God to bury us in our Kibroth-Hattavaah. But thank God for our greater Phinehas – our greater High Priest -Jesus -who took the punishment of the cross by himself and allowed the nails of the cross to pierce Him for you and me.
The Bible records that-
“And the people journeyed from Kibroth-hattaavah unto Hazeroth; and abode at Hazeroth (Numbers 11:35).
Hazeroth means “fenced enclosure consisting of “a low wall of stones in which thick bundles of thorny acacia are inserted, the tangled branches and long-needle-like spikes forming a perfectly impenetrable hedge around the encampment” of tents and cattle which they sheltered.
In order to cure the leanness of their soul, the children of Israel had to move from Kibroth-hattaavah and camp at Hazeroth for 7 days until Meriam was healed of leprosy.
Hazeroth speaks of an enclosure of thorns. It points to Jesus who in order to deliver us from the graves of lust, had to be hemmed (enclosed) into place called the CROSS. There he had to wear the crown of thorns on his head to crucify all the craving thoughts in our mind. He allowed the spears of the Roman soldiers to pierce Him at his side; he allowed pointy nails in the likeness of the thorny acacia and long-needle like spikes of Hazaroth to poke him so that by taking all these punishment on our behalf, He could nail all our lusts of the body and for the world onto the cross. He became our High Priest to stop the plague of death upon our sins and rebellion released by the wrath of God so that like Phinehas, righteousness can be reckoned to Him on our behalf from generation to generation.
Jesus by staying at thorny Hazaroth – the Cross at Calvary has given us the victory over leanness of soul. Jesus underwent all the leanness and the bankruptcy of His soul for us so that today He can fill our souls with His fatness. “Those who love me inherit wealth. I will fill their treasuries” (Proverbs 8:20-21). Unlike the rich fool in Luke 12:15-21 who filled up his soul with earthly riches and in the end lost his soul, Jesus lost his soul first for us so that we could be filled with the fatness of His riches accomplished for us at the cross in our souls. Today, we can have the power to be rich towards God and not be lean or poor in our soul. Being rich toward God is the opposite of treating the self as though it were made for things and not for God. Being rich toward God is the opposite of acting as if life consists in the abundance of possessions not in the abundance of knowing God. Being rich toward God, therefore is the heart being drawn toward God as our riches. Rich toward God means moving toward God as our riches. Rich towards God means counting God greater riches than anything on the earth. It means using earthly riches to SHOW HOW MUCH YOU VALUE GOD.
Today, like the rich farmer in the parable, “your land may produce plentifully” (verse 16). It is not a bad thing when your business prospers. It is not a bad thing to receive a promotion and with it a pay increase. It is not a bad thing if you could work overseas and earn dollars. It is not a bad thing when your investments increase in value. That is not the evil in this parable. The rich man is not called a FOOL for being a productive farmer. But then Jesus calls him a fool and not only a fool but A FOOL WHO LOSES HIS SOUL because by the way he uses the increase of his riches he gives no indication of being rich toward God. He keeps building bigger barns for his self-indulgent lifestyle. The way he handles his riches is that he fails to use them in a way that shows he treasures God more than riches.
The rich farmer failed to do so and the result was that he was a fool and lost his soul. The issue isn’t that the man’s field prospered. The issue is that God ceased to be his supreme treasure. If God had been his treasure what would he have done differently? Instead of saying, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink and be merry” (Luke 12:19), he would have said something like this- “God, this is all yours. You have prospered my fields. Show me how to express with my riches that you are my treasure, and the riches are not. I already have enough. I don’t need a bigger and bigger safety net. I don’t need better food, better drink, better parties. I indeed want to make merry but not in self-indulgent parties with rich relatives. I want to make merry with the people who have been helped by my generosity. I want the fullest blessing of giving. Because you taught me, Lord, it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35).”
Crucify all your cravings to the cross of Jesus so that He can release the true fatness into your soul – love for God; thankfulness, appetite for Jesus, grace and the riches of Christ. “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24). “For the love of money is the root of all evils; IT IS THROUGH THIS CRAVING that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs (1 Timothy 6:16).”
Instead of craving for more money and possessions and piercing our hearts with many pangs, let us pierce all these fleshly craving to the cross. Let us be like Paul – “but if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content” (1 Timothy 6:8).
See and savor the supreme value of Jesus above all earthly things.
Be contented in Christ and whatever heavenly provisions He is giving you! Don’t despise the “manna” of God!
With God we can be satisfied with very little but without Him there is no satisfaction. There is only leanness of soul – an emptiness, an insatiable longing that can never be filled. Many of us say that God is first place in our lives but our desires reveal our hearts. God views the hearts of His people and the MALNUTRITION of their souls. Sadly, we often view God, consciously and unconsciously, as positioned only to fill our endless requests and “questionable” desires.
What are you coveting today that has put your life on hold or that you find yourself continually begging God for? The question is: “How lean is your soul?” What will it take for you and for me to come to a settled place in Him where the MANNA fills and fully satisfies each and every day of our lives?
God is the only true essential for our lives. Nothing can even partially fill His seat.
Oh! May our souls delight in the fatness of contentment in Him!
When will our prayers and our voices find rest in crying out daily, “Lord, today and every day, You are my ultimate desire. You are more than enough. I just want more of you!”?
My Testimony: I was reading a Christian leadership book and the author concluded the last chapter by asking us as pastors – Is Jesus enough? Or Is it Jesus plus a big church? Is it Jesus plus fame? Is it Jesus plus a rich church? Or is it Jesus plus the praise of people? Or is it Jesus plus the love of the congregation for us? Our covetousness and craving in the cloak of spirituality needs to be sifted out too to just only purely be Jesus. And He alone is enough!” After reading his book, I was very convicted and I had to allow to Holy Spirit to recalibrate my compass to just follow Jesus and to love Him and make Him the supreme love of my life. All the heartaches God has allowed me to go through for the last 7 years was simply to burn away all my idols and to crucify all my wrong cravings and covetousness and what was to remain was just this – JESUS IS MORE THAN ENOUGH FOR ME. Even with all these “props” being removed from my life or ministry, I would still continue serving Him, loving Him and clinging on to Him. My soul shall be satisfied only with Jesus and nothing else or no one else!!! And He is more than enough for me. Praise God.
PREACHED AT ETAB 1ST ENG SERVICE ON 6 OCT 2019