The lessons of the wilderness
Now I want to start out by saying….the Israelites going to Canaan is a great study to the Christian.
They had been redeemed from Egypt and bondage….like when we are born again….we have crossed a great Sea, which drowns all our old enemies in the cross of Christ.
They sang the first song written in the Bible….a song of praise to their Redeemer:
Exodus 15:13 “Thou in Thy mercy hast led forth the people which Thou hast redeemed: Thou hast guided them in Thy strength unto Thy Holy habitation.”
They were then to go into the wilderness…..go to Mt. Sinai….become a nation under God’s rule and law (where they spent a year, learning these, and setting up the Tabernacle)……..and go to Canaan.
The whole trip should have taken about two years……but…..unbelief made the journey…(or rather wanderings till the unbelieving generation died)……a lot longer.
Our journey from the time we are born again,….till we begin to realize all our portion and inheritance in Christ….having His power and stability in our lives…..varies.
It depends on our belief……will we learn the lessons of the wilderness?
Or murmur,…in unbelief….?
What are those lessons?
First, (and I think most important)……just because we are in God’s Path, does not mean we won’t have problems.
The children of Israel left their praise to the Lord after the Red Sea,…..and three days later began murmuring because of water troubles….their barrels of water were empty…and the water they came to….was bitter….undrinkable.
Here, at Marah (bitterness)….they found that it is what we do about the troubles that matter…
…..for they murmured….but Moses cried unto the Lord…
….and the Lord turned the bitter waters, sweet.
There the Lord told them, trying to get them to see the value of learning lessons:
Exodus 15:26 “And said, If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord they God, and wilt do that which is right in His sight, and wilt give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the Lord that healeth thee.”
Second, that the Lord uses everything to teach us lessons…if we will learn…
A month and a half later, they are in a wilderness, far from everything…and they are running out of food….
….instead of praying, seeking God, remembering God provision from before….they murmur (it seems they have learned how to do that, very well)…
God uses this time of testing, to give them Manna,….a miraculous bread from heaven, which is outside their tents every morning to gather….
…to show them the importance of the Sabbath,….for they were to gather double the Manna on the day before, so they would not gather on the Sabbath….for it was a day set aside to fellowship with the Lord…
…..and to give them an abundance of quail….providing a delicacy in a wilderness.
Exodus 16:12 “I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel: speak unto them, saying, At even ye shall eat flesh, and in the morning ye shall be filled with bread; and ye shall know that I am the Lord your God.”
Third, that warfare was necessary to defend what God gives you.
Israel came out of the barren wilderness and started ascending into a mountainous area….where there was no wells of water.
The Lord gave them water from a Rock (which speaks of Christ, crucified….opening a well of living water for us John 7:38-39)…
…but that brought an enemy which wanted to drive off Israel from the water….so they could have it. They attacked Israel….
Understand, these Israelites were a slave people….they were not warriors;..
….yet they were going to have to fight to obtain the land God would bring them to….and God would begin to show them how to fight….God’s way:
Exodus 17:9-11 “And Moses said unto Joshua, Choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek: tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in mine hand.
So Joshua did as Moses had said to him, and fought with Amalek:…
And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed.”
Joshua fought with sword….but Moses prayed with the rod lifted up to God.
Both are necessary to win the Lord’s battles.
Fourth, God is Holy….and it is in acknowledging that….that we can have fellowship….as God draws us to Him.
Israel went on to Mt Sinai…where they camped before the mount.
The Lord said to Moses…to tell the people:
Exodus 19:4-5 “Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagle’s wings, and brought you unto Myself.
Now therefore, if you will obey My voice indeed, and keep My covenant, then shall ye be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people: for all the earth is mine:”
Here was an invitation to be the people of God, which was promised to Abraham….
….but God would first show them His holiness…
Exodus 19:10-12 “And the Lord said unto Moses, Go unto the people, and sanctify them today and tomorrow; and let them wash their clothes.
And be ready against the third day: for the third day the Lord will come down in the sight of all the people upon mount Sinai.
And thou shalt set bounds unto the people round about…”
Why? Because God is not our “buddy”….He is our God…Holy and Almighty.
A right relationship with our Lord begins with us seeing ourselves as sinners…then….as His people, with the privilege of fellowship.
Exodus 24:1, 10-11 “And He said unto Moses, Come up unto the Lord, thou, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel; and worship ye afar off.
And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under His feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in His clearness.
And upon the nobles of the children of Israel He laid not His hand: also they saw God, and did eat and drink.”
(We, too, can “sup” with Him….Revelation 3:20 “…I will come in to him, and will sup with him and he with Me.”
But only as we,…”be zealous therefore and repent.” Revelation 3:19)
But what did they do with these privileges?
To be His people…they agreed.
Exodus 24:7 “And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the Lord hath said we will do and be obedient.”
But to have that personal relationship….
…they refused…another lesson they would not learn…
Exodus 20:19-20 “And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die.
And Moses said unto the people, Fear not: for God has come to prove you, and that His fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not.”
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10)…..that awe of His Person, that reverence of His Ways…leads us to complete surrender and trust.
But they chose….again…their way…not God’s.
Fifth, time is in God’s hands…and we should be in step with Him, even when we can not see what is going on.
(I might add here, if they had learned the other lessons…even the lesson of personal reliance on the Word of God for themselves…they would not have suffered such a chastening.)
Exodus 32:1 “And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves unto Aaron, and said unto him, Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.”
Let me say, this is so wrong on so many levels:
The term “delayed”, is wrong….for the timing was God’s not theirs.
They were in a very pleasant place to wait…water, food, their families….what delay?
Then, they had just heard God say…several times…not to make idols, or worship any other god, but Him.
Moses was not the One who brought them out of Egypt….but God had saved them from Pharaoh, slavery, and the Red Sea.
What were they thinking?
(Yet, can we say we have not failed, by looking at what we consider a delay…rather than to the Lord?)
Aaron makes an idol…which they had seen in Egypt…and they make themselves naked and defiled before it (Exodus 32:19, 25)
God sends Moses back to camp to deal with the people…
Exodus 32: 26-27 “And Moses stood at the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the Lord’s side? Let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him.
And he said unto them, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbor.”
This is the first judgement on the people where a fellow Israelite has to do the punishment.
Here is where God separates the Levites for the priesthood, because they were “…on the Lord’s side”…..repenting of their sin…
They went through the camp….and those that did not run and hide in shame in their tents…were slain as these met them. (Three thousand died because they heard God, but refused to honor His claims upon them)
Sixth, When God is ready to bestow a blessing, do not ask “to check it over”……but believe Him, and enter into it.
Israel had left Sinai, after building the Tabernacle and seeing God’s glory come down upon it,…..and had crossed another bit of wilderness….
….they had come to Canaan, the promised land….to a place called Kadesh-barnea…..
…here, they were to make their entry into the land.
(They would not cross the Jordon, next to Jericho (as the next generation did)……..but instead were about 100 miles south of that….coming into a beautiful fertile land….a land that, when taken, would reap great benefits…supplying all Israel with food and water, till they conquered the rest.)
It was a beautiful place….mountains on one side, and the fertile land on the other.
Moses tells them that we have arrived….it is now time to possess all that God has for you!
Deuteronomy 1:21 “Behold, the Lord thy God hath set the land before thee: go up and possess it, as the Lord God of thy fathers hath said unto thee: fear not, neither be discouraged.”
God was reminding them that He had promised the land to Abraham….and He had brought them to it….He would surely give it to Abraham’s children.
But….Israel had other ideas….
Deuteronomy 1:22-23 “And ye came near unto me everyone of you, and said, We will send men before us, and they shall search us out the land, and bring us word again by which way we must go up….
And the saying pleased me well:….”
In Numbers 13:1-2, it says, “And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Send thou men, that they may search the land…”
When the Israelites came to the land…..they refused to go and possess it at once…..but spoke to Moses about sending men to “search out” the land….
….oddly, he thought it a good plan….he should have recognized their hesitation to obey……
….but he asked God about it…
….and God allowed it….telling Moses to do it.
But that was not the original idea. They were there to possess…..not to search. “Go up and possess it..”
Dividing the land was after the conquest….
….yet, it seemed like such a good idea….
….let everyone know the beauty and plenty of the place!
Yet….it turned out all wrong….for all they saw……was the strong people that lived there….so when they returned….they made all the people afraid…
Numbers 13:31 “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.”
There was only two men that believed God….and wanted to go in to possess,….now.
Numbers 13:26-27, 30 “And the Lord spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying, How long shall I bear with this evil congregation, which murmur against me?…
Doubtless ye shall not come into the land, concerning which I sware to make you dwell therein, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun.”
Israel was to turn back into the wilderness,….and all that generation….twenty years old and older, except Caleb and Joshua….would wander for thirty-eight more years…till they died.
(The next generation came in, and under Joshua, they got the land, as God had said.)
The lessons they could have learned….they refused.
The land they could have had….they refused.
The God they said they would obey….they refused to believe….and so refused to obey.
“…and how long will it be ere they believe Me, for all the signs which I have shown among them?” (Numbers 13:11)
What about us? Are we learning the lessons which come to us?….
…lessons which show us about our God, and about the Way He would lead us.
They are often hard….but necessary to walk in…..
…and we should always remember: we are walking in this Way, with HimOur Christian walk here, is about growing in grace….to grow up into Christ….and have all those blessings He has for us (Ephesians 1:3)….if we will believe Him.