The LORD took them a different route – through the Red Sea. The LORD gained great glory by saving them through adversity. This was some of the reason for the Israelites’ wilderness time.
But even with the LORD’s slight detour it should have taken a matter of months to get to the land of Canaan. In the end, it took Israel 40 years. Why?
Because of their mistrust.
The Israelites did not trust the report of the good spies – Joshua and Caleb bearing the firstfruits of the land. They let fear hold sway. They shrank back and the LORD did what He is always doing in judgement – He gave them what they wanted. (For more examples, see this post on the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart).
The LORD confirms their decision and resolves never to let this faithless generation see the promised land:
27 How long shall I bear with this evil congregation, which murmur against me? I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel, which they murmur against me. 28 Say unto them, As truly as I live, saith the LORD, as ye have spoken in mine ears, so will I do to you: 29 Your carcases shall fall in this wilderness; and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward, which have murmured against me, 30 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. 31 But your little ones, which ye said should be a prey, them will I bring in, and they shall know the land which ye have despised. 32 But as for you, your carcases, they shall fall in this wilderness. 33 And your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years, and bear your whoredoms, until your carcases be wasted in the wilderness. (Numbers 14:27-33)
This is a fearful judgement but it is also poetic justice. If the people don’t want the promised land, they don’t get the promised land. And it’s completely fair.
Not even Moses would get into the land of milk and honey. Not even Mr Law himself could make it across the river Jordan.
Only Joshua, whose name means “Jesus”, and Caleb, whose name means “man after his heart”, would make it. This “Jesus” figure would have to lead a new Israel into Canaan. The old must die, only the new can enter glory, and only with “Jesus” at their head. And this preaches to us today.
The law won’t get us to heaven. All the trappings of religion and ritual will leave us short. We must let all our natural efforts die. Ultimately only Jesus gets into the promised rest. And those whose hearts are with Him.
We’re in a wilderness time ourselves – in between our salvation from sin and entrance to glory. These years will be the death of us too! So let us die to the law and to all efforts at self-salvation. Let us trust our Forerunner Jesus, with hearts set on Him.
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