Wilderness years

Numbers 14

The journey from slavery to the Promised Land should have been straightforward.  If the Israelites had kept the Mediterranean on their left they could have arrived within a fortnight.

The LORD took them a different route, through the Red Sea.  The LORD is glorified – seen for who He is – when He saves through adversity.  This was part 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 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:

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’s poetic justice too. If the people don’t want the promised land, they don’t get the promised land. That’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.

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 not trust in Moses.  He falls short of glory.  Therefore let all our natural abilities and efforts die.  Trust in Jesus, He leads a new Israel into rest – an Israel of faith, not of works.

While we await our true rest, we too endure a wilderness time.  In between our salvation from sin and our entrance to glory, there is testing and hardship.  The Lord does not teleport His saved people into His ‘holy habitation.’  He moves us, step by step, through wilderness years and tells us to trust in Jesus our Forerunner.  Christ has ‘entered within the veil’. That is, He has gone into God’s dwelling place as our Forerunner and Priest.  So then, as the book of Hebrews implores us, let us:

lay hold upon the hope set before us: 19 Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth… within the veil; 20 Whither the Forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an High Priest for ever.  (Hebrews 6)

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