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SIMPLIFIED JOURNEY (7): Wilderness Wanderings

Man can never accomplish God’s purposes without faith. This was true of Moses, who led Israel out of Egypt. “Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house, testifying to what would be said in the future” (Hebrews 3:5). Because Moses was faithful over God’s house, he was honored.

This was also true of Jesus, the Christ. “But Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house. And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast” (Hebrews 3:6).

This, however, is not the usual relationship between men and their God. Accordingly, Hebrews goes on to speak of those whom Moses led:

Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief. – Hebrews 3:16-19
The years of wandering in the wilderness occurred because of Israel’s unbelief. Had they trusted God when they left Sinai, they could have entered Canaan within two years of leaving Egypt. As it was, they had to stay in the wilderness a full forty years, until all of the adults who crossed the Red Sea had died, except for two.
In the weeks before they arrived at Sinai, the people had shown tendencies toward turning away from God. They complained – but God continued to provide for them and bless them.
At Sinai, they heard the voice of God – but promptly broke the commandments He had given them.
After this, the rest of the stay at Sinai seemed to go well. They built the Tabernacle according to the plan God gave Moses on the mountain. The people donated so much for building this dwelling for God in their midst that Moses had to ask them to stop bringing new gifts. Even when some of them were “unclean” because of a dead body and could not eat the Passover, they came to Moses to find what they should do. They did not want to eat it in their “unclean” condition – nor did they want to miss this celebration of their deliverance from Egypt.
Yet, within days of leaving Mt. Sinai to go to receive their inheritance in Canaan, they complained so that God’s anger was aroused and “the fire of the LORD burned among them, and consumed some in the outskirts of the camp” (Numbers 11:1).
Next, the mixed multitude from Egypt that had accompanied them complained because they had no meat to eat. They looked longingly back to Egypt and its delicacies. God responded with meat they were to eat until it ran out their nostrils. When they asked how God would give them meat in the desert, He sent them quail brought on a wind sent from the LORD (Numbers 11:4-34).
Even Moses’ own family complained against him (Numbers 12:1-16), saying he took too much on himself and that they had as much right to be the leader as he did.
All of this was on the short trek from Sinai to near the borders of Canaan.
The Spies Sent Out
As they were coming close to Canaan, Moses sent twelve spies ahead to spy out the land. One spy came from each tribe. They were to go through the length and breadth of the land to see what the land was like, what sort of people lived there, how they were defended, and to examine the wealth of the land.
When they returned, they told what they had see to Moses and to the people. The land was good and a prosperous land that “truly flows with mild and honey.” However, ten of the spies also said, the people there are fierce and powerful; they added that we are not strong enough to take them in their fortified cities that are defended by giants.
Two spies agreed that the people of the land were powerful. However, they said God was able to overcome them and give the land to His people.
The people, however, listened to the majority report. They wanted to stone the two spies, Joshua and Caleb, and depose Moses as their leader. They were ready to select another leader to take them back to Egypt where they had been slaves. This angered the LORD against them again. The ten spies who had the evil report died in a plague.
This frightened the people so much they changed their minds. Now they said they would go up and take the land. Moses, however, said the LORD would not be with them because of their unbelief. If they were to go without Him, they would be defeated. They insisted on going, though, and were defeated.
As a result of this, God said they would have to wander in the wilderness another thirty-eight years (forty in all, as they had already been out of Egypt for two years by this time). This would be until all of the adults who crossed the Red Sea had died. Joshua and Caleb, the two faithful spies, would be the only two left of the generation that came out of Egypt to go into the land. Numbers 14 – 15.
The Years of Wandering
The next chapters of Numbers give few details of the years of wandering. There was a rebellion against Moses and Aaron, led by Levites led by Korah (Numbers 16). There were other times of complaints from the people.
One time, God sent snakes among them so that many died (Numbers 21). Even Moses and Aaron disobeyed God (Numbers 20), with the result that these leaders were not permitted to enter the land to which God was leading them.
Just before they crossed into Canaan proper, God gave them great victories over two kings on the East Bank of Jordan. The King of Moab was so frightened of them, he called for Balaam to come curse Israel. (It was his donkey who spoke while he was on the road to Moab to curse Israel). Instead of a curse, God put a blessing in his mouth. (Numbers 21 – 24).
The final act of Moses’ life was to renew the covenant God made with the people at Mount Sinai. He repeated the Law and warned them of the consequences of not being faithful to the Covenant God gave them. (This is the Book of Deuteronomy, or Second Law. This is not another Law, but a second telling of the Law given at Sinai.)
We should not test the Lord, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes.
And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. – 1 Corinthians 10:9-11
Let’s learn from their example – and not follow it. Instead, let us walk with God, trusting Him even when we are in the wilderness of life.
  1. Why did the Hebrew writer point to Israel’s lack of faith as a warning to us?
  2. How did Israel show unbelief before they came to Mount Sinai?
  3. What are some things they complained of after leaving Sinai?
  4. Why did the Israelites believe the ten spies instead of those who said we can do it, if God is with us? How does this trait show up in God’s people today?
  5. Leadership always seemed to be an issue with them. God had called Moses and shown He was with him on many occasions. Why do you think they rebelled against Moses? How was this rebellion against God?
  6. Discuss the curious case of Balaam. Why could he not curse Israel? How did he teach Moab to tempt Israel? (See Revelation 2:14.)
  7. What lessons do you see for us in what happened to Israel in the wilderness?

NEXT (8): Taking the Land

PREVIOUS (6): Giving the Law


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