Throughout scripture we read about the mighty hand of God offering deliverance and freedom to His people. He has shown His grace, mercy and His great power in many ways. We read about great floods and the preservation of representatives from every species on earth. We read about plagues sent, rains withheld and then restored and even fire from heaven as examples of His power to those who would oppress His people. We read about His provision and protection of those who believe. We read about pillars of fire and cloud, great winds and the parting of seas. We read about Him healing the sick, the lame, the lepers and the blind and even the giving of new life into those who had been dead for days. We read about miraculous manna from heaven, water from rocks and birds making food deliveries to a hungry servant of God. We read about nearly empty jars of oil and grain that never ran out during a time of great famine and about water being turned into wine.
There are endless examples of His power, His grace and love, His endless mercy and His unwavering faithfulness written in the Bible. But even better than merely reading about these attributes of our creator, is the fact that we experience the power of God in our own lives every day.
The problem is that most people don’t recognize these things as the gifts of a loving God. Most of the time, we take for granted His blessings. We see the good things in life as things that we have earned and deserve. We worship at the altar of our own strength and ability.
When bad things happen, we look for someone to blame. Sometimes that someone is God. We never even consider that bad things could be happening so that we may grow as believers and our faith would be strengthened. We never think that maybe trials are being allowed to teach us important lessons, such as empathy and compassion. We would never imagine that He sometimes allows us to reach the end of our options so that we have no choice except to trust in Him. It is times like these that His faithfulness is proven. Sometimes we have to get into uncomfortable situations so that He can deliver us and thereby, teach us to trust.
God’s chosen people, the Israelites, once made an eleven day journey that took a full forty years to complete. They wandered around in the wilderness because they refused to consistently believe in the one True God.
The Lord had delivered them so many times. He had displayed His magnificent power, as He sent ten horrible plagues on the land of Egypt. The Hebrew people were never touched by them. Then He displayed His strength once again as He kept them safe from the pursuing Egyptian army and then parted the sea to allow them to cross and then He closed those same waters over the entire army of Egypt! He dropped manna from the heavens to feed them on their way. He gave them water from a rock, twice. For forty years, they wore the same clothes and shoes every single day, and they never wore out. There were many, many other miracles that He showed them during their forty-year journey to the promised land.
In that time, we see a few things that consistently happened over and over and over again. We see the mighty power of God as He protects and provides for His chosen people. And we see the constant grumbling and rebellion of those same people against their God. Then, we see God lift His protection. We see Him chastise the people that He loves. In response to this, we see the Hebrew people repent and cry for mercy. And then we see God’s mercy, His forgiveness and His faithfulness. It seems to be a constant cycle. The Hebrew people never really seemed to learn their lesson, they never truly learned to completely trust God. Their lack of faith is what turned an eleven day journey into a forty-year detour.
It seems almost impossible that it should take them that long. The distance never changed. The whole time they were wondering the wilderness the distance to the promised land was still only an eleven day trip. So how in the world, we wonder, were they able to stretch a simple eleven day journey into forty, long years?! What in the world were they doing out there for 14,599 extra days? I think I have an idea about what took up all that extra time.
While they were wandering around out there in the wilderness, they experienced the LORD in several different ways. They received so many miracles and provisions from Him during their journey. They had the opportunity to really get to know Him and His faithfulness. The question is this, Did they take those opportunities? Did they get to know Him? Did they trust in Him and His faithfulness? Or, did they stubbornly remain slaves, in bondage to their doubts and fears?
There are so many of their experiences shared in the Bible that show us the answers to those questions. I am not going to note every single one of them in this writing, but we will look at several pieces of scripture that I believe will accurately represent their consistent actions and attitudes. This will give us the answers to the questions asked above and ultimately reveal the reason for their extended journey through the wilderness.
We will begin by looking at some of their experiences at the very start of their wilderness journey.
First, they witnessed the plagues that He sent on Egypt. Then, they were accompanied by the physical presence of God as He led the way in the pillars of cloud and fire. They saw the Red Sea open to allow them to pass over and then close again to swallow the entire Pharoah’s army!
Only one short month after they crossed the sea and witnessed one of the greatest and most talked about miracles of all time, the people who had lived a hopeless life of slavery and then were delivered by the One and Only, Almighty God; The ones who had been named, “His chosen people”, began to doubt and complain against their Deliverer. They had run out of food and were angry because they were hungry. The accused Moses, and by extension, they accused God, of bringing them from Egypt, where they had plenty, out in the wilderness to starve to death.They did not pray. They did not call on the One who had already shown His great love for them His mighty power to meet their every need. Instead, they complained and blamed His chosen representative for their hunger.
So, once again, God chose to deliver them, this time, from hunger. Without even being asked, God told Moses that He would rain down manna from heaven to feed His chosen people. He promised to give them each day as much as they needed. And, as promised, He delivered.
It wasn’t long after that, that the people began to complain again. This time, they needed water. They were so angry with Moses that he was afraid they would stone him. Once again, God miraculously provided for His people. This time, bringing water from a rock.
During their time in the wilderness, God met their every need. They never went hungry or thirsty, even if it meant sharing the bread of heaven, bringing water from stones or raining birds down upon the camp so the people could have meat. God proved His power and His faithfulness. But still this stubborn people refused to trust Him and fell into doubt, panic and anger every time they faced a new problem.
Unfortunately, the generation of His people who were brought out of Egypt and delivered from a hopeless life of slavery never learned to fully trust in their God. It was because of this lack of faith in Him that their generation did not enter the promised land. Their sons and daughters inherited the promise instead. They wandered for forty years. At the end of that time, only two men of the original generation were still alive to enter Canaan. Joshua and Caleb were allowed to receive the promise of God because they believed Him from the beginning.
I wonder how many of us are still wandering in our own wilderness? How many of us, who have been delivered from the bondage of sin and are now called His, still wander around trapped in bondage to doubt? We have seen His provision, His faithfulness and His power to save. Yet somehow, we still doubt Him. Every time we face a problem or have a need, do we grumble and complain? Do we accuse God of bringing us out of our previous lives only to allow us to perish before receiving the promise? Or do we face our need with faith that He will provide? Do we go to Him and tell Him what our needs are and then trust Him to meet every one of them, as He promised that He would?
I can assure you that until we do, until we stop our grumbling, let go of our doubt and trust Him to be faithful to His Word, we will all be stuck, wandering in the wilderness; So close to the promised land, yet unable to enter in.
He is able. He is faithful. He is waiting for you to trust Him to bring you safely out of the wilderness. Will you?
***To read about how God delivered His people from slavery and all of the miracles He showed them during their journey, read the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua and Judges. It’s all there!***