Israel's years of wandering are a warning and instruction for us as we face yet another year wandering in the spiritual wilderness of this world. Four points to consider in the coming year.
We have all just completed another round of God’s annual holy days.
The joy filled Feast of Tabernacles looks forward to the receiving of our inheritance and Last Great Day spoke to the glorious future ahead for all humanity. However, here we are back home… looking forward to the fulfillment of those prophetic holy days… BUT… for now we are back to our wandering in the wilderness. The wilderness is a place where we are subject to testing, facing trials, resisting temptation, and persevering until we receive life everlasting.
When God led Israel out of Egyptian bondage He took them to the wilderness of Sinai. He took them there for instruction and to prepare them for entering into their inheritance. Which was the promised land. But almost all those millions God led out of Egypt died in the wilderness and only their children were allowed to enter into their inheritance… the promised land.
Their experience is a warning and instruction for us as we face yet another year wandering in the spiritual wilderness of this world. Let’s review the wilderness trials of Israel and see what warnings are there for us.1.Commit Yourself To Follow God’s Lead
Numbers 9:15-23 Numbers 9:15-23  And on the day that the tabernacle was reared up the cloud covered the tabernacle, namely, the tent of the testimony: and at even there was on the tabernacle as it were the appearance of fire, until the morning.
 So it was always: the cloud covered it by day, and the appearance of fire by night.
 And when the cloud was taken up from the tabernacle, then after that the children of Israel journeyed: and in the place where the cloud stayed, there the children of Israel pitched their tents.
 At the commandment of the LORD the children of Israel journeyed, and at the commandment of the LORD they pitched: as long as the cloud stayed on the tabernacle they rested in their tents.
 And when the cloud tarried long on the tabernacle many days, then the children of Israel kept the charge of the LORD, and journeyed not.
 And so it was, when the cloud was a few days on the tabernacle; according to the commandment of the LORD they stayed in their tents, and according to the commandment of the LORD they journeyed.
 And so it was, when the cloud stayed from even to the morning, and that the cloud was taken up in the morning, then they journeyed: whether it was by day or by night that the cloud was taken up, they journeyed.
 Or whether it were two days, or a month, or a year, that the cloud tarried on the tabernacle, remaining thereon, the children of Israel stayed in their tents, and journeyed not: but when it was taken up, they journeyed.
 At the commandment of the LORD they rested in the tents, and at the commandment of the LORD they journeyed: they kept the charge of the LORD, at the commandment of the LORD by the hand of Moses.
American King James Version×God led Israel from place to place. He gave them shade from the burning desert sun during the day and heat during the cold desert nights. They had to go when and where God led. He did this to test them.
You creator has led some in this congregation through some very difficult places in recent years, some He has led into green pastures. In both He is doing this to test, and prove you.
Israel’s time in the wilderness should have been done in 2 short years. That was plenty of time for God to give them the information they needed. Which He did:
- Exodus outlines the broad principles of justice, community life, worship
- Leviticus fills in details about sacrifice, cleanness, holy days, priesthood
- Numbers (chapters 1-17) gives sequence and events of their travels up to the edge of the promised land
But then something went wrong! Numbers 13:17-20 Numbers 13:17-20  And Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan, and said to them, Get you up this way southward, and go up into the mountain:
 And see the land, what it is, and the people that dwells therein, whether they be strong or weak, few or many;
 And what the land is that they dwell in, whether it be good or bad; and what cities they be that they dwell in, whether in tents, or in strong holds;
 And what the land is, whether it be fat or lean, whether there be wood therein, or not. And be you of good courage, and bring of the fruit of the land. Now the time was the time of the first ripe grapes.
American King James Version× some were sent to explore the land… When they came back they said the land is just as wonderful as promised… BUT… its going to be too hard to confront the Canaanites. They’re big and scary.
Numbers 14:1-11 Numbers 14:1-11  And all the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night.
 And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron: and the whole congregation said to them, Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died in this wilderness!
 And why has the LORD brought us to this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? were it not better for us to return into Egypt?
 And they said one to another, Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt.
 Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the children of Israel.
 And Joshua the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, which were of them that searched the land, rent their clothes:
 And they spoke to all the company of the children of Israel, saying, The land, which we passed through to search it, is an exceeding good land.
 If the LORD delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it us; a land which flows with milk and honey.
 Only rebel not you against the LORD, neither fear you the people of the land; for they are bread for us: their defense is departed from them, and the LORD is with us: fear them not.
 But all the congregation bade stone them with stones. And the glory of the LORD appeared in the tabernacle of the congregation before all the children of Israel.
 And the LORD said to Moses, How long will this people provoke me? and how long will it be ere they believe me, for all the signs which I have showed among them?
American King James Version× God had led them out of Egypt, parted the sea to let them walk through, but now they did not want to follow God’s lead.
Numbers 14:27-33 Numbers 14:27-33  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.
 Say to them, As truly as I live, said the LORD, as you have spoken in my ears, so will I do to you:
 Your carcasses 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.
 Doubtless you shall not come into the land, concerning which I swore to make you dwell therein, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun.
 But your little ones, which you said should be a prey, them will I bring in, and they shall know the land which you have despised.
 But as for you, your carcasses, they shall fall in this wilderness.
 And your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years, and bear your prostitutions, until your carcasses be wasted in the wilderness.
American King James Version× instead of 2 years it would now be 40. They got what they wished for and would die in the wilderness.
In many ways their 40 years of wilderness wanderings are like the years of our mortal physical lives. We are redeemed… but the old man must die… and only the new man may enter into the promised inheritance of eternal life.
However an essential ingredient in this story of Israel’s wanderings and its meaning for us today is lost on anyone who does not understand, ignores, or teaches against obedience to God’s commands.
Deuteronomy 8:1 Deuteronomy 8:1All the commandments which I command you this day shall you observe to do, that you may live, and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the LORD swore to your fathers.
American King James Version×-10 it is God’s desire that you learn to obey His commands. He leads you into situations to see if you will obey. He wants to prove you… to know that He can trust you to live His way of love and service before you inherit eternal life. His commands are the beginning of how we understand and practice love towards God and love towards our fellow human beings.
Will you keep my commands or not? Yes or No? God is testing your dependability.
And so we have trials… that measure and test our conversion… that correct us and keep us on the right path… that perfect us as Jesus was perfected through suffering… that strengthen your resolve to obey your Creator.
Now we know what is expected of us… lets use the same passage to learn how we are to accomplish it!2.Nourish Yourself With The Bread From Heaven
In Deuteronomy 8:3 Deuteronomy 8:3And he humbled you, and suffered you to hunger, and fed you with manna, which you knew not, neither did your fathers know; that he might make you know that man does not live by bread only, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD does man live.
American King James Version×we read Israel were fed with Manna… which literally means “what is it?”.
God could have fed them with quail… He did it once to show He could. He could have spiced it up with vegetables, onions, leeks that fell from the sky. Instead, He gave them something unique, something they couldn’t have gotten anywhere else unless specifically provided by God. In the same way His word is information you only get from Him. It will nourish you spiritually.
Exodus 16:14 Exodus 16:14And when the dew that lay was gone up, behold, on the face of the wilderness there lay a small round thing, as small as the hoar frost on the ground.
American King James Version×-16 notice that the gathering of the manna involved obedience to God’s instruction. They were to gather only a certain amount, they were to gather it only 6 days a week and not on the Sabbath.
Scripture tells us this manna was symbolic of spiritual nourishment.
John 6:48-51 John 6:48-51  I am that bread of life.
 Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead.
 This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die.
 I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.
American King James Version× - We eat of this bread when we observe the Passover as a memorial of our acceptance of Jesus sacrifice of His body and blood to redeem us from sin. But there is more…
John 6:60-63 John 6:60-63  Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it?
 When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said to them, Does this offend you?
 What and if you shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before?
 It is the spirit that vivifies; the flesh profits nothing: the words that I speak to you, they are spirit, and they are life.
American King James Version× before Jesus came in the flesh He was known as the WORD. We eat of this bread when we take in His words and His teachings… through reading and study of the scriptures, through instruction and explanation from the ministry and teachers the resurrected living Christ has placed within His church. So… listen, pay attention, nourish yourself.
Deuteronomy 8:3 Deuteronomy 8:3And he humbled you, and suffered you to hunger, and fed you with manna, which you knew not, neither did your fathers know; that he might make you know that man does not live by bread only, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD does man live.
American King James Version×says we should not live by bread alone but by every word of God…
Living by bread alone means spending all you time, effort, energy, focus on seeing to your physical needs. God knows you need these; food, clothing, shelter [even relaxation and pleasure]. He expects you to work hard to provide them, and He will bless you. However, your Creator does not want your natural focus on these to crowd out the spiritual development He is working out in you Matthew 6:33 Matthew 6:33But seek you first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.
American King James Version×.
What is living by every word of God? Deuteronomy 8:3-4 Deuteronomy 8:3-4  And he humbled you, and suffered you to hunger, and fed you with manna, which you knew not, neither did your fathers know; that he might make you know that man does not live by bread only, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD does man live.
 Your raiment waxed not old on you, neither did your foot swell, these forty years.
American King James Version× all Israel had to do was to obey and God would provide for them.
God showered down this manna upon them… but… water was not showered down upon the people in the desert. They had to ask for water… and in this way they got themselves into trouble. They were impatient, they were annoyed that it didn’t just happen, they were rude, they complained, they stirred one another up to abandon God’s plan to take them into the land [Exodus 17:1 Exodus 17:1And all the congregation of the children of Israel journeyed from the wilderness of Sin, after their journeys, according to the commandment of the LORD, and pitched in Rephidim: and there was no water for the people to drink.
American King James Version×, Numbers 20:21 Numbers 20:21Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through his border: why Israel turned away from him.
American King James Version×, 21:5].
Like the manna that descended like dew every day, God provides a great deal of spiritual instruction for you. Most of us have multiple copies of His word. The Church produces so much material you can hardly take it all in.
But to make the most of it, to understand it, to apply it… you need God’s spirit. Also, to understand and grow from the tests and trials you face you need God’s spirit. So, ask for it every day.
Luke 11:13 Luke 11:13If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?
American King James Version× and Philippians 1:19 Philippians 1:19For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ,
American King James Version×
Acts 5:32 Acts 5:32And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God has given to them that obey him.
American King James Version× God will stop giving it to you if you will not obey Him [prayer must work together with obedience].
1 Corinthians 10:1 1 Corinthians 10:1Moreover, brothers, I would not that you should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea;
American King James Version×-6
- False Representations of God (1 Corinthians 10:7) - this is a reference to the golden calf episode found in Exodus 32. After confirming the covenant, Moses was off on the mountain for a long time receiving additional info about the tabernacle from YHWH.
The people got restless… they wanted some physical reassurance God was with them. So, they strong-armed Aaron into making them a golden calf to represent YHWH… they declared a festival of their own choosing… and they sang and danced. God was very displeased.
Many people want God to be something He is not. Words can never adequately explain God but it is very common for people to construct a box made up of words and other human conjectures and then expect God to get inside it. Do not indulge yourself in strange speculations about the nature of God.
Sometimes people find themselves dissatisfied with the worship service. They want it to be more entertaining, more contemporary music, more physical expressions of rejoicing, more observable evidence of the spirit… some just want better coffee. There are churches out there that seem to be more concerned about these things than the truth of God.
Our first and top priority here is Godly instruction. Music and expression is good stuff, its biblical, and we all want more of it, we do what we can… but these things are secondary.
- Sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 10:8) - this is a reference to the men of Israel and the prostitutes of Moab in Numbers 25. Balak [king of Moab] was afraid of Israel so he paid the prophet Balaam to pronounce a curse on Israel. Balaam called upon God to curse them but couldn’t do anything but bless them. So, in order to get his pay Balaam recommended Balak that he lure the Israelites into sin by sending in religious prostitutes. The plan worked, and God was very displeased.
This year like last year we must live in a society up to its eyeballs in sexuality, drugs, entertainment, food and drink. Be on guard and practice self control.
- Testing God (1 Corinthians 10:9) - this refers to the people of Israel getting very testy and demanding that God produce miracles on demand Exodus 17:1 Exodus 17:1And all the congregation of the children of Israel journeyed from the wilderness of Sin, after their journeys, according to the commandment of the LORD, and pitched in Rephidim: and there was no water for the people to drink.
American King James Version× and Numbers 21:4-5. God was very displeased.
We are all tempted to think that if God does not give us what we ask for, when we want, and how we want… then He is not with us. This is a test that probably shows up most poignantly with requests for healing. But it also shows up in other ways:
“I will start to tithe faithfully once God gives me a job where I make more money”… “I will start keeping the Sabbath and holy days properly once God fixes the situation at work”. In other words God must bless me first before I obey. This is a form of testing God… and He doesn’t like it.
- Murmuring & complaining (1 Corinthians 10:10) - this is a reference to the sons Korah who challenged Moses right to stand as the leader of the people [Numbers 16 & 17]. They basically said, “God is just as much with everyone of us as He is with you, so why should you be in charge”. God was very displeased.
“I don’t like the way things are being done around here… I don’t like this… I don’t like that… don’t be a complainer! Its not a good look on any of us. Myself included.Strangers & Pilgrims
Our Creator God has promised to bring us into a good and pleasant place. It is our promised inheritance of life everlasting, and a position within the ruling family of God.
For now we have not yet received the fullness of that inheritance. For another year we journey through the wilderness of this world as strangers and pilgrims. Let us all remember the lessons of Israel in the wilderness which were recorded for our instruction.