The usual M.O. is to ask the question, “R U Wandering?” and wait until the end to answer it. Not this time. The answer is, “Yes, U R.” Maybe not at this moment, but U R. If you answered “No,” you might need this more than those who answered “Yes.”
Often joked about and even debated in religious circles is the idea that the Israelites could be “lost” in the desert for 40 years on a journey that should only take 11 days. The fact that these conversations even happen indicates it may have been a while since the participants read the story, if ever. We are going to take a look at what really happened, and also take a tough look at how we might be wandering the same path.
Numbers 14:33-34 “And your children shall wander [H1961] in the wilderness forty years, and bear your whoredom [H2184], until your carcasses be wasted in the wilderness. 34 ‘According to the number of days which you spied out the land, forty days, for every day you shall bear your guilt a year, even forty years, and you shall know My opposition.”
[H1961] hâyâh haw-yaw’ means commit to, cause to or require to.
[H2184] zenûth zen-ooth’ From H2181; adultery, that is, (figuratively) infidelity, idolatry: – whoredom.
Before we dive into these verses, let’s get rid of the idea that the Israelites may have been “lost.” We know that they were, in fact, led with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. We know that these pillars were the Spirit of God directing them. They moved as the pillars moved, and made camp when they didn’t. The Bible says that the pillars would hold them in place for up to a year (see Numbers 9:15-23). While a more detailed look at the stoppings and goings of their journey is well worth your time, our focus here is their “Wandering.” Suffice it to say they were not lost; God not only directed their path, He set the pace.
What happened then? “your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years.” The Hebrew word hâyâh [H1961] used here does not mean lost. As you can see, it means “Commit to.” So, they were not lost in the wilderness, but were “Required to” stay in the wilderness. Verse 33 goes on to state that this was the result of their “infidelity.” What infidelity? To answer that we must first be sure to accurately define it. So, back to Websters 1828 Dictionary.
- “In general, want of faith or belief; a withholding of credit.”
- “Disbelief of the inspiration of the Scriptures, or the divine original of Christianity; unbelief.” – “There is no doubt that vanity is one principal cause of infidelity”
The Israelites reached the land of Canaan promised to them by God. They sent out scouts from every tribe to see what was there. For 40 days, the spies explored Canaan. At the end of the 40 days they returned. Caleb and Joshua reported that it was all that it was promised to be. They also reported that the people there were strong, healthy and well defended. Caleb’s conclusion: Numbers 14:39 “We should by all means go up and take possession of it, for we will surely overcome it.” But the other 10 spies feared what they saw, and so they gave a “bad report.” The Israelite’s response: Numbers 14:2 “All the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron; and the whole congregation said to them, ‘Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness!” Why is this important? Let’s take a trip over to Exodus for further context.
At God’s direction, Moses and Aaron went up against the Pharaoh demanding the release of the Israelite slaves. Moses told the Israelites that they would be freed and that he would deliver them to the land promised to Abraham, the land of Canaan. Well, after a little arm twisting, the Pharaoh agreed and, in his new-found zeal (fear), not only let over a half million Israelite slaves go, but an equal number of other foreign slaves who traveled with them. Of course, being a man of character, the Pharaoh immediately went back on his word and sent his soldiers to retrieve the slaves. The soldiers went for a little swim in the Red Sea, and the slaves were free. As the sea closed up on the Egyptian soldiers, the freed slaves celebrated their freedom and God’s promise to hand them the land of Canaan, singing: Exodus 15:15 “all the inhabitants of Canaan shall melt away. (to be disheartened by fear)” But their Faith lasted barely longer than the Egyptian soldiers in the Red Sea. Exodus 15:22 “Then Moses led Israel on from the Red Sea, and they went out to the Wilderness of Shur. They journeyed for three days in the wilderness without finding water.” Exodus 15:24 “So the people murmured against Moses, saying, “What can we drink?” God had just performed numerous miracles freeing them from the powerful Egyptian Empire, but He couldn’t keep them from dying of thirst? Exodus 15:25 says the “Lord had tested them.” It also says He supplied them water. I’m going to go on a limb here and say they failed the test. After giving them this lesson, the Lord pronounced a decree: Exodus 15:26 “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the LORD your God, and do that which is right in His eyes, and give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, your healer.”
We definitely don’t have the time to go into how many times the Israelites “grumbled” and turned on Moses and Aaron after that, so let’s return to Numbers. The problem here is this: Caleb and Joshua saw the same things the other spies saw, but they had Faith in God’s promise and His power to fulfill it. As a result, they were granted entry into the land of Canaan. The rest of the Israelites’ Faith, however, lasted no longer than the latest miracle. We’ve all heard the line, “What have you done for me lately?” This could have been the Israelites’ mantra. They never came to actually Trust God. Even worse, standing there on the shores of the Jordan, they called God a liar. He promised to deliver the land of Canaan to them; they even celebrated this promise in song on the shores of the Red Sea two years before. When it came time to receive God’s promise (gift), they trembled in fear, wishing they had never been freed, and they rejected God. They were full of “disbelief,” or were in “want of Faith.” Their “infidelity” was showing. The price for this act was “Wandering.” For every day of the spies scouting that they feared, they were “required to” spend one year in the wilderness, living in the guilt of their “opposition” to God.
But, did they learn?
When their children, now the adults of the congregation, returned after 40 years, 2 and a half of the tribes had not learned and rejected God in a different way. Their fathers couldn’t let go of their fears (infidelity of doubt), and they believed in themselves more than God (infidelity from vanity). Their fathers didn’t believe God could deliver on His promise, and they didn’t believe His promise. Numbers 32:5 “If we have found favor in your sight, let this land be given to your servants as a possession; do not take us across the Jordan.” They vainly believed they knew better. This land right here is great; God couldn’t possibly provide better, so we’ll stick with this. Moses responded by reminding them of the consequence of their fathers’ sin and asking if they really planned to repeat it: Numbers 32:13-14 “The LORD’s anger burned against Israel, and He made them wander in the wilderness 40 years until the whole generation that had done what was evil in the LORD’s sight was gone. 14“Now behold, you have risen up in your fathers’ place, a brood of sinful men, to add still more to the burning anger of the LORD against Israel.” Because, as 32:11 says: “…they did not follow Him completely,” The men, not truly believing God’s promise, bartered away their inheritance with Moses. They would leave their families in the land they had chosen for themselves and would fight to secure Canaan for the rest. Moses agreed that if they met their commitment to God and secured Canaan they could return to their families without being “required to” return to (wander) the wilderness. Off the cuff one might say, it worked out for everyone. But, think for a minute… God does know better. The men entered into Canaan, secured it, had to see that in fact, God’s word was true… it was better, and then had to leave.
Another Hebrew word used for Wander is tâ‛âh taw-aw’ [H8582]. One example of its use is Job 12:24 “He taketh away the heart *1[H3820] of the chief of the people of the earth, and causeth them to wander *2[H8582] in a wilderness *3[H8414] where there is no way *4[H1870].” What Job says here is this: He takes away the heart, or core of understanding and wisdom of the leaders of men, causing them to stray into worthlessness. How does this help us? Numbers says that when the Israelites “grumbled against” Moses because they did not believe God and so feared Canaan, that they weren’t just sent back into the wilderness, but that He left their presence. Numbers 14:12 “I will smite them with pestilence and dispossess them…” It is this presence in our heart that is required to receive God’s direction and His blessing. Without it we “Wander” aimlessly through life thinking we know better, only to find ourselves straying into a wasteland.
You might have wondered why I mentioned the “foreign” slaves that were released and traveled with the Israelites? Numbers 11:4 “Then the foreign multitude who were traveling with the Israelites began to crave the good things of Egypt. And the people of Israel also began to complain.” As long as we walk this earth we will have the voices of dissent, doubt and darkness walking with us whispering in our ears. We should be vigilant not to adopt their “grumblings” lest we face their fate.
R U Wandering? Truth Is, at times in our lives we all are. If we fail to recognize it or if we deny it, we will never find our way into the Favor of God. On that note, let’s apply. Too often we doubt what God has planned for us, and, out of fear, turn back to things He has already delivered us from. Just like when the Israelites wished to return to Egypt. They had more trust in their slavery than in God’s deliverance. At other times we are like their children who came right up to what God had promised and said, “No thanks, you couldn’t possibly do better than what I have right now.” How quickly do the victories He gives us fade as the darkness brings another attack, like they did for the Israelites only 3 days after He parted the Red Sea? How often do we choose Wandering over God’s direction? How often do we choose Wandering because we fear what we cannot see? How many times do we reach back for what is comfortable rather than Trust in what God has promised? How often do we find ourselves “bartering” with God, as if our plan could possibly be better than His? How many times do we “know better?” So, if and when U R Wandering… when you have doubted God and taken His authority on yourself, “committing” yourself to the wilderness… don’t blame God; repent and ask Him to take the lead!
As we say here at P.O.C., our lives are lived in moments. We should work to stand in Truth every one of those moments. Even more, we should walk through those moments in complete Faith that God’s next miracle will be better than the last. If we reside in that place of Faith, when we walk in those moments… We Will Not Walk Alone. And remember… If God is your co-pilot… you’re sitting in the wrong seat!
*1[H3820] lêb labe A form of H3824; the heart; also used (figuratively) very widely for the feelings, the will and even the intellect; likewise for the centre of anything: – + care for, comfortably, consent, X considered, courag [-eous], friend [-ly], ([broken-], [hard-], [merry-], [stiff-], [stout-], double) heart ([-ed]), X heed, X I, kindly, midst, mind (-ed), X regard ([-ed)], X themselves, X unawares, understanding, X well, willingly, wisdom.
*2[H8582] tâ‛âh taw-aw’ A primitive root; to vacillate, that is, reel or stray (literally or figuratively); also causatively of both: – (cause to) go astray, deceive, dissemble, (cause to, make to) err, pant, seduce, (make to) stagger, (cause to) wander, be out of the way.
*3[H8414] tôhû to’-hoo From an unused root meaning to lie waste; a desolation (of surface), that is, desert; figuratively a worthless thing; adverbially in vain: – confusion, empty place, without form, nothing, (thing of) nought, vain, vanity, waste, wilderness.
*4[H1870] derek deh’-rek From H1869; a road (as trodden); figuratively a course of life or mode of action, often adverbially: – along, away, because of, + by, conversation, custom, [east-] ward, journey, manner, passenger, through, toward, [high-] [path-] way [-side], whither [-soever].
© 1/10/2018 Scott A Caughel