I have heard the story of the Israelites and the Promised Land many times; focussing on different aspects of it at different times. There’s quite a number of things that we can learn (should learn) from them, for example:
a. not to take '40 years' to travel an '11 day' journey.
b. not to go around the same 'mountain' continuously.
c. not to be as unbelieving as they were despite the many miracles God done.
d. sometimes life is 'exiting Egypt', and other times the wilderness with God.
e. God did miracles then, and can still do the impossible today if we believe.
f. we should have faith like the 2 spies, and not be like the 10 'grasshoppers'.
For a long time I was under the wrong impression that the Israelites inherited the land after 40 years, instead of much sooner; the idea of a second chance, so to speak. But recently Holy Spirit has been dealing with me about my own Promised Land, and something started showing up very differently to the way that I’ve thought about it till now.
Yes, the Israelites (as a NATION) had a second chance after the forty years of wandering in the desert, but not the same Israelites that made the decision not to trust with the first attempt at possessing the promise.
With the first attempt the spies went to see the land that God has promised them; was it really as great as God had described it? They returned and gave their report to Moses. Ten were very negative, only focussed on the giants, and how tiny they were in comparison, and how that made it impossible to take the land. They were basically saying that God was unable to give them what He has promised. They reduced God to the size of the grasshoppers that they saw themselves as.
Two spies (Joshua and Caleb) were men with a different heart. Their attitude was one of “but GOD SAID”. “Look at these grapes, it’s h-u-g-e, and it really is a land flowing with milk and honey as God said. The soil was fertile, there was plenty grazing for the animals, and they could most certainly live a good life there; just as God has promised. They looked at the giants and thought “they’re big, but GOD SAID, and therefore we are well able!!” This was crunch time – do or die – “come on, guys, lets trust the Lord and have this awesome land!”
A while ago I learnt the ‘overnight’ lesson and the importance of obeying God. God said, “take the Land” and Israelites said, “booo-hoooo”. Then they went to bed, and the next morning, when they’ve changed their minds, it was too late; God had said they must turn back into the wilderness, and if they tried on their own to take the Land, they would be defeated. Now they couldn’t touch the promise, even if they wanted to.
The New Living Translation says it so nicely (this is just after the spies had given their report): (Numbers 14:1-3 Then all the people began weeping aloud, and they carried on all night. Their voices rose in a great chorus of complaint against Moses and Aaron. “We wish we had died in Egypt,” they wailed, “or even here in the wilderness, rather than be taken into this country ahead of us.”) Imagine wanting to die in the desert (or anywhere) more than you want a land flowing with milk and honey.
Then in verse 40 it says “They were up early the next morning, and started towards the Promised Land. “Here we are!” they said. “We realize that we have sinned, but now we are ready to go on into the land the Lord has promised us.” But Moses said, “It’s too late.” I thought this a little blasé of them...
You see, in verse 22 God says, “...so it is true that not one of the men who has seen my glory and the miracles I did both in Egypt and in the wilderness – and ten times refused to trust me and obey me – shall even see the land I promised...,” verse 25, “But now, since the people of Israel are so afraid of the Amelekites and the Canaanites living in the valleys, tomorrow you must turn back into the wilderness...,” and verse 28, “Tell them, ‘The Lord vows to do to you what you feared. You will all die here in this wilderness! Not a single one of you twenty years old and older, who has complained against Me, shall enter the Promised Land.” (Except for Caleb and Joshua, of course.)
It struck me like a ton of bricks to realize that things changed literally over night. They were RIGHT there! They would still rather die in the wilderness after ALL that God has done for them.
And, ironically, they were constantly complaining to Moses that he had brought them into the wilderness to die. This was not Moses’ idea, and most certainly not God’s, but it was the choice of the people. God showed them HOW MANY miracles, and often, straight away, they went back to complaining and crying. Come to think of it, they were really insulting God. He showed Himself as a loving God. He provided in every need and some. He defeated the enemies. He led them exactly where they were to go, and didn’t leave them alone for one moment. And still they labelled Him as not loving, not caring, and having bad intentions with them. All He wanted was that they would trust and obey... He offered them ‘the world’ in exchange. Not much to ask of them, he?
Yes, the Israelites had a second attempt forty years later, but they were not the same men that stood outside the Land the first time. They were the next generation; those that God spoke about of younger than twenty. There was no second chance.
So, if you think about it, the Israelites really wondered in circles for forty years, waiting for everyone twenty and older that refused to trust God, to die, so that the word that God spoke in Numbers 14:29 would be fulfilled.
I had realized two things:
1. When God speaks, you listen. If He says “today”, then it does not mean ‘tomorrow’. You could lose the moment for waiting over night (which, to us, does not seem like a big deal, but for God obedience IS a big deal), and,
2. You might not get a second chance. God might not strike you with lightening, but you could miss God’s ultimate for you. Yes, God could still show you grace, but it would not be the best that He had planned for you. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m not a big fan of ‘second (third, fourth, fifth) best’. I want it all!
I feel such a sense of urgency about obeying God. Now is NOT the time to act ‘wimpy’. It is the time to stand up in the authority that we have in Christ, to FIGHT the battle, and to determine that we WILL trust God. He is a good God, and He is the same yesterday, today and forever. He has never been a God with bad intentions who let His children down. He is not about to start doing so now!
I want to echo what Joshua said in Joshua 24:15 “But if you are unwilling to obey the Lord, then decide today whom you will obey... But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”