A Lesson from the Wilderness Wanderings…
The road often seems long and hard, doesn’t it? And not understanding why, we start to grumble and complain. (Come on, please tell me I’m not the only one!) We forget that life in Christ is a journey in which God calls us to keep going further up and further in with him.
The only way to become more like Christ, is to keep going deeper in him. And that’s the real journey he has us on. Christ doesn’t save us just so we can escape eternal hell and judgement, or danger and troubles here on earth. He’s working to make us more like him.
So just as with the Israelites in the desert, God takes us down the longer, harder road.
There were two ways from Egypt to Israel. The ordinary caravan road and shorter route, which passed through the land of the Philistines. This Way of the Sea, going straight from northern Egypt to the southern portion of Canaan, took about 3 weeks. And the longer route going through the southern wilderness, by way of the Red Sea. [Click on the following maps to enlarge them.]
Now the Lord could have proceeded along the shorter coastal route, simply destroying the Isrealite’s enemies along the way, as he later destroyed the Egyptians in the Red Sea. But instead he turned away from the Promised Land to lead the Israelites along a nearly 40 year journey through the southern wildnerness. And he had specific reasons for doing so.
- The Egyptians were to be drowned in the sea, to prevent them from chasing after the Israelites and dragging them back.
- The Israelites had to be brought to the point where they would obey, depend on, and trust God.
- He knew they would face many battles in the Promised Land, for which they were not yet ready.
They simply weren’t ready. Neither to face their enemies in Canaan, nor to fully trust and obey him.
God took them down that longer, harder road because he was preparing their hearts.
Both to trust him for victory in battle, and for victory over their own fearful, selfish, and rebellious natures.
“When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.”Exodus 13:17
But it seems they couldn’t even stop arguing over tent plots, let alone win battles against mighty foes!
Absurd as it seems, Moses had to hold legal sessions for them. What kind of cases could they have had? Coming out of slavery, they owned little more than their farm animals. And although the Lord enabled them to take the Egypt’s gold and treasures with them, such things are of little use in the wilderness.
They had no land of their own. Just a spot to pitch their tent. And they had to cart everything along, day after day. Just a few articles to pile on their donkey or oxen, or lug over their shoulder. (What a great aid to decluttering!)
Yet they had everything they needed. Food, water, and clothing. A cloud to shade the scorching sun, and a pillar of fire to warm the freezing desert nights. And all straight from God’s hand. No worries, and little to protect.
Yet they fought and argued!
“The next day Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood around Moses from morning till evening.”Exodus 18:13
Can’t you just imagine the scene? “He pitched his tent too close to mine. I can even hear him snoring!” Or, “I’m supposed to march in line after Caleb, but he took my place!” Or perhaps, “His goat ate my tent rope!”
What a sad commentary on human nature. Though everything so clearly came from God, they bickered, scrapping over their rights. It’s no wonder God took them down the long, hard road!
He wanted them to become a people who would show what it meant to walk with God, and instead they argued.
And how about you? Have you been guilty of complaining about the hard journey? Or of fighting for your rights? Or with God’s help are you becoming the one who will share your pots or give the best place to another? Willing even, to march last in line and not at the head?
Everything we have comes from God’s hand. And when we’re willing to give it back to him, or share it willingly and wholeheartedly with others, then we begin to really show what walking with him means.