THE WILDERNESS EXPERIENCE
In which we learn to depend fully on God.
Is the wilderness before thee,
Desert lands where drought abides?
Heavenly springs shall there restore thee,
Fresh from God’s exhaustless tides.
Desert lands where drought abides?
Heavenly springs shall there restore thee,
Fresh from God’s exhaustless tides.
In the desert God will teach thee
What the God that thou hast found,
Patient, gracious, powerful, holy;
All His grace shall there abound.
What the God that thou hast found,
Patient, gracious, powerful, holy;
All His grace shall there abound.
- Introduction: What is the Wilderness?
- 1st Stage: Israel Under Grace (Exodus 15 – 18)
- Sinai: The Folly of Going Under the Law (Exodus 19 – 31)
- 2nd Stage: The Government of God (Numbers 10 – 14)
- 3rd Stage: Correction in the Wandering Circle (Numbers 15 – 19)
- 4th Stage: Hope in the Journey to Border (Numbers 20 – 36)
- War in the Wilderness
- The Border of the Land
Introduction: What is the Wilderness?
Although the redemption of our souls is complete, we are still in this world, which has become a wilderness to us. The wilderness speaks of the life on earth of a heavenly people. We also have a life in heaven, but that is typified by Canaan. We are strangers and pilgrims here. Having gone through the Red Sea, the wilderness is the practical living out of Romans 5-8. A great number of lessons are learned, which above all teach us to rely fully on God and to put no confidence in the flesh.
Part of God’s Ways, not His Purposes. It is striking in Exodus 3 and 6 there is no wilderness spoken of. God said that he would bring them out of Egypt into the land flowing with milk and honey, according to the promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Bringing the people into Canaan was God’s purpose… the wilderness was only a way to get them there. For example; the dying thief had no wilderness experience, he went straight to be with Jesus in paradise. In a certain sense, the Red Sea and Jordan coalesce. In Psalm 114 Israel is seen going in the Red Sea and come out the Jordan. But as concerning the ways and dealings of God with us, the wilderness is hugely important, and serves as a schoolroom or training course, for God to form Christ in each one of us.
Four stages. There are four stages to the wilderness journey.
- Red Sea to Sinai – In this stage, Israel was under GRACE. They murmured and complained, but God always treated them with grace, His purpose being to show them His all-sufficiency. But they also needed to learn their insufficiency, so at Sinai He proposed the law. Sadly, they put themselves under the law, and so God’s treatment of them changed.
- Sinai to Kadesh Barnea – In this stage, Israel traveled to Kadesh which was near the southern border of Canaan. At Kadesh, the twelve spies were sent in to the land, and brought back a mixed report. There Israel sinned in unbelief, and came under the GOVERNMENT of God.
- Kadesh Barnea to Kadesh Barnea – In this stage, Israel walked in a circle for 38 years, until the older generation had died off. Almost nothing is recorded, it simply says, “we compassed mount Seir many days” (Deut. 2:1). It ends with the death of Aaron in Mount Hor. This answers to the CORRECTION that God gives in the wilderness.
- Kadesh Barnea to the Jordan – In this stage, Israel journeyed toward the land of Canaan, and the Lord prepared them for entrance. Above all, the Promised Land is set before them as an object, that the HOPE of it would motivate obedience to the Word of God.
Connected with the Spirit of God. John’s ministry is set in the wilderness, and he develops the present possession of Eternal life, and the indwelling Spirit of God. In John 4 we find that the Holy Ghost is in us as a springing fountain, or geyser. The Lord goes on to connect this with the privilege of communion with the Father and consequent worship in spirit and truth. This shows that in the wilderness, the Spirit of God within us will be to us personally a source of refreshment and communion, overflowing upward in worship! “For we… worship by the Spirit of God” (Phip. 3:3). But in John 7 we find that the Spirit within us is as rivers of living water, flowing outward in testimony to others, and bringing refreshment to this parched world, which knows nothing of honesty, righteousness, kindness, or grace. Not only is the Spirit here to refresh us and produce worship, but to be a source of blessing to this world, as we live eternal life and preach Christ glorified.
1st Stage: Israel Under Grace (Exodus 15 – 18)
Learning grace has two elements: God’s favor, and man’s need. Israel was dealt with in grace, despite their murmurings, etc., until they reached Sinai. God was showing them that He was sufficient to meet every need. But He also wanted to show them their need; so He proposed the Law (Exodus 19). The purpose of the Law is to expose man’s true moral condition, and produce a spirit of dependence. However, at Sinai, they arrogantly put themselves under law. As a result, God began to treat them differently.
Ten Temptations. We see this with the “ten temptations” (Num. 14:22) where Israel tempted Jehovah in the wilderness. Five were before Sinai, and five were after. The consequences of their failures after Sinai were far more severe than before. For example, compare Israel’s murmuring for food in Exodus 16 (before Sinai) with Numbers 11 (after Sinai). In Exodus 16, God gave them quail as well as manna without any reproof. But in Numbers 11, “while it was yet in their mouths, the wrath of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord smote them with a very great plague.” The ten temptations are:
- Not trusting the Lord at the Red Sea (Ex. 14:11-12)
- Questioning the wisdom of the Lord (Ex. 15:24)
- Asking for bread to fulfill their lusts (Ex. 16:2)
- Gathering manna on the Sabbath day (Ex. 16:27-28)
- Questioning the Lord’s presence among them (Ex. 17:2)
—— SINAI —–
- Worshiping the golden calf (Ex. 32:7-14) – Three thousand slain by the tribe of Levi.
- Complaining against the Lord (Num. 11:1-3) – The fire of Taberah broke out among them.
- Lusting after Egypt’s foods (Num. 11:4-34) – They were smitten with a very great plague.
- Criticizing Moses their leader (Num. 12:9) – Miriam’s leprosy.
- Despising the pleasant land (Num. 14:1-5) – Sentenced to wander until death.
But in the first phase it is grace that is the theme, not government. Each of the steps is this phase of the journey begins with a failure by the people, but results in a demonstration of the Lord’s grace.
Marah: Bitter Waters of Life turned Sweet
Israel went three day’s journey into the wilderness and found no water. Then, the water they did find was bitter – impossible to drink. This is the first great lesson: there is nothing in this would that can satisfy and refresh us. The way seems almost impossible. What is the solution? The Lord showed Moses a certain tree, which he cast into the water, and the waters were made sweet. What does the tree speak of? In Gal. 3:13 the apostle Paul relates a tree to the cross of Christ. The eye of flesh will see the trials of the wilderness as bitter waters. When we come to bitter trial in life and we don’t see the Lord’s love in it, we need to look at the cross. It was in the giving of His Son – not in the trials of life – that the love of God was manifested (1 John 4:9). Cast the tree into the water, and they will become sweet. How wonderful to see the sweetness that the cross of Christ brings into our darkest hours. The love of Christ shown out on the cross illuminates the darkest circumstances. The word “tree” could also be translated ‘wood’. In this case, it would refer to the Person of Christ as a man; because wood often pictures humanity. Another thing that can make the bitter waters sweet is bringing Christ into the circumstances; knowing that He has passed through all that we pass through in perfection as a man. I’m not sure which interpretation is correct; i.e. the cross of Christ or His humanity… His work or His Person. The writers say both  .
The Cross! it took our guilt away,
It holds the fainting spirit up;
It cheers with hope the gloomy day,
And sweetens every bitter cup.
It makes the coward spirit brave,
And nerves the feeble arm for fight;
It takes its terror from the grave,
And guilds the bed of death with light.
The balm of life, the cure of woe,
The measure and the pledge of love,
The sinner’s refuge here below,
The theme of praise in heaven above.
Then they come to Elim, and experience an oasis provided by God for their refreshment in the wilderness. There were twelve springs of water that gushed up from an underground aquifer. These springs were the channels… the source was deep underground. This might speak of those resources which God has provided in the wilderness; gifts given by an ascended Christ (Eph. 4). But the order is important; we must have Christ Himself first (the certain tree) before we can enjoy the springs of water. There were also seventy palm trees, which might picture the support of fellow-believers, as each one is a joint of supply (Eph. 4:16).
Manna: Christ our Food in the Wilderness
Our redeemed hearts need something to feed on. What does God provide? Manna – bread from heaven. Manna speaks of Christ in His humiliation. Manna is not doctrine, but Christ in his humility, grace, denial of self, and devotion to His Father (read John 6:48-51). There is a plentiful supply for all, and for strength in wilderness need. It might be trampled upon, but we have to “gather it up”. Whether little or much was gathered, when it was measured with the omer is was enough. It doesn’t matter how much we read, as long as we read daily and meditate. If we try to change the manna, to make Christ in His humiliation for palatable to the flesh, it will stink.
Water from the Rock: Christ Smitten is Source of Refreshment
There is need for refreshment in the wilderness. The Rock is Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4), smitten for us. “Smite the rock and there shall come water out of it that the people may drink.” This is the same rod that was raised over the Red Sea. It is a picture of the judgment of God. We can have nothing, neither salvation nor refreshment, that does not spring out of a smitten Christ.
Amalek: Battle with the Flesh
Amalek typifies Satan energizing the flesh (1 Peter 2:11). Israel’s true warfare will come when they get to Canaan, but in Galatians there is conflict, a conflict between flesh and Spirit – the flesh lusting against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh (Gal. 5:17). Note that the unbelief of the people is what precipitates the conflict, not God’s design:
“And he called the name of the place Massah, and Meribah, because of the chiding of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the LORD, saying, Is the LORD among us, or not?” Exodus 17:7
This battle is won by Joshua, a picture of Christ, risen and glorified. Joshua was the one who would later bring them into the heavenlies. It is fitting because the rock had just been smitten (the death of Christ) and now we have a resurrected and glorified Christ. “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.” Romans 5:10. This is the ongoing practical salvation that Christ is working for us from His seat in heaven. Christ’s action in us (Joshua) is dependent on his action for us (Moses). This work of Christ is done in two distinct roles. Moses is Christ interceding for us, sustained by his roles as:
- High Priest (Aaron the priest) – The sympathetic sufferings of Christ as a man on earth fit Him to be our High Priest. Hebrews presents Christ as our High Priest maintaining us in the pathway.
- Advocate (Hur means “white” or “purity”) – His atoning sufferings which put away sin are the basis of His advocacy. 1 John presents Christ as our Advocate restoring communion if we sin.
Amalek is beaten off, but Amalek is not destroyed. We will have war with the flesh from generation to generation. A lesson is learned, and an altar “Jehovahnissi” is built, “the Lord my banner”. It is Christ who intercedes, it is Christ who will win the victory (Rom. 8:34).
Jethro: Administration Set Up
In the wilderness we have responsibilities that require administration. This is a necessary part of the earthly sphere . Jethro here is simply the mouthpiece of God, describing to Moses what distributed oversight would look like. Moses was not to “do this thing” unless God commanded him. What we see here is the wisdom of God in establishing the foundation of oversight, like we have in Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3.
Sinai: The Folly of Going Under the Law (Exodus 19 – 31)
The Lord had been teaching them under grace that they could fully rely on Him, and fully distrust themselves. Then He tests them in chapter 19, would they take God’s view of themselves and continue on the standing of grace? In foolish pride, the agree to the terms of the Law (read Exodus 19:7-8). This answers to a danger that is corrected in Galatians: Christians putting themselves under law.
“Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” Gal. 3:3
This is the bane of Christendom, and is the subject of Galatians. As sealed with the Spirit we can never end up back in Romans 7, but if we become entangled again with the yoke of bondage we can get into a place where we feel Romans 7 describes us.
The result of putting ourselves under the law is that God has to treat us accordingly. The result is a mountain “that might be touched, and that burned with fire,” etc. However, God had made unconditional promises to Abraham. The law with its conditional promises, even if broken, cannot annul the unconditional promises – God is faithful!
In what follows, we have
- Exodus 21-24: The Book of the Law
- Exodus 25-31: The Pattern of the House of God (Tabernacle)
- Exodus 32-34: The Second Giving of the Law mixed with Grace
- Exodus 35-40: The Building of the Sanctuary
The sanctuary is another beautiful type in the Old Testament, every bit as full and instructive as the journey from Egypt to Canaan, but outside of the scope of these lectures.
2nd Stage: The Government of God (Numbers 10 – 14)
Guidance in the Wilderness (Num. 10)
In the end of chapter ten we have the subject of guidance in the wilderness scene. Moses asks Hobab (or Jethro, his Father-in-law) to be their guide… ”thou mayest be to us instead of eyes.” But God has a provision for His people to have guidance. So next we get the movement of the camp following the ark. “The ark of the covenant of the LORD went before them in the three days’ journey, to search out a resting place for them.” This speaks of the Lord in the midst of his people leading them. We should never let human wisdom replace dependence on the Lord’s leading.
Complaining Results in the Government of God (Num. 11)
In chapter 11 we have the fire of the Lord falling on the people in Taberah for complaining. Then we have the graves of lust when they despise the manna and desire flesh. They receive the results of their sin under the law. Moses complains about the responsibility God had given him, and God takes some of it away… a loss for Moses under the government of God.
Importance of a Right Spirit (Num. 12)
In ch.12 Miriam (prophet) and Aaron (priest) speak against Moses (oversight). The result is Miriam’s leprosy. This speaks of the danger of developing a critical spirit, especially toward the oversight, even though is be the lowest of the three spheres of Christian activity. Moses as a faithful servant over God’s house represents Christ as a Son over his own house. We need to be careful not to speak against the Lord’s servants. The Lord will deal with them, not us.
The Folly of Unbelief (Num. 13 – 14)
“Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end.” Hebrews 3:12-14
The danger of apostasy. The “ifs” and “whens” of scripture belong in the wilderness pathway, where there will be either the manifestation of reality, or of apostasy. You don’t get these kind of statements in Ephesians.
The danger of apathy. In chapter 13 we have the spies sent out and the evil report brought back. In chapter 14 we have Israel’s apostasy after hearing the good report. The good report is the Spirit of God, the earnest of our inheritance, ministering Christ to our hearts. Unbelief says we cannot face the giant like foes that block the way. Later unbelief will settle for land this-side Jordan. The result is the sentence of wandering for forty years. Hebrews addresses apostasy, those who fall away after tasting the good of Christianity. This is only possible for unsaved persons, and we see it occasionally in professing Christianity. But there is a parallel condition that can characterize true believers, that of apathy. It is possible for a true believer to wander in the wilderness until death without ever entering into the land of inheritance.
Rebellion against the government of God. In 14:40-45 some of the people try to push past the governmental sentence of God. The result is that they are beaten by the Amalekites, while Moses (intercessor) abode in the camp. The arm of flesh will always fail us, even in a battle with the flesh.
3rd Stage: Correction in the Wandering Circle (Numbers 15 – 19)
Israel “compassed mount Seir many days”, walking in a circle for 38 years, until the older generation had died off. Almost nothing is recorded, other than the death of Aaron in Mount Hor at the close of this stage. However, there are a series of principle given during this time of their journey that are applicable when failure has come in, and correction is needed.
Collective and Individual Offerings for Sin (Num. 15:1-21)
In chapter 15 we have the offerings, the collective atonement offering, and the individual sin offering. This is God’s provision when we have sinned: recognition of collective and individual failure and God’s remedy in the death of Christ.
Presumptuous Sin vs. the Ribbon of Blue (Num. 15:22-41)
At the end of the chapter, presumptuous sin and its consequences are addressed, contrasted with the positive command to have fringes and a ribbon of blue for the borders of their garments. Presumptuous sin is the result of having this world for our object. The fringe and ribbon of blue (a heavenly character) is the result of having Canaan before us.
The Rebellion of Korah vs. the Priesthood of Christ (Num. 16 – 18)
In chapter 16 we see presumptuous sin presented in the rebellion of Korah. The leading issue is that the rebels did not value the priesthood of Aaron they thought his job was unimportant, that they were holy, and that they could do it also. In the end it was Aaron offering an atonement that spared the lives of the people; he “stood between the living and the dead” and stopped the plague. In the next chapter Aaron’s rod buds, a token against the rebels of God’s sanction of Aaron’s priesthood. In chapter 18 we have the place and portion of the priests and Levites. There is only one way we are going to get through the wilderness safe to Canaan; that is through the priesthood of Christ. This is the great lesson, and it forms much of the book of Hebrews… our Great Priest.
The Red Heifer: God’s Provision for Defilement in the Wilderness (Num. 19)
In chapter 19 we have the red heifer offering, which pictures God’s provision for defilement in the wilderness. The death of Christ applied to cleanse us from defiling influences and worldly contamination. The ashes (memory of the sacrifice) are required for restoration. Thus we see that recognition of what our sin cost Jesus on the cross is what restores our souls.
4th Stage: Hope in the Journey to Border (Numbers 20 – 36)
The Rod and the Rock (Num. 20)
In chapter 20, v.1-13 Miriam the prophetess dies, and the people gather against Moses and Aaron. Miriam sang the song of deliverance on the banks of the Red Sea, her death marks a drop-off in the people’s appreciation of the Lord’s victory on their behalf at the Red Sea. They gather against Moses and Aaron demanding water (refreshment) without real appreciation for the work of Christ.
The Lord tells Moses to take “the rod” which refers to Aaron’s rod, which had budded previously emphasizing the value of the priesthood of Christ (grace) in the sight of God. He was told to speak to the rock, holding therod. But Moses was so focused on his authority and the people’s rebellion that he used hisrod (authority) and smote the rock twice. Christ had to be smitten for blessing to flow back in Exodus before Sinai; but there can be no repetition of the smiting. The Rock (Christ) has already been smitten once, on the cross. He does not need to be smitten again in order for refreshment to flow. All we need to do is “speak to the Rock” through the privilege of prayer!
Moses says “Must we fetch you water out of this rock?” He made it out like God did not have a desire to see them refreshed and blessed. Moses did not avail himself of the priesthood, but rather clung to the law. That is not the character that will lead the people into Canaan, so Moses is prevented from crossing the Jordan.
The Brazen Serpent (Num. 21)
In the end of ch.20 we have the death of Aaron. His death marks the end of priestly grace in the wilderness. Moses had rejected Aaron’s rod, and called for the judgment of God upon his own people (ch.20). Legality cannot improve the behavior of the people of God! In ch.21 we see that the people are still the same. They are discouraged because of the way, they speak against God and despise the manna (Christ). As a consequence, God allows them to feel the sting of the serpent. They had despised intercession, they had despised sustenance from heaven, now they must feel the result of sin; i.e. death. But God remembers mercy, and we see the remedy in Christ lifted up, made sin for us, and one look of faith heals us from the serpent’s venom. Despite all of our failures, when we feel the sting of sin, all we need to do is look to Christ lifted up, and the sting is gone.
God’s Sovereignty: Balaam’s Prophesies (Num. 22 – 24)
In Balaam’s four prophesies, aside from the prophetic interpretation, we have a summary everything a Christian needs for his pathway through the wilderness.
- Sanctification (23:1-13) – separation from the world to Jehovah. “The people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations.”
- Justification (23:14-26) – a perfect standing before God, is spite of imperfection on their walk and ways. “He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel.”
- Order and Refreshment in the Wilderness (23:27 – 24:11) – the provision of Jehovah in grace for his people in the wilderness. “How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel!”
- The Coming of Christ (24:12-25) – the hope of glory. “I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Scepter shall rise out of Israel.”
Thus we have a summary of wilderness doctrine. There is much more in Canaan, and higher truth, but here we have what we need to be preserved, spirit, soul, and body until the coming of the Lord.
Balaam’s Stumbling Block (Num. 25)
Having failed in direct assault, Satan presents more subtle methods. The daughters of Midian seduced the people – this is where it starts – the allurements of the world. Then some of the people join themselves to Baalpeor (Lord of Peor) an idol – worldliness leads to idolatry. The matter of Peor and the matter of Cozbi refer to Satan’s two top goals concerning us. We are saved from hell and Satan can’t do anything about that, but he tries to accomplish these two other things via worldliness so that he can hurt our Lord Jesus. They are:
- The Matter of Peor – to take our worship away from Christ, and give it to the idols of the world.
- The Matter of Cozbi – to get us into a place where we allow open sin to go on in the presence of the Lord.
The plague falls upon us until these two matters are recompensed. Faithful Phinehas stands up while the people helplessly wept, went into the tent of sin, and put the reproach of sin away from the sight of God, and thus the plague is stopped. Phinehas is but a feeble type of Christ, who, for His propitiatory work, has received an everlasting covenant of the priesthood. Christ now can draw and draw on the value of that infinite work, to dispense priestly blessing and grace to whosoever will.
War in the Wilderness
The wilderness is not characterized by war, like Canaan is. In the heavenly places we have to have conflict in order to gain spiritual ground. But when we have wars in the wilderness, we don’t gain any spiritual ground. War in the wilderness is because of our failure; war in Canaan is because of our success. We are to go through the wilderness without befriending the world or partaking in its pleasures. Nevertheless, God acts on the behalf of his people and delivers them from each attempt, despite their imperfect state. The enemies seem to prevail when Israel allows them to attack, but when Israel takes sides with God they are defeated. Israel had seven enemies in the wilderness experience:
|War with the flesh. Unbelief of the people precipitates the conflict. (Also, energy of flesh in rebellion leads to defeat, Numbers 14:45.)||Victory through the Priesthood of Christ. Expect perpetual war with Amalek.|
|Speaks of the jealousy and bitterness of the flesh… those who have refused grace and developed a bitter hatred for the true people of God.||
They go around Edom. External relations prevented war. Later God would judge them.
|(3) Arad the Canaanite
|They hear of the progress of the people, and take some prisoners. It is the desire to hold us back from progress by bondage.||The prisoners are recovered, the enemies are “Hormah” – means “utter destruction”.|
|(4) Sihon King of Heshbon
|The mental energy of the flesh… the schemes of man. Sihon means “cutting down”, and Heshbon means “reason” and carries the idea of mental work.||The Amorites are defeated and Israel possesses their cities.|
|(5) Og the King of Bashan
|Speaks of the indulgence of the flesh… the sinful lust for the luxury of this world. Og means “round” and Bashan means “fertile soil.”||Smitten till none was left alive. They possessed his land.|
|(6) Balaam and Balak (Moab)
(Num. 22 – 25)
|Moab speaks of the pride and laziness of the flesh. Satan attempts to curse the people of God, but fails. He succeeds in appealing to the people’s lusts.||All attempts to curse are turned into blessing. Balaam’s stumbling block succeeds.|
|Israel previously had inappropriate relations with Midian. Now Midian bars the way. When we do not live in separation from the world, we make wars for ourselves.||God gives a complete victory as soon as we treat the world as our foe.|
The Border of the Land
The Two and a Half Tribes Settle for East of Jordan
In Numbers 32 we find the two and a half tribes (Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh) desire the cattle-land east of Jordan. They request that the land of Gilead be given to them for their possession, and that they might forfeit their portion in the land. “Bring us not over Jordan.” Moses, who was prevented from entering because of his failure, is angry with them because he would happily go in if Jehovah would let him.
The answer to the two and a half tribes is in 2 Timothy 4 where Demas had forsaken Paul and the truths that belong to Canaan. It wasn’t that he no longer wished to be a Christian, no more than the tribes wished not to be called Israelites. But they loved this present world, and said “Bring us not over Jordan”.
They are Christians who have possessions down here to which their hearts cling. They are Christians who never once on earth enjoy their heavenly blessings that were purposed for them before time began. The portion desired by the two and a half tribes was acquired by the people of God outside of Canaan. These lands were won by the Lord, but they are not the spiritual blessings in heavenly places. They speak of His material provision for passage through the world. Notice that their motive for this request was business oriented or profit oriented. These tribes were the first to be taken over in Israel’s captivity. If through human impatience we settle for less than what God has promised us, we miss out on a blessing and make ourselves prone to attack by the enemy.
In the case of national war, the men from the two and a half tribes would go over and help. But whose heart can really be in the battle when his possessions are on the east side of Jordan?
“Timothy was to hold fast an outline of sound words. But you can’t hold something fast if you don’t have it. Oh, how you ponder your calculus, and your chemistry, hour after hour! It will pass away. It will all go up in the fire. It may be necessary for your job, etc.; but what about the things that are for eternity? You have to make a study of them.”
The Plains of Moab
In Numbers 35 we the Lord is speaking from the plains of Moab, which is the same point that Deuteronomy was given from. We learn from Deuteronomy that there were now none of the original Israelites who had believed the evil report. This group represents a remnant company, having learned the lessons of the older generation, ready to possess the inheritance.
In Numbers 36 we have the daughters of Zelophehad, who are a shining example of what we should be like if we have learned the lessons of the wilderness; everything that was important to them was ahead of them, in the land. Their faith reaches beyond the confines of family order, and is rewarded by a possession among their brethren.
The Book of Deuteronomy contains “the words which Moses spake unto all Israel on this side Jordan in the wilderness.” Deuteronomy 1:1. This book contains the words Moses spoke to the people just before his death on the bank of the Jordan river. Apparently, the Lord gave two covenants, one at Sinai (Horeb) the other in the plains of Moab. The central theme of Deuteronomy is the requirements to be preserved in the Land: namely, obedience to Word of God.
In the wilderness we are groaning, the creation is groaning, and the Holy Ghost is groaning with us. It is because we are still in the wilderness. There is something ahead that is better, and there will be no groaning there.
The passage through the wilderness is to humble and prove us, and to show that God is working all things together for our good. It spans 40 years, a time of testing. God leads us through the path in which Christ walked perfectly. Why? That we may never…
“…Forget the LORD thy God, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage; Who led thee through that great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water; who brought thee forth water out of the rock of flint; Who fed thee in the wilderness with manna, which thy fathers knew not, that he might humble thee, and that he might prove thee, to do thee good at thy latter end…” Deut. 8:14-16
In Philippians we are running across the wilderness to obtain the prize; knowing Christ and the power of his resurrection. None of us have apprehended the prize yet, it is an ongoing process. The prize is in Canaan, when we will be made conformable to His death and experience the power of His resurrection.
Yet on through the wilderness go the pillar of cloud and fire that speak of the personal presence of the Lord, who will never leave us nor forsake us, as we pass from Egypt to Canaan.
Our Shepherd is still our Guardian and Guide;
Before us He goes to help and provide;
The springs that refresh us by Him have been given,
Our bread is the Manna that came down from heaven.
And soon shall we enter our own promised land,
Before His bright throne in glory shall stand;
Our song then for ever and ever shall be,
All glory and blessing, Lord Jesus, to Thee!
- C.H. Macintosh sees this as a failure on Moses’ part, but F.B. Hole and J.N.D see it as all in due order. It is Jethro giving fatherly recommendations to Moses, but he says “If thou do this thing, and God command thee so.” I prefer this interpretation; however, I would call attention to Numbers 11 (where we see the 70 elders); that is a distinct loss for Moses due to his unbelief.
- Darby, J.N. The Red Sea and the Wilderness. Collected Writings, vol. 19, p.168
- Kelly, W. Lectures Introductory to the Pentateuch. Loizeaux Brothers, 1943.