Moses and the Israelites spent approximately one year at Sinai, during which the Covenant was ratified, the Tabernacle constructed (Quote- The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Atlas), and various guidelines of the Law were given <Lev.27:34>; then God spoke to Moses; “Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt, and go up to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’” <Ex.33:1 (NIV)>. God however refused to go with them sighting their stubborn attitude toward His commands. Upon hearing this, the people began grieving while they waited on God to decide what to do with them <Ex.33:3-5>; so it was for the Israelites, rebellious and stubborn in their ways. How about you and I on our wilderness journey?
“On the twentieth day of the second month of the second year, the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle of the Testimony. Then the Israelites set out from the Desert of Sinai and traveled from place to place until the cloud came to rest in the Desert of Paran.” <Num.10:11-12 (NIV)>; this was the pattern of their journeying, whenever the “cloud” moved the people followed until it came to rest <Num.10:33-36>. It was not long before their old ways began to emerge in their lives once again, and the first incident is seen in their complaining about their hardships, and here we see God’s response; “fire from the Lord burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp.” <Num.11:1 (NIV)>. Then they began to crave other food, they longed for the food they ate in Egypt and complained that they only had Manna to eat. Their complaints were so great that Moses was overwhelmed and requested that God put him to death, so God decided to give them the meat that they so desired <Num.11:11-18>.
Do you, like the Israelites, complain about what God has supplied for you on your wilderness journey? Do you long for the excitement of your old way of life? Has God’s provision for you become meaningless, useless, outdated and no longer applicable to your modern way of life? You need to be careful of your desires for God may grant them; “The Lord heard you when you wailed, “If only we had meat to eat! We were better off in Egypt!” Now the Lord will give you meat, and you will eat it. You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days, but for a whole month — until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it — because you have rejected the Lord, who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, “Why did we ever leave Egypt?”‘” <Num.11:18-20 (NIV); Psa.106:15, 43>. We all need to understand that longing for the things and ways of the old life can be dangerous to us on our wilderness journey! The problem was not the lack of a variation in their food supply, but their lack of gratitude to God for His provisions; He knows what is good for us on our wilderness journey, and this does not pertain to our spiritual food only, it relates to everything that we need in our spiritual life. God would now provide the meat that the people requested; and Moses questioned if God could supply all that they wanted <Num.11:21-23>, like Moses we should never underestimate what God can or will do <Num.11:31-34>. The people then continued on their journey and came to Hazeroth (or Hudhera in Arabic – from The Book of Life, Historical Digest).
Now the “ugly head” of rebellion and stubbornness rises once again as Moses’ leadership is contested; a familiar issue in some of our Churches today. Here we see that Miriam and Aaron (sister and brother of Moses) start an attack on Moses in regards to his Cushite wife; it is not clear if this was a reference to Zipporah, or if Moses had remarried. The attack, however, used the woman only as a pretext, for as we see in the response of God, the focus was on Moses’ prophetic gift and his special relationship with God. Isn’t this the way contentions begin in our social groups and in our churches today – using something or someone as a pretext to the complaint? God’s anger again rises on the offenders <Num.12:1-15>, and after the penalty has been served the people move on to the Desert of Paran where they camped for some time making Kadesh-barnea their headquarters.
At Kadesh-barnea God is now going to prepare His people to conquer the land that He has promised to them as descendants of Abraham. Having first given instructions to Moses while still at Sinai to take a census of the entire community of people, concentrating on all the men twenty years old and above who would form an army <Num.1:1-3>. God now instructs Moses to select one man from each of the ancestral tribes to form a team to explore the land of Canaan, to see what the land, its people, its fortifications and farming capabilities were like; “So they went up and explored the land from the Desert of Zin as far as Rehob, toward Lebo Hamath. They went up through the Negev and came to Hebron, where Ahiman, Sheshai and Talmai, the descendants of Anak, lived. (Hebron had been built seven years before Zoan in Egypt.) When they reached the Valley of Eshcol, they cut off a branch bearing a single cluster of grapes. Two of them carried it on a pole between them, along with some pomegranates and figs. That place was called the Valley of Eshcol because of the cluster of grapes the Israelites cut off there. At the end of forty days they returned from exploring the land.” <Num.13:21-25 (NIV)>. They found the land just as it was described – “a land flowing with milk and honey”; but there was an obstacle, something far beyond their capability to overcome! “But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.”” <Num.13:28-29 (NIV)>; there were giants in the land – the descendants of Anak; and the Israelites were like “grasshoppers” to them. The Israelites had not learned any of the previous lessons that God had tried to teach them, especially at their previous battle against the Amalekites <Ex.17:8-16>. Again, there is complaint and rebellion in the camp and the people wish for something that God would again grant them; “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this desert!” <Num.14:2 (NIV)>.
God will grant our wishes especially when we are ungrateful and forget what He has done for us. We should always remember the abounding love and forgiveness of God and never be ungrateful in rejecting His goodness and mercy to us, even though we sin against Him in our unbelief; and when, in our doubt of His goodness, we do not confess our sin and seek His forgiveness, we will suffer His judgment for sin or the loss of His blessings; “’The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.’” <Num.14:18 (NIV); cf 1 Jn.1:8-9>. God’s judgment for their sin of rebellion against Him is now passed on to all the people: “not one of the men who saw my glory and the miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times — not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their forefathers. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it….’As surely as I live, declares the Lord, I will do to you the very things I heard you say: In this desert your bodies will fall — every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me. Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. As for your children that you said would be taken as plunder, I will bring them in to enjoy the land you have rejected. But you — your bodies will fall in this desert.” <Num.14:22-23, 28-32 (NIV)>. The rebellious people decide to conquer the land in their own way in disobedience to God’s command and Moses has to remind them that failure would be the outcome because “the Lord was not with them”; nevertheless, they presumptuously went only to be defeated and driven back into the desert. God’s judgment had fallen upon them and they would now wander in the desert for forty years, one year for each of the forty days that it took them to explore the land.
There are two lessons that God would like us to learn from this. First, unfaithfulness and rebellion against God is to our peril, and as has been seen in the account here at Kadesh-barnea, it resulted in judgment on the guilty people. God will not allow any individual to hold in contempt His commands and live their life as if He does not exist, disregard for His mercy and love will only bring His wrath upon the sinner <Psa.78:32>, and discipline upon His believing children <Heb.12:25>. Second, doing what God has not directed will also lead to our demise, we should never presume that God is leading us, we need to wait in prayer and be certain of His command otherwise “the Lord is not with us” <see Psa.81:11-12; Prov.29:1; Jer.11:8; Heb.4:2>. Let us be sure to listen to and obey The One who speaks from Heaven!