Lessons from the Wilderness
"Who is this coming up
from the wilderness,
Leaning on her beloved?"
(Son of Soloman 8:5 NAS)
One would think that loving, being loved by and married to one of the world's wealthiest men would have filled my life with utter contentment. It did not. My discontent was only heightened by having everything most women ever dream about having. It was only after coming to Christ less than a year after I married Clint Murchison, Jr., that I began to see the depths of my enslavement to old patterns of thinking and behaving. I thank God it didn't take me 40 years to get through the wilderness, but it did take the Lord a long time to cross me over the Jordan so to speak.
Having lived with abuse from my father and severe abuse from my mentally ill mother most of my life, I had a long way to go. A deep sense of loss, loneliness, despair and rage continually lurked in the shadows of my life. Uncontrollable weeping overtook me at the drop of a hat. Therapy helped me very little.
As I knelt in prayer one morning I cried out in despair to the Lord for His answers to my incessant emotional pain. "Lord, the Bible says if we abide in your word, we will know the truth and the truth will set us free. Show me the truths that will set me free or I will die of this pain that engulfs my every thought and feeling." Those whom the Son sets free are free indeed. "Set me free" was my constant plaintive cry to the Lord. Cries such as mine can be heard round the world every millisecond of every day.
Almost thirty years later I can truthfully say that the Lord has set me free indeed. He has healed me. I have not forgotten my old, destructive life, but the horrible, haunting emotional pain of those tormented years is gone. I don't intend to give the impression that there is no suffering in my life. Now, how- ever, when hurt and disappointment come, it is not distorted or exaggerated by the old pain of my past. I thank God for His truth and faithfulness.
Created for Freedom
Man was created for freedom, not slavery, yet the overwhelming majority of people around the world are literally enslaved by a small minority of men. It is tragic that slavery was considered acceptable in our own nation at all, much less for as long as it was. I abhor the enslavement of any human being by another, emotionally, physically or spiritually.
Slavery is ungodly at its very roots. When I think of slavery, I think of blood, sweat and tears. I think of the heartbreak of separation from family and friends. I think of physical, emotional and spiritual deprivation and abuse. I think of hopelessness and despair. I think of being trapped and having no say about my own life. I think of loss—the loss of what the Constitution of the United States calls our inalienable rights—freedom being first and foremost
on the list.
Yet man is born to trouble
as surely as sparks fly upward.
(Job 5:7 NIV)
Our brother Job said in the midst of heavy trial that man is born to trouble. Mankind is indeed born into the bondage of physical, mental, spiritual and emotional slavery. Some of us are fortunate enough to have been born into families where the bondage is less severe than others, but no one, absolutely no one is born completely free of it.
The progressive journey from Egypt, the house of slavery (Exodus 13:3), to Canaan, the land of great and exceeding precious promises—the land of biblical freedom—is clearly the call of every dedicated disciple of Jesus Christ. The wilderness journey explains God's plan for our lives. The truths herein will set us free if we will do more than view it as interesting information. Ponder it. "Chew" on it. Get out of Egypt!!!
Christ—The Root of Freedom
Freedom originated with the God of the Bible. He created us to be free. The journey out of Egypt, through the wilderness into the promised land is about learning to walk, not just out of slavery, but into faith, freedom and godly character. We cannot have one without the others. Faith in Jesus Christ is clearly the foundation of it all.
"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery" (Galatians 5:1 NIV).
Spiritual freedom is fragile and how freely and subtly we surrender it to the enemy of our souls. This is exactly what Adam and Eve did when they surrendered to the seductive temptation of Satan to be as gods—to determine what was good and what was evil for themselves. Th is what we call moral relativism today. Satan is still seducing people to eat of this tree. It is understandable that the people of the world buy into it. The right to the self-determination of what is good and what is evil for oneself is seductive indeed.
How fragile is spiritual freedom
and how freely and subtly
we surrender it to the enemy of our souls.
The people of God are not only vulnerable but more often than not are guilty of this very same sin. Even though we are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, we too like to judge what is good and what is evil based upon our understanding of what is good and true—the Word of God itself. We turn the "good book" into a dead letter. Like the Israelites, we prefer our rules carved in stone rather than allowing God to write them upon the fleshy tablets of our hearts. We absolutely love, love, love to measure ourselves and others by the rules, especially ours, to see how we are doing. Some days its bad. Some days its good. We even make up rules. It feels safer this way, but it is definitely "at risk" behavior. God said, "Eat of this tree and you will die." Paul wrote that when we choose the tree of the knowledge of good and evil—the tree of rules and laws—we fall from grace. We are not lost forever, but we have more or less temporarily lost our way. We are wandering in the wilderness. Our spiritual growth is stunted by our devotion to both religious and non-religious rules-keeping.
The moral law was but
for the searching of the wound,
the ceremonial law
for the shadowing forth of the remedy;
but Christ is the end of both.
Matthew Henry wrote, "The design of the law was to lead people to Christ. The moral law was but for the searching of the wound, the ceremonial law for the shadowing forth of the remedy; but Christ is the end of both."
"For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes" (Romans 10:4 NAS).
Living by rules is for those who have or way no other resource, but for those who have the Spirit of God dwelling within them, the rules are a dead letter. It is what is commonly called legalism—the consequence of the fall. It is the very real warfare every believer faces every moment of every day. Legalism is the system of the world, the flesh and the devil, not the system of faith and spirit. It is slavery. It is not the way believers should be living. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free, yet too many of us are caught in the legalistic trap of dead ends.
The letter of the law is a yoke of slavery. 2 Corinthians 3:6 tells us that the letter of the law kills. It makes us slaves to sin. It brings death. So why do we love it so? Because it is the very nature of the flesh to love it. We love to guage how we are doing, especially compared to others. And we love to be in control—especially over others. This is no different than being a slave owner or Egyptian taskmaster.
Our flesh is not ever going to be totally dead in this world as long as we live and breathe; but Pauls tells us that we can learn from the mistakes of those who were delivered from the bondage of Egypt.
"For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. Now these things happened as examples for us, that we should not crave evil things, as they also craved. And do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.' Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:1-12 NAS).
To begin our study of the wilderness journey of growing faith, freedom and godly character, we will start in the first chapter of Exodus. There we will find our Hebrew brothers laboring under the oppressive slavery of the harsh Egyptian taskmasters.
"And the Egyptians compelled the sons of Israel to labor rigorously; and they made their lives bitter with hard labor in mortar and bricks and at all kinds of labor in the field, all their labors which they rigorously imposed on them" (Exodus 1:13-14 NAS).
It is safe to say that at this time Egypt had prospered greatly under the benevolent, sovereign hand of the Almighty God. Centuries earlier God had given the Pharoah of that day two dreams—one of seven lean cows and one of seven very fat cows. Only Joseph, the son of Jacob and a Hebrew slave in Egypt, was able to interpret those dreams for him. In them, God revealed that there would be seven years of famine, but before those seven years came there would be seven years of abundance. This generous provision of God prevented the Egyptians from starving to death when the famine came.
Grace blesses and prospers the soul
in every situation.
The law is a harsh and cruel taskmaster
in every situation.
But those were different times with a different king for those setting out for the promised land. Joseph was long dead. The goodness of the Hebrews' God was long forgotten. The Hebrews themselves had prospered in this alien land. They had become "more and mightier" than the Egytians. They were, therefore, not perceived to be a blessing but a threat. Thus the Egyptian king set about to bring them under his thumb through hard labor.
Grace blesses and prospers wherever God sheds it, be it in a soul or in a nation, but the law is always a slave-driving, harsh and cruel taskmaster.
"Therefore [the Egyptians] did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens . . . " (Exodus 1:11).
Just as the Egyptians laid the heavy burdens upon the Hebrew people of the Old Testament, the letter of the law lays heavy burdens on the people of the New Testament. Let's look at some of the words Jesus spoke to the religious oppressors of His day.
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel about on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves" (Matthew 23:15 NAS).
"And they tie up heavy loads, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger" (Matthew 23:4 NAS)
Christ came to set us free. The devil came to enslave us. Just listen to more of what Jesus said to the legalistic religious leaders of His day.
"You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature; for he is a liar, and the father of lies" (John 8:44 NAS).
Grace is the gift of God.
It is free and it is freeing.
Grace is the gift of God. It is free and it is freeing. Legalism is the snare of the devil. It enslaves, costing us everything. Legalism gives Satan free access to our lives, because his kingdom is based upon living by rules. Any rules will do. My rules, your rules, grandma's rules, God's rules. Just see to it that you live by them.
"Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, ‘Indeed, has God said, "You shall not eat from any tree of the garden"?' And the woman said to the serpent, ‘From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, "You shall not eat from it or touch it, lest you die."' And the serpent said to the woman, ‘You surely shall not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.' When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate" (Genesis 3:1-6 NAS).
Adam and Eve began to taste death the day they ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. And why was that? First, it was because they did not obey the voice of God. Instead they obeyed the voice of the devil. Second, God created us for relationship with Himself and one another. Reliance upon the knowledge of good and evil not only precludes relationship, it makes relationships impossible. The letter of the law (the tree of knowledge of good and evil) kills, and what it kills is relationship with God and one another.
The letter of the law kills,
and what it kills is relationship
with God and one another.
The Greek word for relationship translates as "communion, fellowship, and partnership, communication," indicating an intimate sharing of and among ourselves. I suppose the shocking thing to me is that so few believers—folks going to heaven—show much interest in open, biblical relationships. I'm talking about gut-level honest relationships. Many, if not most, are still hiding behind their fig leaves, which inevitably requires an adherance to rules.
Ask yourself this. Have you ever had a meaningful relationship with a legalistic person? Even more important, ask youself this. Do you have any gut-level honest relationships? Just one will do. My guess is that many of you reading this don't, because legalism hinders biblical relationship, and most of us have not given up trying to control our lives and circumstances. It feels safer, but it isn't. All we are doing is protecting ourselves and those we love by trying to control everyone and everything, including our own lives. As Paul wrote in one of his treatises on law and grace in Galatians 5:1, "You have fallen from grace." This does not mean you are not "going to heaven." It means you are missing out on so many of the blessings of heaven's grace in this life.
Adam and Eve didn't just fall from grace. What actually happened is they distrusted their relationship with a loving, grace-filled God. Israel found another lover and filed for legal separation. Over and over again.
When we come to Christ, we begin the learning process of developing biblical relationship skills—with God and one another. It is not an easy trip through the wilderness, but we have God's Word and we have the Holy Spirit to teach and train us. And we have those who have been taught and trained by God's Word and His Holy Spirit.
I was born in 1940, and most of those my age and older remember Charlton Heston in his role as Moses in the movie The Ten Commandments. We know the story of Egypt and the exodus well, not just from Sunday school lessons but from that movie. We learned the story of God raising up Moses to bring His people out of slavery by His mighty hand. We saw God miraculously part the Red Sea right before our very eyes. Our own deliverance from the bondage of the world, of which Egypt is clearly a type, is just as dramatic.
Leaving Egypt is an Old Testament picture of redemption. It is also a picture of leaving the principles of the world behind. The wilderness is the time and place of dying to the flesh—of learning to walk by faith and not by sight—of growing in freedom and godly character. And I see the promised land as a type of the spirit-filled, spirit-led life. The wilderness is about redemption and sanctification. It is about the ongoing process of walking out of the slavery of the law into the freedom of Christ.
"Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, or of me His prisoner; but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (2 Timothy 1:8-10 NAS).
Jesus Christ was, is and ever shall be The Tree of Life. So! Let us heed Paul's advice to Timothy. As we set forth on our journey out of Egypt, through the wilderness and into the promised land, let us fight the good fight (NIV), wage a good warfare (KJV), holding on to faith and a good conscience (1 Timothy 1:18-19). Let us shed the grave clothes of this world and put on the armor of light. Let us leave behind the shackles of slavery and set our eyes upon the mark of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
"But whatever things were gain to [us], those things [we] have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, [we] count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom [we] have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that [we] may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of [our] own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that [we] may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that [we] may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that [we] have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but [we] press on in order that [we] may lay hold of that for which also [we were] laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, [we] do not regard [ourselves] as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing [we] do forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, [let us] press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:7-14 NAS).
To be sure, the journey out of Egypt into the Promised Land gives us a clear picture of the struggle of faith and sight—faith and works—freedom and slavery—corruption and godly character for people of all ages.
Faith is not original
with the New Testament Church.
It has always been the basis
of relationship with God.
The Root of Faith
Faith is not original with the New Testament Church It has always been the basis of relationship with God.
"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible. By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks
. . . And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him" (Hebrews 11:1-4, 6 NAS).
This passage takes us all the way back to Abel, the son of Adam and Eve. He was a man of faith. His twin brother, Cain was not. Cain murdered Abel because the Lord considered Abel's blood sacrifice, an act of faith, a better sacrifice than Cain's bloodless one—which was the works of his own hands.
"Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering" (Genesis 4:2-4 NIV).
Will we trust in God or will we trust
in our own good works and intentions?
This is the defining question of every age.
The Lord reveals in this passage the warfare of the ages. Will we walk in faith in what we cannot see or will we walk by sight according to what is right in our own eyes? Will we trust in God or will we trust in our own good works and intentions? This is the defining question of every age. Abel chose faith—the "tree of life". Cain chose the works of his own hands—"the tree of knowledge of good and evil."
This battle was never more evident than in the life of Christ. From the beginning the forces of darkness conspired to kill the one who came to bring good news of great joy to the earth.
Throughout the days of His ministry, the scribes and pharisees, the princes of good works, conspired to kill Him. They finally succeeded in getting the Romans to do their dirty work for them. It was not the Jews who killed Jesus. It was the legalists.
"And therefore did the [religious] Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day [not kept one of the ten commandments]. But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work. Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God" (John 5:16-18).
Jesus pegged them in John 8. He numbered the Pharisees among the likes of Cain. He called them murderers, children of the devil!
"You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature; for he is a liar, and the father of lies. But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me. Which one of you convicts Me of sin? If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me? He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God" (John 8:44-47 NAS).
We human beings tend to gauge ourselves as good or bad based on the things we do or don't do. From God's perspective, no one is good.
"They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one" (Romans 3:12).
This is a very tough thing to get our arms around. All of our good works—our noble philanthropies, our great achievements, our excellent conduct, our kindest thoughts, our good manners, our best intentions, and all of our religious and spiritual devotions are what Paul called "dung". It isn't that we should not do, be and have all of these qualities in our lives. It is that these things in and of themselves are not an end in themselves. They do not earn brownie points with God. They can be and often are the fruit of the righteousness of God in our lives; but these fine traits are also often manifested in people who do not embrace Christ at all. As Paul wrote,
"Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death" (Philippians 3:4-10).
Being found in him,
not having mine own righteousness,
which is of the law,
but that which is through the faith of Christ,
the righteousness which is of God by faith.
Jesus Christ came to earth to pay the death penalty for sin so that those who believe in Him might be forgiven. And He came to transfer our dependence upon rules-keeping to reliance upon Him to save us—the only One Who can.
"And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees [the Law] against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross" (Colossians 2:13-14 NAS).
The only righteousness that counts in heaven is the righteousness of Jesus Christ. God will not pull out a list when we get there and weigh the good things we have done against the bad. He will look to see if we are clothed in the righteousness of His Son. It is the only thing we have to bring Him. The good works we bring to the table will be those that were initiated and empowered by Him and to Him will go all the glory.
The good works we bring to the table
will be those that were initiated and empowered
God will look upon the human who has lived the perfect life apart from Christ and count it all dung. It's tough to swallow, but the thief on the cross who spoke words of faith to Christ at the last moment went to heaven without even saying the sinner's prayer. Jesus only words to him were, "Today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43).
Prior to his conversion, Paul was responsible for the deaths of many believers in Christ. He understood the grace and forgiveness of God. And he never lost sight of the one great truth. Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5:6).
Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary defines justification this way.
"Justification is God's declaration that the demands of His Law have been fulfilled in the righteousness of His Son." The basis for this justification is the death of Christ. Paul tells us that 'God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them' (2 Corinthians 5:19). This reconciliation covers all sin: "For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified" (Hebrews 10:14).
Justification, then, is based on the work of Christ alone, accomplished through His blood (Romans 5:9) and brought to His people through His resurrection" (Romans 4:25).
"But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." (Romans 3:21-24 NIV).
Isn't it remarkable that Paul declares that this righteousness we receive by faith has been testified to by the books of the Old Testament—the Law and the Prophets. Here is just one verse.
"I will rejoice greatly in the LORD, My soul will exult in my God; For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels" (Isaiah 61:10 NAS).
It is Faith and Faith Alone
It is faith plus nothing. When we trust in anything or anyone other than Jesus Christ for our salvation, including ourselves, we create a god of our own imagination—an idol—a false god.
We mostly make ourselves the god of our lives and often try to be the god over other peoples lives as well. Paul uses scarey words for those who trust in their good works to keep them.
"And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him" (Hebrews 11:6 NIV).
We will never overcome
our fallenness in this life.
We will never overcome our fallenness in this life. The purest, the most mature, the most dedicated believer falls short of the glory of God. We all partake of the tree of knowledge of good and evil from time to time. We will, however, as we grow in our understanding of God's mercy and grace, find ourselves turning there less and less.
Paul wrote often of the great seduction of a good works (performance) mentality throughout his epistles. He called it a different gospel and a different spirit—the gospel of the evil one—the spirit of the evil one.
"But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent's cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough" (2 Corinthians 11:3-4 NIV).
This is the great temptation for Christians.
"I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel" (Galatians 1:6).
Paul asks questions of the Galatians that are just as relevant to us today as they were to them almost 2000 years ago. As I have already said, it is the age-old problem of mankind and is at the very heart of our spiritual condition.
"You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does He then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham" (Galatians 3:1-7 NAS).
Legalism (the letter of the law) or it's other face—lawlessness—are what we will live under when we do not understand grace and faith. Even when we do understand it, our natural tendency is to "fall" back into it, because it is as comfortable as an old shoe. At some point in the lives of most believers, however, we trade in our old rules-keeping shoes for the good news shoes—the good new of peace.
"and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace" (Ephesians 6:15 NAS).
My personal definition of legalism, the religious system of the fall, is a strict adherence to a more or less rigid set of rules whereby we judge ourselves and others as to how we or they are doing.
Even the non-religious walk in legalism. The rules are just different. What system is more legalistic than the Mafia? How about orthodox Judaism or Islam? And what about just plain old controlling behavior?
Legalism is the religious system
of the fall.
Faith is based upon a vital relationship with Jesus Christ. The more legalistic we are, the poorer our relationships with God and others will be. Legalism is a hindrance to relationship. It is simply impossible to have loving, healthy, supportive, relationships while living under a system of rules and laws, because no one keeps their own rules well, much less everyone else's rules.
The law does have a purpose. It is for the training and protection of the immature. "Don't play in the street." "Don't go near a growling dog." "Keep your hands away from a boiling pot." The same thing can be said about young Christians. We need to understand the whole word of God to become mature. As we mature, we no longer need rules to live by. We trust in Christ's saving, sanctifying power to transform us into His image. We trust in the power of His love to constrain us (2 Corinthians 5:14). Our "want to's" and "don't want to's" change. Galatians 4:1-11 (NAS) make exactly this point.
"Now I say, as long as the heir is a child, he does not differ at all from a slave although he is owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by the father. So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world. But when the fulness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!' Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God. However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain."
God wants a loving Father-son/Father-daughter relationship with us. The Bible also describes His relationship with believers as husband and wife and as friend. These are very intimate, personal connections.
Unlike most earthly relationships, our status with God does not depend on how well we do from hour to hour, day to day, but on whether we believe in His Son.
The Gospel has been Preached from Genesis to Revelation
It may come as a surprise to some reading this, but the gospel has been preached to all generations—from Genesis to Revelation—beginning with Adam and Eve after the fell in Genesis 3.
"And the LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them" (Genesis 3:21 NAS).
In this brief verse we see the first sacrifice for sin. We know not what, but something was slain—blood was shed—for those garments of skin. Here is the foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the lamb of God, slain for the Sin of mankind from the foundation of the world.
Whether it be the Old or the New Testament, all people of faith are Abraham's descendants. We see in the following references that God preached tbe gospel Abraham and to his descendants (seed).
"And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘All the nations shall be blessed in you.' So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer" (Galatians 3:8-9 NAS).
To His Seed:
Before I read these words of Charles Spurgeon, I believed them to be true.
"'The earth,'" which the meek are to inherit might be rendered "the land"
—bringing out the immediate reference to Canaan as the promised land, the secure possession of which was to the Old Testament saints the evidence and manifestation of God's favour resting on them, and the ideal of all true and abiding blessedness."
Paul bears witness to this great truth as well.
"Therefore, let us fear lest, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you should seem to have come short of it. For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard" (Hebrews 4:1-2 NAS).
All people of faith are Abraham's descendants.
Abraham—The Father of All People of Faith
The book of Romans breaks it down even more. We are not the descendants of Abraham's son, Ishmael. We are very specifically the son of Abraham's son, Isaac, and of Isaac's son Jacob, whose name was later changed to Israel.
" . . . For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham's children. On the contrary, ‘It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.' In other words, it is not the natural children who are God's children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham's offspring. For this was how the promise was stated: 'At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.' Not only that, but Rebekah's children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God's purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, "The older will serve the younger.' Just as it is written: 'Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.'" (Romans 9:6-13 NIV).
So why are these passages relevant to our study of the wilderness journey? Because the promised land was what is now called Israel. It is the same land God promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob approximately four hundred years before God raised up Moses to lead the Israelites there. Here is the promise to Abraham.
"And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces. In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates" (Genesis 15:17-18 KJV).
Paul confirms the present validity of this promise in the following scripture:
" . . . The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established [with Abraham] by God and thus do away with the promise [made to Abraham]" (Galatian 3:17 NIV).
So what does the promised land represent for the New Testament/New Covenant believer? First, I believe the promised land represents the spirit-filled life based upon faith and promise and not upon law.
"It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless, because law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression. Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all" (Romans 4:13-16 NIV).
Second, I believe the promised land represents the fruitful life of the believer and "the kingdom of His beloved Son."
"For this reason also, since the day we heard of it we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. For He delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins" (Colossians 1:9-14 NAS).
Believers are no longer living
under the tyrannical rule and reign of this world.
Third, for the New Testament church, I believe the promised land represents the eternal kingdom of God on earth.
The word "kingdom" in the Greek means "rule" or "reign". Believers are no longer living under the tyrannical rule and reign of this world but instead are living under the gracious rule and reign of Christ.
"The kingdom of God is not meat nor drink but righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 11:17).
That We Might Serve God
When the Lord first confronted Moses at the burning bush, He revealed His plan to deliver the Israelites out of Egypt, not merely to free them from the rigors of slavery to the Egyptians but so they would be free to serve Him.
"'Come now, therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.' But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?' So He said, ‘I will certainly be with you. And this shall be a sign to you that I have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain'" (Exodus 3:10-12 NKJ).
When Jesus rose from the waters of baptism, His Father in Heaven spoke these words:
"Behold, My Servant whom I have chosen; My Beloved in whom My soul is well-pleased; I will put My Spirit upon Him, and He shall proclaim justice to the Gentiles" (Matthew 12:18 NAS).
Jesus, who Is God, came to this earth to serve.
"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45 NAS).
Paul explains in the book of Romans that we are all servants or slaves of something or someone—perhaps to our own appetites. As believers in Jesus Christ we are all called to be servants of the living God.
"You know well enough from your own experience that there are some acts of so-called freedom that destroy freedom. Offer yourselves to sin, for instance, and it's your last free act. But offer yourselves to the ways of God and the freedom never quits. All your lives you've let sin tell you what to do. But thank God you've started listening to a new master, one whose commands set you free to live openly in his freedom!" (Romans 6:16 The Message)
God has not called us to freedom to serve ourselves but to serve Him and to serve others. We cannot serve God from the position of bondage and slavery. We will only make more slaves.
As Jesus said to His disciples, a servant cannot be any greater than what or who masters him or her (John 13:16). The path to greatness in God's kingdom is humble servanthood—servanthood to Jesus Christ (Mark 9:35, 10:44). So as we begin the journey out of the certain death of Egypt and legalism into the land of faith and promise, let us press on with the full intention of becoming servants of the Most High God.
In most cases in the Hebrew and Greek, the word "serve" is synonymous with the word "worship." Romans 12:1-2 describes New Testament service.
"So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you" (from THE MESSAGE: The Bible in Contemporary Language © 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson. All rights reserved.)
Getting out of Egypt
We learned earlier that Jesus blatantly called the Pharisees (legalists) children of the devil (John 8:44). And we also learned that legalism is spiritual slavery (Galatians 5:1). If Egypt was the house of slavery (Exodus 13:3, 13:20, 20:2), then Pharoah, its ruler, was at least a seed (son) of Satan, and actually a clear "type" of Satan.
Jesus blatantly called the Pharisees
children of the devil.
In studying Israel's exodus from Egypt, we see exactly 1) how great a warfare the devil conducts to prevent us from knowing, loving and serving God; 2) how difficult it is to escape the clutches of Satan's love language—which is legalism; 3) how seductive slavery can be, and 4) how powerfully, decisively and sovereignly God deals with the forces of darkness in the lives of those submitted to Him.
"Speak unto the children of Israel, that they turn and encamp before Pihahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, over against Baal-zephon: before it shall ye encamp by the sea. For Pharaoh will say of the children of Israel, They are entangled in the land, the wilderness hath shut them in. And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, that he shall follow after them; and I will be honoured upon Pharaoh, and upon all his host; that the Egyptians may know that I am the Lord. And they did so" (Exodus 14:2-4 KJV).
The Lord lured Pharoah and his troops into a trap and destroyed them completely.
In the early stages of our faith walk, though completely miserable, the familiar life and sweat of slavery to rules and a performance mentality is much more comfortable than the unfamiliar realm of faith and promise.
Hebrews 11:1-2, 6 defines faith for us.
"So come on, let's leave the preschool fingerpainting exercises on Christ and get on with the grand work of art. Grow up in Christ. The basic foundational truths are in place: turning your back on ‘salvation by self-help' and turning in trust toward God . . . if then they turn their backs on it, washing their hands of the whole thing, well, they can't start over as if nothing happened. That's impossible. Why, they've re-crucified Jesus! They've repudiated him in public! . . . It's impossible to please God apart from faith. And why? Because anyone who wants to approach God must believe both that he exists and that he cares enough to respond to those who seek him" (THE MESSAGE: The Bible in Contemporary Language © 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson. All rights reserved).
Were it not for the fact that God has determined to deliver us, we would never walk out of the world, of which Israel is clearly "an example for us today".
Were it not for the fact that God has determined
to deliver us, we would never walk out of the world.
"Now these things happened to them [Israel] as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it" (1 Corinthians 10:11-13 NAS).
"For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope" (Romans 15:4 NAS).
Crossing the Red Sea
Moses petitioned Pharoah seven times to "Let my people go". It was only after great tragedy and loss, not only to Pharoah but to the people of Egypt, that Pharoah reluctantly let Israel leave Egypt. Even then, he pursued them one last time as they camped before the Red Sea. His reason? To bring them back into the physical and spiritual slavery of Egypt, of course.
The people were terrified as Pharoah and his men pursued them. The whining and complaining of the approximately 400,000 against Moses could be heard across the camp.
"Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness" (Exodus 14:12).
Israel's response was a common one. At first glance the slavery of the one extreme of rules keeping, performance, pretension and perfection and/or the other extreme of rebellion and selfishness to the other extreme appear to be more appealing. In our carnal minds it all seems to be easier than taking up our cross, denying ourselves and following Jesus. It only appears, however, that it is easier. It is when we taste more and more of God's grace that our faith recognizes the significance of allowing His resurrection to work in our lives.
"O taste and see that the LORD is good; how blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!" (Psalm 34:8 NAS).
Though the crucifixion of Christ on the cross of Calvary had not yet occurred, looking back we can see that it cast its long shadow all the way back to the garden and the fall of man. A veiled prophecy of the cross was given at that time.
"And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel" (Genesis 3:15 NAS).
Matthew Henry's Commentary says of this verse, "Notice is here given them of three things concerning Christ:
1) His incarnation, that he should be the seed of the woman, the seed of that woman; therefore his genealogy (Luke 3) goes so high as to show him to be the son of Adam, but God does the woman the honour to call him rather her seed, because she it was whom the devil had beguiled, and on whom Adam had laid the blame; herein God magnifies his grace, in that, though the woman was first in the transgression, yet she shall be saved by child-bearing (as some read it), that is, by the promised seed who shall descend from her (1 Timothy 2:15). He was likewise to be the seed of a woman only, of a virgin, that he might not be tainted with the corruption of our nature; he was sent forth, made of a woman (Galatians 4:4), that this promise might be fulfilled. It is a great encouragement to sinners that their Saviour is the seed of the woman, bone of our bone, (Hebrews 2:11,14). Man is therefore sinful and unclean, because he is born of a woman (Job 25:4), and therefore his days are full of trouble, (Job 14:1). But the seed of the woman was made sin and a curse for us, so saving us from both.
God does the woman the honour
of calling Christ her seed.
2) His sufferings and death, pointed to Satan's bruising his heel, that is, his human nature. Satan tempted Christ in the wilderness, to draw him into sin; and some think it was Satan that terrified Christ in his agony, to drive him to despair. It was the devil that put it into the heart of Judas to betray Christ, of Peter to deny him, of the chief priests to prosecute him, of the false witnesses to accuse him, and of Pilate to condemn him, aiming in all this, by destroying the Saviour, to ruin the salvation; but, on the contrary, it was by death that Christ destroyed him that had the power of death (Hebrews 2:14). Christ's heel was bruised when his feet were pierced and nailed to the cross, and Christ's sufferings are continued in the sufferings of the saints for his name. The devil tempts them, casts them into prison, persecutes and slays them, and so bruises the heel of Christ, who is afflicted in their afflictions. But, while the heel is bruised on earth, it is well that the head is safe in heaven.
3) His victory over Satan thereby. Satan had now trampled upon the woman, and insulted over her; but the seed of the woman should be raised up in the fulness of time to avenge her quarrel, and to trample upon him, to spoil him, to lead him captive, and to triumph over him (Colossians 2:15). He shall bruise his head, that is, he shall destroy all his politics and all his powers, and give a total overthrow to his kingdom and interest. Christ baffled Satan's temptations, rescued souls out of his hands, cast him out of the bodies of people, dispossessed the strong man armed, and divided his spoil: by his death and resurrection, he dealt a fatal blow to the devil's kingdom, a wound to the head of this beast, that can never be healed. As his gospel gets ground, Satan falls (Luke 10:18) and is bound, (Revelation 20:2). By his grace, he treads Satan under his people's feet (Romans 16:20) will shortly cast him into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10). And the devil's perpetual overthrow will be the complete and everlasting joy and glory of the chosen remnant."
By his death and resurrection
Christ dealt a fatal blow
to the devil's kingdom.
An important point often overlooked regarding the cross is that we will all die either way, by the slavery of rules-keeping or by the cross. Unfortuately there is no resurrection when the letter of the law kills, only more death. Resurrection life only comes as we take up our crosses and follow Jesus's example.
"And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:27 KJV).
As for me and my house, we choose the cross.
The many sufferings both allowed and brought into our lives are God's grace. They cause us to grab hold of our cross and His cross for dear life. We have only to stand back and watch Him change our selfish, independent hearts into hearts filled with overflowing love for Him and for others.
The cross stands in the middle of history, and it casts it shadow both backward to the fall and forward to the end of time. Israel was living under the foreshadowing of the cross. God was calling them to die to themselves in the wilderness just as He calls us to do the same. Dying. This is what the wilderness is all about. We will learn as we continue this study that we may have left Egypt, but the love of Egypt (the world) still throbs in our hearts.
The fiery trials of the wilderness
are ordained by God.
The fiery trials of the wilderness are ordained by God:
1) to bring us to the death of our selfish, self-centered selves,
"Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:5-8 NAS).
2) to develop perseverance, character and hope in us,
"Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! (Romans 5:3-5 NIV).
And 3) to prove to us that He is not only good but even in our darkest hours He has only the best of desires for us.
"All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness" (Hebrew 12:11 NAS).
Though it is not the end of the journey, the wilderness is God's discipline in our lives, and what powerful and precious promises God gives to those who walk in faith.
But Israel was just a babe. They were not only terrified. They wanted to turn back to Egypt. The Lord, however, had greater plans and Moses clearly had greater understanding.
"And they said unto Moses, Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness? wherefore hast thou dealt thus with us, to carry us forth out of Egypt? Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness. And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will shew to you to day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever. The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace" (Exodus 14:11-14 KJV).
And He did fight for them. God completely destroyed the Egyptians.
Moses' response to Israel's cries to return to the slavery of Egypt and the tyranny of Pharoah was grace in action. He did not say, "You wretched infidels! Where is your faith?" Instead he spoke compassionate words of encouragement and comfort.
" . . . Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will show to you today: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen today, ye shall see them again no more forever. The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace" (Exodus 14:13).
Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.
The next morning God parted the Red Sea and Israel took their first step of faith.
"Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord swept the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into land, so the waters were divided. And the sons of Israel went through the midst of the sea on the dry land, and the waters were like a wall to them on their right hand and on their left" (Exodus 14:21-22 NAS).
Perhaps if Egypt had not immediately gone after them, Israel would have continued on in what little faith they had. This is, however, not what happened. Pharoah, a type of Satan, does not give us up without a fight.
"Then the Egyptians took up the pursuit, and all Pharaoh's horses, his chariots and his horsemen went in after them into the midst of the sea. And it came about at the morning watch, that the Lord looked down on the army of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and cloud and brought the army of the Egyptians into confusion. And He caused their chariot wheels to swerve, and He made them drive with difficulty; so the Egyptians said, ‘Let us flee from Israel, for the Lord is fighting for them against the Egyptians.' Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may come back over the Egyptians, over their chariots and their horsemen.' So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal state at daybreak, while the Egyptians were fleeing right into it; then the Lord overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea. And the waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen, even Pharaoh's entire army that had gone into the sea after them; not even one of them remained. But the sons of Israel walked on dry land through the midst of the sea, and the waters were like a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. And when Israel saw the great power which the Lord had used against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in His servant Moses" (Exodus 14:21-31).
There "remained not so much as one of them" (Exodus 14:28). Pharaoh and his troops were dead, but Egypt (legalism and bondage) still held sway over Israel. They were no longer in Egypt, but Egypt was still thriving in them.
For the New Testament believer, our wilderness is about the process of being transformed into the image of Jesus. It is about sanctification and renewing the mind. It is about learning to walk by faith and not by sight. It is about learning to walk into more and more of all the Lord has done for us and to open ourselves up to what He desires to do in us.
Unfortunately, we usually don't move on with the Lord until we get uncomfortable with where we are.
Having crossed the Red Sea and begun the journey into the dry and thirty land of the wilderness, the very first place Israel camped exposed Israel's lack of faith again.
The three-day journey to their first resting place was an arduous one. Sweltering in the blazing desert sun, thirsting for a drop of water, they found none. Finally they arrived panting at the waters of Marah, which means "bitterness." True to its name, it was bitter. Moses interceded, crying out to the Lord on their behalf.
"And the Lord showed him a tree, which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet: there he made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there he proved them, And said, If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the Lord that healeth thee" (Exodus 15:25-26).
The bitter waters was a metaphor for what was in their hearts, and as exemplified in the following reference, the tree is a type of the cross.
"[Jesus] Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes we are healed" (I Peter 2:24).
Jesus and His inseparable cross are the only cure for the fear and bitter waters or our hearts.
When Israel arrived at their first stop that night in the wilderness, there was great rejoicing in the camp. God delivered them from Pharoah and the Egyptians. As Jesus turned water into wine, God threw a tree into the bitter waters and made them sweet. Weren't they now resting in an oasis called Elim where there was water galore (twelve springs) and the enviable unlimited supply of food (seventy date palms) (Exodus 15:27)? "Ahhh! Aren't we glad now that we hung in there with God?"
Each time we experience the realization of one of God's promises, we heave a sigh of relief, marvel at God's faithfulness and vow to trust God forever. "This is the life. God is good," we utter to ourselves. Until the next test. But for now, all is well with our souls.
Then all of a sudden, like the pangs of childbirth, here it comes again. Another trial. God moves Israel further into the wilderness. Suddenly they realize they are really, really hungry. Is there never any end to all of this? They not only murmured against Moses. They forgot God. It is not only all Moses' fault. It is worse! He has brought them into the wilderness to kill them—to starve them to death!
"Then they set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the sons of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departure from the land of Egypt. And the whole congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. And the sons of Israel said to them, ‘Would that we had died by the Lord's hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger'" (Exodus 16:1-3 NAS).
This was their second test of faith and they failed miserably. Waaaaaaah! Why did you bring us out of Egypt? We want to go home!
Before we are too quick to point a finger at Israel, let's remember that most of us can look back and see that there truly is nothing new under the sun. The first, second, third time we tell our children "no", the first, second, third time we require them to delay their gratification, they do the same. And so do we as new born babes in Christ. "I thought God was good," we mutter to ourselves. At least this is true of most of us.
Israel's third test came right on the heals of the second. They had already forgotten God's faithfulness to them. Soon they were grumbling again because they were hungry and there was no food in sight.
Israel had already forgotten
God's faithfulness to them.
"And the sons of Israel said to them, ‘Would that we had died by the Lord's hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger'" (Exodus 16:3 NAS)
Well, can we blame them? It is tempting to do so, but I will not. We all begin the journey of faith as babes. Israel does not yet truly know this Great One called Father who is "merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth" (Psalm 86:15 NAS)—the very One who says, "I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt: open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it" (Psalm 81:10 KJV).
And so He does.
"Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day's portion every day, that I may test them, whether or not they will walk in My instruction. And it will come about on the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily' So Moses and Aaron said to all the sons of Israel, ‘At evening you will know that the Lord has brought you out of the land of Egypt; and in the morning you will see the glory of the Lord, for He hears your grumblings against the Lord ; and what are we, that you grumble against us?' And Moses said, ‘This will happen when the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening, and bread to the full in the morning; for the Lord hears your grumblings which you grumble against Him. And what are we? Your grumblings are not against us but against the Lord.' Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘Say to all the congregation of the sons of Israel, "Come near before the Lord , for He has heard your grumblings.'" And it came about as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the sons of Israel, that they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘I have heard the grumblings of the sons of Israel; speak to them, saying, "At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread; and you shall know that I am the Lord your God.'" So it came about at evening that the quails came up and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew evaporated, behold, on the surface of the wilderness there was a fine flake-like thing, fine as the frost on the ground. When the sons of Israel saw it, they said to one another, ‘What is it?' For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, ‘It is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat. This is what the Lord has commanded, "Gather of it every man as much as he should eat; you shall take an omer apiece according to the number of persons each of you has in his tent.'" And the sons of Israel did so, and some gathered much and some little. When they measured it with an omer, he who had gathered much had no excess, and he who had gathered little had no lack; every man gathered as much as he should eat" (Exodus 16:4-18 NAS).
Can we doubt the goodness and faithfulness of God?
Apparently we can and do.
Can we doubt the goodness and faithfulness of God when we read such words as these? Apparently we can and do. Already Israel has tested the Lord three times. And the fourth time is coming up quickly. You would think that Israel would remember God's provision of both water and food so that the next time they faced one of these crises, they would know they could trust God for their provision. They are all too predictable. Once again they grumble against the all wise God and look for someone to blame.
"Then all the congregation of the sons of Israel journeyed by stages from the wilderness of Sin, according to the command of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim, and there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, ‘Give us water that we may drink.' And Moses said to them, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?' But the people thirsted there for water; and they grumbled against Moses and said, ‘Why, now, have you brought us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?' So Moses cried out to the Lord, saying, ‘What shall I do to this people? A little more and they will stone me.' Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Pass before the people and take with you some of the elders of Israel; and take in your hand your staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. ‘Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.' And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he named the place Massah and Meribah because of the quarrel of the sons of Israel, and because they tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us, or not?'" (Exodus 17:1-7 NAS).
In chapter eighteen Moses and his father-in-law tend to some administrative problems. Yup. Sometimes we have to stop and handle the nitty gritty details of life. In chapter nineteen we find Israel camped in the wilderness of Sinai. It has been three months since they left Egypt.
It is here that God speaks words of love, promise and encouragement to His children.
"In the third month after the sons of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. When they set out from Rephidim, they came to the wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness; and there Israel camped in front of the mountain. And Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, 'Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel: "You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings, and brought you to Myself. 'Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.'"'" (Exodus 19:1-6 NAS).
Do you recognize God's words to those in the wildernesss in the above passage? "And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation"
They are very similar to those used in 1 Peter 2:9 (NAS).
"But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light."
Let's stop and think about this. Our journey through the wilderness is about learning to walk out of slavery into freedom. There are many falls travelling through the transforming process of the wilderness. There is no such thing as a quick fix or a perfect walk in the Lord. In spite of God's signs, wonders and provision, when the Hebrews finally arrived at Sinai, they had only begun the process. They had no idea how much they had to learn. When given the opportunity to enter into a relationship with God to serve (worship) Him,
they chose not to do so. Instead they backed away.
Our journey through the wilderness
is about learning to walk
out of slavery into freedom.
The first time the Lord gave the ten commandments, He spoke them. That's right. They were not yet written on tablets of stone. And the people were terrified.
" . . . all the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance. Then they said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, lest we die.' And Moses said to the people, "Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.' So the people stood at a distance, while Moses approached the thick cloud where God was" (Exodus 20:18-21 NAS).
Yes, the Israelites stood at a distance. Like little children, they still wanted to be told what to do and what not to do. Even worse, they actually preferred a nice neat and tidy list of do's and don'ts over an authentic relationship with the Lord who had brought them safely to this place. And they quickly fell into disobedience of those to those do's and don'ts. A big stick is far less effective than love as a motivator of obedience.
Paul addresses this very question with clear and bold words of wisdom.
"If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, ‘Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!' (which all refer to things destined to perish with the using)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence" (Colossians 2:20-23 NAS).
Relationship with God is relationship with a consuming fire. He burns up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
"See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less shall we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven. And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.' And this expression, ‘Yet once more,' denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, in order that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:25-29 NAS).
It's tough to grasp that the fires and shakings in our lives are there to liberate us. Remember the three Hebrew children in the book of Daniel? Their hands were bound and they were cast into the fiery furnace to be turned into ashes. Instead they walked out of that furnace without even the smell of smoke on them. Daniel mentions a "fourth man" walking among the flames with them. That would be God. We are never alone in God's consuming fire. He is always with us. And the only things shaken in our lives are those things that can be shaken—those things that are not eternal.
After going through many personal shakings, I know that I would not have made it through the wilderness any better than Israel. I don't know about you, but I don't like the fires and the shakings, but I don't want anything that is not eternal in my life even more. After all, we are not there because we are already transformed. We are there to be transformed.
The Lord was not taken by surprise
when the Israelites chose rules over relationship.
The Wilderness—The Place of the Rebellious
" . . . the rebellious dwell in a dry land" (Psalm 68:6).
The Lord was not taken by surprise when the Israelites chose rules over relationship with Him. He was intimately acquainted with every rebellious heart. Clothing us with the gift of His righteousness, He alone can transform us into His image. This is what the wilderness experience is all about.
Ezekiel 12:2 says that the rebellious have eyes to see, and see not, ears to hear and hear not. Rebellion is the condition of slavery and idolatry.
"Their idols are silver and gold, The work of man's hands. They have mouths, but they cannot speak; They have eyes, but they cannot see; They have ears, but they cannot hear; They have noses, but they cannot smell; They have hands, but they cannot feel; They have feet, but they cannot walk; They cannot make a sound with their throat. Those who make them will become like them, Everyone who trusts in them" (Psalm 115:4-8 NAS).
The wilderness is God's furnace . . . a wasteland, a place of drought and desolation. It is a place of being deprived of everything that is temporal. It is where we are more and more emptied and cleansed or our iniquities and idolatries. Through this cleansing, we begin to hunger and thirst for true
righteousness. It is a time of dying to and denying ourselves that we might glorify the Lord. It is the place of plucking up and breaking down, of destroying and overthrowing, of building and planting (Ecclesiastes 3).
The Greek and Hebrew word studies further validate all of the above and more. The following is a summary. The wilderness is a place of annihilation, waste, drying up, desolation, loneliness, isolation, sterility. It is a place of barrenness, denial, cutting off, ending, finishing, perishing, consuming, overthrowing, bringing to nothing, winnowing, scattering, destruction, killing, where death seizes us, of crying out like wild beasts. It is the place of
bereavement, melting with sorrow and grief, of cleansing and making a clean riddance of. At the same time, it is a place of hunger and thirst, of ripening, maturing and fulfilling, of completing, preparing, setting free, and fulfilling.
Years ago, when an alcoholic went for treatment, it was said he went to "dry out." Similarly, the wilderness is where God takes us to "dry out." It is a place of isolation, deprivation of cravings, winnowing, grief and fasting from our excesses and extremities. It is also the place of growing, maturing and liberation. And yes. It is a place of loss and mourning. It is a place of emptying. It is a place of humbling.
The wilderness is the place of dying to self.
The Wilderness—A Time to Die
"And you shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. And He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord" (Deuteronomy 8:2-3 NAS).
The wilderness is the place of mourning, of fasting, of repentance and of humbling ourselves. It is the place of dying to our selves—to our selfish pride and ambitions—to our hopes and dreams. It is only after our death to all things that are not eternal hidden in deep in the caverns of our hearts that God can truly fulfill us in ways we never dreamed possible.
In studying Job in Job 41:1-42:6, and Nebchadnezzar, an evil man in the book of Daniel, we see the beast nature dwells in all of us. Gesenius' Hebrew Lexicon says that the wilderness is a place where wild beasts cry out. All of the murmurings against Moses and the Lord roared from the beast deep within the Israelites. The same can be said about us. In New Testament terms Paul called it "the flesh."
And let's not forget the invisible beast in the children in the wilderness.
"And the sons of Israel said to them, ‘Would that we had died by the LORD'S hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger'" (Exodus 16:3 NAS).
And how about this one?
"And the rabble who were among them had greedy desires; and also the sons of Israel wept again and said, ‘Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna'" (Numbers 11:4-6 NAS).
There is, however, another crying out by inhabitants of the wilderness that is a cry of godly sorrow and grief.
"The mountains will melt under Him, And the valleys will be split, Like wax before the fire, Like water poured down a steep place. All this is for the rebellion of Jacob And for the sins of the house of Israel. What is the rebellion of Jacob? Is it not Samaria? What is the high place of Judah? Is it not Jerusalem? For I will make Samaria a heap of ruins in the open country, Planting places for a vineyard. I will pour her stones down into the valley, And will lay bare her foundations. All of her idols will be smashed, All of her earnings will be burned with fire, And all of her images I will make desolate, For she collected them from a harlot's earnings, And to the earnings of a harlot they will return. Because of this I must lament and wail, I must go barefoot and naked; I must make a lament like the jackals And a mourning like the ostriches" (Micah 1:4-8 NAS).
In this passage, the prophet is mourning over the judgment of sin and rebellion of his people Israel. He has set a high standard for you and me. He compares his mourning to that of jackals and ostriches, wild beasts of the wilderness (See also Isaiah 23:13, 34:14, Jeremiah 50:39).
God's desire is that we would mourn and wail
through the wilderness over our sins and rebellion
Israel murmured their way through the wilderness. God's desire is that we would mourn and wail through the wilderness over our sins and rebellion. The distance between Egypt and Israel was a three to four day trip, but because God saw the rebellion in their hearts, it took forty years.
It is fitting to mourn over God's chastening hand of love upon us. However, a rebellious heart refuses to mourn.
"O Lord, are not thine eyes upon the truth? thou hast stricken them, but they have not grieved; thou has consumed them, but they have refused to receive correction: they havemade their faces harder than a rock; they have refused to turn" (Jeremiah 5:3).
Every time we humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, He lifts us up. The more the beast of self howls and mourns over God's chastening for sin and rebellion, the sooner it begins loses its power—little by little.
Speaking of the enemies in the promised land, God said to them, "I will not drive them out before you in a single year, that the land may not become desolate, and the beasts of the field become too numerous for you. I will drive them out before you little by little, until you become fruitful and take possession of the land" (Exodus 23:29-30 NAS).
The maturing process cannot be rushed. Everything moves according to His time, not ours. I had to see the beast within me and to suffer the stings of that beast far longer than I would hope anyone else would. My self-will and self-"ishness" would still embarrass me to this day were it not for the goodness and kindness of the grace of God.
The Enemies in the Wilderness
Some of the enemes in "our" land are selfishness, fear, pride and anger. The list is long.
With the one exception of the Amorites, the only warfare Israel had in the wilderness was with family members. The Amalekites were believed to be the offspring of Esau, brother of Jacob. The Moabites and Ammonites were the incestuous seed of Abraham's second wife, Keturah.
The Lord deals with the iniquities of the generations past in the wilderness.
He wants to purge and cleanse us of them. He wants to deliver us and our families from the grievous offenses passed down from generation to generation.
The last place Israel camped before entering into the promised land was the territory of Moab. Moab means "What Father?" or "From Father." I hear these words as words of rebellion and cynicism. We often project our feelings about our angry fathers onto the loving God of the universe.
The Lord wants to deliver us and our families
from the grievous offenses
passed down from generation to generation.
Moses represents "the law," in scripture. Moses was Israel's father in the wilderness. God was Father of them all. He died and was buried in the land of Moab ("What father?"), perhaps foreshadowing the end of the law for righteousness for everyone who believes both backward and forward through the generations (Romans 10:4 NAS).
"We got the basics [the law] from Moses, and then this exuberant giving and receiving, This endless knowing and understanding—all this came through Jesus, the Messiah." (John 1:17 THE MESSAGE: The Bible in Contemporary Language © 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson. All rights reserved.)
Paul equated the difference of legalism to the flesh and to the letter of the law.
"Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, that we might bear fruit for God. For while we were in the flesh [under the Law], the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound [the law], so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter. What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.' But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead" (Romans 7:4-9 NAS).
Paul gives us a different way of looking at this in the book of Galatians.
"But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus" (Romans 3:23-26 NAS).
Crossing Jordan—The Way Up is Down
The word "Jordan" in the Hebrew means "to descend." This is another one of those reverse principles in the Bible. We have to go down to go up. We have to descend to ascend. We have humble ourselves [go lower] to be lifted up [to go higher].
Crossing the Jordan is a going lower
—a humbling of ourselves.
"Humble [lower] yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt [lift] you [up]" (James 4:10 NAS).
Crossing the Jordan is a going lower—a humbling of ourselves. This is a transition from wilderness lifestyle to promised land lifestyle.
In crossing the Jordan, much like waters baptism, the old man was buried in the waters of the Jordan.
The land of promise is frequently referred to as the land beyond the Jordan. Crossing the Jordan to enter the promised land is akin to the transition from bratty teenager to the simple faith of a little child—from walking by sight to walking by faith.
The words "beyond" and "crossing over" actually mean "transition." The transition is one of putting off the old man and putting on the new.
Because of the stubbornness and rebellion of Israel in the wilderness, with the exception of Caleb and Joshua, only the little children entered the promised land. The rest died there in the wilderness.
We see this metaphor in Deuteronomy 1:35-36 and 38-39 below.
"Surely there shall not one of these men of this evil generation see that good land, which I sware to give unto your fathers, Save Caleb . . . (and) . . . Joshua
. . . Moreover your little ones, which ye said should be a prey, and your children, which in that day had no knowledge between good and evil [a metaphor for legalism], they shall go in thither, and unto them will I give it, and they shall possess it" (Parentheses mine).
No one under the law
can enter the land of promise.
The children in the wilderness had no knowledge between good and evil. They were not under the law. No one under the law can enter the land of promise. Jesus said the same thing about children in the New Testament.
" . . . Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3-4).
Judgment and discernment are two different things. In the negative sense, judgment is condemning and critical. Romans 8:1 says of these attitudes that there is no more condemnation in Christ Jesus. In the positive sense, discernment is understanding the difference without judgment.
So Jesus defines becoming like a child as humbling oneself—allowing oneself to be broken. This is what it means to walk in the Spirit and not in the flesh. Exercising self-control is not the same thing as holding oneself and others to harsh, rigid standards, many of which are not even biblical. Here's how I know that I am walking in the flesh. I begin to not only criticize myself but I criticize others for not measuring up to my biblical standards.
Eugene Peterson best unravels the complex and wordy passage below, helping us greatly to get our arms around this great mystery. Don't skip over this great passage.
"What I don't understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can't be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God's command is necessary. But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can't keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don't have what it takes. I can will it, but I can't do it. I decide to do good, but I don't really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don't result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. It happens so regularly that it's predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God's commands, but it's pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. I've tried everything and nothing helps. I'm at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn't that the real question? The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different. With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ's being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death. God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn't deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all. The law code, weakened as it always was by fractured human nature, could never have done that. The law always ended up being used as a Band-Aid on sin instead of a deep healing of it. And now what the law code asked for but we couldn't deliver is accomplished as we, instead of redoubling our own efforts, simply embrace what the Spirit is doing in us.." (Romans 7:15-8:4, from THE MESSAGE: The Bible in Contemporary Language © 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson. All rights reserved.)
Paul is saying here that walking in the letter of law is diametrically opposed to walking by faith. Faith only comes from hearing the rhema (the personally revealed, enlightened and understood) word of God (Romans 10:17). Here's what I mean by this.
Approximately 500 people per service show up at my church on Sundays. We all hear the same sermon, yet we all take something unique away from it. Some of it is relative to the sermon and some of it isn't mentioned in the sermon. Perhaps it is not chapter and verse. It may not even be in the bible, but it brings a biblical truth to life. This describes the personally revealed or enlightened word of God.
There are two words in the Greek that mean "word." One is "logos," which represents all the words in the entire Bible. The other Greek word for "word" is "rhema," which represents those things that come alive to us personally as we read or listen to teaching and preaching. It means "an utterance." For me it is that still small voice that speaks to each of us if we will only pay attention.
"So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17 NAS).
Whether in the Old Testament or the New, faith is the only way to enter the land of God's promises.
"Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them [the Israelites in the wilderness]: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it" (Hebrews 4:2-3 Parentheses mine).
Whether in the Old Testament or the New,
faith is the only way
to enter the land of God's promises.
"Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin" (Romans 6:2-7).
When we don't die to the law through the wilderness experience, we will die in the wilderness, never seeing the land of promise—the land of liberty. This
does not mean we won't go to heaven. Moses died in the wilderness, yet he obviously went to heaven. He was with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. And there were enemies yet to be conquered in the promised land. There are no enemies in heaven.
When we die in the wilderness we will walk in little of the inheritance that God has for us in this life, because we didn't move into God's grace and faith, nor did we learn to overcome the enemies in the promised land. Unfortunately, Israel never did.
All of the works of the flesh are wood, hay and stubble. They will burn up in the fire.
"For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds upon the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it, because it is to be revealed with fire; and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work" (1 Corinthians 3:11-14 NAS).
We received the promises by grace through faith. Even our faith is not of ourselves but of Christ. We cannot boast that we had any part in God's works within us. And even our obedience is grounded in the conviction and chastenings of the Holy Spirit.
"For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise" (Galatians 3:18).
"For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect" (Romans 4:14).
Let us join Paul in praying that the "God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to us the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him; that the eyes of our understanding would be enlightened; that we may know what is the hope of His calling, and what are the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to His mighty power" (Ephesians 1:17-19).
Many things in God's kingdom are backward
from the world's way of doing things.
Many things in God's kingdom are backward from the world's way of doing things. Jesus said in Matthew 18:4, "Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.'"
Let us ask the Lord to lead us through the wilderness of death to self.
"Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off [died to] the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him" (Colossians 3:9-10).
The deeds of the old man are his hypocrisies. He covers himself with fig leaves, pretending he is something or someone he is not. He has all kinds of reasons to justify his coverups. Though many of these coverups seem quite spiritual, there is no justification for the hypocrisy.
As mentioned earlier, "Jordan" means "descending." The words "put off," as in "putting off the old man," have a similar meaning. They are both from a root word that means "to sink down." Three Hebrew words that mean "to humble," also mean to sink down. So crossing the Jordan is humbling ourselves.
Yes, the Jordan is the beginning of true humility in our lives. The new man, renewed in knowledge of the image of God, begins to be revealed. He is exactly who he appears to be, warts and all. He is comfortable with who he is—someone in the process of being transformed into the image of Christ. He is not self-conscious about who he is, only intent upon and grateful to be growing in grace through faith in Christ and making disciples of the same heart and mind.
"Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God. But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (Philippians 2:5-8).
If we want to go on with the Lord, there is no way to escape the work of the cross in our lives. Jesus said emphatically, "And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:27).
In spite of this, many Christians unknowingly reject the trials and tribulations of the humbling work of the cross in their lives. In doing so, they are wrestling with God.
I have heard ridiculous statements by people whose entire lives are committed to the things of God—except for the cross. One friend once said, "I'm sick of hearing about the cross. I want to get on with living!"
The irony of this statement is that there is absolutely no way to attain the ongoing ongrowing fruit of the resurrection life except through the cross. And there is definitely no way to avoid it when we commit ourselves fully to Christ. I am happy to say that my friend has finally gotten her arms wrapped tightly around the cross and adoring it.
I once heard a minister say, "We do NOT have to go through the wilderness to get to the promised land." What he was saying is we do not have to come to the cross to inherit the promises, to which I reply, "Balderdash!" "Apostasy!"
The choice is clear.
We can have counterfeit religion,
settle for the traditions of men,
or we can have Jesus.
In the Word of God, there is too much said about suffering to be denied. The choice is clear. We can have counterfeit religion, settle for the traditions of men, or we can have Jesus. Many professing believers carry around a holey Bible instead of a holy Bible. It's a choice that is before every believer each day of our lives.
Arriving at Gilgal
When Israel ascended on the other side of the river, resurrection life lay before them. The first stopping place in the Promised Land was Gilgal, situated on the eastern edge of Jericho. "Gilgal" means "rolling," [as in "rolling away the reproach of Egypt" (Joshua 5:9).
The reproach of Egypt is the shame we inevitably experience under the law, because, truth be known, we can never measure up. Under grace the stone has been rolled away like the stone over Lazarus' tomb. Freed from shame, the believer can begin to walk in resurrection life. Reproach and shame are rolled away at Gilgal.
"We have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God" (2 Corinthians 4:2 NAS).
The miraculous rolling away of the stone over Jesus's tomb is the ultimate rolling away of the reproaches of sin. It was His resurrection that made it possible to be freed from the snares of legalism.
A transparent life convicts those who are not—transparent—often bringing them to repentance. Folks not living the Christian life can be touched by the Lord by simply observing His children's lives. It happens all the time.
A transparent life convicts those who are not,
often bringing them to repentance.
When Israel arrived in Gilgal, the first thing God asked of them was that they circumcise the uncircumcised boys and men in the camp (Joshua 5:1-7). The act of Old Covenant circumcision is symbolic of the New Covenant circumcision of the heart.
"For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God" (Romans 2:28-29 NAS).
It is significant that circumcision, the sign of covenant, was the first command in the Promised Land. Though God made covenant with us on Calvary through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, it remains a promise until we have completed our journey through the wilderness.
The manifestation of a circumcised heart is a tender, broken heart of flesh as opposed to a hardened heart of stone. It is very easy to discern the difference. It is most obvioiusly apparent to the lost. They want nothing to do with this kind of religion. Unless, of course, it appeals to their own controlling view of life.
At that point all that was left for Israel was waiting to be healed—to be made whole.
"And it came to pass, when they had done circumcising all the people, that they abode in their places in the camp, till they were whole" (Joshua 5:8).
This word "whole," is from the Hebrew word for life. It also means "to restore and recover." At last! Resurrection life is a reality.
Two additional significant events took place at Gilgal. Israel celebrated its first Passover in the promised land and the manna ceased to fall from heaven. Israel began to partake of the fruit of the land.
There is one final stop before we end our journey together. It is the completion of the resurrection journey.
Gilgal was very near Jericho. Being the excellent leader that he was, Joshua went ahead to take a look. On the way, he had an encounter with the captain of the host of the Lord, most likely the Lord Himself. It was a similar experience to Moses's when he saw the Lord in the burning bush.
"And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, behold, there stood a man over against him with his sword drawn in his hand: and Joshua went unto him, and said unto him, Art thou for us, or for our adversaries? And he said, Nay; but as captain of the host of the Lord am I now come. And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and did worship, and said unto him, What saith my Lord unto his servant? And the captain of the Lord's host said unto Joshua, Loose thy shoe from off thy foot; for the place whereon thou standest is holy. And Joshua did so" (Joshua 5:13-15).
Wholeness (or holiness) is a manifestation of resurrection life. According to Hebrews 12:14, we cannot see God without it.
"Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification [holiness, purification] without which no one will see the Lord" (NAS).
"Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8).
It cannot be overemphasized that if we want to see the Lord, we must embrace the cross. The chastening of the Lord, a work of the cross, makes us partakers of His holiness" (Hebrews 12:10).
If we want to see the Lord,
we must embrace the cross.
Eyes to See
A person living in the idolatry of self-will, has eyes to see but cannot see. We've all been there. Many of us are still there.
Joshua was given eyes to see at Jericho that day. What he saw was the Lord.
The Bible is either a dead book or a living letter. We lose our ability to see the Lord in the self-idolatry of legalism. The Bible becomes a book of rules instead of a revelation of Jesus Christ.
"Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me" (John 5:39).
"And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, (Jesus) expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself" (Luke 24:27 Parentheses mine).
It was immediately after Isaiah saw the Lord that the He prophesied:
" . . . Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes: lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed" (Isaiah 6:9-10).
Because Israel had not cleansed their sin and iniquity with godly sorrow and tears, idolatry overtook them. They could no longer see, hear or understand the truth.
Job saw the Lord at the end of his trial.
"I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee" (Job. 42:6).
What Job saw was that his perception of God had been distorted. He could finally see God as He truly Is. Let us endure the trials and tribulations of suffering with patience. These have their own reward.
"As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we count those blessed who endured. You have heard of ther endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord's dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful" (James 5:10-11).
Through faith, our blind eyes are opened, our deaf ears can hear and our hardened hearts can convert (turn/repent) and be healed (made whole).
Jericho became a place of healing and restoration the day its walls fell. In the gospels, there are several references to Jesus healing blind eyes at Jericho (Matthew 20:29-34, Mark 10:46-52 and Luke 18:35). The Good Samaritan found and cared for the man wounded by the thieves (the legalists) until the wounded one recovered in Jericho (Luke 10:30).
The Walls of Jericho Fall—From Shut up to Set Free
All the people of the land had heard of what the Lord had done for Israel, and they were greatly afraid of them. Jericho was "straitly shut up because of the children of Israel: none went out, and none came in" (Joshua 1:1).
The walled city of Jericho is an allegory for being held captive to the law.
"Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. But the Scripture has shut up all men under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. But before faith came we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up up to the faith which was later to be revealed" (Gal. 3:22-23 NAS) (Emphasis mine).
The people who crossed the Jordan entered the land with the faith of little children. The chains of legalism were broken, and they entered into the realm of grace and faith. After rolling away their shame through the act of circumcision, their next step to possessing the land was Jericho. They could not possess it until its stony walls fell.
The people who crossed the Jordan
entered the land with the faith of little children.
The root word for Jericho is uncertain in the Hebrew lexicons. It is attributed to one of two possible roots. Each definition beautifully exemplifies the principle of being set free from the law.
One definition for "Jericho" is "fragrance." It is from the same root word for "breath" or "spirit." The root also means "to smell or make of quick understanding."
The stone walls of Jericho were at least thirty feet thick, a metaphor for the heart shut up in a wall of stone. When the walls collapse, the law that has imprisoned the heart is removed. Once the walls of Jericho fell, Israel was free to walk in the Spirit, no longer under the law.
"A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them" (Ezekiel 36:26-27).
The same principle holds true for the New testament believer.
"This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. But if be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law" (Galatians 5:16-18).
The other definition for "Jericho" is "moon."
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia claims that Sinai, where the Law was delivered, also means "moon." There are several metaphors comparing the moon to the law.
1. Even when the moon is full, half of it is still in darkness. The moon is a metaphor for the eye.
"The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness! No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon" (Matthew 6:22-24).
2. The darkness on the face of the moon is a shadow cast by the earth (the world—a metaphor for legalism) as it passes between the moon and the sun.
"For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect" (Hebrews 10:1).
3. The moon is used frequently in the Bible in relation to the feasts of the law.
"Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow [similar to the negative of a photograph] of things to come; but the body is of Christ" (Colossians 2:16-17).
4. The moon has no light of its own. It can only reflect the light of the sun. Both are inconsistent sources of light. The sun rises and sets everyday, leaving us in darkness for varying numbers of hours in a day. The light of the moon changes every night.
Jericho is on the east side of the Jordan. It is directly opposite the land of Moab ("What Father?"). Genesis 37:9-10 compares the sun to a symbol of the father and the moon as a symbol of the mother.
The fall of the wall of Jericho ("Moon") marks the end of our external focus on our parents for light and the beginning of growing in the resurrection life. Our focus has shifted to our internal relationship with the Lord, the only consistent source of the light we have.
"The sun shall be no more thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee: but the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory. Thy sun shall no more go down; neither shall thy moon withdraw itself: for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended" (Isaiah 60:19-20).
Joshua followed the Lord's instructions
and the wall fell down flat.
The Lord told Joshua that he had given Jericho into his hand. All he had to do was take it. The Lord's instructions were to rise early each morning for six days and circle the city. Each time he circled, he was to be followed by seven priests carrying the ark, blowing seven trumpets. Not one word was to be uttered during these six days.
On the seventh day they were to circle the city seven times. After a long blast on the ram's horn and the sound of the trumpets blowing, the people were to shout with a great shout and the wall would fall down flat. It sounds ridiculous, except for one thing. God spoke these instructions.
The rest is a matter of history. Joshua followed the Lord's instructions and the wall fell down flat.
The only residents to survive the destruction of Jericho were Rahab, the harlot, and her family who lived on the wall. She survived because she protected the Hebrew spies when they spied out the land (Joshua 6:25).
Rahab represents the harlotry of legalism. She is in each one of us. We are all legalists to some extent. She also represents the grace of God, who saved her from the certain death of the law. Rahab knew she was a harlot and didn't deny it. When we are able to admit what is in us, grace is readily available to us.
When we are able to admit what is in us,
grace is readily available to us.
Bearing Children of Promise
Gilgal, where the circumcision took place, was located in the "plains of Jericho" (Joshua 5:10). The word "plains" means "a sterile (barren) wilderness.
Until now, the children of Israel had been spiritually sterile. They had not borne children of promise. Instead they had borne children of bondage.
"Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a free-woman. But he who was of the bond-woman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar (Hagar). For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren (Sarah) that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband" (Galatians 4:21-27).
The wilderness experience can be compared to the labor of childbirth. Crossing the Jordan can be likened to "descending" through the birth canal. The children of promise are born again as they enter the Promised Land.
Canaan, which means shame, is promised to be transformed to Israel, which means Prince with God. The fulfillment of that promise lies ahead for the Israelites. The enemies must be destroyed and the land possessed. Likewise, our process is not over. The warfare has only begun, but without resurrection life throbbing within our hearts, it would be certain defeat for the Israelites.
This is why there are so many discouraged and/or defeated Christians today. We are fighting the battle without the preparation. Even worse, we might not want to be bothered with the preparation. Or even worse, we may not yet be willing to give us our "selves"—our own willfulness—our own silly notion that, as my granddaughter once told me as I was trying to help her get a shirt over her head, "I do it!" O! Holy Spirit. Get hold of us. Please!!! We cannot do anything of eternal, life-changing value without you.
"I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much from; for apart from Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5 NAS).
The wilderness exposes our weaknesses—our sinfulness to us.
Taking the Promised Land
The land of promise for the New Covenant believer is not the nation of Israel. Neither is it the physical city of Jerusalem. Jerusalem, which is above is our mother. She is free and brings forth children who are free (Galatians 4:26).
"Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, that thou didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord. Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes; For thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left, and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles, and make the desolate cities to be inhabited. Fear not; for thou shalt not be ashamed: neither be thou confounded; for thou shalt not be put to shame: for thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth, and shalt not remember the reproach of thy widowhood anymore. For thy Maker is thine husband; the Lord of hosts is his name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; The God of the whole earth shall he be called. For the Lord hath called thee as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, and a wife of youth, when thou wast refused, saith thy God. For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer. For this is as the waters of Noah unto me: for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth; so have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee. For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee. O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and lay thy foundations with sapphires. And I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones. And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children" (Isaiah 54:1-13).
So who is this coming up out of the wilderness? She has been humbled and broken there, and she is leaning on her beloved. The Spirit and the bride say come (Revelation 22:17 NAS).
"Who is this
coming up from the wilderness
leaning on her beloved?"
The resurrection life promises redemption and restoration to God's children. Faithful is He who who has promised, and He will bring it to pass.
Stops in the Wilderness
Names of people in the Bible often describe the condition of the heart of man. Names of places, especially the stopping places in the wilderness journey, often describe the condition of the heart as well as the work God is doing in the lives of His people. The hearts of New Testament people are no different from those in the wilderness of old. There is nothing new under the sun. The Lord is working on the same things in our hearts that he worked on in theirs.
Let's look at the names of stopping places laid out in Numbers 33 and see how much we can identify with them.
The first stop is Marah, which means bitterness. Generally the first thing we encounter in our new life in Christ is our need to forgive—our need to let go of our bitterness and unforgiveness toward those who have wounded us.
The second stop is Elim, which means palm tree. It comes from a root word meaning "strength."
"The righteous man will flourish like the palm tree, He will grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still yield fruit in old age; they shall be full of sap and very green, to declare that the Lord is upright; He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him" (Psalm 92:12-15 NAS).
Paul was quick to remind us that strength is perfected in weakness.
"Concerning [the thorn given to me by Him] I intreated the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He has said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness . . . '" (2 Corinthians 12:8-9).
Israel entered several wildernesses in which there were many stops. The first was wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai. The word Sin here means clay and mire. Some say it means thorn. Either way, Israel was in a "stuck" place.
The third stop, the first in the wilderness of Sin, is Dophkah, which means a knock. The root word means to press severely: to beat, knock, [go into] overdrive. This does not sound like a pleasant place to be "stuck."
The fourth stop, the second in the wilderness of Sin, is Alush, which possibly means "mingling together" or "places of rest." This says to me that once we leave the "stuck" place, we are ready to be with others—to be comfortable with others.
The fifth stop, the third in the wilderness of Sin, is Rephidim, which means "ballusters," which is also defined as "support." This is just too remarkable. When we are comfortable with others in the body of Christ, we are able to find the support we all desperately need to continue the "dangerous" journey.
Moses and his wayward wanderers were at Rephidim when Amalek came and fought against them. This is where God instructed Moses to hold the banner up so that they'd know that it was God who was winning the battle for them. When Moses arms got tired, "Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other. Thus his hands were steady until the sun set" (Exodus 17:8-16).
Thanks to my friend and daughter in the Lord, Bev DeSalvo for this great insight:
O! Blessed support!! Is this not totally awesome? Aaron and Hur were ballasts for Moses at Rephidim. They helped stabilize his arms when they were weak and weary. And God was a ballust for each and every one of them. He is also a perfect ballust (or foundation) for us. He stabilizes us when we're slipping.
The second wilderness is the wilderness of Sinai, which means "miry." Here is another "stuck" place. It seems that each wilderness on the journey has it's own "stuck" place.
Thanks again to Bev DeSalvo for another great insight. Here is what she learned:
Webster's defines mire as "an area of wet, swampy ground; deep mud; to sink or stick in as if in mire." If they're in the desert, how can there be swampy, muddy ground? My Bible dictionary says that "the words rendered 'wilderness' or 'desert' include not just the barren deserts of sand dunes or rock that color the popular imagination of a desert but also steppe-lands and pasture lands suitable for grazing livestock." There's an area in the wilderness where there are mudflats or lakes of mud known as "kewirs," in various stages of development."A hard crust of clayey mud overlying a layer of hard salt and one of half-dry mud, the whole about a foot thick, eventually forms over the deep mass of liquid mud and ooze. When this crust is hard it may be walked on or crossed with impunity, but increased humidity (and especially rainstorms) will break up the crust and turn the whole into gluey mud." In other words Sinai is a another "stuck place."
The sixth stop, the first in the wilderness of Sinai, is Kibbroth-Hattaavah which means "graves of longing and lust." Ouch! We do seem to struggle with discontentment with our circumstances all along the way.
The seventh stop, the second in the wilderness of Sinai, is Hazeroth, which means "surrounded by a stockade, and thus separate from the open country; to trumpet, i.e. blow on that instrument." This seems to be a place of rest, protection and celebration.
The eighth stop, the third in the wilderness of Sinai, is Rithmah, which means "to yoke up." Well, perhaps this "body life" thing isn't too thorny after all. Just take care with whom you "yoke up."
The ninth stop, the fourth in the wilderness of Sinai, the "place of thorns" is Rimmon-Perez, which means "a breaking forth of the pomegranate." The fruit is known for its uprightness and its fruitfulness. These two words indicate that "fellowship" is quite beneficial for us. There's hope for us yet!
"Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, coming down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard, coming down upon the edge of his robes. It is like the dew of Hermon, coming down upon the mountains of Zion; For there the LORD commanded the blessing—life forever" (Psalm 133 NAS).
The tenth stop, the fifth in the wilderness of Sinai, is Libnah. In studying the Hebrew and Greek, to get the full intent of the meaning of the word, we always trace it back to the root word. In this case, that is the word, "white." White is a word that can also translate "pure."
Not only is there sweet fellowship going on. Purification takes place in the midst of sweet fellowship.
The eleventh stop, the sixth in the wilderness of Sinai, is Rissah, which means, "a place of tempering," a place covered with drops of dew (blessing).
Tempering in this instance would imply to me that Rissah is a place of transformation.
The twelfth stop, the seventh in the wilderness of Sinai, is Kehelathah, which means, "a place of gathering/assembling together." Fellowship is certainly the emphasis in the wilderness of Sinai.
"And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,
not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but
encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near" (Hebrews 10:24-25 NAS).
The twelfth stop, the seventh in the wilderness of Sinai, is Mount Shepher, which means "beauty." The root word means "glistening (shining)." Putting them together it would means "radiant beauty."
This is not the radiant beauty of the world. This is a beauty only God can give us. When I think of radiant beauty, I think of those haloes we see over pictures of the saints of old. It is a heavenly beauty. A spiritual beauty—one we can only attain through the sweet fellowship of the saints. It is Mount Shepher— the height of beauty.
There is also another lesson here about the importance of the fellowship of the saints.
"How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring glad tidings of good things'" (Romans 10:14-15 NAS)!!!
The thirteenth stop, the eighth in the wilderness of Sinai, is Haradah. The word Haradah means "reverential awe." Radiant beauty causes us and others to fall on our knees before the Lord.
The fourteenth stop, the ninth in the wilderness of Sinai, is Makheloth, which means "a place of assembly." Once again, the glory of the Lord draws us to one another to worship and glorify Him.
The fifteenth stop, the tenth in the wilderness of Sinai, is Tahath, which means at its root means "to humble." Certainly reverential awe and humility go hand in hand together. How humbling it is to share in the height of the beauty of the Lord.
"One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to meditate in His temple" (Psalm 27:4 NAS).
We can behold the beauty of the Lord in His Word, and we can behold the beauty of the Lord in one another.
"One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, And to meditate in His temple" (Psalm 27:4 NAS).
Certainly as we mature in the Lord, we will radiate His beauty to others.
The sixteenth stop, the eleventh in the wilderness of Sinai, is Terah. It is uncertain what this word means. Gesenius Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament says it means "to delay." Unquestionably, delays are a part of learning patience.
"Tribulation works patience and patience works hope and hope will not disappoint us, because the love of God is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit" (Romans 5:3-5).
The seventeenth stop, the twelfth in the wilderness of Sinai, is Mithkah, which means "sweetness," the "pleasantness." Perhaps those delays we experi- enced as torture as immature believers have come to be considered "sweet" and "pleasant," because we have come to understand the Lord so much more than when we began this life-long journey with Him. Indeed, it is pleasant to dwell with Him and His.
The eighteeth stop, the thirteenth in the wilderness of Sinai, is Hashmonah. This is from an unused root word meaning "plenty" and "wealth." I do not consider these to be worldly riches but the riches of faith in Christ.
"Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations; but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:25-27 NAS).
The nineteeth stop, the fourteenth in the wilderness of Sinai, is Moseroth, which means "corrections," a "place of chastisement." Oops again! Sometimes we get too big for our britches and need a reality check. We confuse the of the riches of the world with "the riches of Christ within us." So the Lord takes us to the woodshed for some discipline.
The twentieth stop, the fifteenth in the wilderness of Sinai, Bene-Jaaken, means "sons of one that will oppress them." I don't know about this them. Matthew 18:32 tells us that God will turn us over to the tormentors when we fall into judgment and unforgiveness. Greed can cause bitterness, strife and unforgiveness. This is MY guess and my guess only. It seems to fit.
The twentieth stop, the fifteenth in the wilderness of Sinai, is Hor-hagidgad, which means "a place of anger and grief."
We learned in the nineteeth stop that Israel possibly confused the riches of faith with the riches of this world. So it is inevitable that the Lord will lead us to a place of chastisement, which will result in the negative effect of anger or the more positive effect of the godly sorrow that results in repentance. Let's see what happens next.
The twenty-first stop, the sixteenth in the wilderness of Sinai, is Jotbathah, which means "a place of well-being and pleasantness."
There can be no well-being and pleasantness in our lives without the Lord's discipline in our lives as well. Sin only brings dissatisfaction and the lust for other things to our lives.
"It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons . . . All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness" (Hebrews 12:7-9, 11 NAS).
The twenty-first stop, the sixteenth in the wilderness of Sinai, is Ebronah, which may mean "transition." The translation is in question by the scholars. A transition is "a shifting from one condition to another." Godly chastening will do that for us.
The twenty-second stop, the seventeenth in the wilderness of Sinai, is Ezion-geber, which means "like the backbone of a man."
How is your back bone doing? Is it flexible? Or is it stiff and rigid? God's chastening will rid us of the rigidity and stiffness of our backs and necks.
The next stop, we enter the third wilderness—the wilderness of Zin. Zin translates as "a prick" or a "crag," a large, sharp protruding rock. Whoa. Roadblock ahead in the wilderness of Zin. Let's find out what lies ahead for us.
The first stop in the third wilderness of Zin is Kadesh. Kadesh means, "cleansing." Well, I guess we are ready to fall on our faces before the Lord and repent here.
The second stop in the third wilderness of Zin is Mount Hor. A mount is a high place. Hor means "mountain." It is here that Aaron, the High Priest, died at the age of 120, forty years after leaving Egypt. (See Numbers 33:38)
Perhaps this is emblematic of the Old Testament High Priest, the one who laid out all the rules, has died, and Christ is now our High Priest.
The third stop in the third wilderness of Zin is Zalmonah, which means "shadow of death." I suppose this has reference to the death of Aaron, though I cannot say for sure. Certainly Jesus our High Priest forever lived in the shadow of death while He was here on earth.
The fourth stop in the third wilderness of Zin is Punon, which means "perplexed and distracted." I am sure after Aaron's death, Israel was in a quandary about what to do and where to go next. And the disciples were certainly perplexed and distracted those days between crucifixion and resurrection.
The fifth stop in the third wilderness of Zin is Oboth, which means, "necro- mancy," or some kind of chanting. It translates "familiar spirit," which indicates that Aaron's death left Israel vulnerable to deception. When we are looking to a human being for assurance and they are suddenly no longer around, we can easily fall into all manner of evil. Let's find out what happens next!
The sixth stop in the third wilderness of Zin is Iye-abarim, which means "ruins of the passers." Uh oh. They're in lots of trouble! Again. Necromancy, witchcraft, entertaining familiar spirits, messin' around with Ouija boards and fortune tellers can get us in a world of problems.
"But you who forsake the Lord, who forget My holy mountain, who set a table for Fortune, and who fill cups with mixed wine for Destiny, I will destine you for the sword, and all of you shall bow down to the slaughter. Because I called, but you did not answer" (Isaiah 65:11-12 NAS).
We are clearly not to consult with any supernatural source OTHER THAN God Almighty. There are serious consequences for those who do.
The seventh stop in the third wilderness of Zin is Dibon-gad, which means "pining," "longing."
Let us long for God and not mammon. Let us look pine for the only one who can save us. Let us look to Jesus, the Alpha and Omega, the author and finisher of our faith.
The eighth stop in the third wilderness of Zin is Almon-Diblathaim, which means "in the direction of the two hidden fig cakes." Fig cakes are symbolic of peace and prosperity. So this could be—could be! translated, "We're back on track in the direction of the peace and prosperity of God." Or it could be translated, "We're seeking peace and prosperity in other places." Both can be true. What have you chosen?
The ninth stop in the third wilderness of Zin is Abarim, before Nebo. Abarim means "regions beyond." Here's what Gesenius' Hebrew Lexicon to the Old Testament says about this. The term "regions beyond," is used of a mountainous region situated beyond Jordan, opposite Jericho, in Israel where Mount Nebo is a prominent summit. In other words they could see the promised land, but they were not there yet. There is an enormous difference between seeing the promised land and possessing it, but seeing it reawakens the purpose for which they were called.
The tenth stop in the third wilderness of Zin is the plains of Moab (What father?), which are by the Jordan (the place of humbling) opposite Jericho (fragrance, moon). They are now getting closer to what was once the "regions beyond."
The eleventh stop in the third wilderness is "by the Jordan, from Beth- jeshimoth as far as Abel-Shittim in the plains of Moab." Beth-Jeshimoth means "house of desolation." Abel-Shittim means "meadow of the acacias." The acacia in the Bible is a very thorny tree. Its wood was used in the construction of the tabernacle of Moses. In order to use this wood, it was necessary to strip it of its long, sharp thorns.
Desolation and stripping are necessary to enter into the land of promise, to walk in the spirit and not in the flesh. There would be many enemies in the promised land, and all baggage had to be left on the entry side.
In Deuteronomy 8, we hear God's cautions to Israel before they enter in and understand more fully the purpose of the wilderness journey.
"And you shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. And He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you under- stand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord . . . ‘Thus you are to know in your heart that the Lord you God was disciplining you just a man disciplines his son
. . . In the wilderness He fed you manna which you fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do good for you in the end. Otherwise, you may say in your heart, ‘My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.'" (Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 5, 16-17 NAS).
Are you ready to leave the slavery of Egypt?