Summary: Sermon 16 is an introduction to the wilderness years comparing them to our life for God as we face the enticements of sin and the infliction of sorrows on our way to the heavenly Canaan
The Life of Moses
Num. 1:1; Ex. 13:17-18; I Cor. 10:5-6
THE CHURCH IN THE WILDERNESS
The land of Canaan was a two weeks’ journey from Egypt, 150 miles up the coastal King’s Highway, where armies and merchant traders had traveled for hundreds of years. But when God delivered two million (Nu. 1:46 records 603,550 soldiers) Jewish slaves around 1300 B.C., He did not take them there on the highway but on “His way,” through the desert.
The Bible says, “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through Philistine territory, though that was shorter.” For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt. So God led the people around by the desert ... (or wilderness)” (Ex. 13:17-18). The trip of four months took forty years (Dt. 2:7). Stephen called this, “The church in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38).
I don’t ask you today IF you are in the wilderness, I ask you WHERE you are in the wilderness? The Israelites got from Egypt down to Mount Sinai in three months (Ex. 19:1). They stayed at Sinai for eleven months and five days (Nu. 10:11). You find this in the Book of Exodus. Then it took them 38 and a half years to get from Sinai to Canaan, a journey of three weeks, or 300 miles. They were not allowed to enter Canaan until everyone over age 20, who came out of Egypt, except Joshua and Caleb, died in the desert.
Paul said, “Their graves were scattered all over the desert” (1 Cor. 10:5), probably more than a million. You will find this and the last few days at Sinai (1:1-10:10) in the Book of Numbers, which has been called, “The longest funeral march in history.”
Why did a three-week trip take more than 38 years? Because the people refused to obey God and enter the land. When they were out of Sinai about eleven days (Dt. 1:2) at Kadesh-Barnea, two-thirds of the way there, they sent twelve spies to survey the land. When the committee came back and reported the size and strength of the people, all except two, Joshua and Caleb advised not going in. The people agreed and tried to stone Moses. When Moses prayed for them God said,
“I have forgiven them, but as surely as I live, not one of them will ever see the land I promised ... In this desert your bodies will fall - every one of you twenty years old or more ... except Caleb ... and Joshua” (Nu. 14:20-30). They then wandered in the desert for 38 years (Dt. 2:14) until this came true.
This long sad journey will be our study for the next few weeks. You may ask why? What possible interest could we have in this? Much! For their failure can easily be ours. Paul said, “Now these things happened as examples (literally TYPES) to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things like they did.” (1 Cor. 10:5-6) ... and were written down as warnings for us on whom the end of the ages has come. So if you think you are standing firm, be careful, you might be ready to fall” (10:11-12).
The Bible takes great interest in these desert years. Paul, in 1 Cor. 9:24-10:13, looks at all the forty years, from Egypt to Canaan and warns us that we Christians can be discarded like those bodies in the desert, when it comes to SERVICE. He says in 1 Cor. 9:27, “I beat my body (probably a figure denoting the rigid self discipline of is whole nature, physical and spiritual - see Rom. 12:1), and make it my servant, lest, after preaching to others, I myself might become a castaway.”
Psalm 95 and Hebrews, in its long section on these years (Heb. 3:7-4:11), especially the crisis at Kadesh, talks about a more serious possibility - church members, who think they are saved, being discarded like those bodies in the desert, when it comes to SALVATION. Hebrews says, “We are His house (family), if we hold on to our courage ... (3:1) ... I declared they will never enter my Rest” (3:11, Ps. 95:7-8) ... “See to it brothers that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart, that turns away from the living God” (3:12). Jude 5 says, “God destroyed those who did not believe.”
Paul says God “bore with” these people (Acts 13:8), which means He “endured their behavior” (Amplified Bible). Amos 5:25-27 says they worshiped heathen idols all through the desert years and not Him (Acts 7:42-43, Dt. 32:17).
So you see how God, in scripture, points us back to these desert years. But remember this, it also points us back to THOSE WHO WERE DEVELOPED: to those in the new generation, who, under Joshua, went in and took the land. Moses, to encourage them, preached a series of sermons in Deuteronomy, some dealing with God’s faithfulness in the desert years. He said, “The Lord your god has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He has watched over your journey through this vast desert. These forty years the Lord has been with you, and you have not lacked anything” (Deut. 2:7).