Gleanings from the Wilderness
The church of Jesus Christ is the Israel of God (Gal 6:16). We are God’s chosen people (Eph 1:4, 5; 2 Thess 2:13; 1 Pet 2:9), who share the history of the remnant of true believers embedded in Old Testament ethnic Israel (Rom 11:5). Therefore we call the patriarchs, “fathers.” We have been adopted into the same family of faith as Abraham (Gen 15:6; Rom 4; Gal 3:7) through the grace of the true Israel, Jesus Christ (Is 49:3), who was the promised descendant to bless the nations (Gen 3:15; 12:3, 15:4). We share in the Exodus history (1446 B.C.), and we share in the Wilderness history (1446–1406 B.C.).
Much of the Old Testament historical narrative is typological of Christ and His church. This means we can learn from what God taught Israel at different stages in its history. In this, we can also learn Christ, His perfections, and type fulfillments. We can learn the struggle of obedience Israel suffered and in which Christ succeeded. Our struggle in the obedience of faith is not new, for it is conjoined to our history as a redeemed people.
When Yahweh set the Hebrews free from Egypt, He led them to the border of the Promised Land at Kadesh-Barnea (Dt 2:14; 9:23). Unbelief in the Word of God led to disobedience and prevented the nation from entering Canaan to take possession of it. God’s judgment against the Hebrews was forty years of wandering in the wilderness in what is today, the Sinai Peninsula.
When the forty years was ending, Yahweh brought the Israelites north, along the trans-Jordan highway, atop the plateau, on the eastern bank of the Jordan River. Waiting for the Lord to begin the Conquest of Canaan, Moses wrote Deuteronomy, which is the second giving of the Law. In chapter 8 of Deuteronomy, there is an important history lesson for the conquest generation of Hebrews to learn. The wandering generation before them all died in the wilderness.
Every generation of Christians must learn Christianity, which includes the Old Testament. Parents must teach the faith to their children, or the faith of our fathers will be forgotten. Who are God’s people in the world? Why do we have such a difficult go of it here? Does God still test His covenant people? If so, what are we to learn about the testing process itself? Deuteronomy 8 can help us learn how the Holy Spirit is working sanctification in us (Rom 15:16; 1 Thess 5:23; 2 Thess 2:13;1 Pet 1:2), to prepare us for the Promised Land of heaven (Rev 21–22). So, what can we learn from Moses and the Israelites’ experience in the wilderness?
First, Yahweh has prepared a place for us, even as he did for the Israelites (Dt 8:1). Heavenly Jerusalem is the place God has arranged for our eternal home (Eccl 12:5; Heb 11:10; 12:22). Canaan, the land flowing with milk and honey (Ex 3:8), was promised by Yahweh for the Hebrews. It was taken by violence (Joshua), as is heaven (Mt 11:12). God’s people struggle against principalities and powers, until we reach the gates of Zion (Eph 6:12) and enter our eternal Sabbath rest (Heb 4:9).
Canaan was promised to Israel’s forefathers (Dt 8:1), and heaven was promised by Jesus to His followers (Jn 14:2–3). He promised to give them eternal life (Jn 10:28), and in the process He would bless and multiply the building of His church (Mt 16:18). In fulfilling all of the commandments, all of these things became realities.
Second, Yahweh has given us a history to learn from on the pages of Scripture. Israel was instructed to remember all of the ways God had led them through the wilderness (Dt 8:2). The Bible teaches us God, who is faithful to lead, and to provide for His people in the most perilous of situations.
Forty has been identified as the number of testing in the Bible. It rained forty day and nights for Noah (Gen 7:4). Israel was tested forty years in the wilderness; and Jesus was tested forty days in the same environment. Whereas Israel was found to be unfaithful, Jesus Christ proved to be perfectly faithful in everything commanded Him by God His Father (2 Pet 1:17. He was without sin (Heb 4:15; 1 Jn 3:5).
Third, Yahweh has ordered your testing (Dt 8:2). Just as God tested Abraham regarding Isaac (Heb 11:17), so our faith is tested by fire, to demonstrate what it is made of (1 Pet 1:7). Israel was exposed for what it was and what it was not, through its trials ordered by Yahweh. Why did Paul press on to finish the race of faith (1 Cor 9:24; Heb 12:1)? To see what was in him. It was the Holy Spirit in him (Jn 14:17; Rom 8:9, 11). Why did he put others through testing (2 Cor 8:22), and encourage that deacons be tested (1 Tim 3:10)?
By testing us, God demonstrates how He preserves His people and this encourages our endurance of faith (Jas 1:3). For the Hebrews, testing came in the form of the Egyptian army. God also used the wilderness itself. Physical provisions of food and water were brought low. The Hebrews grumbled and murmured against God’s test course. How are you doing on His providential path for you? Jesus said, “Take up your Cross and follow me (Mt 16:24; 8:34; Lk 9:23).” Are you grumbling? Jesus said, “In the world, you will have trouble (Jn 16:33).” Are you murmuring? Jesus said, “I have overcome the world.” Are you doubting?
Fourth, Yahweh is working to humble you. Human pride is insanity, but people are crazy proud. God resists the proud (Jas 4:6). In their pride of learning, scholars learn to ascribe nothing to God. Biologists deny God’s Creation. Philosophers deny the wisdom of God. Mathematicians refuse to acknowledge the perfection of God. Linguists deny the confusion of languages. Business people deny it was the power of God that gave them riches (1 Chron 29:12). Even religious people distort the truth of God, in order to steal money and glory from the Lord. There is no limit to man’s rodomontade.
While the wicked seem to prosper in their wicked ways (Ps 37:7), God’s people seem to suffer in doing right. The righteous appear to be fools for Christ’s sake (1 Cor 4:10). God is committed to humbling His people into conformity with Himself (Mic 6:8; Rom 8:29; 1 Pet 5:5). Jesus would often tell the beneficiaries of His miracles not to tell anyone what He had done. Paul and Barnabas had to shirk the glorified titles of Zeus and Hermes (Acts 14:12). Christians must be committed to denying ourselves credit, honor, and glory for anything (Rev 4:11).
Grace is reserved for the humble (Jas 4:6), and it is the Holy Spirit who is producing humility in the Christian (Col 3:12). Obedience to the command, “Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God (1 Pet 5:6),” is made possible when a Christian yields to the Holy Spirit (Rom 6:13). One way of demonstrating humility and dependence on God is to pray at all times (Eph 6:8), especially during times of need. The promise is always there, ask and you shall receive.
Fifth, Yahweh intends for you to see Him as your provider. God’s provision is all encompassing. Every good gift and every perfect gift from above, comes down from the Father of lights (Jas 1:17). God is able to make all grace abound toward you (2 Cor 9:8), and yet you are taught to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread (Mt 6:11).”
Knowing that we live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Dt 8:3; Lk 4:4), we believe He only has to say the word and it is accomplished. Yahweh is identified as “the Lord our Provider,” and in Him will we trust. For this reason, you are to commit your way unto the Lord, trusting in Him (Prv 3:5–6), and trusting He will accomplish what concerns you (Ps 37:5; 57:2; 138:8).
Sixth, Yahweh is developing in you, a discipline of trust in Him. Grace was abounding for the Israelites in the midst of their temptations and trials. Manna fell from heaven. Water flowed from the rock. Their clothing miraculously endured for them (Dt 8:4). At every problematic circumstance, the Israelites were met with God’s providential care. Still, their grumbling, murmuring, and doubting warranted discipline. Moses explained to them, this was God’s intentional course (Dt 8:5).
God is still disciplining His people (Heb 12:4–11). Every child of God receives discipline, as a father disciplines his son in love for him. Once you are trained by discipline, you are fit for holiness and righteousness, which are the fruit of the Holy Spirit’s work.
Seventh, Yahweh desires for you to walk in His ways and fear Him (Dt 8:6). The way of Yahweh is right. It is straight and narrow, bounded by the commandments of God. We demonstrate our fear of the Lord by being obedient to all He has commanded (Mt 28:19–20). Therefore, we do everything as unto the Lord (Col 3:17), with love as our motive for doing what He has asked us to do (Jn 13:34–35). His commands are not burdensome because the law of Christ is the law of love (1 Jn 5:3). Therefore, you are to walk in love (Eph 5:2), which is in the manner of God, who calls you to walk in this manner (1 Thess 2:12).
The Holy Spirit is your Helper (Jn 14:26) along the way. He leads you and guides you on the path of righteousness (Ps 16:11; 23:3; Jn 16:13). When you deviate, He brings you back. When you stumble, He lifts you up. Because we have such a Helper, who promises to never leave nor forsake us (Heb 13:5), we can be assured of our eternal destination (1 Jn 5:11–13). Jesus promised to go and prepare a place (Jn 14:2–3), and He also promised to return for His bride, the church (Mt 24–25; Mk 13; Lk 21; 1 Thess 4:13–5:11). What bride could possibly forget her returning groom? She only has one task, and that is to prepare herself for her wedding day (Rev 19:7–10). The church prays in the Spirit, “Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev 22:17).
Eighth, Yahweh orders things to prevent you from forgetting Him. Daily bread for the soul is your meditation day and night upon the Word of truth (Ps 1:2). You are to pray without ceasing, and not forsake the assembly of God’s people (Heb 10:25), who meet each Sunday. Why does much of the church operate on a liturgical calendar? Why are we to remember the Lord’s death until He comes? The answer is simple. We are forgetful. How quickly we forget. How blessed we are that He does not forget His covenant, nor His promises, nor us, His people.
Ninth, Jesus Christ has removed the curse of disobedience from you (Gal 3:10, 13). When the Israelites received the Law, it came with blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience (Dt 26, 27). Ethnic Israel could not keep the Law, and they suffered under the curse of the Law. For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the Law, to perform them (Gal 3:10).”
Jesus Christ kept the Law perfectly. He came and fulfilled the Law (Mt 5:17). “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us — for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree (Gal 3:13).” The Law magnified and multiplied sin, and the curse of death, judgment, and eternal punishment awaits those who have not received Christ’s blood atonement in the law of sacrifice (Lev 16; Heb 9:22).
As our substitute, Jesus Christ paid the penalty for our sins with His precious blood (1 Pet 1:18–19). This too, fulfilled what was required under the law for atonement (Lev 16). Christ redeemed us (Rom 5:8), and He set us free with His blood sacrifice on the Cross (Mt 26:28), deemed acceptable by God raising Him from the dead (Acts 17:31).
So, we have learned to expect to be humbled, through testing, to learn His discipline, so that we would not forget Him, or the fact that He is our provider, in whom we trust. In our study of our history, we also glean the truth of our future…beyond this wilderness, there is a glorious place of promise waiting for us. Are you ready?
Spokane Valley, Washington
March 4, 2021