On our trek last week we asked “How heavy is your backpack?” I must follow up this week with the question, “Have you taken steps to lighten your load?” This concept will be important during the next three weeks as we explore wandering in the wilderness by faith. If you miss any of our Wisdom Notes, you can go back to prior installments on our blog.
It has taken many years to build a lifestyle business where we can work as we do. We still work hard, which usually includes many hours each week, but being location independent has been a reality for over 10 years now. It allows us to wander from various locations and still be able to complete our work.
As we consider the concept of wandering, we want to ponder what it means to be…
Wandering in the Wilderness by Faith
When I hear the phrase “wandering in the wilderness,” it brings to mind how the nation of Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years on their way to the Promised Land. This was due to their lack of faith that God would help them occupy the Promised Land. They could have possessed the land in less than a year from leaving Egypt, but because of their disbelief, the trip stretched out 40 times longer.
We see that the older generation of the Israelites whom God had freed from slavery in Egypt die in the wilderness. The story of their journey through the wilderness shows that they never overcame their slave mentality, the mindset they brought with them from Egypt. They were set free, but in their minds, they were still as shackled as if they had never left. Their thinking—and thus their attitudes and conduct—constantly reverted to the way it had been molded in Egypt.
The nation of Israel witnessed the terrible plagues that were God’s punishment on the Egyptians. They also witnessed awesome miracles that demonstrated God’s mercy upon them. The Red Sea opened up for them. They lived under a cool cloud during the day and a warm pillar of fire at night. They had their daily needs supplied directly by God, and yet the Israelites found the wilderness to be nothing more than a huge cemetery in which they wandered for forty years.
It is not unusual for all humanity, and even Christ-followers, to be slaves to past practices, teachings, and mindsets. We need to be free from our mentality of slavery. Galatians 5:1 tells us, “So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.”
What the nation of Israel experienced in their period of wandering in the wilderness serves as an example for us as is mentioned in I Corinthians 10:11, “These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age.”
In this spiritual journey, Canaan, the Promised Land, represents the Kingdom of God to us. But those older Israelites never made it there! They fell short of the goal because of a lack of faith that was controlled by their mindset of slavery.
In graphic language, the apostle Paul writes in Hebrew 3:17, “And who made God angry for forty years? Wasn’t it the people who sinned, whose corpses lay in the wilderness?” To use a modern phrase, they were dropping like flies.
According to some commentaries, the last phrase indicates a scattering of dismembered bodies as if they had been left unburied. These “corpses” were the same people who came out of Egypt with great joy, exulting in their new-found liberty. They yearned for a settled and free life in a land that was their own. But, instead of knowing the joy and plenty of the Promised Land, they chose to sentence themselves to live a life of homeless wandering in a barren land and to die and perhaps be buried in an unmarked grave. They were chosen to be the beneficiaries of God’s great blessings in a rich land, but they instead lived poor and hungry in the wilderness, discontented and often at war because of their sins. Their example ought to be a sobering warning.
As Christ-followers we are promised by Jesus in John 10:10, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” Are you living that rich and satisfying life, or are you still wandering in the wilderness?
Paul puts his finger on the source of their problem of why their heart could not be changed, why they consistently and persistently sinned and rebelled in Hebrews 3:19, “So we see that because of their unbelief they were not able to enter his rest.”
Paul later turns this thought into an admonition for us in Hebrews 4:1-2, “God’s promise of entering his rest still stands, so we ought to tremble with fear that some of you might fail to experience it. For this good news—that God has prepared this rest—has been announced to us just as it was to them. But it did them no good because they didn’t share the faith of those who listened to God.”
Not only did Israel have the witness of numerous demonstrations of God’s presence and power among them to provide a foundation for faith, but they were also given the Word of God by His servants Moses and Aaron. In addition, they had living examples of faith in Moses, Aaron (most of the time), Joshua, Caleb, and others. God supplied these men with gifts by His Spirit as a testimony that should have provided more incentive for the Israelites to believe Him. But Hebrews 3:17 says He was angry with them forty years! If ever a people almost drove God to the point of exasperation, it was Israel in the wilderness.
We must not allow such a powerful lesson to pass by unheeded. Paul tells us in Romans 15:4, “Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us. And the Scriptures give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled.”
The lesson is clear. Those who believe God reveal their faith by obeying Him. Those who do not believe, disobey. Hebrews 3:12 warns, “Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God.”
As we finish part one this week, we explored wandering in the wilderness by faith where the young nation of Israel struggled in their faith and obedience, even though God showed them many miracles. Let’s put it in perspective. Are we that different today? We have the entire revelation of God’s Word, in the Bible, yet many times we struggle with faith and obedience as well.
On next week’s trek, we will explore what living by faith means through the right kind of faith. Encourage your friends and family to join us each week in our Wisdom Notes, and then come along for our daily podcast.