A Way Through the Wilderness Part 1
In this writing we want to explore the wilderness areas through which the children of Israel had to travel, as they came out of the land of Egypt, and made their way toward the land of Canaan, the Land of Promise, the Land of Fruitfulness. Our purpose, of course, is to discover the Way of the Lord for us; for what happened to them, though very literal and very natural, was but a picture and shadow of our walk with the Lord, as we too seek to come away from the old life of sin and bondage, and enter into a fruitful walk with the Lord. In all the way that they travelled, and in all the experiences which they had to endure by the leading of the Lord, they were enacting a pattern of conduct that would be recorded in holy Scripture as an example and type of God's people today. Not that we are supposed to follow their example, but to learn from it. For it is clear that they utterly failed the Lord in many, many ways, so that the first generation of the redeemed people did not enter the Land of Promise.
Nevertheless, in their conduct in the wilderness God was actually providing a picture for us today, so that we might learn from their mistakes.
"Now these things were our examples, TO THE INTENT we should NOT lust after evil things, as they also lusted" (1 Cor.10:6). And the apostle goes on to enlarge upon this, by describing the many calamities that came upon the people of God because of their idolatry, the immorality, their tempting of Christ, and their much murmuring. Then he tells us that all these things happened to them as a warning and as an admonishment to us, so that we would NOT fall into the same tragic things that they did. And so their journey through the wilderness was not intended to be a pattern for you and I to follow, but a warning to God's people of the dangers that accompany the wilderness life, and God's provisions for making us to be an overcoming people. We are to learn from their experiences, and so avoid making the same mistakes they made.
But we are slow to learn from the mistakes of another. Human nature is just that way. Usually we have to learn the hard way. But as we do, it is good that we can look into the Scriptures, and into the wilderness episode, and discover God's faithfulness in and through it all, and His pattern of deliverance for an erring people.
For we too are on a journey. It is good if we can recognize that. We have not been redeemed just to cross the Red Sea and sing the victory song of deliverance from the bondage of Pharaoh. This is but the first step. It is but the beginning of a journey, a SPIRITUAL JOURNEY, through the wastelands of our old carnal nature, and into the fruitfulness of the Canaan life of the Spirit.
And so Moses reminded the people: "He brought us out from thence, that He might bring us in, to give us the land which He sware unto our fathers" (Deut.6:23).
The wilderness, then, becomes a place of PREPARATION, and the place of TRANSITION, as we relinquish the old life of fleshly bondage, and enter into the realm of our spiritual heritage. It was never intended of the Lord that we should linger all our days in captivity to the wild, untamed nature of the old life. But in every resting place that God has ordained on this Journey from Egypt to Canaan we are to learn more and more of Him, and allow Him to make in our wilderness nature a garden plot for the sowing and the planting of the good seed of the Word of God, that He Himself might be glorified in the fruit of the Spirit that He desires to bring forth from our lives.
Therefore let us learn to see the Journey in this light. As we do we will understand and appreciate the grace of God that brings us step by step through the tangled maze of life. WE OURSELVES ARE THAT WILDERNESS. Our own fleshly, natural lives are the wild, untamed areas that God is dealing with. And when we recognize this, may we find grace to stop blaming God and murmuring against Him when we come into fretful and disagreeable circumstances. Why do you do this to me, Lord? It is for my discipline, and for His glory, that He does it. I needed it, otherwise He would not have allowed it. In that grievous circumstance that God allowed, He was merely revealing the wild, untamed nature that was there in my old life, for the purpose of dealing with it and bringing forth the attributes of His own heart. And the murmuring and the complaining that we manifest simply reveal how deep-rooted the old life really is, and how slow we are to recognize it.
In other words, God intends that every situation that He brings us into will serve as a graving tool, a chisel, a refiner's fire, that will change us, transform us, and consume those carnal desires that are hindering the flowing of the life of Christ through us, and retarding our growth in the Spirit.
In the journeyings of the children of Israel there were serveral wilderness areas through which they must pass; and in each of these areas God had something specific in mind as He sought to PREPARE their hearts for the inheritance that lay before them. God must have a PREPARED PEOPLE for that PREPARED PLACE. He does not thrust us thoughtlessly into some disagreeable circumstance in order to harass and torment us. It is rather to PREPARE us for the life of victory and of fruitfulness in the realm of the Spirit. It is our reaction to God's dealings with us that brings such desolation and turmoil to our hearts and minds. What assurance and what hope this would give us if we could only recognize that in every devastating experience of life God is simply preparing our hearts for great conquests and fruitfulness in the days that lie ahead, in the heritage of Canaan. And if we are prepared to truly recognize this wonder-working principle in our lives, we are going to discover what God meant when He said, "I go before you to search out a resting place for you..."
THE WILDERNESS OF THE RED SEA
The Long Way Around
"And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt: but God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red sea..." (Ex.13:17-18).
This is a day of "fast" things: fast foods, fast trains, fast cars, fast planes, fast pleasures, fast communications. But God's way into the life of the Spirit is still the long way around. Many do not think so, and there are many in the Church who deride the thought of exercising "patience" in order to win the race that is set before us.
"Let us run WITH PATIENCE..." may sound a little contradictory to a man in a race; but it remains God's way of winning "the race that is set before us" (Heb.12:1). God's direct route to Canaan life is the long-way-around. There may seem to be a shorter way, a more dirct way, and many continue to explore that route, only to end up rolling in the dust.
"God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near..." Now the word "Philistine" comes from a word meaning "to roll in the dust, to wallow". And though it is a well-beaten pathway, as it was in the days of Israel, and though it would seem to lead in a more direct route to the land of our inheritance, it will leave the one who travels this road wallowing in the dust. And why? Because there is nothing in common with the way of the Philistines and the way of God. The Philistine spirit is that spirit of the world, of the natural man, that knows nothing of the Spirit of God. But because it is a well-worn pathway, and because it seems to be leading in the general direction of our pursuit for God, it is enticing to the natural mind. It is the logical approach to the things of God. It is the positive, the most direct approach to things spiritual. But it leaves you wallowing in the dust of the old Adamic life, rather than soaring into the heights of the Spirit of God.
"You do not have to take that long, uncharted, entangled way into the things of God... We can show you a simpler way... We can point you to a shortcut... You can know the joy of Canaan living without all the distress of becoming entangled in the wilderness". This is the reasoning and counsel of the natural mind.
But the fact remains, we did not choose the wilderness way. We simply chose to go God's way. It is He who goes before - by day in a pillar of cloud, and by night in a pillar of fire - to give direction and light for the journey. It is by the Light of His Glory that we find ourselves entangled in the wilderness. He leads us this way that He might have all the glory, and that our enemies might be consumed in the very midst of our own perplexity and dismay. For it is only when we find ourselves "hemmed in", with no place to go, that we are inclined to go to God for help. This is why He hems us in...that we might flee into His arms. God knows the Enemy will say, "They are entangled in the land, the wilderness hath shut them in" (Ex.14:3). And so God deliberately sets a trap for the Enemy by bringing us into that place where we have no other recourse, but in God alone. As long as there is room for the heart and mind of man to calculate and plan his own deliverance, God is left out of the picture. We don't really need Him, or so we think. But if we are followers of the Cloud, God will lead us into areas of utter hopelessness and despair, that we might prove Him to be the God who makes a way where there is no way, and a path in the mighty waters...
"Thy way is in the sea, and thy path in the great waters, and thy footsteps are not known" (Ps.77:19).
"The LORD, which maketh a way in the sea, and a path in the mighty waters" (Isa.43:16).
People of God, beware of the shortcuts. There are many that are offered in this day and age, shortcuts to true spiritual life and progress, but they will not bring you there. You may try to find an easy way into spiritual gift and blessing. You may learn how to get, and how to operate spiritual gifts the easy way, without total commitment, without waiting upon God, but sooner of later they will fade away. You may think you have discovered a secure and safe covering in some church structure or institution, assuring yourself that you are being spared the pangs of finding your own way in the entangled wildernesses of life. You feel that if you trust in certain leaders, in certain apostles and prophets, in a certain "New Testament Church Order", that it is much safer, much easier pathway. But sooner or later you are going to discover that the rest and comfort you sought in sheltered areas of this nature, are nothing less than the bondage of Babylonish systems; and you will discover that this is far more distressing and more captivating that the way of the Lord from which you sought to escape. When you see the "wars of the Philistines" -the striving for lordship, the striving for power and authority and for a place of pre-eminence - your hearts will become discouraged, and you will wonder why you ever chose to walk in that kind of a pathway.
If we could examine our hearts, we might discover that what we are really looking for is some kind of a religious system that will make it easy for us or for our children. We want to shrug off the heavy burden that is associated with finding God for ourselves by way of total commitment to Him. So when someone offers us a place of rest in some kind of a structure that promises clear direction, we are quick to grasp it. God does want us to have fellowship with one another in Christ; but there is no true fellowship except as "we walk in the Light". And in our searching after God, there is no such thing as immunity to the trials and struggles and heart-searchings and perplexities that have always been the appointed lot of any man or woman who seeks to come into a living, vital relationship with the Lord.
The Bones Of Joseph
"And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him: for he [Joseph] had straitly sworn the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you; and ye shall carry up my bones away hence with you" (Ex.13:19).
Surely it would matter nothing to Joseph as to what happened to his bones. This would pose no problem to the God of resurrection life whom he served while he was alive. But in the bones of Joseph God would provide for the generation yet to be born, a living witness to the faithfulness of the covenant-keeping God.
Joseph in his life was a testimony to the faithfulness of God - a living testimony that the round-about-way through the wilderness was God's direct route to the land of fruitfulness. He had proved and manifested to the people of God that in obeying Him and holding to the Vision that God had given, this was God's direct highway to the Throne.
But Joseph had been dead about 360 years, and the generation about whom Joseph prophesied when he said, "God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence" (Gen.50:25), that very privileged generation that Joseph spoke about was now alive, and given the privilege and the opportunity of walking in the visitation that God had promised. He who was a living testimony to the faithfulness of God in his death. His very bones bore witness to the faithfulness of the God he served. Everywhere they would travel the people of God had a "living" witness in the presence of the bones of Joseph; for Joseph had prophesied that this day of visitation would come. Everywhere they would travel in this "waste and howling wilderness" Joseph was there with them: encouraging, confirming, prophesying, declaring...the faithfulness of God. "I said this was going to happen...I told you God would be faithful to deliver you...I prophesied that God would bring you to a land of fruitfulness. Do not lose heart now. I proved when I was alive that in due season the God who gave the vision would be faithful to fulfill it. Let not the weariness of the way, the heat and the drought, the scorpions and the fiery serpents of this desert land cause your hearts to murmur and complain. He is faithful that promised, and He will do it".
Is it not strange how we can carry around with us the bones of a dead prophet, and still not believe what that prophet said? Is it not strange that we can idolize God's chosen ones of a past day, and build their sepulchres, and yet not pay heed to the Word that they spoke when they lived?
Time and time again we are going to witness unbelief and failure in the people of God; and yet all the while they were carefully preserving the bones of Joseph and carrying them from one camping place to the next...a persistent reminder to them of God's utter faithfulness, and of their own unbelieving hearts.
Baptism In the Cloud
"And the pillar of the cloud went from before their face, and stood behind them" (Ex.14:19).
Their entanglement in the wilderness was very grievous to them, but God led them this way for His own glory. One of the most glorious facts of the whole wilderness episode was the fact of God's faithfulness in the hour of the unfaithfulness of His people. Their hearts were smitten with fear and unbelief when they saw them selves entangled in the wilderness with the hosts of Pharaoh pursuing them; and they cried to Moses, "Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness?" (Ex.14:11). But God knew what He was doing. Suddenly the pillar of Cloud which had been leading the way moved from the front of the hosts of Israel to the rear, passing through the host and immersing them in the Cloud of Glory. He who was their Guide was now their Protector and their Defense against their enemies. His glory became their Light throughout the darkness of the night; and that same glory became DARKNESS and NIGHT to the enemies of God.
We need to remember these principles, in this day when fear has taken hold of all the inhabitants of the earth...when all about us is darkness and night. God said it would be that way. And He promised, moreover, that it would be in that very hour of darkness that His glory would shine forth upon His people:
"For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the LORD shall arise upon thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee" (Isa.60:2).
Baptized into the Cloud of His presence and of His glory, the people of God shall radiate the very Light of God Himself. Not only that, but the Light in which they dwell and in which they walk, shall make them to be totally triumphant over all the powers of darkness that shall engulf the world about them. Why do some people imagine that there is a safe hiding place somewhere up there in space? Especially in this space age? Our hiding place is in God alone, and His glory shall be our defense, and the only defense we need:
"And the LORD will create upon every dwelling place of mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night: for upon all the glory shall be a defence" (Isa.4:5).
The Song Of Moses
"Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the LORD, and spake, saying, I will sing unto the LORD, for He hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea" (Ex.15:1).
It was a song of victory, a song that bore witness to the faithfulness and the wisdom of God who had led them into wilderness entanglements. If we could only recognize this...if we could only know...that God has ordained a Song of Triumph for every wilderness entanglement...what hope and assurance it would give us as we tread the unknown way! If we could only know that every entanglement in our walk of faith is intended of the Lord to bring defeat to our enemies, what hope and courage this would inspire in our hearts!
And then when God proves His faithfulness in swallowing up our enemies in the Red Sea, what hope and confidence this ought to give us for the next phase of our wilderness testing and trial! For let us be assured, this is but the first phase of our spiritual journey unto the heart of God. There are many more. "How many?" some would ask. And the answer is: Just as many as it will require for God to tame our wilderness nature, and to till and cultivate the soil of our hearts. Just as many as God may deem necessary to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah concerning His people:
"The wilderness and the solitary place
Shall be glad for them;
And the desert shall rejoice,
And blossom as the rose" (Isa.35:1).
For set us never forget this, that the wilderness through which we are journeying is a spiritual journey unto the heart of God; and it is through the wilderness areas of our own natural and carnal hearts that God is leading us unto a place of REST in the bosom of God. How then can we say, "Lord, leave us alone...we have had enough of the wilderness and the solitary place," if we still know not the rejoicing of the desert, and the blossoming of the rose in our lives? Do we really want God to leave us where we are, redeemed from the bondage of sin and the world, but still very much in captivity to the bondage of our own fleshly natures? And is it not a matter of great disappointment to us when we discover, upon forsaking the world and its bondage, that we are still very much in bondage to our own selves, our own hearts, our own ways? How hopeless and helpless we feel when, having known what it is to be redeemed by the blood of the Passover Lamb, we discover that we are still languishing in areas of captivity to self, to the carnal mind, to the ways of the flesh!
And how wonderful it is when we discover that God hid a lot of this from us, and allowed us to consolidate our position on the redeemed side of the Red Sea, before He began to deal with the wilderness areas of our own lives!
And so the Song of Moses (and this is something that so few seem to recognize) gives hope and confidence for the land of Canaan fruitfulness, even as it exults in the God who destroyed Pharaoh and his hosts:
"Thou shalt bring them in, and plant them
In the mountain of Thine inheritance,
In the place, O LORD, which Thou hast made
For Thee to dwell in,
In the Sanctuary, O Lord,
Which Thy hands have established" (Ex.15:17).
So it is that we must pass through the Red Sea of baptism as outlined in Romans 6, then through the wilderness of conflict with the "self-life" in Romans 7, and INTO the glorious liberty of the mountain of His inheritance in Romans 8. The solitary place of Romans 7 gives way to the corporate expression and the corporate inheritance of Romans 8. The "I", "Myself", and "Me" of Romans 7, as the renewed man of God struggles against the tide of his own carnal desires, is surrendered and swallowed up in the victory of the people of God in whom He dwells in corporate fullness, in His own Sanctuary, His very own inheritance. No longer is it the untamed wilderness of selfish, fleshly striving; but now it is the cultivated and fruitful land of God's own Garden -- weeded, tilled, and ordered, and cared for by the great Husbandman, to be the Garden and the Inheritance of His own delight and pleasure:
"For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit" (Rom.8:2-4).
And I am confident that as we come into this realm of abiding fullness in Christ, that it is going to be JUST AS EASY, JUST AS SIMPLE, JUST AS NATURAL AND SPONTANEOUS FOR US TO WALK IN THE SPIRIT AND TO ABIDE IN HIS PRESENCE AS IT WAS IN FORMER DAYS TO WALK IN THE ENTANGLEMENTS OF OUR OWN WILDERNESS LIFE AND IN THE BONDAGE OF THE FLESH!
Do we question this? Then we are saying in effect that in our fleshly striving we able to produce more power and energy than the Spirit of God can. We are confessing that the "law of sin and death" is really of greater power that the "Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus
THE WILDERNESS OF SHUR
"Bitter And Sweet"
The Waters Of Marah
"And when they come to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they were bitter..." (Ex.15:23).
After crossing the Red Sea, the Cloud of God began to turn in a southerly direction, along the western edge of the Peninsula of Sinai. For three days they travelled into the wilderness, and found no water. On and on they travelled, and suddenly they came upon a pool of water. But soon their hopes were dashed as they stooped to drink and found that the waters were "bitter". Rather than quenching their thirst, the bitter waters merely aggravated their souls more severely than ever.
One of the most tragic things about Israel's journey through the wilderness was the fact that they could never seem to come to that place where they recognized the faithfulness of their God. Over and over again they witnessed His mighty working and delivering power; but never did they learn His ways, and have the assurance of His ever-abiding faithfulness. I think we have all been inclined to sympathize with the children of Israel in all of their trials, because we want to sympathize with ourselves. After all, God was leading them this way, as a picture and and example for us.
Now let us be assured of this: God does not give His chosen ones bitter waters to drink. Then why does He lead them to Marah, if He does not want them to drink of its waters?
God leads His people to Marah because He must reveal the condition of our heart if He is going to be able to deal with it. And one of the first things we have to discover in our journey, is that by nature we are filled with bitterness...and God wants to deal with that. He wants us to discover His way of rooting out the bitterness that is there. The word "Marah" means "bitterness"; and so God leads us to Marah, to a place of discovery. He leads us to Marah so we can discover the inherent bitterness of our fallen nature, and show us how to deal with it.
We come into this world in a state of bitterness, and we grow up in that state. All the while we may be quite oblivious to the fact that the bitterness, the envy, the strife, the quarreling, the jealousies, are things that are "earthly, sensual, devilish" (James 3:15). When we turn to God these things have to be uprooted from our lives. Few there are, it seems, who care about dealing with the old life once they have discovered the new. Like the people James writes about, we think it to be normal to let the tongue remain in its wild, untamed state; and to let the new water of life of which we have partaken, flow forth from our lives intermingled with the bitter fountains of the old nature:
"But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?" (James 3:8,10-11).
We see the sweet and the bitter everywhere, and think it to be normal. We are slow to believe that God wants the "bitter" to be so completely dealt with that all those jealousies, envyings, strivings, ill-feelings, resentments, and hardness of heart, all are to be submitted to the work of the Cross, that the fountains of our life might be wholly in God, that all our springs might be in Zion.
So let us not be disturbed and frustrated when we come to our Marah, to the place of Discovery, the place of Uncovering, where God begins to reveal the bitterness of our hearts. It did not begin when we came to Marah. It began at birth...at our natural birth. We enter this world with a cry of pain and resentment. But now that God has brought forth a new spring of life within us, He wants to deal with the old...that the fountains issuing forth from our lives might henceforth be rivers of refreshing, uncontaminated with the salty waters of the old life. What is the solution? It is in another Discovery...the discovery of a certain Tree.
Lord, Shew Us The Tree!
"And he [Moses] cried unto the LORD; and the LORD shewed him a tree, which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet..." (Ex.15:25).
When we come to Marah, beloved, we need to pray this prayer, "Lord, show me the Tree!" There is a Tree growing on the banks of every Marah, if we will but make the effort to find it; and we will need the help of the Lord to make this discovery. He will be faithful to show it to us, if we really want to find it. When He does, let us be quick to cut it down, and cast it into the waters.
You will have to discover this Tree for yourself; because for every Marah there is an individual Tree. Yet they are all of one likeness. It is the Tree of His Cross; but for you and for me there is a very individual application of that Cross. Your Cross is tailor-made for your needs, and so I cannot tell you explicitly what may be involved, except that it will involve a humbling of yourself before God or before your neighbor. It may involve a confession of some hurt that you are nursing. You may be required to forgive one who has harmed you. For if indeed you can be harmed, there is a Marah in your nature that must be sweetened. And you may discover that the bitterness of your heart is not because of what another has done to you, but because you are going to discover that suddenly the waters are sweetened...not because your neighbor has changed, but because you have changed. Very likely when your neighbor sees that you have changed, he also will be changed. Forgiveness may not be released easily, but if you seek the Lord earnestly, you will discover the Tree.
You may have to start praying for the one that has misused you, misunderstood you, spoken evil against you. As you continue at this, the Lord may show you that the bitterness you have known is the result of drinking waters out of the cistern of your own heart...and that the more you drank of it, the more bitter you became. And all the while you have been blaming your neighbor, or blaming God. "God, why are you doing this to me?" Why is God doing this to you? Perhaps it may be His way of revealing to you the bitterness of your heart, that you might discover the Tree.
But you will have to cut it down, and throw it into the waters. God will not do this for you; but He will show you how to do it. You may not know how to forgive, but you can start by recognizing your lack of grace, and asking God for help. As you continue to pray for the one who has "hurt" you, the more you will come to recognize the unforgiving nature that you have, so that eventually you will think less of yourself and more highly of your brother.
This could lead to the place where you almost forget the hurts that you have received from your brother, and you begin to reflect upon the incurable state of your own heart. You may soon begin to indulge in self-accusation and personal guilt. At least, the problem has been narrowed down to the confines of your own heart: "I am the problem".
But let the Tree continue to do its work in the bitter waters of your Marah until you can exult in the Tree upon which our Lord and Savior died for our cleansing.
"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 Jn.1:9).
"Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a Tree" (Gal.3:13).
He became a Curse, that you might no longer curse your brother, or even curse yourself!
Marah Becomes A Place Of Health
"There [at Marah] 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" (Ex.15:25-26).
It was at the bitter waters of Marah that God came forth with the covenant of healing, of health, and of life. How can we expect health and life to flow in the midst of God's people, as long as we continue to drink from bitter waters? As long as the old nature and the new are encouraged to flow together from the Temple of God? As long as the people of God are taught to forget these admonitions of the Lord to purge their hearts and minds completely from every trace of the old carnal nature, until Christ and Christ alone flows forth in life-giving streams from the House of God?
Let me assure you, beloved, when God's people earnestly seek God for the Tree that will bring crucifixion and death to the old carnal life, and the streams of bitterness that flow from the heart are replaced with streams of forgiveness, of mercy, of kindness, of gentleness, and of LOVE, there is going to be released a stream of physical and spiritual healing in the House of God; and we are going to be delivered from the diseases of this old world.
Elim, The Place Of Strength
"And they came to Elim, where were twelve wells of water, and threescore and ten palm trees: and they encamped there by the waters" (Ex.15:27).
"Elim" comes from a word signifying "strength". After the bitter experiences of Marah, the faithful God leads His people to Elim, a place of strength, a place of refreshing waters, a place of victory and blessings. It would be nice to camp here indefinitely, but the journey is far from complete. We must continue on our way farther, and farther to the south. Canaan is over there on our left; but somehow the Lord says, "Continue to go southward..." And as we travel on, we just know that we are getting farther and farther away from the Land of Promise. Why does the Lord deliberately lead us the long-way-around? And why is it that with every encampment we are subjected to more and more devastation? It is because God is really portraying His care and concern toward His people. Our lives are the untamed wilderness areas that He is dealing with, and we are slow to comprehend and understand the work that He must yet perform in our lives, in order to bring forth the Beauty of the Lord.
THE WILDERNESS OF SIN
"Bread From Heaven"
"And all the congregation of the children of Israel came unto the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departing out of the land of Egypt" (Ex.16:1).
They had been on the road one month. Their supply of food was running out. Once again the evil of their hearts was revealed; and the faithfulness of their God during the past month was forgotten. But God knew what He would do.
"Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you...that I may prove them..." (Ex.16:4). Notice this, that in every way the Lord was leading them, He was "proving" them. He was testing them to reveal the inherent corruption of their nature, and at the same time to show them His way for them, and His own faithfulness. Marah was to prove them; and now this strange bread from heaven was to prove them. To supply their need, yes; but it was more. It was to test them, to try them, to prove them.
It is not difficult for us to get God's blessings. God will continue to bless His people; but He wants to test us and to prove us, whether or not we can qualify for the Land of Canaan. There are many who experience the blessings of God who will continue to reject any attempt of the Lord to try them and to prove them. Yet this is required of the people who are going to qualify for the conquest of Canaan.
We will have much more to say about the Manna when we come to the Wilderness of Paran. But right here we want to emphasize that this miraculous bread from Heaven, this food that is called "The Corn of Heaven", and "Angels' Food", was something that supplied their need in spirit, soul, and body; but it fell short of satisfying every desire of their hearts. God designed it that way; for God must deal with the undisciplined desire of His people to get...and get...and get, if He is going to prepare them for the Life in the Spirit, which is a life of giving...giving...giving....
This precious food could not be stored up, and if they tried to do so, it bred worms and stank. Yet there was always sufficient for every need, for God sent a fresh supply every morning. They simply had to gather it, according as they had need; and if some happened to gather more that they needed, the the surplus was shared with those who did not gather enough. Incidentally, it is the "Manna principle" that has become the New Testament principle of giving and sharing:
"But by and equality, that now at this time you abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: THAT THERE MAY BE EQUALITY: as it is written, He that had gathered much had nothing over; and he that had gathered little had no lack" (2 Cor.8:14-15).
God has much work to do in His people yet, to bring us to that kind of "equality" that He desires in the New Covenant people; and here it is set forth in the Manna principle. God will continue to disipline the Canaan-bound people until they have learned to use what God had provided for their daily needs, and to make the rest available to those who stand in need. The true disciples of the Lord must be prepared to FORSAKE ALL in order to be His disciples. And they will do it gladly...not because there is some apostle or prophet or ecclesiastical structure requiring it, but because in their walk with the Lord, and in their pursuit of the Land of Fruitfulness, they are going to discover that "It is more blessed to give that to receive".
THE WILDERNESS OF SINAI
"Be Ye Holy, For I Am Holy"
"And all the congregation of the children of Israel journeyed from the Wilderness of Sin, after their journeys, according to the commandment of the LORD, and pitched in Rephidim: and there was no water for the people to drink" (Ex.17:1).
They are still southward-bound...still travelling farther and farther away from Canaan. For God must prove them and prepare their hearts still further, before they are ready to turn northward to Canaan.
Massah And Meribah
No water at Rephidim. God provided them with food from heaven; but now they are again without water, and ready to stone Moses. God has the answer to every physical and spiritual need, and the only reason He keeps us waiting is to prove us and try us, to know whether we will believe Him or not. Moses was told to stand upon a rock in Horeb (which means "a parched place"), to smite the rock with his rod, and God promised the waters would gush forth in refreshing, flowing streams.
"And he called the name of the place Massah, and Meribah, because of the chiding of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the LORD, saying, Is the LORD among us, or not?" (Ex.17:7).
Why is it that we have to make a Massah and a Meribah out of every place of God's provision, just because God seems to act so slowly, and to be silent when we think we need Him most? Why do we not allow the Lord to call the experiences of life through which we must pass by such names as "Living Waters"..."Peace and Rest"..."Fountain of Living Streams"... Instead, we murmur and complain, and God is faithful to come on the scene in answer to our prayers, but He is compelled to call our place of failure by such names as these: Massah, which means "testing, temptation" or, Maribah, which means "contention, confrontation, strife".
And when God says our place of failure was Massah and Meribah, He is not saying it was the place where He tested us. He is saying rather that it was the place where He sought to test us and prove us we turned it about and TESTED GOD AND CONTENDED WITH GOD AND PROVED GOD... and this is what saddens His heart. Massah and Meribah have therefore become a description of their whole way of life throughout their forty year journey in the wilderness. And when the Psalmist lifts his voice to praise and exalt the Rock of his salvation...and then bows his knee in worship before the LORD his Maker...very abruptly his praise and his worship become, in a spirit of prophecy, a very solemn warning to the people of God, who know how to praise and worship, but whose hearts are prone to hardness and rebellion:
"Today if ye will hear His voice,
Harden not your heart,
As in the provocation [as at 'Meribah'],
And as in the day of temptation
In the wilderness [as at 'Massah']:
When your fathers tempted Me,
Proved Me, and saw My work"
This is a day when the congregations of the Lord have a know-how approach to God; and worship and praise has in many, many cases become a system, a "do-it-this-way" approach...and when it is all over, the heart remains as hard and as cold toward God as ever. There is an "art" in praise, and "art" in worship, an "art" in music, and an "art" in dancing before the Lord. And how little of it leads to true submission and worship at the feet of Him who is our Lord and Maker. And if you feel that in being blessed, and in partaking of much spiritual gift and provision you are somehow His specially favored people, listen to these solemn words at the end of this beautiful Song of Praise:
"Forty years long was I grieved
With this generation, and said,
It is a people that do ERR IN THEIR HEART,
AND THEY HAVE NOT KNOWN MY WAYS:
UNTO WHOM I SWARE IN MY WRATH
THAT THEY SHOULD NOT ENTER INTO
MY REST" (Ps.95:10-11).
Here was a people who were favored above all nations on the face of the earth. They beheld miracle after miracle every day of their lives. Water miraculously flowed from the Rock to quench their thirst. Manna rained down from heaven every day to satisfy their every need. The Cloud of Glory abode upon their Tabernacle by day and by night for forty years....
BUT IN AND THROUGH IT ALL THEY NEVER CAME TO KNOW GOD!
AND GOD TESTIFIED THAT THEY WERE A GRIEF TO HIS HEART!
These are frightening observations. But we need to consider these things very solemnly in this day and hour when the blessing of God upon His people is considered to be His seal of approval. This is not Old Covenant theology. This is New Covenant teaching, hidden away in the types and shadows of the Old. Listen to Paul's commentary on this episode in the wilderness:
"Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the Cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the Cloud and in the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual meat; and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. But with many of them [or, 'the most of them'] God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness" (1 Cor.10:1-5).
They were "overthrown in the wilderness" despite the fact that they had partaken of all these manifold blessings. In the very midst of their blessings, they failed to walk in obedience, and failed to enter the Land of Promise. And the apostle Paul admonishes us to learn from their mistakes, for they were types and shadows of the people of God living in this New Covenant era. (See 1 Cor.10:11-12.)
Sinai, The Holy Mountain Of God
"In the third month, when the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt, the same day came they into the Wilderness of Sinai" (Ex.19:1).
Here they must abide approximately eleven months, camping at the foot of the holy mountain of God, and becoming acquainted with His righteous and holy laws and ordinances. Here they would build the Tabernacle, that God Himself might dwell among them. Canaan lay before them, and there was much warfare to be accomplished, but God must have a holy people to war against the unholy nations, and to enter that holy realm which Moses had already described as "the mountain of Thine inheritance...the place, O LORD, which Thou hast made for Thee to dwell in...the Sanctuary, O Lord, which Thy hands have established" (Ex.15:17).
In this day and age this matter of holiness is usually equated with "legalism". We know that we are living in the Day of Grace. But what is often overlooked is that the Grace of God came into being in order that the righteousness and the holiness which God required in the Old Covenant, might now be PROVIDED in the New. The reason God did away with the Law was because it didn't work. And the New Covenant came into being to work into the hearts and lives of God's people that quality and character of life that the Old Covenant was helpless to produce. It was "because they continued not in My Covenant" that God saw fit to change it (Heb.8:9). And the reason we can walk in holiness and righteousness in the New Covenant is simply because God comes into the heart and in the mind...once again with a finger of fire, but this time "in fleshy tables of the heart" (2 Cor.3:3). The New Covenant is not just a new "position" in Grace; it is a WRITING ON THE HEART, AND A WRITING ON THE MIND, AND A KNOWING OF GOD IN INTIMATE RELATIONSHIP.
It is not just a declaration of what we are in Christ; it is a TRANSITION from the place of condemnation and death into a place of righteousness and life. It is a TRANSFORMATION from a state of spiritual death and darkness into a new state of spiritual life and light.
Was God indeed concerned about sheep, and goats, and oxen, and turtledoves, and pigeons, and holy days, and sabbaths, and religious rituals of one kind or another? "Doth God take care for oxen? Or saith he it altogether for our sakes?" (1 Cor.9:9-10). Was He really concerned that we wear a garment of only one kind of material? Or planting our garden with two kinds of vegetables? Not really. But He was giving us principles of New Covenant truth in an Old Covenant setting. In other words, God hates mixture. He is after heart purity...purity of mind...purity of attitudes.
That's what the Law is all about; and that's what the wilderness is all about. It is a revelation of the heart of His people that God is after...that in seeing ourselves in our total helplessness and hopelessness, we might draw close to Him and partake of His grace. They confidently promised God that they would do everything He said. God knew it wasn't in their heart to do it, and we hear Him lamenting...
"O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear Me, and keep all My commandments always..." (Deut.5:29).
But even before Moses passes off the scene he foresees the day when God would bring forth the New Covenant:
And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live" (Deut.30:6).
This is the whole substance and intent of the Law, as Jesus observed. (See Matt.22:37-40.)
God's Peculiar Treasure
"Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto Myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey My voice indeed, and keep My covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people: for all the earth is mine: and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation" (Ex.19:4-6).
Israel could not attain to this; but it has been reserved for the New Covenant people:
"But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, and holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvellous light" (1 Pet.2:9).
Who are these people who are God's special treasure, His peculiar people?
"Then they that feared the LORD spake often one to another: and the LORD hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon His name. AND THEY SHALL BE MINE, saith the LORD of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels [or, 'my special treasure']...(Mal.3:16-17).
They are the ones who have a wholesome, godly fear of the Lord of all creation...a fear that inspires love and devotion and commitment, even unto death. When God speaks they listen. But they do more - they obey. They seek to walk in His ways. They tremble at His Word. They speak often one to another, not in idle chit-chat, but in fellowship, thinking upon His Name, meditating of His wondrous works, encouraging and edifying one another - teaching, exhorting, admonishing one another in the fear of the LORD.
They are wholly occupied with Him, and therefore He is wholly occupied with them:
"If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him" (Jn.14:23).
The "peculiar people" are not "peculiar" because they do foolish things or unseemly things. The word has a sense of a "hidden treasure" ...something to precious it is concealed, and hidden from the eyes of men ...something special, something superlative. They are people that are unknown, and yet "well known". For they may pass their days in this life in obscurity, scarcely known or recognized in the affairs of men. But they are "well known" in heavenly places, the subject of conversation and wonder among the celestial hosts. They are weak and insignificant in themselves...can boast of no special endowments in the natural...very ordinary and unassuming. Yet somehow without great natural ability and with no claims to any particular achievements, they love God with an intensity that sets them apart in a special place in His heart ...a special habitation for the abode of Father and Son.
"Leviticus" ...Before "Numbers"
We are always in a hurry to get to our destination; and God is much more desirous to bring us there than we are. But He has taught us that...
"An inheritance may be gotten hastily at the beginning; but the end thereof shall not be blessed" (Prov.20:21).
And so for almost a year the Lord keeps the children of Israel at Sinai, to prepare them for the journey NORTHWARD to Canaan. This is what the book of Leviticus is all about. It is the book of the Holiness of God, and the Holiness of His people. The word "holy" and "sanctify" are used well over one hundred times in Leviticus alone. In all the sacrifices, in all the ordinances, in all the judgments that God decreed, He is reflecting the holiness of His nature, and the desire for holiness in His people.
"Numbers" follows Leviticus; for in the book of Numbers the people of the Lord are numbered and set in orderly array, in preparation for the conquest of Canaan. But we must become acquainted with the awesomeness of our God, and learn to "tremble at His word" if we are going to be a conquering people. Would to God that the Church of this hour which is so zealous for warfare could understand this. The Battle is not ours but God's; and if we do not learn to fear before Him, and partake of His Holiness and of His character and nature, we are not going to war a good warfare against the hosts of evil that are arrayed against us. Would God that His people could understand that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but spiritual, and that ...
We overcome evil with good...
We overcome hatred with love...
We overcome lawlessness with obedience...
We overcome error and deceit with Truth...
If we understood this, then we would concentrate on these kinds of weapons, rather than upon all manner of humanly devised strategies and gimmicks and forms of entertainment. And so we must remain here at the foot of the Holy Mount, to learn His ways, before we are going to be numbered for Battle.
To learn about the Covenant that is written upon our hearts with God's holy finger of fire...
To know God's wrath against the golden calf, and have our idolatrous hearts smitten with His righteous judgments...
To know the zeal of the Lord, and the zeal of His priests, to cleanse the camp of God from all its idolatry...
To partake of priestly concerns for God's people, that we might, as Moses did, prevail upon God to "turn from His fierce wrath, and repent of the evil" that He has purposed, and in the midst of His wrath, to remember mercy...
To set our hearts upon building the Tabernacle of God; yet even as we do, to know that "Except the LORD build the house, they labor in vain that build it"...
To cry unto God as Moses did, "I beseech Thee, O LORD, SHEW ME THY GLORY". For it is only in beholding His glory, and radiating His glory, that we shall be able to minister life and truth to the people of God.
Then does the LORD say, "Ye have dwelt long enough in this mount: turn you, and take your journey..." (Deut.1:6-7).
Time To Turn North
The song writer speaks of the "north wind" and the "south wind" that God sends upon His people. And so after coming out of Egypt the north wind, as it were, drove them farther and farther away from their goal. But now it is time for the south wind to blow, and to urge them northward to the land of their inheritance:
"Awake, O north wind; and come, thou south; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof might flow out" (Song.4:16).
The rule of the Cloud is still the rule by which they must move forward into Canaan. But now the holy fire of God rests upon the Tabernacle. Now the holy fire of God is associated with the people of God, to consume their enemies.