Beauty for Ashes: A Way through the Wilderness part 2
THE WILDERNESS OF PARAN
"The Purging Of Our Desires"
"And it came to pass on the twentieth day of the second month, in the second year, that the cloud was taken up from off the tabernacle of the testimony. And the children of Israel took their journeys out of the wilderness of Sinai; and the cloud rested in the wilderness of Paran" (Num. 10:11-12).
The people of God had been "numbered" for battle, and set in battle-array, and were now moving forward to take the Land and to destroy the enemies of God. For the journey northward there was a new song, a Battle Song... "Rise up, LORD, and let thine enemies be scattered; and let them that hate thee flee before thee" (Num. 10:35).
Three days they travelled forth into the Wilderness of Paran, the Cloud of God going before them, "to search out a resting place for them" (Num. 10:33). Let us bear this in mind: it was a place of Rest that God had prepared for them; but once again, because of their disobedience, the place of Rest became a place of desolation.
Judgment By Fire
"And when the people complained, it displeased the LORD: and the LORD heard it; and His anger was kindled; and the fire of the LORD burnt among them" (Num. 11:1). God’s holy fire was going before them to consume their enemies; but their complaining hearts caused the "fire of the LORD" to burn the people in the very camp of God.
John the Baptist tells us that the "Fire of God" has been reserved for the chaff of the threshing floor: "Whose fan is in His hand, and He will throughly purge His floor, and gather His wheat into the garner; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (Matt. 3:12). God grant that His holy fire will remove all the chaff, all the dross, from our lives, that we might be spared His fiery judgments in the Day of His wrath.
"For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch" (Mal. 4:1).
God had gone on before His people in His holy fire, to prepare for them a resting place. But to many of them it meant a burning and a consuming, because of their complaining hearts. And the place was called "Taberah," which means "Burning."
We earnestly desire that God’s holy fire comes into our midst, to consume the dross and the chaff; but let us understand it is a very serious thing to have the fire of God in our midst if there is no earnest longing to walk in obedience. Nadab and Abihu discovered that. So did Ananias and Sapphira. We are going to witness some awesome judgments in the House of God, when the Fire of God comes to abide in His Temple.
Tired Of The Manna
"And the mixed multitude that was among them fell a lusting: and the children of Israel also wept again, and said, Who shall give us flesh to eat?... But now our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes" (Num. 11:4,6).
The children of Israel had been eating of the Manna for about a year... ever since they came into the Wilderness of Sin. It kept them healthy and strong and vital. But now they wanted something more substantial, something like they had in Egypt. Why was it that this wonderful Bread of God, prepared in Heaven, no longer satisfied them? It was because there was a certain ingredient in the Manna that caused them to hunger, so that in their hunger they might set their hearts upon knowing God, and eating of His living Word.
The Nature Of The Manna
(1) The Manna Raised Many Questions
When the Manna first fell in the Wilderness of Sin the people looked at it in amazement, and said one to another, "What is that? What is that?" And because they never did discover a satisfactory answer to that question, this is what they called it. "Manna" simply means, "What is it?" Moses’ reply was simply, "This is the Bread which the LORD hath given you to eat" (Ex. 16:15). Dr. Strong calls it a "Whatness," and says the word includes the thought of What? How? When? Why? We who have partaken of the Manna can fully understand these unanswered questions that come to us from time to time:
"HOW long, O Lord, must I suffer this way?"
"WHAT is this all about, Lord?"
"WHY, Lord, do You do this to me?"
"WHEN, O Lord, are you going to hear my prayer?"
These questions, and many like them, are constantly arising from the hearts of the Manna-eating people, and they are valid questions. But we have to be content with God’s reply, which may not answer the question, but it will give us true nourishment and sustain our wilderness life, if we have set our hearts aright. It is the same answer that God has given to the saints of all ages:
"What I do, thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter....
"Yet a little while, and he that cometh will come, and will not tarry....
"Ye have need of patience, that after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise...."
God’s tardiness in coming to His own in their time of need has been the most grievous thing His chosen ones have ever had to suffer. We eat of the Bread of God, and walk in His ways, only to find that delightful as that Bread might be, it leaves us with so many perplexing thoughts, so many unanswered questions, so many unanswered prayers. There is an ongoing "WHATNESS" about the ways of God. But we have to know that the Manna always falls in the camp of God’s choosing, in the place that He Himself set apart and chose to be our resting place. For true rest is ours even in the time of storm, when we are prepared to forsake our many questions, and confess...
"He knoweth the way that I take; When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold" (Job 23:10).
(2) The Manna Was Prepared In Heaven
Jesus said, "Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven" (John 6:32). Jesus is the true Bread. The Manna in the wilderness was in no sense an ultimate provision. It was a temporary provision for a wilderness people. It was nevertheless sent from heaven to prepare their hearts, that eventually they might partake of the true Bread, the "Hidden Manna," the incorruptible life in the Spirit.
And so it was called "the corn of heaven," and "angels’ food." Or, as some translate this, "the bread of the mighty." (See Ps. 78:24-25.) For even in that glorious realm of the celestial the heavenly hosts need to partake of life from God. They were created to draw life from Him; and when Lucifer said, "I will be like the Most High," he there and then cut himself off from the source of his glory, the source of his beauty, the source of true life. It is only in utter dependence upon God that any creature in all of God’s creation shall find the strength and the sustenance that will support and sustain his life. In giving them Manna, God was saying, "I must impart to these poor ones in the earth that I have chosen the same kind of food that my celestial hosts are feeding upon. I must give them angels’ food because they must draw strength from Me, the fountain-head and source of all life and truth. I must give them the ‘bread of the mighty.’ I must give them ‘the corn of heaven.’"
(3) The Manna Was Small, Insignificant
And so like the One it represented, it was humble, unassuming, pure, white, and clean. It is spoken of as being like a certain "seed" and like the "hoarfrost." Each person required approximately an "omer" of it for his daily needs, roughly about seven pints. It must have required a lot of hard work to gather it, all those little kernels spread out on the ground like the hoarfrost. They must stoop low in order to gather it. God said the purpose of the wilderness life, and the purpose of the Manna, was to humble them and to prove them. For God was preparing for Himself a special people, and God cannot walk with the proud and the scornful.
(4) The Manna Was Fresh Every Morning
It wasn’t something they could store up. It was bread they must gather daily, and bread they must eat daily. It must be gathered in the morning, because the heat of the sun would cause it to melt away. If they tried to store it up, it would breed worms and stink. If God’s Word is to be to us a living Word it must come to us fresh every morning. It is not enough that I can prove it’s in the Bible, and that God SAID it. We are thankful He SAID it. But we are not going to derive any life from it unless He is SAYING it today. It must be a Word that "proceedeth" out from the mouth of the Lord, if we are going to live by it. Jesus said we were to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread," the bread I need for today. I can only partake of His life when He SPEAKS. "To day if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts..." (Heb. 3:7-8). There are many things in God’s Word that He SAID; and many of these things He WILL SAY again. But if He is not SAYING it, I had better leave it alone. If He is not unfolding, revealing, and bringing life to His people through it, I had better leave it alone.
(5) The Manna Was Not Prepared On The Sabbath
There was no one in Heaven preparing Manna for the people on earth on the sabbath day; and so on the sixth day they were to gather a double portion. Paul says, "There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God" (Heb. 4:9). And the word "rest" here is "sabbath." The people were not to go looking for it, because there would be none. God was "resting" on that day; and because God’s people were partaking of His rest, the manna of the sixth day would be living and vital and healthful. Our Manna is a spiritual food; and our Sabbath is a spiritual Sabbath. Man’s working day draws to a close, and the people of the wilderness way must partake of the "double portion" that we might have it for the people of God when they go looking for Manna in the day of God’s rest, and find none. The "double" portion is really for others. Elisha received the double portion, but it was for others. It was for the healing of the waters at Jericho; or to supply refreshing streams of water for the armies of God when they were attacked by the enemy; or it was to multiply the oil for the poverty stricken widow; or to heal the poisoned soup; or to multiply the bread and corn for the sons of the prophets; or to heal the leper; or to cause the borrowed axe to swim; or to bring the dead back to life. Of course it is true that as we give the sabbath bread to others, we partake of it ourselves. For it is in ministering unto others and helping others that we ourselves are fed. Because Jesus was doing the will of the Father as He ministered to the woman of Samaria, He was able to say to the disciples: "I have meat to eat that ye know not of... My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish His work...."
(6) The Manna Tasted Like Fresh Oil... Like Honey Wafers
Lord give us of that "fresh oil"--oil that is pure and fresh and clean. How much staleness, how much corruption we find in the Bread of God today! "Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour..." (Ecc. 10:1). David said, "Thou hast anointed me with fresh oil...." Honey wafers? Bread with the taste of honey? Honey speaks of true knowledge and wisdom... "My son, eat thou honey, because it is good; and the honeycomb, which is sweet to thy taste: so shall the knowledge of wisdom be unto thy soul: when thou hast found it, then there shall be a reward, and thy expectation shall not be cut off" (Prov. 24:13-14).
We need the honey of God’s Word. We need that spiritual wisdom and understanding that will cause us to "grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." We need to have spiritual wisdom and understanding. In the true wisdom and knowledge that God gives there is a reward, there is hope, there is expectation. That’s what it is for. It is not some far-out doctrine that is not pertinent, not relevant to what God is doing. It is a wilderness provision, to give us hope and expectation, a foretaste of the Promised Land that "flows with milk and honey." But we do not want too much of the honey--not right now. I wish God’s people, especially His teachers, could understand this. You cannot gorge yourself on wisdom and knowledge, and not suffer the consequences. "Hast thou found honey? eat so much as is sufficient for thee, lest thou be filled therewith, and vomit it" (Prov. 25:16).
I think there is an awful lot of vomit around these days as men gorge themselves on so-called wisdom and knowledge and understanding... all in the name of deeper truth, confidently presuming to know all about God’s plans and purposes in the kingdom to come... and really there is no life in a lot of it. Too much honey will make you sick.
But we do need a little, for illumination, for expectation, and for hope. Jonathan dipped the end of his rod in the honey that dripped from the trees, and it brightened his eyes, so he could see clearly. Perhaps it would be satisfying to our curiosity and to our egos if we knew what God was going to do in the ages to come. But God give us a living Word for the wilderness people of this hour, that there might be an expectation and a hope for the Land of Promise, as we pursue this wilderness pathway.
(7) The Manna Settled On The Dew
Moses said, "My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew..." (Deut. 32:2).
During the long wilderness nights, when the children of Israel were fast asleep, God was preparing their food for the new day that lay before them. We mentioned that there was a lot of tedious, hard work gathering the Manna. But we must know that there is nothing we can do to produce this life-giving bread from heaven. But in the darkness of the night when we are fast asleep, then it is that God prepares our way before us, and marks out our provision for the coming day. There is the sleep of death, we know. There is the sleep of lethargy, the sleep of unpreparedness, the sleep that comes to His people who have partaken of the sleeping pills of pleasure, and are pursuing this world’s failing joys. But to the people of God who are hungry for Him, open to His Word, and diligently seeking the Lord with all of their hearts, there is that SLEEP of the Lord that God puts upon us when He would perform those sovereign, mighty acts that are entirely beyond our ability and our resources to produce. When the Lord builds His House, He will not let you and I tamper with it. When He keeps the city, and we are simply moving in union with Him, we cannot come forth with our own strategies. And so the Psalmist says,
"It is vain for you to rise up early,
To sit up late,
To eat the bread of sorrows:
For [or, ‘So’] He giveth His beloved sleep" (Ps. 127:2).
Or, as one has translated it, "So He provides for His beloved ones while they are asleep." This is not an encouragement to slothfulness. It is simply God’s way of telling us to stop meddling with the beautiful work that He is doing in His House, and to cast our cares upon Him. Our anxiety and concern that come with "much serving," only increases the frustration. While we are attempting to produce "the bread of sorrows," God is saying, "Leave it to Me. I am preparing your Bread in the darkness of the Night. I cannot tell you what I am doing, and how, and when, and why. Because you would not understand right now. But you will understand afterward...."
Like Jacob of old, having fled from his brother Esau, and having eaten of the bread of sorrows... he falls asleep on the open fields, and it is there that God begins to work... and to reveal to His chosen one His plan for the House of God. And Jacob arises from his sleep saying, "Surely God is in this place and I knew it not."
Daniel, likewise, was in a deep sleep, with his face to the ground, when he saw the vision of this One who spoke with "words like the voice of a multitude." For he too saw the vision of something only God could perform, the vision of the corporate Man... of Christ in union with His many brethren.
Adam longed for one his likeness, his counterpart, his helpmate... one who would be in corporate relationship with him. But God had to put him into a deep sleep. For Adam could not even co-operate in this great work. He would only spoil what God had in mind. Then out from his wounded side there came forth Eve, beautiful to behold... like Adam, and yet so different: his counterpart, his bride, his very body... "bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh."
Our Lord Jesus likewise was put into a deep sleep, that out from His wounded side there might come forth a Bride, one who would be joined unto Him in corporate relationship-ship like unto Him, and yet different: His counterpart, His fullness... "bone of His bone and flesh of His flesh"... totally compatible with Him, yet totally dependent upon Him.
As Abraham stood ready to "cut" the covenant with God (for God had told him to prepare the sacrifices for the covenant), all he could do was to be watchful and obedient, driving away the birds of prey as they would swoop down upon the carcasses. Waiting, waiting, and waiting, for God to come on the scene so that they could walk between the pieces together, and thus confirm the covenant. And God kept him waiting, as usual. But when the fullness of time came, God put Abraham into a deep sleep... and God alone walked down between the pieces as a "smoking furnace" and as a "burning lamp." There was no way that God would let Abraham meddle with this beautiful work that He was doing... no way that Abraham could have any part in God’s sovereign working in the holy nation that would go into bondage in a strange land, and after 400 years come forth as a corporate people, out from the land of bondage, and into the Land of Promise. All Abraham could do when he was awake was to drive the birds away; and God would do the rest while Abraham slept.
We are talking about the Manna... and how this wonderful Bread of God would settle on the dew in the darkness of the night ...unhelped, unaided, untouched, unspoiled by the hand of man.
And then with fretful hearts we arise in the morning, and we say... Why, Lord? How, Lord? When, Lord? What, Lord? All the while being totally ignorant of what God is doing but somehow knowing that all is well, and somehow being able to confidently proclaim, "I know that all things are working together for good, because I love God... and I know I am called according to His purpose."
(8) The Manna Was Totally Sufficient
There was ample provision for every need. In fact, there was far more than they needed. The excess manna simply melted away in the heat of the sun. God always provides much more than we need, much more than we can digest. Not so we can waste it... pollute it... mismanage it... pervert it. But God will not let it be said of Him, "God, you haven’t given me enough." It is the measure of our hunger that determines the measure of our eating. And what is left over simply goes back to the heart of God, to come to us again on the morrow, as we are ready to receive more.
But there is more to the sufficiency of the Manna than that. It also provided every ingredient that was needed to keep the children of Israel vital, strong, and healthy. Moses tells us that after 40 years in the wilderness there was such a miraculous provision in the Manna, such strength, such life, that "Thy raiment waxed not old upon thee, neither did thy foot swell, these forty years" (Deut. 8:4). The journey was long and wearisome, and they travelled over rough, wilderness terrain. But God kept them healthy and strong, maintained their footwear, and protected their feet from swelling. They were a healthy people, with not one feeble one in their midst, except as they disobeyed the Lord, and God sent evil diseases into their midst. God had given them the Bread of the Mighty, a food that made them utterly dependent upon God, for He wanted to demonstrate in their lives and in their wilderness journeyings, the fact that He was the God of provision and supply.
(9) The Manna Left Them With Unsatisfied Desires
This, and this alone, was the cause of all their fretting: "And He humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with Manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know..." (Deut. 8:3). God humbled them, and suffered them to hunger, and fed them with Manna! They got weary of it because it did not give them that satisfied feeling. They ate and ate till they were full, but still they felt hungry. They murmured, "We loathe this light bread... there is nothing before our eyes but this Manna." It did something for them that none of our modern foods can do: kept them healthy, and strong, and free from physical pains, diseases, and afflictions. But because it left them hungry, they loathed it. But God designed it for that purpose. "He humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with Manna... THAT HE MIGHT MAKE THEE KNOW THAT MAN DOTH NOT LIVE BY BREAD ONLY, BUT BY EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDETH OUT OF THE MOUTH OF THE LORD DOTH MAN LIVE" (Deut. 8:3). The lesson in the Manna is simply this: that if our hearts are not set on knowing God and becoming acquainted with His ways, this Divine provision that God intended to drive us to the heart of God will leave us vulnerable to the cravings and desires of our own fleshly hearts. If we do not learn to find our true joy and delight in God, we are going to try to find delight in our own carnal ways. This fully explains why the Church in our generation, especially the Church in areas of abundance and prosperity and wealth, has been almost totally captivated with carnal desire and pleasures and appetites-THEY HAVE NEGLECTED OR REFUSED TO LET THE HUNGER-PRODUCING MANNA LEAD THEM TO THE HEART OF GOD. Let us not imagine that a little diversion from spiritual things, a little more indulgence in carnal pleasures, can in any way alleviate the hunger that God put in our hearts. It is only as we drink of God’s spiritual drink, and feed upon God’s spiritual food, that we are going to remain spiritually alive and well. God allows the hunger to remain, that we might learn to rely wholly upon God, and to know "that man doth not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." It is in the continual feasting, the continual eating, the continual digesting of Truth that our hunger is satisfied. And that is why the Manna leaves us hungry... that we might CONTINUALLY feast upon the Bread of Heaven.
The Purging Of Our Desires
We have spent a lot of time talking about the Manna because the people of God are headed northward into Canaan, northward into areas of spiritual warfare... and God would emphasize that for survival, and for conquest, we must partake of the virtues of His living Word, and overcome the desires of our own hearts. And that is why right here, just three days journey north of Sinai, once again God emphasizes the virtues of the Manna. But they said, "We are sick and tired of it... give us flesh to eat." And God answered their prayers!
Not only did He answer their prayers, but in the midst of their carnal cravings God released a further portion of His Spirit upon the elders of Israel. Prophetic utterances came forth through the elders of Israel while God was preparing a feast of quail for the disobedient people of God. Two men in particular are singled out as being especially blessed of the Lord with prophetic utterances: Eldad and Medad. "Eldad" means "God has loved," and "Medad" means "Loving, Affectionate." They didn’t even come to the church to prophesy, much to the dismay and concern of some of the leaders . . . but they prophesied right there in the camp. But Moses was quite undisturbed: "Would God" he said, "That all God’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put His Spirit upon them." But what we want to emphasize is this: that in the midst of a great spiritual revival in the Camp of Israel, where God was manifesting His love, His affection, where the Spirit of prophecy was poured out in copious showers, right there God was answering the prayers of a carnally minded people, a people who hated the Manna, a people whose hearts were alienated from God. God sent the quail in such abundance that they had only to reach out at arm’s length to grasp them (they didn’t even have to stoop low like they did to gather the Manna). Right there at arms length the quail were flying, about a yard high above the face of the ground, so that "he that gathered least gathered ten homers" (Num. 11:32). Some calculate this to be about 100 or 110 bushels. Whatever would a man in Israel do with 110 bushels of quail? To answer that question, let me ask another. What are people hoping to do with their fortunes of stocks and bonds and their silver and their gold in a world that is teetering on the brink of financial chaos and nuclear desolation? Answer that, and then perhaps we can find the answer to the first question. It is simply unexplainable madness. Now where was God leading His people as they proceeded on the three day journey northward from the holy mountain of God? He was leading them to a "resting place" in the Wilderness of Paran (Num. 10:33). It ought to have been called something like this: "Haven of Rest," "Valley of Contentment," or "Plains of Refreshing." But because the people had been overtaken with carnal desires they were smitten with a plague, and the name of the place was called: "Kibroth-Hattaavah," which means, THE GRAVES OF LUST, THE GRAVES OF UNHOLY DESIRE, THE GRAVES OF CARNAL CRAVING (Num. 1l:33-34).
The Root Cause Of Dissatisfaction
Don’t blame God for your fretful, disgruntled heart. Don’t blame your mate, your children, your job, your employer. Let us learn to put the blame for unholy desire where it belongs. Listen to God’s commentary as to what really happened:
"They set not their heart aright..."(or, "they prepared not their heart"). "Their spirit was not steadfast with God..." "They refused to walk in His law..." "They forgat His works, and His wonders that He had showed them..." "They tempted God..." "They spake against God; they said, Can God...? Can He give bread? Can He provide flesh?" "They believed not in God..." "They trusted not in His salvation" "They did flatter Him with their mouth...", "They lied unto Him with their tongues..." "Their heart was not right with Him..." "They tempted God..." "And limited the Holy One of Israel..." "They tempted and provoked the Most High God..."
These are just a few excerpts from Psalm 78, which the Psalmist, by inspiration of the Spirit, charged God’s people to read to every generation that was yet to follow, in order that the people of God MIGHT SET THEIR HOPE IN GOD AND NOT FORGET!
But what we want to emphasize in particular in this whole episode is the fact that GOD ANSWERED THE PRAYERS OF THIS KIND OF A PEOPLE, and ALL THE WHILE HIS HEART WAS FULL OF GRIEF BECAUSE OF THEIR WAYWARD, DISOBEDIENT HEARTS. AND EVEN WHILE THEIR PRAYERS WERE BEING ANSWERED THEY WERE SUBJECTING THEMSELVES TO EVIL DISEASES... DISEASES FROM WHICH GOD PROMISED DELIVERANCE TO AN OBEDIENT PEOPLE WHO WOULD WALK WITH HIM. God heard their cries, we are told, and gave them their request, "but sent leanness into their soul." The New American Standard Version reads, "He... sent a wasting disease among them."
I wonder how many people there are, how many ministers there are, whose spiritual bones are bleaching on the fields of Kibroth-Hattaavah... and all the while they are telling God’s people that they are rich and prosperous and happy because they have found the secret to success and prosperity... and that God has heard and answered their prayers for riches and wealth! It is what one minister described as "God’s Silent Judgment." Here they are, wasting away with an evil disease on the fields of Kibroth-Hattaavah, and boasting that they are the King’s kids, and feasting upon the good things of Canaan!
God help us, while yet it is called "TODAY," to eat of the Manna, and to discover the virtues of that spiritual, secret ingredient that makes us to know "that man doth not live by bread only, but by every Word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD." For this is why God gave us the Manna.
On To Canaan!
From Kibroth-Hattaavah the children of Israel moved forward to the borders of the Land of Canaan. But before the final attack they were to send out spies from the Wilderness of Paran, to search out the Land...
"And see the land, what it is; and the people that dwelleth therein, whether they be strong or weak, few or many; and what the land is that they dwell in, whether it be good or bad; and what cities they be that they dwell in, whether in tents, or in strongholds; and what the land is, whether it be fat or lean, whether there be wood therein, or not. And be ye of good courage, and bring of the fruit of the land. Now the time was the time of the firstripe grapes" (Num. 13:18-20).
An Unprofitable Report
The apostle Paul comments on this episode in his epistle to the Hebrews, using the reaction of the spies to this investigation as an illustration of that inherent tendency in the hearts of God’s people to FALL SHORT of God’s desire for them. None of the twelve spies denied the abundant fruitfulness of the Land of Promise. Their only argument was that it was just an impossible situation for them to handle. To talk about our heavenly heritage with eloquence might stir up a lot of enthusiasm among God’s people. But God says it is an "unprofitable report" if there is no desire, no faith, no hope, no expectation, TO ENTER IN AND POSSESS THE LAND. "Yes, we all believe that truth, but you know very well that we can’t appropriate it NOW."
We want to deal a little with the Canaan life further on; but it is apparent all over Christendom, and especially in the people who profess to have spiritual gifts and blessings, that there is no intention whatever to take the Land, and to completely subdue it for God. Canaan is presented either as something you die and go somewhere to attain; or it is so minimized that there is really no living hope presented for anything more than somewhat of an enlargement of certain gifts or blessings that we already have. Perhaps they would agree we need to make another excursion into Canaan, and bring back a few more pomegranates and grapes. Songs and sermons may be written about that. But this is nothing compared to what God has in store for His people. God wanted His people to go in and DWELL THERE. Special gifts, visions, and revelations concerning the realm of the Spirit, these we enjoy listing to, and we like to admire those great ones who have such visitations... but to GO IN and LIVE in that realm, of course that is entirely out of the question.
There has been in all ages an inherent tendency in God’s people to draw back from the fullness of the Promise, in view of the obstacles that lie before them; and to add to the problem, there are always those teachers capable of presenting an "evil report" convincingly enough that God’s people are quick to draw back if they have not "set their hearts aright." And so the apostle admonishes us...
"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: but the word preached [‘the word of the report’] did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it" (Heb. 4:1-2).
Others translate it something like this: "Not being united in faith with those that heard it"... the thought being that those who heard the Word did not have faith and confidence to be JOINED unto the Word they heard... and especially unto Caleb and Joshua who brought back a "good report."
The Good Report
God sends forth His Word to bring into being this kind of a spiritual "joining." Paul tells us that the things of the Spirit that God has freely given us are spoken forth...
"Not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual" (1 Cor. 2:13).
But other translations bring out the thought not only of "comparing" one with the other, but of actually "combining" the one with the other. "Combining spiritual things with spiritual." As born again, regenerate people of God, we receive a new Spirit; and as we are filled with that Spirit, and drink more and more into that Spirit, our capacity to receive and to appropriate spiritual things becomes more and more pronounced. As God sends forth a living, anointed Word, it is the work of the Holy Spirit to take that Word, and to "join" it to the spiritual heart and mind within us, that entity that has come into "hearing" and into new life; and to make a deposit within the spiritual man from the heart and mind of God. The Spirit reaches forth into the heart of God and takes that spiritual life, that spiritual grace, that spiritual virtue that God seeks to impart to His own... and then joins it to that spiritual heart, that spiritual entity, that God has provided in His people. It is an ongoing appropriation of things spiritual into our lives, as we drink into His Spirit, walk in His ways, hear His voice, obey, submit, yield... and allow Him to build within us and implant within us those hidden resources of grace and wisdom and truth that abound in the heart of God. This is why the Spirit of God comes into our hearts to abide: "He shall receive of Mine, and shall shew it unto you" (Jn. 16:14). He speaks only what He hears from God. And what He speaks, His obedient children are quickened to hear and to obey... and that spiritual capacity that God has placed within us will lay hold upon it, and grasp that new measure of SPIRIT that God has been pleased to bring nigh to our hearts-so nigh that we can be joined to it, and it becomes OURS. Not only "joined to it" but there is a joining to the Christ from whom the Word came; and therefore a joining to those vessels in the earth THROUGH whom the Word came.
We know it is all ours now. .. out there "in the heavenlies." "Our life is hid with Christ in God..." And that is where we are to "set our affections"; so that little by little, here a little and there a little, there is an appropriation of it in a people who are being joined unto Him, filled with Truth, walking in Truth, walking in fullness. "When He, the Spirit of Truth, is come, He will guide you into all [the] Truth..."( Jn. 16:13). It is an ongoing work, but it will come to fullness. God has promised that. Our failure in the matter does not cause God to change His heart and mind. The Word has gone forth, the Spirit of Truth has come, and will not return to the heart of God until He has brought abundant fullness unto God’s people, and He the Spirit of Truth returns to the heart of God with His fruitful people, bearing precious fruit, to delight and rejoice the heart of God.
And so we spy out the land; not just to get sermons, and have something to talk about. If that’s all it’s for, it’s an EVIL REPORT we are bringing to the people of God. Rather, it is something that gives assurance that it is our Land, that God has given it, and that He is leading us into it. And as we search it out, that spiritual capacity we have for more of SPIRIT, more of GOD’S SPIRIT, also takes on enlargement, as God COMBINES SPIRIT WITH SPIRIT.
"For the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things [or, ‘THE DEPTHS’] of God" (1 Cor. 2:10). Actually the apostle is not talking about "things" as such, but about the heart of God Himself--THE DEPTHS OF GOD.
Now if the Spirit is searching out the heart of God, He is doing so in order to JOIN SPIRIT TO SPIRIT. He is doing so in order that what is there in the heart of God might be joined to our spirit, till, in the fullness of God’s great work in His people, we are FILLED UNTO ALL THE FULLNESS OF GOD (Eph. 3:19).
This kind of teaching is presented in the churches as an EVIL REPORT, FALSE DOCTRINE, etc. In reality it is those who say that the doctrine of our position in Christ Jesus in the heavenlies is not for attainment that God considers to be an EVIL REPORT. The whole purpose of the Gospel, the whole purpose of Redemption, is to COME OUT of the old life, and to COME INTO the new. "I have brought you OUT... that I might BRING YOU IN."
Confrontation And Strife
Certainly God wants His people to walk in love, to walk in harmony, to walk in unity. But when God speaks, and some say YES and others say NO, there is no virtue in siding with those who say "NO" for the sake of UNITY. As surely as there is a people who refuse to go on with God we are going to have confrontation and strife in the congregation of His people. Do you hear Caleb and Joshua saying, "All right brethren, we must have no division here... Let’s just forget that far-away Land, those far-out things... Let’s just walk together here in the Wilderness of Paran, and somehow hope that when we die we will all go to the same place…"
Truth, living Truth, brings contention and strife to people with divided hearts, as truly as it brings peace and harmony to the people whose hearts are set aright, and bent upon doing His will.
And so there was weeping, and striving, and confrontation, and rebellion: the one side saying, "We can’t go in . it is too much to expect of our children"; the other side saying, "We are well able... for God’s delight is in us, and we can take the land." And the side who said, "We can’t go in," won out.
And God turned them back into the wilderness, to wander about another 38 years until the older generation, represented by the ten spies, had completely perished in the wilderness.
God was ready to destroy the whole nation, and if He had done so, He would not have abrogated His promise. He promised Moses that He would fulfill the promise in Moses’ own family, and make them even greater and mightier than the generation that he was even then seeking to bring into the Land.
But Moses was not an opportunist. He had a true priestly heart; and he literally warned God that if He were to take any such drastic action as that, He would end up with a very bad name, and His enemies who had heard of His fame would be able to mock and to say, "The LORD was NOT ABLE to bring the people in" (Num. 14:16).
God rid us all of "opportunism." If it may seem that God is bringing us into some kind of favor with Him or with the people of God, God search our hearts lest unknowingly we begin to delight in the downfall of others, and to take advantage of their downfall for our own enlargement. It might even seem that the Lord is leading that way. It could be a very severe test that the Lord is subjecting us to.
God search our hearts lest we be deceived by our ambitious hearts, and then seek to give God the glory for our lack of mercy and our lack of priestly character and concern for His people. Moses said, "Pardon, I beseech thee, the iniquity of this people... And the LORD said, I have pardoned according to thy word" (Num. 14:19-20).
But God said something else very significant; for God is a righteous God, and no respecter of persons or nations. If He is going to pardon such an undeserving people as this perverse generation, then He declares...
"BUT AS TRULY AS I LIVE, ALL THE EARTH SHALL BE FILLED WITH THE GLORY OF THE LORD" (Num. 14:21).
God will yet arise and judge the whole world for their iniquity. But in view of the fact that He has been so patient and gracious and longsuffering with His people in the so-called "Christianized" nations, THIS IS GOD’S GUARANTEE THAT HE WILL FILL THE WHOLE WORLD WITH HIS GLORY! As long as God continues to extend grace and mercy toward a disobedient people who are called by His Name, then the righteous God swears with an oath: "AS I LIVE, ALL THE EARTH SHALL BE FILLED WITH THE GLORY OF THE LORD"! His righteous judgments require it. It is not that the other nations of the earth deserve it. But when those who were bidden to the marriage feast of His Son spurned the invitation (as church people are doing today), the Master said, "Go out into the highways and the byways and compel them to come in... whether they be good or bad... that My House might be full."
In this day and hour when the call to come into total abiding union with His Son is being spurned, we can expect that God will begin to reach out and embrace the poor, and the needy, and the despised, and the rejected here in our own land... and especially in those nations of the earth that have not known too great an impact of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the past. God’s righteous judgments demand that this be so.
Faith Or Presumption
This matter of walking by faith has been greatly misunderstood by God’s people. The children of Israel had received a clear call from God to go forth into the Land of Promise, and possess it. Through fear and unbelief they rejected the Word of the LORD, and God’s anger was kindled against them. BUT ONE DAY LATER the people decided they had made a mistake, and they hurriedly mobilized their forces to go against the enemy. Moses said, "Don’t do it... God is not with you." They said, "Yes, we were wrong... we will go and fight our enemies." But as they went against the enemy they were routed in battle and utterly defeated. "Why?" we might ask. The answer is clear. God was not speaking on that day, as He was the day before. Their "TODAY" of God’s promise was now a "yesterday." There is no tomorrow for those who spurn the call of God today. That is why the apostle warns us to pay heed to God’s Word, "AS LONG AS IT IS CALLED ‘TODAY." We do not know how long that will be; but in vain will we try to fight the LORD’s battles on yesterday’s faith. "But they PRESUMED to go up unto the hill top: nevertheless the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and Moses, departed not out of the camp" (Num. 14:44). There are so many of God’s people who have this perverted idea of walking by faith. Anything they want to do... any time they want to do it... they are encouraged to go and do it, and to do it "by faith." FAITH acts upon THE REVEALED WILL OF GOD. Talk about the heroes of faith all you will... go examine the scriptures, and you will discover that invariably the heroes of faith were those who walked in the REVELATION OF GOD’S WILL. It wasn’t just a notion that Abraham had that perhaps they should move out of Ur of the Chaldees "by faith." God told him to do it. It wasn’t just a good idea Noah had, that in view of the great wickedness of men perhaps he had better build an ark to shelter them from the wrath of God. God told him to do it. It wasn’t just the zeal and the enthusiasm of Moses that prompted him to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt and across the Red Sea. God told him to do it. And therefore he did it "by faith." Because he was walking "by faith" he was able to know and to understand the will of God, and God’s desire for His people, and he acted according to the revealed will of God. Today a "walk of faith" is considered to be what you do when you quit your job, and "go forth in ministry" with no guaranteed support. Are the rest of us, then, walking in unbelief? It could be a step of faith if you quit your job and went forth, if God wanted you to do that. Otherwise it is mere presumption. If God wants you to become involved in some menial occupation, you must stay at your post of duty, if you truly want to "live by faith." True faith comes out of such a relationship with God that you just know, you are assured, that God wants you to do this. The knowledge of His will might come suddenly, or dramatically, or it might come after much seeking and heart-searching. We might have to learn from past mistakes and past experiences of failure. But the knowledge of His will, and of His timing, are prerequisite to a genuine WALK OF FAITH.
"Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God" (Rom. 10:17). It is not something that you can manufacture any time you feel impressed to get involved with some worthy project. It "cometh" as you wait upon God, and find direction from Him. It is the Kadesh-Barnea principle, and one the people of God had to learn the hard way:
"TO DAY if ye will hear His voice,
Harden not your hearts..." (Heb. 3:15).
His "todays" may linger for many days, but we have no guarantee of that. If we refuse His voice TODAY, we have no assurance of hearing His voice tomorrow.
The Promise To The New Generation
God promised with an oath that their children, whom they feared would become a prey in a strange and difficult land, would enter in and possess it. God said, "You are going to disobey Me, because you fear for your children? I swear by Myself, I will bring your children in, and you shall die in the wilderness..." We would be more honest to tell the Lord, "Lord, I know you want this, but I refuse to obey"... than to try to flatter God, and say, "Lord, you know I would like to do what you said, but Lord, what will my wife say? What will my husband say? What will my children say? I am really concerned about them..."
When God calls for an act of obedience, there is no valid excuse for disobedience, in the sight of God. Saul would excuse himself on the basis that the people put pressure on him. That may have been true. But he knew God’s will in the matter, and he suffered the loss of his kingdom for his act of disobedience.
Israel was condemned to walk forty years in the wilderness with no hope whatever of entering into the Land of Promise. But this decree of judgment and this state of hopelessness was to the new generation a promise of watchcare and protection. For the new generation the rest of the journey would be PREPARATION to enter the Land, and God would be their Guide all the way:
"And thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart..." (Deut. 8:2).
The Rebellion Against Authority
The time is at hand when God will begin to vindicate those who have His Word and His authority, and reveal those who are acting and ministering in presumption. This persistent conflict as to who is right and who is wrong is going to end. God Himself with His own Glory and Presence, will vindicate those who have His Word. Two hundred and fifty men of the band of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram gathered at the door of the Tabernacle, swinging their censers; and God told Moses He was going to do something new, something different. The earth itself would open her jaws and consume the rebels. Moses ordered the people of God to stay away from the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, lest they perish with them. Suddenly the earth opened her mouth and swallowed alive all that belonged to the households of these rebels; "And they went down alive into Sheol, and the earth closed upon them" (Num. 16:33). This was one of the most calamitous forms of judgment ever visited upon the people of God in Old Testament times; and it all happened because of the abiding presence of the Glory of the LORD in the midst of His people. Let us fully understand the implications of this hope and this desire that we have for the return of God’s glory to His temple. In that day, great and awesome will be His judgments upon the people of God who are walking in rebellion. God is going to put an end to the strife of tongues, and the clamoring of apostles and prophets for a place of pre-eminence. He is going to settle the issue... not by debate and confrontation, BUT BY THE FIRE OF HIS PRESENCE. And like Moses and Aaron, the true priests of God will cry out to God in that day to show mercy, and to cut His judgments short. No amount of argument over the meaning of scripture will avail anything. But by the Glory of His Presence, and the Fire of His Word, the Lord Himself shall declare His Truth, and make known in the midst of His people who it is that has His living Word abiding in them.
The Rod Of Aaron
How did Moses settle this whole argument? He commanded that each tribe in Israel present their rods before the LORD, and to be laid up in the Tabernacle over night. In the morning Moses brought forth the rods out of the Holy of Holies, and gave to each man his rod. There was no change in the eleven rods. but the twelfth rod, the rod of Levi (which had Aaron’s name on it) had been vindicated in the power of resurrection life. Just overnight it had not only budded, and blossomed, but it yielded ripened almonds. This, of course, has already happened in our Lord Jesus. But the "Rod of Aaron" is going to bud again, in the lives of His chosen ones; and this is going to put an end to the conflict that has raged through the centuries as to who is right and who is wrong. ONLY THE LORD JESUS CHRIST IS RIGHT; and the "power of His resurrection" working in His own, will vindicate them in the sight of God and of man. Coming together in an ecumenical sort of way, and trying to come to a consensus--yielding a little here and a little there for the sake of unity-will have no place in that day. God’s way alone is RIGHT, and He will not alter His Word, His Truth, His way, for the sake of "unity." The people of God who have known the Way of the Cross, the Way of humiliation and suffering, and who have followed in His pathway, seeking not their own glory, but the glory of Him who sent them... in them God is going to reveal the POWER OF HIS RESURRECTION. And when they speak, all men will know: This is the Word of the LORD.
THE WILDERNESS OF ZIN
"Tragedy And Triumph"
"Then came the children of Israel, even the whole congregation, into the desert of Zin in the first month: and the people abode in Kadesh..." (Num. 20:1).
God had planned that the children of Israel would spend approximately a year at Sinai, to learn His laws and judgments, build the Tabernacle, and then proceed north into Canaan. Moses tells us that it was only "eleven days’ journey" from Horeb to Kadesh... but they wandered about in this area for another 38 years until the old generation had wasted away.
People ask, "How long is it going to take for us to enter into the fullness of God’s rest?" In many respects, it is you and I who are mostly to blame for the way we prolong our wilderness journey. God said,
"Oh that My people had hearkened unto Me,
And Israel had walked in My ways!
I should soon have subdued their enemies,
And turned My hand against their adversaries" (Ps. 81:13-14).
On the other hand it is true that we in this generation of the Church are suffering the consequences of the sins of former generations; just as Caleb and Joshua had to linger another 38 years in the wilderness because of the sins of the old generation. But what God decreed as judgment for the old generation, became PREPARATION for the new one. Let us take courage in this. Even in the midst of this "waste and howling wilderness," God is PREPARING a new generation to take the Land.
We recognize that there is a very individual and personal appropriation of Canaan Life, and we would not minimize that. But what God is about to do in the earth is so vast, so mighty, so terrible, so awesome, that no individual could possibly appropriate it in any sense of fullness. Caleb and Joshua must wait for the new generation to be trained and disciplined of the Lord, before they themselves could go in. In the meantime they could walk before the Lord in faith, in hope, in expectation. But Canaan Life in its fullness is for a corporate people. It is simply too vast for any individual to apprehend or appropriate:
"That YE, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend [or, better ‘apprehend’] WITH ALL SAINTS what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that YE MIGHT BE FILLED WITH [or, ‘UNTO’] ALL THE FULNESS OF GOD" (Eph. 3:17-19).
The Old Way, And The New
As we have emphasized in previous writings (Evening and Morning), when human failure hinders or forestalls the purposes of God, and God comes on the scene to remedy the situation and bring the people back to Himself... HE INITIATES A NEW WAY AND A NEW ORDER. If we understand this principle it will save us from a lot of frustration that we otherwise will have to suffer, as we seek to rebuild the order of a past day. God does not repeat Himself, in like manner as He worked the first time. He does not "try again" where man has failed. The second time-around is always different, always of a higher order, always a new way. We must know this if we are going to be spared the frustration and the sense of futility that so many have experienced as they sought to convince God that He must come forth and "do it this way" because this is the way He did it before. I know God is forever "the Same"; and because He is THE SAME He always does things differently the second time around. Because He is THE SAME He will continue to do "new things" in the midst of human failure. Because He is THE SAME, when man has failed He will rectify the situation through His righteous judgments, and will do something greater than the thing that man has spoiled. Because He is THE SAME He will consistently move forward, and upward, and onward with His people into new areas of revelation and Truth.
This teaching is certainly annoying to the theological mind, because it places man in a position where he cannot, even with all His knowledge of Scripture or of history, come up with a plan for revival, or a plan for the furtherance of the Kingdom of God in the earth, from all his storehouse of accumulated knowledge concerning past revivals, and past dealings of God with His people. Because God is forever THE SAME, and changes not, He always seeks for Himself a people who are dedicated, consecrated, humble, lowly, and obedient to His will. But because He is THE SAME, when He has found such a people, and has prepared such a people, He will do a "new thing" in the earth, and the old is seen to be the seed-plot and the preparatory way for the new thing that God has in mind.
This is nothing less than the operation of a Divine Law--THE LAW OF THE SPIRIT OF LIFE IN CHRIST JESUS. There is no way that man can come up with methods and procedures to bring it into being, or to control it. It leaves man totally helpless and hopeless in himself, with no other recourse but to find himself carried along, moved along, and motivated by the Spirit of God... which, like the wind, YOU CAN HEAR HIM WHEN HE SPEAKS, BUT YOU CANNOT KNOW WHERE HE COMES FROM AND TO WHERE HE IS LEADING. The Spirit of God blows softly from the heart of God, and no man can predetermine the course of the Spirit, nor can he structure and mould the substance that God will bring into being. Man has tried, and will continue to try, to reproduce something that God did in the past ... but he is sure to fail, even as he has always failed in the past. Every time God moves afresh in the earth it is a NEW THING that He brings forth, and therefore He always catches man by surprise.
"Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert" (Isa. 43:19).
Let man cease his efforts to structure and form and plan and connive to bring into being the New Testament Church, or the glorious Church that Paul spoke about... it is doomed to utter failure. But God will do it through a humble people... a people who are conditioned to hear what the Spirit is saying, and who will simply move along with His Wind, which bloweth where He will. What about the Scriptures? What about the Word? We need have no fear of being unscriptural, if the Spirit of God is in control. He is the Spirit of Truth. He knows the Scriptures... for He it is who inspired His holy apostles and prophets to write the Scriptures. And when He speaks, He speaks not "from Himself" as man does, He speaks only that which He hears from the heart of God, who is the Source and the Author of the holy Scriptures.
All man can do is patch up the old, for he is of the old creation, and knows not the Spirit of the New. But God readily discards the old, for there are new things in His heart, bursting to come forth... and human failure is a challenge to His heart to come on the scene, and to judge and bring to nought the old order, and to prepare the ground for the sowing of a new seed. He simply does not go about patching up the old, or helping man to do it. Let us observe this principle from a few examples of Scripture:
(1) The Old Wineskins, And The New
"And no man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish" (Luke 5:37).
You who feel that God gave you His Holy Spirit to make you a better Baptist, a better Presbyterian, a better Episcopalian, a better Catholic... a better Something-of-a-Past-Day... prepare your hearts for the bursting of the bottles! God gave His Spirit to bring you further and further into realms of New Creation life... and not to perpetuate something of the old.
(2) The Old Vessel And The New
"And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it" (Jer. 18:4).
God simply refuses to patch up a "marred" vessel. He simply crumples it up in His hand, and starts over again. He uses the same human clay, but the vessel is brand-new from His own creative hands.
(3) The Old Man, And The New
The first man Adam was not the exalted heavenly being that some make him out to be. He was but a type, or shadow, or "figure of Him that was to come" (Rom. 5:14). He was "of the earth, earthy" (1 Cor. 15:47). He was made "dust of the earth." Now our Lord Jesus came forth from the seed-plot of the old, but He was the true and perfect image of God, the "heavenly" man, the "Lord from Heaven," the Light, and the Glory of God.
(4) The First And Second Tables Of The Law
The first tables, written with the finger of God, were smashed by the great law-giver when he came down from the mount and beheld the idolatry of the people of God. The second tables of the Law were also written with the finger of God, but were brought down from the mountain to be placed in the Ark of the Covenant. Man was not permitted to meddle with the second tables. This, of course, portrays to us the nature of the Two Covenants....
(5) The First Covenant And The Second
When God speaks about a New Covenant, He obviously implies that the first covenant has become old: "In that He saith, A new covenant, He hath made the first old" (Heb. 8:13). The reason God did away with the old was because of human failure. "Because they continued not in My covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord" (Heb. 8:9). The New Covenant, therefore, was not one for man to fulfill, but one that would be "written on the fleshly tables of the heart" enabling him to do what the Law could not do to love God with all the heart, mind, soul, and strength.
(6) The First Tabernacle, And The Second
The First Tabernacle, erected in the wilderness at the foot of Mount Sinai, was but a pattern and type of heavenly realities. But the second tabernacle was the "greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands..." (Heb. 9:11). There were many tabernacles and temples in Israel’s history, as human failure brought the old one into ruin, and Divine intervention brought forth the new. But never did God ordain the reconstruction of the old one, in exact likeness to the one that preceded it (dealt with in writing From Tent to Temple). If we understood these principles we would drop those notions about God restoring the Church to her early apostolic likeness... or about the rebuilding of a temple in Old Jerusalem. When the first becomes old, Paul says it is "ready to vanish away" (Heb. 8:13).
(7) The Rock-First, Smitten; Then, Spoken To
When the people came to Horeb, they were famishing for water, and God told Moses to stand there by a certain Rock and smite it with the rod. As he did the waters gushed out from Horeb, which means a "dry, parched place." The waters flowed down the mountain in a gushing stream of pure, refreshing water. Paul tells us that the Rock was Christ, smitten that we might partake of the pure water of Life (1 Cor. 10:4).
But on a second occasion when they needed water, God told Moses to "speak unto the Rock" and that it would send forth its water (Num 20:8). For Christ once smitten must not be smitten again. Thereafter we walk in obedience and speak to the Rock. Moses discovered that the old method seemed to work, for he smote the Rock twice, and the water gushed forth. And sometimes we may think that the old methods can be repeated over and over again, and the results seem to prove it. But disobedience brings judgment, even though the immediate response of the Lord may indicate His blessing. Let us not forget that. For this error on Moses’ part he failed to enter the Land of Promise.
(8) The First Attack On At, And The Second
When Joshua began the conquest of Canaan, he took Jericho, and then proceeded the much easier task of taking Ai. But the people of God were totally routed and defeated. Joshua sought God earnestly and God revealed that there was sin in the Camp. One in their midst had taken of the "accursed thing" during the conquest of Jericho, and hid it in his tent. Achan the culprit was taken and stoned to death in the Valley of Achor, and then they were assured of victory.
But God did not authorize a full-scale frontal attack on Ai, like Joshua attempted at first. If there is human failure and Divine intervention, there is always a NEW WAY. Their past failures, because of true repentance, would now be interwoven with God’s NEW WAY. And so Joshua and his men pretended defeat, ran from the enemy as they did at first, and drew them out of the city. Then Joshua lifted up his spear and the ambush which he had hidden behind the city arose, entered into the city, and burnt it with fire. Then Joshua and his men turned on their enemies and caught them in a trap and utterly destroyed them. (See Josh. 8:1-29.)
God would have us know that, defeated though we may have been in the past, as we rid ourselves of the "accursed thing" in our midst, He is able to turn our defeats into victories. But more than this: after there is true repentance, and after God has caused us to forsake the idols of our heart, OUR PAST FAILURES AND MISTAKES MAY BECOME STEPPING-STONES TO VICTORY AND ENLARGEMENT. The manner in which the men of Israel were routed and defeated BECAME THE PATTERN OF VICTORY when God turned the curse into a blessing and gave "beauty for ashes." As the enemy gloated over the men of Israel running away from the battle as they did at first, God actually used that strategy to draw the enemy into a trap for his own destruction.
Many times in our walk with God, and in spiritual warfare, we may present an image of defeatism to the world about us, or to the Church. We just have to recognize that, and bear the reproach of it all. We are not really defeated... we are just projecting that image in the purpose of God for the eventual defeat of the Enemy:
"We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; We are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; Cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, THAT THE LIFE ALSO OF JESUS MIGHT BE MADE MANIFEST IN OUR BODY" (2 Cor. 4:8-10).
Knowing that we are in the pathway of victory... knowing that we are drawing the Enemy into a trap... we bear the reproach of it all. We know God has led this way. We just know that we are "delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh" (2 Cor. 4:11). Satan never seems to understand the tremendous working of the resurrection life of Jesus in a people who are delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake... and he is trapped in his own devices.
(9) Jonah’s First Call, And The Second Call
It may appear, of course, that Jonah failed the first time, and so now God was simply giving him another chance. We thank the Lord for the second, or the third chance... and for His utter faithfulness in the time of our failure. But there is more to the story of Jonah than that. And there is more to our many failures than that.
AFTER REPENTANCE, AFTER THE ROOTING OUT OF THE IDOLS OF THE HEART... GOD’S INTERVENTION IN OUR LIVES PRODUCES SUCH A WORKING OF GRACE THAT THE FAILURE ITSELF IS ENTWINED INTO HIS PURPOSES, AND GREATER IS THE GLORY THAT MAY COME FORTH FROM IT!
Let us picture Jonah walking through the streets of this sin-hardened people and crying, "Yet forty days and Nineveh shall perish!" I wonder if anything would have changed; and God would then have to destroy the city. But the second-time-around was quite different.
Here was a man who had become a "sign" to the wicked inhabitants of Nineveh. He had been severely judged of the LORD. He had known the agonies of Sheol as he cried unto the LORD from the belly of the whale. He did not go into Nineveh performing a few signs and wonders in an attempt to get them to believe. He himself became A WALKING TESTIMONY, A LIVING SIGN THAT GOD IS A GOD OF JUDGMENT, A GOD THAT REQUIRES OBEDIENCE FROM THE PEOPLE WHOM HE HAS CREATED, AND THAT HE IS A GOD OF RESURRECTION LIFE.
Beloved, we are going to behold scenes of repentance such as this when God’s prophets are "delivered unto death," and become the humble, broken, and devastated vessels of truth that God would have them to be.
(10) First, The Front Door To Canaan; Secondly, The Back Door
The first generation was to have taken the easier way, a more direct way to Canaan-through the front door. But the first generation failed God, and a new generation was on the scene, that would not fail. Not because they were any better but because God had sworn with an oath that they would take the Land. Through the first generation God had planned a frontal attack on their enemies from Kadesh; but the second generation would wander about in the Wilderness of Zin for approximately 38 years, and then make a round-about journey into Canaan through the back door. It was a more complicated, a more difficult route. And as we shall discover, God would deliberately add to their difficulties, to bring forth greater glory to His Name. God does not repeat Himself; and vain is our attempt to take our history books as a map for future conquests in the Lord. True, we look into history to learn God’s ways, to know God’s faithfulness, and to learn from the mistakes and errors of our fathers. But we cannot take "history" as a blueprint for future conquests.
We are going to discover as we follow on to know His ways that His path is always through an uncharted wilderness, always through the mighty waters, always through pathways that are so strange and perplexing that it will require great dedication and commitment and heart-searching and crying out unto God for clear direction and guidance. We cannot go about seeking to discover the pathway through the mighty waters, because the waters have returned to their course, and the path is no longer to be seen. The wilderness pathway through which men have walked in the past is now quite grown over, so that no longer can the way be seen with the natural eye. God has planned it this way in order that in our walk with Him we might learn faith, obedience, submission, dedication, humility, brokenness, and in that way be READY for the new Way in which He would lead us today. And this, of necessity, means forsaking our well-intentioned plans for re-establishing a "Church" according to some blueprint we think we have discovered in the Word. Let that Word rather break us, humble us, lead us, guide us, chasten us, and make us hungry for God (as the manna did to the children of Israel) that we might know and see the way in which we are to walk in this hour.
For the Second Generation there is a Second Pathway that leads to Canaan. It is a much more difficult route; and when they are about to enter the Land, they face a much greater obstacle: fortified cities, powerful enemies, strong bulwarks... to hinder or to frustrate the attack of the people of God. But once again there is Divine intervention. There was the Oath of God that guaranteed their success. And along with the Oath there would be more grace and more power to bring greater glory to the God of Israel. When the first generation had failed God, He commanded: "But as for you, turn you, and take your journey into the wilderness by the way of the Red Sea" (Deut. 1:40). (This was the eastern fork of the Red Sea, not the one they had crossed over after leaving Egypt.) Here they wandered about for another 38 years. They seemed to have made a complete circle in their travels, returning almost to the same place from whence they had started at Eziongeber. (See Deut. 2:8.) Thirty-eight years of wandering for the old generation; but 38 years of preparation for the new one.
It may seem awfully discouraging at times to discover, after many years of frustration and futility, that we are back where we were many years before. Often it seems to be that way. But the circles of God’s purposes are not in vain. The sun rises... and sets... and rises again. It is not mere repetition. God is doing something new in each and every season. And God was leading the NEW generation, even as He was judging the OLD. Their difficulties and their trials would increase. But so would God’s faithfulness and His grace increase. God had sworn that He would bring them in. And He did.