“These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel on this side of the Jordan in the wilderness, in the plain opposite Suph, between Paran, Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth, and Dizahab. It is eleven days’ journey from Horeb by way of Mount Seir to Kadesh Barnea. Now it came to pass in the fortieth year, in the eleventh month, on the first day of the month, that Moses spoke to the children of Israel according to all that the Lord had given him as commandments to them…” (Deuteronomy 1:1-3)
These opening words in the book of Deuteronomy remind us of Israel’s wandering in the desert for forty years. Have you ever thought about how close the Israelites really were to the land of Canaan when they left Egypt? True, they didn’t have the benefits of rapid, modern transportation. But from Horeb, in the Sinai Peninsula where Moses received the law, the Bible tells us they were only 11 days journey to Kadesh Barnea. It was Kadesh Barnea from where the twelve spies were sent out to scope out the land of Canaan. Ten of the spies brought back a bad report and discouraged the people, and when the people murmured in disbelief, God was so greatly displeased that he was ready to strike them with pestilence and disinherit them and then make of Moses a great nation. He declared that all who were 20 or older would die in the wilderness and not enter the land of Canaan. So Israel spent the next 40 years wandering in the desert, a year for each day they spied out the land. Forty years is a long time! How long would you be able to bear through physically wandering and never arriving at a destination, especially for 40 years?
Israel was so close to being able to enter the promised land when they were at Kadesh Barnea! Yet because of unbelief, they were condemned to 40 years, not 40 days, not 40 weeks, but 40 years of wandering, and even after all that, only those under 20 entered the land.
Certainly there are lessons to be learned, and here goes one. Like Israel, whom God had given a great deliverance out of Egypt, we too have been given a great deliverance from God – salvation through His Son. We have been blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ – we are chosen, not separated, we are adopted, not forsaken, we are accepted, not rejected, and we are forgiven (Ephesians 1:3-7). We have peace with God, great assurances and promises, and within us a living hope. We walk by faith, a belief based on the things that are written in the Bible. But what can we find ourselves doing if not careful? We may put off the things that need to be done in the Lord’s service. Instead of being diligent to know more of the Word and to move beyond elementary principles and onto greater maturity (Hebrews 6:1), we may find ourselves “spiritually doodling,” wandering somewhat aimlessly with no concrete effort nor action toward growing “in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). In other words, Christians can find themselves having come a long way spiritually in a short “11-day” journey, when they are baptized into Christ and initially grow with great ardor and devotion. But then, because of spiritual apathy, instead of moving on to perfection, they may find themselves in the “fortieth year” having not gone very far spiritually at all. In other words, they become spiritually stagnant. Reading the Bible and meditating upon its truth takes a back seat to other “priorities”. Prayer becomes a rote habit only before a meal. Worship on the Lord’s Day “feels” dull. And so “40 years” of wandering slip by. Can it really happen? Yes, the New Testament is full of warning about it. “Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall after the same example of disobedience” (Hebrews 4:11).
Thus, it is so important for us to take some time to reflect upon where we have been, where we are, and where we are going spiritually. If the fire is growing cold, rekindle it. “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8).