Why Did It Take So Long?
Read Numbers 14:22-23 (ESV)
“None of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give their fathers.”
Has unbelief and disobedience ever significantly cost you? How might that situation have played out differently if only you had trusted and obeyed God?
Recently, I saw a social media post in which an atheist society shared a screenshot of a Google map showing a direct route from Mt. Sinai in Egypt to the promised land. According to Google maps, someone walking that distance should be able to make it to their destination in approximately a week or less. They posed the question, “Why did it take Moses 40 years?”
Well, the answer to that question is easily addressed in the fourth book of the Bible, the book of Numbers. Moses wrote this book as part of the Pentateuch in approximately 1400 BC. It is called Numbers because in this book, God commanded two different censuses to be taken. The first census was taken before Israel set out from their camp at Mount Sinai. The second census was taken when they finally arrived on the plains of Moab. And yes it really did take them about 40 years to get there. Why? Because God’s people doubted Him and disobeyed Him, so God made them wander in the wilderness until all of the disobedient first generation died off.
You see, at the beginning of the book of Numbers, God commanded the Israelites to take a census and to get organized, prepared, and consecrated. It records everything God commanded Israel to do to be ready to enter the Promised Land. In Numbers 10, we read of Israel leaving Mount Sinai and setting out. According to the census, there were 603,550 fighting men aged 20-60. If you add in women, children, and the elderly, it is likely that the entire group amounted to about 2 million people traveling on foot! God did fulfill His promise to Abraham to make him a great nation.
But as they traveled, they began to complain (Numbers 11). God gave them manna from heaven but they wanted meat. They even began to long for the food they had in Egypt! Even worse, in Numbers 13, we read that the people revolted and refused to enter the land after learning from the spies how strong and big the people were that lived there.
Despite all the miracles they had seen God do to bring them out of Egypt and provide for them for 2 whole years, they were afraid and doubted God’s ability to help them conquer their enemies and take the land. That is why, in today’s verses, God said that the doubtful and disobedient generation would not enter the land. Instead, the Israelites would wander until the first generation died off and a new generation was raised up. In the last part of Numbers, we see that new generation ready and waiting on the plains of Moab to conquer the land of Canaan.
But even in the wilderness wanderings, we see stitches of God’s Scarlet Thread of redemption. Even though God punished them, He didn’t abandon His people. He provided for them and sustained them at every turn. Many of these provisions are considered types of Christ. For example, John 6:31-33 refers to the manna that God gave them to eat but Jesus says that He Himself is the “true bread from heaven” that “gives life to the world.”
There was also an incident recorded in Numbers 21 in which the people were complaining again about their situation and questioned why God even brought them out of Egypt in the first place! God was justifiably angry with them, so He sent serpents among the camp to punish them and many people died. But, when the people acknowledged their sins and asked Moses to intercede for them, Moses prayed and God provided a way for them to be saved. He told Moses to raise up a bronze serpent on a pole and everyone who had been bitten would be saved if they just looked to that serpent for healing. Jesus pointed out the symbolism of the bronze serpent in John 3:14: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”
The reason that it took Israel so long to get to the Promised Land is because they did it the hard way. The easy way would have been obeying God and trusting that He would go before them, fight their battles, and lead the way. Instead, they chose to disobey and doubt which resulted in discipline from God. Friends, we still have the same choice today. When we disobey, doubt, and refuse to do things God’s way, we are signing up for doing things the hard way. But the good news is that even in discipline, He is working in us and He doesn’t abandon us.
Lord, I confess that at times in my life, I have tried to go my own way instead of Your way. But it always led to discipline. And yet, You remained faithful to me through it all. Thank You for Your faithfulness and for Your discipline. I know that You discipline those You love (Hebrews 12:6). Amen.