They presumed to go up to the top of the mountain; nevertheless the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and Moses, departed not out of the camp. Then the Amalekites came down, and the Canaanites….and smote them.
On hearing the report the ten spies brought back to Kadesh-Barney, Israel had rebelled and refused to enter Canaan. Then, when condemned by God to the choice they had made, they rebelled once more, and insisted now on going ahead in their own strength. They ignored Moses, and the ark of testimony which till now had gone before them in their journeyings. This was their undoing. Not only were they completely routed by their foes; but after this incident there is no history of the ark for the thirty-eight years that follow. How striking this is! When we willfully go our own way, we have no testimony to the faithfulness of God’s direction. By our headstrong action we have deprived ourselves of the unique privilege of being led.
One of the obvious things we read about the children of Israel is their obstinate, stubborn, and headstrong rebellion and resistance toward God. From the very outset that nature was found in them. Indeed it is the root of our sin nature. From childhood through adulthood, we find ourselves rebels. As children we don’t want to do what our parents ask and as adults we resist all authority when it conflicts with our wishes. It’s no wonder for that is the very thing that was found in Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Somehow they couldn’t resist doing the single forbidden thing. To be sure they had help, help from another being who also had chosen the path of stubborn, headstrong rebellion against God-the devil.
Paul, in the tenth chapter of 1 Corinthians give us a warning and an admonition about the danger of being headstrong:
“For I do not want you to be unaware, believers, that our fathers were all under the cloud [in which God’s presence went before them] and they all passed [miraculously and safely] through the [Red] Sea; And all [of them] were baptized into Moses [into his safekeeping as their leader] in the cloud and in the sea; and all [of them] ate the same spiritual food; and all [of them] drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not well-pleased with most of them, for they were scattered along the ground in the wilderness [because their lack of self-control led to disobedience which led to death]. Now these things [the warnings and admonitions] took place as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they did.”
1 Corinthians 10: 1-6
This admonition, then, moves us to read the story of the Israelites. We pick up their story in Egypt after they had lived there for some four hundred years. The new Pharaoh no longer favored them as the former did in the days of Joseph and now they were nothing more than slaves. God had heard their cry and raised up Moses to deliver them. In his eagerness, Moses attempted to do so on his own, in the way he knew and by the time God had transformed him and trained him, the Israelites were skeptical of his leadership. As the plagues fell on Egypt, even though they were spared, the Israelites suffered the anger of Pharaoh and their tasks became increasingly difficult. In their difficulty, they resented Moses and ultimately God for making their hard lives even more difficult. On the night of Passover as their households were spared of death and they began their journey out of Egypt, they were happy until they came to the Red Sea. Once again their headstrong rebellious hearts moved them to fear mingled with anger and they accused Moses and God of bringing them to a place of destruction. The clamor was such that God had to instruct Moses to silence the people. God did a mighty deliverance by parting the Red Sea and drowning the pursuing Egyptian army but the praise of the people only lasted until they became hungry and out popped the headstrong rebellious hearts again.
For sake of time and space, I won’t continue the details of the story. However, if you continue to read the books of Exodus and Numbers you will discover that at almost every turn, any gratitude was quickly replaced with grumbling, complaining and rebellion. In the letter to the Corinthians, Paul reminds us that thousands perished in their rebellion against God but the survivors remained unmoved and unchanged. Finally, we arrive at the text verse for today. God had, even after all their stubborn rebellion, through His great love and mercy came to them and instructed them to break camp and prepare to enter the Promised Land. And their response is truly amazing for they told God that they weren’t ready to do so. Can you imagine becoming so used to living in the wilderness of barely enough that you wouldn’t want to move into the land of plenty? As they cooled off and gave the matter some thought they finally came back and said, “Now we’re ready,” as though they expected God to move on their schedule. When He refused- the Ark remained in the camp- they decided to go on their own. What a colossal failure. Attacked by not one but two enemies and losing the battle, they were turned back into the wilderness thoroughly defeated. They learned and taught us a valuable lesson. First of all, we have to move with God- not before nor after, but on time and in step. Second of all, if we choose to attempt to move without Him we will always suffer defeat and loss.
Even today God provides windows of opportunity for us and those windows are opened only for a limited time. Should we fail to act, like the Israelites, we too will suffer defeat and loss. This principle remains forever true. I’ve watched with great sadness, churches and individuals stand in headstrong resistance and rebellion and refuse to move forward as God was leading. With sorrow I tell you that most of them never recover. While God is speaking, let us respond with faithful obedience and without delay.
“We must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.”
Unfortunately the descendants of the Exodus Israelites missed their window of opportunity as well.
“For a time [of siege] is coming when your enemies will put up a barricade [with pointed stakes] against you, and surround you [with armies] and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground, you [Jerusalem] and your children within you. They will not leave in you one stone on another, all because you did not [come progressively to] recognize [from observation and personal experience] the time of your visitation [when God was gracious toward you and offered you salvation].”
Luke 19: 43-44
May this not be our story.
Dr. John Thompson