Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you. ~ Deuteronomy 8: 2-5
We’re going to jump around a bit between these two chapters, so hang on tight. It dawned on me while reading these chapters that there are three kinds of places that we can be in life. The first, a place that God is moving us out of, the second a place we’re passing through, and the third a new place we’re going to be in for awhile. Now, these two chapters shed some light on the last two places we can be in. Lets look at the Israelites’ journey.
- The Wilderness: A Temporary Training Ground. Normally we look at the years wandering in the wilderness as a punishment. But these chapters explain it in a much different way. If you look at Deut 8: 2-5 and 8:16, Moses makes it very clear that part of the purpose of the wilderness was training. Specifically to humble and test. Verses 2-5 explain how the purpose of the humbling and testing was to teach the Israelites that they don’t rely on the physical things to meet their needs, but on the words of God (interesting to relate this verse to some of the insight from Deut 3, 4), and end with saying that the Lord disciplines His children as a father would. And this connection between earthly fathers and God as our spiritual Father is an important point to all this. Think of our children and their childhood years. Everything we do is some kind of training for the next year, the next stage, or their adulthood. We don’t attempt to train them in the ways of the Lord simply because we want them to obey what the Bible says while they’re children but because we know that a time will come when they are on their own and that training will help inform their beliefs and decisions. Their childhood is like the Israelites’ wilderness. A place that they were passing through, but was used to learn important lessons for where they were going (Deut 8:16). We go through these wilderness seasons also. And while they can be difficult, sometimes that’s all we focus on. We take it as a punishment, paying our dues, or as a necessary stage so we appreciate the destination more. But none of those are reasons listed in these two chapters for the wilderness. The heart and purpose of the wilderness was to train, humble and refine the faith and obedience of the Israelites so that when they finally reached their promised destination, they didn’t forget the One that got them there. How many times do we praying for blessing, but once the Lord answers our prayer we forget about Him because we’re too focused on the blessing? Deut 8:10-18 warns the Israelites of just that. God knows it’s our nature. He knows that we get distracted by what is in His hand and forget to look at His face. So the wilderness and temporary training is not from a heart of anger or punishment- but out of a desire to not lose us when He gives us the good He has promised.
- The Promised Land: Slowing Gaining Ground. The Promised Land was what the Israelites were waiting for, what they had been promised. It was a destination- they were supposed to stay and live there. And use everything they had been trained for to prosper in their new home. We like to think of the Promised Land (both theirs and ours) as an all-inclusive vacation. All we have to do is show up and enjoy. But the truth of the matter is that the Promised Land was already inhabited and the Israelites had to slowly take it over. Where ever God has chosen to plant us for awhile (both individually, and as a church body), this destination, we have been trained for. But we didn’t go through training just to sit back and lay by the poolside. The first verse in chapter 7 says that they were entering the land they were “to possess”. The land around us (our workplace, our home) and our churches- we should be slowly possessing, not just hanging out in. God is very clear in chapter 7 that the Israelites were not supposed to adopt any of the beliefs of those they overtook. They were to get rid of everything so they wouldn’t become like them. We should slowly be consuming the darkness around us and replacing it with Light. We shouldn’t engage in any of the idolatry, gossip, greed, fear etc that the world around us lives in. We should be getting others out of it and bringing them into the light. The Bible makes it clear that it is a spiritual battle. A war. And the enemy is all around us. But instead of being lights speckled among great darkness, like the stars, we should be like the dawn- slowly breaking forward and consuming all the darkness in our path until it is only light.
I would like, if I may, challenge you with a couple of things. Just food for thought- and maybe the Lord will prompt you to some action. His call, not mine. But I do have some questions I would love for you to think through.
- Are you living like a star in the midst of darkness? Or are you taking ground around you and possessing the place the Lord has given you?
- Is your church?
- What might you need to change?
- Deut 7:16 warned the Israelites not to neglect the Lord’s command to destroy and take over the people because of pity. I think that this a verse that we can really take caution from today. Truth nowadays is treated as if it was subject to our emotions. That’s a really nice person and so even though they’re not a Christian, they’ll be okay. I love this person, they’re so loving and kind and so their choices are fine. It’s a dangerous slope. Even back then with the Israelites, God knew that emotions were in danger of leading His people astray from His commands. We are in the same danger every day. Is there any area that you are neglecting taking possession of the land because your emotions steer you wrong?