The people refused to enter the pleasant land, for they wouldn’t believe his promise to care for them.
Okay, this is beyond my ability to understand. They were standing on sand – in the desert – looking at Canaan. It was bad enough that they didn’t just believe and obey God, following where He led. Even worse, they could not accept the beauty and bounty of the place He had called them to and chose to stay in the desert instead.
The desert! They chose to stay in the barren, dry places where there was only enough food and water for their massive numbers because God took care of them! They chose a life of wandering with no home, trekking through the desert (where God had to take care of them) instead of trusting Him and moving on over into the lush bounty of Canaan – which He had already told them would be theirs. Why?
I think the bottom line is that we humans tend to prefer the challenges we know. The challenges Israel faced in the desert were so familiar, and God’s care through those challenges so consistent, that they were (and I use the word in a skewed fashion) comfortable. In truth, I think they took God’s care in the desert so for granted that they hardly recognized it anymore. Stepping over into Canaan, though, would have meant trusting God to care for them in new areas and…oh…
Until then, God had done everything for them, or had Moses or specific others do it. They knew, though, that in Canaan they would be called upon to do something – to take up arms and fight for the ground God had promised them. They were like baby Christians who don’t want to grow up! Or, I suppose, it is rather the other way around – today’s perpetually babyish Christians are very much like these children of God.
When someone first turns his life over to God, He takes total care of them as if they were literal babies – answering every prayer instantly (like a parent responding to a baby’s cry) and often in astoundingly miraculous ways, but then God requires them to grow up – to start using and exercising their faith – to DO something…to take up arms and fight for the ground He has promised them. The funny thing is that God usually ends up fighting the battles for us after we take up arms to fight (just as He did for Israel once they actually crossed on over into Canaan); He just wants us to get up off our blessed assurance and move. But too many refuse. They aren’t willing to take up arms and step forward into His promises, trusting Him to take care of them through everything. No, they would rather stay in babyhood where they don’t have to do anything (but also can’t own or be anything); they would rather stay in the desert.
I’ve seen myself in Israel before, but until meditating on this passage I had never really seen their walk as a parallel to my spiritual walk; yet it is. What they did as a nation I may (or may not) do as a Christian – gaining or losing ground accordingly. Help me, Lord, to keep moving forward!
Reading on into verses 34-39 you see the consequences of Israel’s refusal to grow up. They thought they would be just fine if they stayed in babyhood, in the desert, but because they first disobeyed God’s call to move forward and then, when they did move, moved on their own terms…
When we disobey God in any way we are in sin, and unconfessed sin always has consequences. In their case, it became greater sin. (v. 34-39) “Israel failed to destroy the nations in the land, as the lord had told them to. Instead, they mingled among the pagans and adopted their evil customs. They worshipped their idols, and this led to their downfall. They even sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons. They shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters. By sacrificing them to the idols of Canaan, they polluted the land with murder. They defiled themselves by their evil deeds, and their love of idols was adultery in the lord’s sight.”
It’s true; there is no such thing as standing still with God. We must continually move forward. It is also true that genuine obedience is doing what God says, when God says, how God says and all God says. Israel did finally cross over into Canaan, but even then they failed to do all God said – destroy the nations of the land. They let some remain and, because they did, they “fell” into horrible sin and later paid an unimagined price for that sin. God has great mercy, but (v. 43) “Again and again he delivered them, but they continued to rebel against him, and they were finally destroyed by their sin.”
God was still merciful, and did deliver them in the end, but how different would it have been if they had obeyed Him, and fully, the first time? Where, for instance, would Israel be today? Where would I be today if I had always obeyed Him, and fully, the first time?