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Surviving Your Wilderness - Tip#6 - Find Noursihment - Part 2

The author of Hebrews warned Christian friends going through a spiritual wilderness, “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as when they provoked Me, as in the day of trial in the wilderness, where your fathers tried Me by testing Me, and saw My works for forty years. Therefore I was angry with this generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart, and they did not know My ways’; as I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest’” (Heb. 3:7-11 NASB).

He went on to explain, “To whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief” (Heb. 3:18-19 NASB). Thus He used strong terms to warn His Church against disobedience in a spiritual wilderness. Just as God disciplined Israel, so would He discipline them if they continued to disobey. Suffering a difficult season was no excuse for violating God’s Word.

Now let’s look a little closer. The author of Hebrews linked obedience to faith like two sides of the same coin. The two words were interchangeable in the verse quoted just above. God banned Israel from the Promised Land for disobedience in the first sentence, and for unbelief in the second. Their lack of faith led to their disobedience. Their disobedience indicated their lack of faith. Further, the author made very clear exactly what “word” Israel disbelieved and disobeyed. “For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard” (Heb. 4:2 NASB).

So Israel did not believe “the word they heard.” Specifically, the “word” Israel rejected was God’s promise that they would enter the Land of their destiny! God pledged them a land flowing with milk and honey. He promised them a good and spacious land where they would enjoy security and have rest from their enemies. Indeed, He would liberate them from bondage and personally escort them into the home of their dreams Himself. This was His promise, His “word” to them.

After centuries of slavery in Egypt, what exhilaration they must have felt when they “heard” this promise. What delight they must have taken in the dream-come-true “word” declaring their own country, identity, and freedom. Yet here they were in a desert - no milk, no honey, no safety, no inheritance, no promise fulfilled. Months earlier, as the Red Sea parted before their eyes, God’s promises must have felt so real to them! They must have almost tasted their Land’s fruit and smelled its lilies. But instead: dust, danger, rocks, thirst, serpents, and fears - the desert. God said, “Promised Land,” but then He led them into the wilderness. Instead of entering their glory, they were wandering in a wasteland, battling cruel elements, and scrounging for strange food every morning.

Israel faced a predicament. The word of God that promised a glorious future now looked absurd in the barren wilderness of shattered dreams. The “word they heard,” instead of inspiring hope through fulfillment, now seemed to hang suspended above them, just out of reach, sneering and jeering at them as they roamed the desert. Israel was caught in that long, strange tension between promise and fulfillment, between God’s integrity and circumstances that appeared to contradict His Word. But that was the very time they needed to believe. If they would have believed God’s Word amid such crisis, then they would have obeyed it and profited from it. Since they did not believe, they did not obey - and did not receive its benefits. God put them in this situation and watched to see what kind of people He had.

Their response was regrettable. They complained about their conditions. They longed for their days of slavery in Egypt. They worshipped idols. They committed immorality. They criticised their leadership. They tested the Lord who delivered them and promised them something good. And when they heard about the inhabitants of their “Promised Land,” they said, “If only we had died in Egypt, or even here in the wilderness! Why is the Lord taking us to this country only to have us die in battle? Our wives and our little ones will be carried off as plunder! Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt? Let’s choose a new leader and go back to Egypt!” (Num. 14:2-4 NLT).

No wonder God was angry with them. They questioned His faithfulness based on what their natural senses perceived, rather than on what God said. Put another way, Israel wanted to live by bread alone and not every word that came from God’s mouth. Their lack of faith turned into rebellion. They scorned God’s promises and defied His directions. As a result, they did not benefit from the original “word they heard.” They died in the wilderness without seeing the Promised Land.

Therefore, when we enter a spiritual wilderness, we must not confuse our situation with God’s integrity. Living by His every word means continuing to believe His promises even if they seem contradicted for the moment. That’s the whole point of the wilderness! When God declares to us, “Promised Land,” He will usually take us through its opposite first - the desert. Those are the ways of God that Israel did not know. But they are the ways of God we must know.

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