I thought about this question as I meditated today on the state of the church in our nation. Composed of so many dedicated, wonderful people, the church as a whole, nonetheless, is tempted to drift from biblical moorings. It is anecdotal to observe seismic philosophical shifts in the leadership and direction of various congregations, pulled for one reason or another from the place and being the people God wants it to be. The whole wilderness analogy is drawn from the events in the book of Numbers, a wandering that went for forty years in the wake of a 40-day scouting trip. It might have been different for Israel, and it can be different for us. Return with me for a moment to that fateful event that would forever shape their nation.
- It begins with leadership (Num. 13:25ff). The spies chosen were “leaders” among the 12 tribes (13:2). Obviously, they had sway with the people (14:1). Because of their negative influence, the people went the wrong direction–into the wilderness and ultimately to their deaths.
- It involves faith-driven obedience (Num. 13:30). Caleb understood this and argued for the people to proceed on that basis. Yet, their reaction was the opposite of obedience. Moses, Aaron, and Joshua warned them, “Only do not rebel (emph. mine) against the Lord…” (Num. 14:8). That very rebellion, called “iniquity” by Moses in his prayer to God (Num. 14:19), cost them the promised land (Num. 13:23ff). Instead, they earned a trip into the wilderness. Why? Hard-hearted disobedience and unbelief (Heb. 3:15, 18-19).
- It includes courage (Num. 13:25-33). The majority of the spies lacked the courage to act and obey. They were content to go back to Egypt (Num. 14:2ff). They would rather face bondage alone than Canaan with God. So, their cowardice was not only wrong but misplaced. They were afraid of the wrong things and the wrong ones. This fear led them into the wilderness (cf. Num. 14:9).
We live in daunting times, yet in them God still has given us a job to do. If we do not do it or if we fail to do it the way He has commanded, we will wind up, like Israel, in the wilderness! God give us the leadership, faith-filled obedience, and courage to follow Christ and thereby miss the wilderness.