“It is eleven days’ journey from Horeb by the way of Mount Seir to Kadesh-barnea.In the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses spoke to the people of Israel according to all that the LORD had given him in commandment to them.” Deuteronomy 1:2-3
It’s both ominous and illuminating that Moses began his final words to the gathered tribes of Israel on the edge of Canaan with a geography lesson. As he spoke to the new generation of Israelites who had literally watched all their parents age and then die in the forty year wilderness wanderings as a punishment from God for their unbelief, Moses reminded them of how little it had taken to get to the edge of the Promised Land but how much their parents lost when they didn’t take it. Eleven days, Moses said, was all it took to travel the distance from Horeb to Kadesh. From offer to opportunity, from promise to prosperity was just an eleven day trip. That was it. But there Moses stood, reminding them of this in the fortieth year since their parents had received the promise and reneged on entering into it. The inference of the text is that the entire generation of unbelieving Israel spent forty years wandering the same real estate it took only eleven days to cover in any other “ordinary” time. And of course they all died on the journey.
What a contrast between life lived in obedience to God and life lived under the chastisement of God. The days lived under the discipline of God are long and confusing and repetitive and fruitless and directionless and, finally, futile. And they end only when the purpose of His discipline is finally achieved and the condition that brought it all on is eliminated. In their case, the “what” that needed to be eliminated was actually a “who”… an entire generation of people characterized by one attitude, nationwide: unbelief.
An Ominous Word
An ominous warning it was, to maybe the first nation on earth ever made up entirely of adult orphans, made parentless by God because of the worthless nature of their parent’s spiritual hearts. Moses may have recited the geography as an illuminating statistic that powerfully illustrated the needless frustration and loss that happens when a people decide wholesale not to believe God. The losses could literally be measured in the sands of time and in the wind blown footprints of their long gone mothers and fathers. Sin is serious. Unbelief in the face of clear proofs of God’s faithfulness has consequences.
Illuminating it was, but it really formed an ominous warning too. It was an implied warning to this next generation not to make the same mistake as they themselves now stood on the edge of the land. The consequences could have been repeated, I suppose, if they too had stood in unbelief just like their parents had done. God could have slain yet another generation in the wilderness and offered the land again forty more years later to the then grandchildren of the original generation. After all, time and history are nothing to Him.Forty more years and another few million Israelites would have been little for Him to wait through.But this generation did heed the warning, and hoisted their banners into battle. True, they faltered in faith as they went, and didn’t take the full land even though they could have as their courage failed over time and their corrupt hearts settled into compromise and corruption with a remnant of the nations they should have finished casting out. More payback for that would be forthcoming. But, in whole terms, the chastening of God upon their parents in the wilderness worked, and a wiser generation believed and progressed.
I reflect from their experience on how many journeys in my own life have been prolonged due to my unbelief. I will probably never know how many things in my spiritual life were actually harder in the long run than they needed to be because of my own quavering fear before the giants in my life. But I don’t want to multiply this lesson if I don’t have to. I’m trying to make my learning curves steeper but shorter. Wilderness wanderings too often carry a sting in the journey.