Numbers 14:28–35; Numbers 21:1–4; Numbers 21:21–26; Numbers 21:31–35 (read online ⧉)
We often think of the Israelites wandering in the desert for 40 years in kind of a nebulous way. There was indeed follow the cloud of smoke by day, and fire by night. They would settle where pillar did, and then move again when the pillar moved.
Yet, the problem with assumptions is that they are often wrong. We have all been repeatedly told that the Israelites wandered the desert for 40 years. From a certain theological and spiritual point of view, they did.
The wandering really was a time of waiting. This was the time of waiting between the failure to go into the Promised Land initially, and the ultimate entry into the Promised Land. It was a time of waiting for the rebellious generation to die so that a faithful generation would take its place.
Some of the Israelites did settle down for a time. As we read, they captured cities that were not in the Promised Land. They settled in them. This is where some of Israel did settle down, beginning the separation of the tribes to their ultimate demise.
Some were settling in. Some were waiting. Even those who settled-in were still waiting. There was still the next big thing.
When we wander the spiritual desert of our lives, sometimes things of permanence or stability seem to be there. Just like the Israelites who settled in the non-Promised Land conquered cities, we may be in places that seem as if they are permanent, yet the spiritual desert tells us things are not as they seem.
As we currently, sit and wait for the next thing in the world, whether it be COVID-19, the flu (that’s coming), the economy, the US election, political upheaval and tensions elsewhere, there are signs of permanence (homes, family, community, church, jobs) that are not quite as stable or secure as we want them to be.
One of the darkest temptations in the spiritual desert is to latch onto the wrong thing. Then we hold onto that wrong thing (sometimes even knowing it’s the wrong thing) rather than taking hold of the good thing that God wants for us.
Holy Spirit, as we and others wander our spiritual desert, gently guide us (even unaware) from that which is not good for our journey with you. While we wander and seek, gather us into your loving embrace. Amen.
1) What is a spiritual desert for you? Does this concept even make sense to you?
2) Why is stability not necessarily good for our journey with God?
3) If confronted with the choice of good land that you have now, versus the supposed and unpossessed land of the future, which would you choose? Be honest with yourself.