Desert and the Desert Journey of Faith

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The Bible records in detail about the past history from which God’s children, who are living in this age, can learn a lesson of faith and take a warning. The desert journey of the Israelites is not just a past history, but it is a copy and shadow of what is to come and also an example and warning for the spiritual Israelites who walk the path of faith, looking forward to the heavenly Canaan. By looking back at the history of the Israelites who fell into various temptations while walking in the desert for forty years, let us examine ourselves to see if we are walking the path of faith according to God’s will.

History of the desert written as an example and warning

3,500 years ago, when the Israelites came out of Egypt to enter the land of Canaan flowing with milk and honey, they thought one month would be enough for them to arrive there. Since Canaan was not so far away from Egypt, they never imagined that they would walk through the barren desert for forty years.

As their desert journey lasted longer than they had expected and they ran out of food in a month, they began to complain about their hunger and thirst. Finally, they grumbled and rebelled against God, forgetting the purpose of faith they had at the beginning, and most of them fell in the desert.

For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert. Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were … We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test the Lord, as some of them did and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did and were killed by the destroying angel. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 1 Co 10:1-12

The Bible warns that if there is anyone who thinks, ‘I am strong enough in my faith to be able to stand firm,’ in the desert journey of faith, he must be careful not to fall. At the beginning, the Israelites were filled with the belief that they would enter Canaan which God had prepared for them and live a life of joy and blessing there. However, as their desert journey became long and boring, they gradually deviated from their faith; even when they faced a little hardship, they grumbled against God rather than relying on Him. As a result, among the six hundred thousand men twenty years old or more, who were numbered of the Israelites at the time of the Exodus, only two Joshua and Caleb were allowed to enter the promised land of Canaan.

Grumbling about having no food

The Bible says that these things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us. Now, let’s take some time to carefully retrace the history of the Israelites in the desert and check the factors that may cause us to fall in the desert of faith, so that we can remove them all.

The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt. In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” Then the LORD said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.” So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “… You will know that it was the LORD when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the LORD.” … Ex 16:1-16

One month after the Israelites started their desert journey, they ran out of food, and they began to grumble against their leaders. Their grumbling was ultimately against God.

Of course, they were not in favorable and comfortable circumstances when they grumbled against God. They were in an adverse situation, so it was probably natural for them to complain. From a human point of view, is there anyone who would not grumble or complain in the situation where there is no food to eat and no water to drink? The scorching rays of the sun were beating down on them from the sky; not a single plant was found on the ground. While walking through the barren desert, they could not find any hope, and looking at the hopeless situation, they just kept on grumbling. From that moment on, they became completely oblivious to God’s word of promise that He would be with them.

When God heard their complaints, He gave them daily food. By raining down manna from heaven, God showed them that He was alive and working and that nothing was impossible with Him. This was how God awakened the Israelites.

Grumbling about having no water

Those who firmly believed the promise of God did not waver in any circumstances but kept their faith till the end, but those who forgot His promise and only looked at the difficult situation in front of them failed to endure the temporary inconvenience and continued to raise their voices in complaint.

They forgot the grace of God who redeemed them; when they ran out of food, they grumbled about having no food, and when there was no water, they complained about having no water, saying it would have been better for them to remain in Egypt.

The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the LORD to the test?” But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?” Then Moses cried out to the LORD, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.” The LORD answered Moses, “… Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel … Ex 17:1-7

Even in this age, each of us may encounter a situation that can cause us to grumble, although it is a different type of situation in the desert. If anything is reflected in a mirror, its reality surely exists.

Those who complain are not worthy to enter the kingdom of God. We should always think of our God and be thankful that we have met God on the path of faith and received the promise of entering the kingdom of heaven. If we only look at the physical circumstances, we will fall down easily when faced with difficulty or hardship.

Those who forgot about God

The Israelites who continually grumbled and complained forgot about the existence of God and finally fell into idolatry.

When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the LORD.” So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry … Ex 32:1-12

As Moses did not come down from Mount Sinai even though it had been almost forty days since he had gone up the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments from God, the Israelites were tired of waiting for him and made a golden calf and worshiped it. When the plague of destroying the firstborn was brought upon the Egyptians, God redeemed the Israelites through the Passover, and the people of Israel were amazed by the power of God and gave thanks to Him. Soon they observed the miracle of the Red Sea and feared God who overthrew Pharaoh and his army who were chasing them. However, after just a few months, when they faced a difficult situation, they deserted God.

At the time of the Exodus, they believed that God was with them, but their belief disappeared shortly. They forgot the gratitude they first had toward God who redeemed them from Egypt where they had been slaves for 400 years, and tried to judge things in a world of faith only by looking at the visible, physical circumstances. As a result, they grumbled, doubted and tested God in various situations where they had no food, no water, and no leader.

The LORD said to Moses, “Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. From each ancestral tribe send one of its leaders.” So at the LORD’s command Moses sent them out from the Desert of Paran. All of them were leaders of the Israelites … Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said … Nu 13:1-33

At that time, among the twelve spies who had explored Canaan, ten of them gave a bad and negative report about the land. Only Joshua and Caleb, who kept the faith that God was with them from the moment they came out of Egypt until they entered Canaan, encouraged the people by saying that they would be able to enter the land of Canaan if they depended on God (Nu 14:1-10).

Now, the people of Zion are accomplishing world evangelism in obedience to God’s command to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth according to the prophecies of the Bible. In this process, there are also two kinds of people: those who walk the path of the gospel, firmly believing God’s promise that this gospel will be preached to the whole world, even in difficult circumstances, and those who blame their circumstances and always give in to hardship.

God prepared water where there was no water and also prepared food in the barren desert. Through the history of the Exodus and the 40-year desert journey, we can see that God showed even more amazing works to His people when there were difficulties and obstacles than when they were in a good, safe, or comfortable situation. Learning a lesson from that history, we, the people of Zion, should only look to God who is always with us in any and all situations.

Let us remember the promise of God

If we keep on studying the history of the Israelites in the desert, we can find out that there were some wicked people who stirred up the people, formed a conspiracy and plotted a rebellion against God.

Korah son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and certain Reubenites Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth became insolent and rose up against Moses. With them were 250 Israelite men, well-known community leaders who had been appointed members of the council. They came as a group to oppose Moses and Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the LORD is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the LORD’s assembly?” … When Korah had gathered all his followers in opposition to them at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, the glory of the LORD appeared to the entire assembly … and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them, with their households and all Korah’s men and all their possessions. They went down alive into the grave, with everything they owned; the earth closed over them, and they perished and were gone from the community … Nu 16:1-35

Korah and his company gathered all their followers who had complaints against Moses, their leader, and incited a rebellion against his leadership, instead of helping Moses who was working hard day and night to lead the people. So, God made the earth open its mouth and swallow Korah and all his followers along with their households. By doing that, God punished the wicked, and gave victory to Moses who did everything according to God’s will.

Besides, there were various events, including the worship of the bronze snake, which caused the people to sin and perish in the desert. As the Israelites were emancipated from the bondage of Egypt by the power of God and all of Pharaoh’s army who chased them was destroyed, they did not need to fear an outside enemy any longer, but instead they had to keep on fighting against a new enemy within themselves that continuously challenged them.

In these spiritually challenging situations, we are now proceeding toward the heavenly Canaan. Complaints and all kinds of tests or temptations arise when our faith grows weak or idle or when we do not have God in our hearts. Now let each of us reflect on our faith and examine ourselves to see if we are living a life of faith worthy of Heavenly Father and Mother. If there is something lacking in our faith, we should have God Elohim deep in our hearts and walk in the desert of faith with gratitude, as the children of heaven.

The 40-year desert journey was merely a process to enter Canaan. Though it was a tough journey, God gave His people the land of Canaan in the end, didn’t He? God is unchangeable in His promises. However, until the promise of God was fulfilled, many of the Israelites fell behind midway and dropped out. We must not follow their foolish example.

Learning a lesson from the desert history, which God showed us in advance for our salvation, let us walk in the desert of faith graciously until we enter the spiritual Canaan. Elohim our Father and Mother are personally leading us to the eternal kingdom of heaven. So, as the people of Zion, let us run this race of faith until the end, believing the promise of God, so that we will all obtain salvation.