Journey to Canaan

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A. MARAH: TRAINING IN FAITH.

Our previous Bible study dealt with the tabernacle, priests and offerings. Now we will follow the Israelites on their journey to Canaan.  Did they ever reach the land God had promised them?

We have to keep in mind  that they had been living in Egypt for more than 400 years. A huge river, the Nile, which never ran dry, flowed through the centre of the land. So, everybody always had plenty of food and water.  Now they were in a desert country where there were no rivers, only a fountain here and there.  Food, especially meat and bread, was in short supply.  This caused fear and dissatisfaction and caused the people to grumble.  Let us read from Exodus chapter 15 verse 22 to 27:

“Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness and found no water.  23  When they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter; therefore it was named Marah.  24  So the people grumbled at Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?”  25  Then he cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a tree; and he threw it into the waters, and the waters became sweet.”

During the previous months, God had done great miracles for Israel.  He smote the Egyptians with terrible plagues and delivered His people out of that land of slavery.  He cleft the Red Sea before them so that they could walk through on dry land.  When the Egyptians followed after them, He caused the water to flow back and they all drowned.  At mount Horeb (Sinai) God spoke to them in an audible voice. Everyday God demonstrated His presence by the cloud that rested on the tabernacle.  Yes, God did many extraordinary things to convince them of his love and power. But to trust Him while all goes well, is rather easy. 

He now took them a step futher, expecting them to exercise their faith when all sorts of hardships crossed their way. Oh, how terribly they failed!  When, thirsty after three days of trekking, they came to a fountain with bitter water, they grumbled.  They did not speak directly upwards against the unseen God, but against Moses his servant, who was in their midst.  They were cross with him and cried out “What shall we drink?”  But actually their anger and frustration was directed at God, for Moses was only a man.  They blamed God for their problem. 

We must know that when we become Christians by accepting Jesus as our Saviour, when we leave the devil’s country of slavery and sin, things will not always be easy for us.  There will be stretches of dry country when it will seem that God has forsaken us.  A bitterness in our marriages, in our jobs, in our children, in the relationship with family and friends.  What do we do when we get to the Marah fountains in our lives?  Do we still trust God?  Do we humble ourselves and pray or do we moan and grumble against God? 

In Hebrews 11:6  Paul says: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

Without faith it is impossible to please God. By trusting Him, we please Him.  Moses responded differently to the bitter water; he continued trusting the Lord, cried out to Him in prayer and the Lord rushed to help him. He showed him a tree stump which, when he cast into the water, cause it to become sweet so that everybody could drink thereof and quench their thirst.

It is so easy for God to change our circumstances from bitterness to sweetness.  My friend if you are at Marah, do not be discouraged, do not think of turning back to your old life.  Canaan is waiting for you, God has promised it to you but there is a road to travel to get there.  God is with you on this road and he is leading you, he will not allow you to die in the desert.  The bitter water is only a test, it is not the end of the road.  Listen to what the rest of that Scripture says:

“There He made for them a statute and regulation, and there He tested them.  26  And He said, “If you will give earnest heed to the voice of the LORD your God, and do what is right in His sight, and give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have put on the Egyptians; for I, the LORD, am your healer.”

God not only changed the bitter water into sweetness but added a promise that he would protect their bodies against deseases.  It is as if he was saying “You were scared that I will let you die.  No, I will not only keep you alive, I will keep you vibrantly alive so that you can enjoy your journey to Canaan.”

B. ELIM: REVELATION OF GOD’S ABUNDANCE.

Verse 27  “Then they came to Elim where there were twelve springs of water and seventy date palms, and they camped there beside the waters.”

Oh how good is our God.  He confirmed his promise by leading them to Elim where there were twelve fountains from which to drink; one for every tribe of Israel and seventy date palms of which they could eat the fruit and in the shade of which they could relax.

(By the way, what is the significance of the stump of wood that made the waters sweet and saved the people from dying in the desert? It points to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ and the terrible price He had to pay to rescue us from the bitternis of eternal death and provide us with the sweet living waters of eternal life.)

C. THE WILDERNESS OF SIN: DOWN IN THE DUMPS AGAIN.

They had been taught a very important lesson of faith, but this was not the end of the journey, they had to move on to get to Canaan. We now read Exodus chapter 16 from verse 1 to verse 3:

“Then they set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the sons of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departure from the land of Egypt.  2  The whole congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.  3  The sons of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the LORD’S hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

We also read verses 9 to 16:

“Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to all the congregation of the sons of Israel, ‘Come near before the LORD, for He has heard your grumblings.’”  10  It came about as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the sons of Israel, that they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud.  11  And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,  12  “I have heard the grumblings of the sons of Israel; speak to them, saying, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread; and you shall know that I am the LORD your God.’” 

13 So it came about at evening that the quails came up and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp.  14  When the layer of dew evaporated, behold, on the surface of the wilderness there was a fine flake-like thing, fine as the frost on the ground.  15  When the sons of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “It is the bread which the LORD has given you to eat.

16  “This is what the LORD has commanded, ‘Gather of it every man as much as he should eat; you shall take an omer apiece according to the number of persons each of you has in his tent.’”

Alas, the nation of Israel had not learned the lesson of faith at the fountain of Marah.  When a similar test came, they again grumbled against Moses and God.  This time they complained of not having meat and bread.  They even said that it had been better for them in Egypt where there was plenty to eat.  Again they expressed their fear that they would starve in the desert. 

Again God supplied in their needs.  He supplied meat by directing an enormous flock of quails from out of nowhere to fly towards the camp and land all over it. These were like chickens, just smaller and the people could easily catch and slaughter them.  God also provided in the need of bread by letting something like dew fall upon the ground.  These were gathered by the people and cooked or baked.  It tasted very nice, like honeycomb. 

Yes, God can supply for us wherever we are, even when there is a desert all around us.  He is not dependant on fields and shops, He is God who created everything.  He can supply anything, let you and me glorify his Name by trusting him whole heartedly.

(The mannah that was given as substitute for bread is a picture of the Body of our Lord Jesus that was broken for us. He is our Bread of Life. One way of partaking of his Body is to read his Word and meditate on it day by day.) 

D. A THIRD EXCERSISE IN FAITH.

But the people of Israel not only experienced trials of a shortage of water and food. Very soon one of the powerful nations living in the desert, the Amelikites attacked them.  Let us read from Exodus chapter 17 verse 8 to the end of that chapter.

“The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim.  9 Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.”  10 So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill.  11 As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning.

12 When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up— one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset.  13 So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.  14 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.”  15 Moses built an altar and called it The LORD is my Banner.  16 He said, “For hands were lifted up to the throne of the LORD. The LORD will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.”

What an encouraging portion of Scripture!  On our journey as Christians we will be attacked by the evil forces of the devil.  He hates the progress we are making and will do anything to stop and cause us to turn back.  But, God is on our side and God answers prayer.  When we offer to Him prayers of faith, the devil and his armies will be defeated.  The battle may go on for many hours but in the end we will come forth victorious.  Let us also pray together and support one another as Aaron and Hur supported Moses.  Let us especially support our Christian leaders. When they grow tired, let us hold up their hands by prayers of faith.

E. ON THE VERGE OF VICTORY, THEN … .

After the victory over the Amelikites, the people were led onwards towards Canaan. Along the way many other things happened to them but we cannot deal with all of them here.  At last they drew near to the Promised Land. It must have been a great joy for them to be witin reach of their goal. However, many nations lived in that land and Israel would have to fight and conquer them before they could settle down and enjoy it. 

So Moses sent in twelve men, one from each tribe, to spy out the land and its peoples and report back.  They returned bringing some of the fruit of the country; impressive to look at and delicious to eat.  Unfortunately that was not all they brought.  Ten of them also brought a very discouraging message.  They reported that they had encountered huge giants and cities with strong walls around them.  They were convinced that they, as well as their children would all perish if they would try to conquer those nations.  Only two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, encouraged their people.  They were convinced that God would certainly give them the victory for He had promised them the land.

Again the people of Israel had failed the test of faith and rebelled against God. Let us read the Book of Numbers chapter 14 from verse 1 to 4:

“That night all the people of the community raised their voices and wept aloud.  2  All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this desert!  3  Why is the LORD bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?”  4  And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”

Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before God asking him to intervene.  Then the glory of God appeared at the tabernacle and he spoke and said:  (We read Numbers chapter 14: 25 to 35):

“Since the Amalekites and Canaanites are living in the valleys, turn back tomorrow and set out towards the desert along the route to the Red Sea.”  26  The LORD said to Moses and Aaron:  27  “How long will this wicked community grumble against me? I have heard the complaints of these grumbling Israelites.  28  So tell them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the LORD, I will do to you the very things I heard you say:  29  In this desert your bodies will fall—every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me.  30  Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun.  31  As for your children that you said would be taken as plunder, I will bring them in to enjoy the land you have rejected.  32  But you—your bodies will fall in this desert.  33  Your children will be shepherds here for forty years, suffering for your unfaithfulness, until the last of your bodies lies in the desert.  34  For forty years—one year for each of the forty days you explored the land—you will suffer for your sins and know what it is like to have me against you.’  35  I, the LORD, have spoken, and I will surely do these things to this whole wicked community, which has banded together against me. They will meet their end in this desert; here they will die.”

What a sad ending to Israel’s triumphant exodus from Egypt and their trek through the desert. After coming right to the verge of the promised land, they had to turn back and live in the desert for another 40 years because of their unbelief. 

Distrusting God is a terrible sin.  It grieves the Lord for He then has to discipline, instead of blessing us.  How many blessings have we missed because of our unbelief and murmuring? How often have we been on the verge of taking possession of something great and beautiful towards which the Lord had been leading us, then turned back right from the border and continued wandering in the desert for years on end. 

Let us pray together: “Lord we confess that we sometimes allow unbelief to enter into our hearts.  Please forgive us and strengthen  our faith.  Amen.” 

Do read the next teaching which deals with the eventual conquering of the Promised Land.

SHALOM

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