The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that YHVH swore to give to your fathers. And you shall remember the whole way that YHVH your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of YHVH. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, YHVH your God disciplines you. So you shall keep the commandments of YHVH your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him.
Israel spent forty seemingly pointless years in the wilderness wandering from one mountain or oasis to another. Forty years of uncertainty, of not knowing where they were going to live, where they were going. No houses, no fields, no real homes. Just tents, long hikes, lots of dirt, and manna….every day, manna.
But there was a point, because God always has a point.
Israel’s unfaithfulness in believing the bad report of the ten spies was the immediate trigger that launched their long journey through the wilderness, but those forty years were essential to developing their national character. It was always part of God’s plan.
God had at least three objectives in taking Israel on the scenic route to the Promised Land.
Self Discovery. Repeated tests, both failed and passed, demonstrated to Israel exactly who they were and how they were completely inadequate to their task without God.
Honeymoon. Forty years in barren landscape with God himself there in the middle of the camp was a perfect opportunity to explore Israel’s relationship with her God.
Education. From the first Passover in Egypt to the respecting of the borders of Edom, Moab, and Ammon, Israel learned what it means to love God and keep his commandments.
We all go through wilderness experiences, periods of testing and uncertainty, as individuals, as families, and even as nations. The key to surviving and ultimately to becoming who God wants us to be is in trusting his plan. Whatever comes, whatever goes, YHVH is in charge. Follow his instructions. Keep his commandments. He will bring you through it.
The wilderness is always unpleasant–it wouldn’t serve its function if it weren’t–but if we love God and trust him with our whole beings, we will be stronger and more mature when we cross the Jordan on the other side.