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In the Great Wilderness

(Deuteronomy 1:41-2:8)

Lesson 7 -- fourth quarter 1999
October 17, 1999

by Mark Roth
© Copyright 1999, Christian Light Publications

No doubt you have heard that belated obedience is not obedience but disobedience. In today's lesson, Moses rehearses for the people a historical example of that precise truth. The children of Israel had been given an opportunity and a command to conquer Canaan . . . and they refused to go. When judgment had been pronounced on them, they mouthed a recognition of their sin and decided to obey God after all. The problem was, the opportunity for obedience had passed and a new command had been issued: Don't go! Instead of obeying the new command, they took off headlong to obey the first one. Belatedly. Presumptuously. Rebelliously. Disastrously.

Moral: obey promptly and exactly. When told to go, go. When told to stop, stop. No more, no less.

Then Moses reminds them of something else: "Ye returned and wept before the LORD; but the LORD would not hearken to your voice, nor give ear unto you." Now why do you suppose that might have been thus?

Imagine that! God turning a deaf ear to His very own people in a time of deep distress, affliction and defeat. Why would He do such a thing? So much for "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble" (Psalm 46:1). Right? Wrong!

The only reason I can think of for God refusing to hearken unto the voice of their cry is that their cry was not sincere. It must have been a cry of self-pity, maybe even accusation; apparently it was not a cry of genuine brokenness and repentance.

Moral: never substitute self-pity for repentance. When you have sinned and are suffering the consequences, skip the whining and fretting. Rather, recognize your sin, humble yourself before the Lord, amend your ways and accept His faithful, loving punishment.

Moses was not through with his review of their history. He reminded the Israelites that God did not abandon them in the wilderness: "These forty years the LORD thy God hath been with thee." Jehovah even granted them success along the way: "the LORD thy God hath blessed thee in all the works of thy hand." The Lord made sure they had what they needed: "Thou hast lacked nothing." In other words, despite their unfaithfulness, God remained faithful.

Moral: do not assume that punishment means rejection and abandonment. For your reassurance, rehearse those Bible passages that clearly focus on the benefits of God's chastisements of His children.

In some regards, these desert years for the Israelites were miserable, dreary years. They had to wander in the wilderness, away from the Promised Land, waiting for a bunch of them to die. However, though many of them would never live in the land of promise, their God continued with them.

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