The book of Deuteronomy begins with an interesting side statement that too often may get overlooked.
“Normally it takes only eleven days to travel from Mount Sinai to Kadesh-barnea, going by way of Mount Seir. But forty years after the Israelites left Egypt…” (Deut. 1:2-3)
Wait a second, go back and read that statement again. Normally it takes eleven days to travel from Mount Sinai to the promised land but it has been forty years since the Israelites left Egypt. Forty years wandering around the wilderness. Forty years waiting for an entire generation to die off and another to take its place. Forty years of living in tents, picking up manna everyday, always looking forward to a promised reward and yet never quite making it. Forty years basically of punishment because they failed to trust God and enter the promised land when he originally took them there.
You remember the story in Numbers 13 and 14. Moses sends in the twelve spies to investigate the land. Caleb and Joshua come back ready to follow God and claim their prize. The other twelve are afraid. Afraid of the inhabitants, afraid of the trials, afraid for their lives. They would rather be in Egypt as slaves. And they convince the people to turn away from God’s promises. They convince the people to trust in what they can see instead of trusting in what is unseen. And because of that, they spend the next forty years slowly dying in the wilderness waiting for a new generation to rise up and claim their inheritance.
As the new generation stands at the edge of the promised land Moses reminds them of what they’ve been through. This journey should have lasted only eleven days. This journey should have been less than two weeks. Instead, its been forty years of heartache and loss. Forty years of never fully realized dreams. Forty years of wandering aimlessly all because you failed to trust God. All because you failed to believe that the same God who had the power to send the plagues on Egypt, to rescue you with a strong and powerful arm, to part the waters of the Red Sea, and even to defeat the Amalekites when none of you were trained for war, that God had the power to safely place you in the promised land. You failed to trust God and it turned an eleven day journey into a forty-year wandering.
I wonder, when are we in danger of doing the same thing? When are we in danger of allowing our normal ways of discerning situations thwart God’s plans for our lives? When are we in danger of failing to put enough faith in God that we make the journey much longer than it needs to be?
It’s interesting that God still accomplished his goals. God’s plan was to bring the people of Israel into the promised land for the purpose of using them in his mission to redeem and restore the world. God still very much accomplishes his goal. God still moves history forward. God still remains true to his mission. But God has to change his original plan because of the unfaithfulness of his people. God has to make allowances and work a different way because Israel lacks faith. As the cliché goes, God has to take a step back before God can take two steps forward.
And again I wonder, when are we in danger of doing the same thing. When are we in danger of turning an eleven day journey into a forty-year trek because of our lack of faith in where God is leading us? When are we in danger of failing to trust that the direction God is leading us is the true and faithful course? When are we in danger of forcing God to act a different way because we don’t have the faith to follow?
Everyday we have decisions to make as we journey with God. Sometimes God is calling us to plow ahead. At other times God may be telling us to slow down. Discerning those situations is not an easy task. Yet I know there are times when we recognize the path God wants us to take but because of fear of the unknown or a lack of trust we don’t follow…and the journey becomes longer. God will still accomplish his purposes, but God may have to use different people in different ways. And we might just squander a lifetime of enjoying the promised land while we wander around the wilderness simply because of our lack of faith.