Part Six: Failure to Enter the Promised Land
Exodus 15:22 - Numbers 16:50


By a series of 10 plagues God has broken Egypt's grip over Israel. If that was not enough, God destroys a large contingency of the Egyptian army at the Red Sea. God has led Israel to the base of Mt. Sinai where He has given her His law, created the Israelites to be His people, and has designed for them a tabernacle so that He can meet with them and communicate with them. All is now ready for Israel to enter into her inheritance; it is time for Israel to drive out the Canaanites and possess the Promised Land. As a result Moses leads Israel to the southern tip of the Promised Land, to a place called Kadesh Barnea (KAY-dish bar-NEE-uh). From there Moses will launch his attack upon the Canaanite cities and armies.

Before looking at the conquest of Israel, we need to qualify what we mean by Moses leading the people. How did Moses know where to go? Simple. From the beginning of their journey out of Egypt, God would lead the Israelites by means of a pillar of fire by night which became a cloud by day. After Moses and the Israelites had constructed the tabernacle, the cloud would rest upon the tabernacle. This cloud represented God's presence and was called the Shekinah Glory. Whenever the cloud lifted up off the tabernacle and rose to the sky, the Israelites knew that it was time to break camp. God was leading them to another site. Whenever the cloud or pillar of fire stopped, the people knew that God wanted them to stop and make camp. For all practical purposes then it was not Moses who led the Israelites; God Himself was leading them by means of the pillar/cloud.

The pillar/cloud provided another vital service for the Israelites. The cloud shaded the Israelites from the desert sun and also provided warmth for the people during the cold nights out in the desert. God's provision was proving very sufficient for the Israelites indeed.


The People Grumble and Complain (Ex. 15:22-16:50)

God has already demonstrated His love and power among His people the Israelites. He has destroyed the world's super power by the means of 10 miracles, culminating in the overthrow of the Egyptian army at the Red Sea. Even though God did all these miracles on Israel's behalf, we saw earlier that given half a chance Israel was going to murmur and complain. For example, after Moses had told the Israelites that God was going to deliver them, they began to complain whenever Pharaoh came down on them and started making them provide their own straw when making bricks. The slightest attack on their comfort brought forth a flood of complaints and grumblings.

Below is a list of occasions in which Israel complained:

Ex. 15:22-27 Bitter waters at Marah
Ex. 16:2-7 Lack of food
Ex. 16:8-13 .
Ex. 17:2 .
Ex. 32:1-10 .
Numbers 11:1-9 .
Num. 12:1-9 .
Num. 13:25-14:4 .
Num. 16:1-7 .
Num. 16:41-50 .

The Disaster at Kadesh Barnea (Num. 13:1-14:45)

Sending Out the Spies (13:1-24)

The Israelites have been delivered from Egypt. They had received God's Law at Mt. Sinai. They have received a new identity as being the people of God. Now it was time for this new nation to claim land for its own. From a human standpoint, if a people is to survive as a nation, then it must be attached to land. Moreover, God had promised the land between the Nile and Euphrates Rivers to Abraham's descendants. God was now going to make good on that promise to Abraham.

The Israelites arrive at Kadesh Barnea, located at the southern tip of Canaan. Apparently Moses' plan is to attack Canaan from the south and work his way north. Although this strategy meant that the Canaanites would always be able to communicate with each other and protect supply lines, by attacking from this direction the rear of the Israelite army would always be protected.

Like any good general Moses wants to get a report of the land he is about to attack. He wants to know about their fortifications (walled cities) and the land, about whether or not the land would be able to support his army while they are fighting. Moreover, he wants to know about water supply. An army of 600,000 men will need ample supplies.

In order to gain this information, Moses selects one representative from each of the 12 tribes of Israel to serve as spies on a reconnaissance mission. The 2 most notable representatives turn out to be Joshua from the tribe of Ephraim and Caleb from the tribe of Judah. While Moses and the rest of the people wait, the 12 spies fan out through Canaan, gathering information for Moses and the people.

The Report of the Spies and the People's Response (13:25-14:4)

It is so easy to be a Monday-morning quarterback. Hindsight always provides 20/20 vision. The spies have been gone for 40 days. When they return, Moses makes the disastrous decision to let the spies report their findings in public, BEFORE THE ENTIRE CONGREGATION OF ISRAEL. The report is bitter/sweet. The land is indeed flowing with milk and honey as Moses had promised. Moreover, they brought back an example of the abundance of the land, a huge cluster of grapes which was so large that it had to be carried on a pole by 2 men.

Although the land is indeed rich and abundant, its inhabitants are mammoth and its cities impregnable. In the opinion of 10 of the spies to attack the land would be nothing short of suicide. These ten spies urge the people to reject the plan to attack Canaan. The only 2 spies who urge the Israelites to invade are Caleb and Joshua. True to their past responses the Israelites reject God's plan and accept the advice of the ten spies. In fact they decide to choose for themselves a leader who will lead them BACK TO EGYPT! Better to be a slave in Egypt and eat meat than to go with God and risk death, even if going with God might mean conquering a land overflowing with milk and honey.

This is where most of us go wrong. We shrink back in fear when Jesus calls us out to the great journey He has for our lives. We would rather be enslaved and enjoy the few comforts slavery affords us than to follow Jesus on the journey which ends in Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey.

God's Response (14:5-45)

God has had it. Had He not 10 times shown Himself powerful on their behalf? Ten plagues He had executed on their behalf: the Nile River turned to blood, frogs, insects, death of Egyptian cattle, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, death of Egyptian first born, destruction at the Red Sea. Were not His past deeds on their behalf guarantees that He would again act on their behalf? And yet how had they repaid Him? By rejecting HIM 10 times. There was a limit to God's patience and the people had reached it. They were not going to enter the Promised Land. Instead God will have them wander in the wilderness until everyone 20 years of age and older dies.

The people decide that they will go ahead and invade the Promised Land. They reason: "After all has not God promised to give it to us? Aren't we just doing His will?" Well, God's will had NOT changed. He WAS going to give the land to the Israelites; it's just that He was not going to give it to THIS set of Israelites. The next generation of Israelites was going to inherit the Promised Land. The present generation was going to inherit nothing more than death in the desert. For the next 40 years Moses is going to function like no more than a funeral director. With the exception of Joshua and Caleb who had trusted the Lord, every person 20 years of age and older would perish in the wilderness (14:29-30).

Refusing to accept God's judgment, a group of the Israelites launched an invasion of Canaan. The result was that they were beaten back. God was no longer going to help them defeat the Canaanites. Now begins one of the greatest tragedies in the Bible. For the next 40 years Moses' ministry is to lead the Israelites until all those 20 years of age and older have either been killed off or died from natural causes. A new generation will emerge in the meantime, one without a slave mentality but one which is ready to follow the Lord's leadership, but it will take 40 years for that new generation to emerge. (God says that they will wander around in the wilderness for FORTY YEARS, one year for every day the spies surveyed the land of Canaan.)


What went wrong? Why at the last moment, right as the Promised Land was within their grasp, did the Israelites fail to take hold of the destiny God had promised them? According to Heb. 4:2-3 what went wrong?

What do you mean by the word "faith?"

Too many people misunderstand what the Bible means by the word "faith." It means I trust God enough that I will obey Him. Obedience and faith are NOT the same thing; however, the only faith the Bible acknowledges and accepts is that faith which trusts God enough actually to obey Him.

Some think that faith means I can come up with big things to do and expect God to make sure they get done. A lady once shared with me her vision for the church we were attending. When I expressed my concerns about her vision, she lectured me that MY problem was that I did not have enough faith. I then informed her that whereas I was ready to have faith in God's vision, I was not sure that her vision and God's vision were one and the same. I am not to come up with big ideas for me to implement with God's power. I am to discover His vision and trust Him to give me the strength to implement and realize that vision. That's the only faith the Bible promises to reward.

Read the following verses and write down your definition of the word "discipleship": Matt. 4:19; John 1:35-37; Luke 9:23.

After rejecting God's instructions, the Israelites made the terrible mistake of trying to implement a vision which God said was no longer His. After they refused to follow Him into the Promised Land and after God said He would kill every adult 20 years of age and older, they changed their minds and said that NOW they would implement that vision. God said: "Stop! It's too late." But NO000000. They were going to be spiritual and attack the Canaanites like God had originally wanted them to do. The result was disaster. Those who implemented this BIG vision were annihilated.

How does this relate to us? Jesus has a Promised Land here on earth awaiting you and me. The Promised Land in the OT represents the abundant Christian life Jesus has for us; it is a life which is primarily characterized by peace and rest (Heb. 4:1-16). It can be experienced only by exercising a faith which obeys Jesus.

I am elated that Disney Pictures has elected to film The Chonicles of Narnia. Many will dismiss it as being nothing more than a fantasy for children. It is not though. It chronicles the adventures that children have with Jesus. Just as a wardrobe allowed the children to enter the land of Narnia where they meet Jesus, so you and I too have wardrobes in our lives which open up this life of adventure for us. The wardrobe which leads to that life of adventure with Jesus is FAITH. Just as the Jews had to exercise faith in order to enter that Promised Land, so we too though must exercise faith if we are going to embark on the journey and adventures Jesus has for us.

"But," you might say, " the Israelites had the pillar of fire by night and cloud by day to lead them. We don't have that! I don't have anything to lead me!" Oh, but you do; you have something better, someONE better than the pillar of fire. You have Jesus. It is by no means an accident that it was during the Feast of Tabernacles that Jesus stood up and claimed: "I AM THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD; he who follows Me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life" (John 8:12).

The Feast of Tabernacles celebrated the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. Each night during the festival the Jews would light huge candelabras in the Temple courtyard. The candelabras gave out so much light it was said they lighted all the streets of Jerusalem. The men would then dance throughout the night in joyous celebration of God's provision during the wilderness wanderings. Many think that it is at this point during the festival that Jesus claims that He is the light of the world, that as that pillar of fire/cloud led God's people through the wilderness, so He will lead His people through the wilderness to the Promised Land. All we have to do is follow Him.

Finally, note that at some point in your life you are going to come to your own Kadesh Barnea. God is going to put you in a situation in which you are either going to put up or shut up. It doesn't come when you are in your 20's or even 30's. It won't come right after you've become a Christian; however, there comes a point in your walk with the Lord in which the Lord will see if you are ever going to go forward or if you are going to persist in unbelief. The best way to prepare for that moment now is to respond positively to the Lord RIGHT NOW in whatever He is wanting you to do. The key is a positive response right now, not waiting for that moment to respond positively to Him.