Lessons for the Wilderness: 8. The First Three Days on the Journey

Numbers 11; Numbers 21  •  12 min. read  •  grade level: 5
Now come the First three days of the journey, which lead to the testings of faith; will Christ, the heavenly manna be enough; will He be all-satisfying to their heart? Let the reader and the writer of these lines answer the question for themselves! Do you ever wish for aught that God has not bestowed? Is the Christ of God all your desire? Alas, alas; how many a heart afar off now from God, has begun by desiring something which God had not given! People will reply, if you ask, What is the subject of Num. 11? “‘Tis the story of Israel loathing the manna.” Nay, my friend, there is no word about “loathing” here. God’s Spirit will give us the true reply — “we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted” (1 Cor. 10:66Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. (1 Corinthians 10:6)).
This was the first departure of the Church of God from Christ.
In this we learn something of what the “flesh” is. It never can be satisfied with Christ, our only portion here. “Our soul is dried away” is the language of flesh. “There is nothing at all but this manna, before our eyes.”
When first the manna was given “It was like coriander seed, white; and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey” (Ex. 16:3131And the house of Israel called the name thereof Manna: and it was like coriander seed, white; and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey. (Exodus 16:31)). But its ‘virgin’ whiteness is now changed: its color is not the same to their eyes: its taste was now “the taste of fresh oil.” All was changed. The footsteps of Christ marked the way; the Lord (rising up early) spread abroad the dew around the camp before it stirred — on the dew He spread the manna — the food of God — Christ incarnate. That was all! They had to gather it carefully before the sun was up. They might search in vain for a large piece: it could not be found. Seeking for signal interventions of God often show where we are. Have we gathered up all the smaller (but there is nothing small with God) interventions of his hand all the day long? We would then find the immensity of His supply.
Forced to be content, (alas that we should say so) with God’s provision, flesh again resents; and “the people... ground it in mills, or beat it in a mortar, and baked it in pans, and made cakes of it.” Would angels have done so, my brethren? (For “man did eat angel’s food.”) I answer, No! But this tells its own terrible tale. Some have sought to evade the solemn lesson here recorded, by referring to Exodus 16:2323And he said unto them, This is that which the Lord hath said, To morrow is the rest of the holy sabbath unto the Lord: bake that which ye will bake to day, and seethe that ye will seethe; and that which remaineth over lay up for you to be kept until the morning. (Exodus 16:23) — seeking thereby to prove that this was right in Israel and of God. Alas, how it betrays our unspiritual state! Things were allowed and passed over too of the Lord, while Israel was still “under grace,” which brought down the heavy hand of God in judgment afterward, when they were “under law.” Witness even this passage; as well as the giving of the quails in Exodus 16 in grace, and in Num. 11 when there fell thousands of the people for asking and receiving them. It speaks to our souls of the present hour with trumpet tongue. It is the character of the day especially, in which we live. Christ can never be palatable to flesh, and then man must seek to suit Him to the flesh in man, by some other mode. Is this never done, reader? What are all the efforts put forth to make Christ suit the natural mind of man, in the preaching, and teaching, and books, and efforts of the present day? If some of us have not got that which appeals to the senses in a religious way, by architecture, and music, and painting, and the arts of man; there are other ways. A book must have a choice cover: it must have pictures, and narratives to thrill the senses, or the like. There must be “services of song,” to entertain the “camp followers”— the “mixed multitude” which mingle with the host of the Lord. There must be revival preachings; flags, and music, diagrams and models, and the manna must be mixed carefully withal, so as to make it palatable to the flesh! Alas, alas, what a picture surrounds us! What a moment is before us when they grew weary of God’s bread, and sought to make it palatable to hearts whose cry was — “we remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely: the cucumbers and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic. But now our soul is dried away; there is nothing at all, beside this manna before our eyes.”
Look around us on every hand. Look in our midst from gathering to gathering of God’s saints. Look, each one — into his own heart, and say, is not this the picture of what we see, and what we know? The Church of God; the saint of God does not say deliberately — ‘He is not enough.’ But her actions, our own individual actions, tell the tale. We are like Israel, seduced by our own flesh and enticed; or by those who have no portion with us; and having hearts ready to be drawn away. We mingle Christ with the devices of the flesh, so as to make Him the common food of man. We thus dishonor Him; and unspiritualize our own souls.
Do I speak too strongly in one word which I have written? My brethren, I would that I were able to portray the scene with the vivid colors of marked reality, which lies around on every hand to-day. A scene so strikingly pictured in the type before us. It is for us, on whom the ends of the ages are met, that such have been written in the Word of God. O, let those who are true to Him set their whole being against such things. Do we not know that when a truth of divine revelation is brought down to the intellect of man, that it is absolutely lost? It is no more now of God. Often have our hearts been pained to think that some chapter, some divine truth which it has taken us years to learn from God; and some one comes, presents it to unspiritual souls, who had never given it a thought hitherto, by a diagram or a model, or the like, and in half-an-hour it is picked up in the intellect: the edge of the truth is destroyed; its interest is gone. It is reduced to the human mind and lost!
Now let us remark the apparently broken manner in which verse 9 is thrown into the narrative of Num. 11. The infidel would say, Ah, yes; it was a scrap of some other writing then extant, which the collater of these books put in, mistakenly, here. Thus the most touching beauties of Scripture are lost on such minds. The very things which cause the soul of the renewed man to bow down with praise but serve to draw out the evil folly of the infidel heart — so blind in its enmity, to that priceless gift — the Word of God!
“And when the dew fell upon the camp in the night, the manna fell upon it.” Wondrously lovely are these words. They fall like dew upon the soul, in the midst of such a scene as the former part of the chapter describes. Man’s heart is exposed here; but that of the Lord (is) disclosed. Did He withhold His open hand? Did the six hundred thousand men, besides women and children, hunger next day? Did the manna cease that night? Has God Himself now changed? This little verse of two lines is the touching and lovely answer. How blessed to read in it the character in which He spake of Himself after their wayward hearts had been exposed. How still more wondrous the word He speaks through the last prophet of Judah, whose utterance closed the Word of God till Jesus came — “For I am Jehovah, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob, are not consumed.” (Mal. 3:66For I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed. (Malachi 3:6)). He waited for three thousand five hundred years ere He would say these words: till man, till Israel, till Judah, till the Remnant brought back from Babylon, till all, had corrupted their way. Then He tells forth what He ever is — the resource of faith — the unchanging God! If God would change, nothing would be secure: there was nothing left on which to rest. It is joy to the soul to know this: that with Him there is no variableness, nor shadow of turning.
Reader, does your soul delight in this, that God never changes? If you know Him, you will find it the rest of your spirit forever. Did He change toward us through the cross? Nay, I say; in Him there is none! Jesus offered to Him that which met His holy being without changing it, and thus let His changeless nature free! Free too, to bless according to the dictates of a heart evermore the same. Surely we too can say, “Because He changes not, therefore we are not consumed.” It reminds us of Him who revealed Him — even Jesus: Who when the Spirit of God shows us every previous ordinance and covenant and sacrifice set aside in the Epistle to the Hebrews, He brings in Christ to replace them all, and when He has brought Him in He keeps Him in forever! He would not close the book without this word, “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and to-day, and forever” (Heb. 13:88Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever. (Hebrews 13:8)). Jehovah was that great and fearful, that unutterable name, of old; Jesus (Jehovah the Savior) the imperishable name — taken in time, to be borne for eternity!
But at the closing moments of their journey we find another scene, when the manna is again refused. The true scene when they “loathed” the light bread from heaven. Some might suppose that this was but a repetition of the former test, now at the end of the journey; as that had been at the beginning. To the infidel it is but food for his mocking heart, in his brief hour, at the expense of the Word of God. To the believer in Christ, it again tells forth another of those signal lessons of Scripture, at which his heart bows down with praise to Him, who has hidden these things from the wise and prudent, and has revealed them unto babes. O let us ever be but babes, so that we may be divinely wise.
How many souls, do you suppose, of manhood’s age were here in this scene, who had come out of Egypt with Moses? Without taking account of Moses himself who never entered the land, there were but two! These were “Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun!” Of the others we read — “Their carcasses had fallen in the wilderness”; all had died. They had had their test and had been found wanting: they had said, “would God, we had died in this wilderness,” and God gave them their desire. They could say (in Num. 11) we remember the flesh-pots of Egypt. Here (in Num. 21) there is no trace of such a word. Then it was the testing of the fathers; here it was that of the children; such could not say “we remember”; alas they say — “we loathe”!
Are there not those amongst us who had come forth to Christ in these last days, through many exercises, and with the loss of all things, with earnest hearts refusing the allurements of the world? We have found somewhat of the desert’s toil; but have not our hearts often returned to Egypt and longed for those things behind us, which fed ours nature there? Let my reader answer if this be so. But there has grown up (as with Israel) a generation among us who had not been then alive to those things which feed the flesh; many too have been born in the wilderness, to speak as men; they have been brought up from the first on the manna, the pure bread of God. They have not purchased the truth with the wrenchings of heart with which their fathers had. It has cost them nothing, but tacit assent, often without an exercise of soul.
These are here before us, in Num. 21.
They had come to the borders of the sunny land: a few steps more, and they were in possession of all. They might have gone in with the idea that they were of a different race with their fathers, who had died: they might have taken credit for this. Surely, they might have exclaimed, ‘we never loathed the manna,’ ‘we never longed for the flesh-pots of Egypt.’ ‘We were brought up on manna, on Christ and His truth alone!’
They had just come up to Kadesh, on the very borders of the Land; but between them and it, was a small strip which belonged to Edom, through which was “the Kings highway” (Num. 20:1717Let us pass, I pray thee, through thy country: we will not pass through the fields, or through the vineyards, neither will we drink of the water of the wells: we will go by the king's high way, we will not turn to the right hand nor to the left, until we have passed thy borders. (Numbers 20:17), &c.). Edom refused to let them pass that way; and God ordered that it should be so; for it was not the way for the redeemed to enter into Canaan. They were then turned back for two years to have their testing, and to disclose what was concealed within till now. “They journeyed from Mount Hor, by the way of the Red Sea, to compass the land of Edom”; they had to pass down south around Mount Seir — Edom’s possessions; and turn them northward by the eastern side of Jordan, and pass into the Land through its dried up waters, after the Ark of God. Death and resurrection is the only pathway thither.
And now the latent truth comes out; now the springs within are reached: now the children’s hearts have had their test. At once we read of those who might have thought truly that Christ was enough till now; “our soul loatheth this light bread.” “Where is boasting now?” “It is excluded.” “Every mouth is stopped,” my reader. We learn to judge our own hearts and not those of others. Our spirits are humbled: we become slow to speak; slow to wrath. We distrust ourselves; we cling the more to Christ. We are dumb; we have to leave it all with God, and Christ is all to us now and forever. These “First three days on the journey,” lead, then, to the testings of faith: they disclose to us what the “flesh” is in ourselves, as in those also in whom there is nothing else but “flesh” in the sight of God.