The Forty Days' Searching of Canaan Part 1

Numbers 13‑14  •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 5
The Book of Numbers has a very peculiar place and significance in the word of God. It is the Book of the Wilderness: of the journeying or itinerary of the children of Israel, alter redemption was accomplished, and they had been brought out of Egypt, across the Red Sea, to go onwards and upwards to the Land of Canaan.
The wilderness way never was in the purpose of God for Israel, though it took forty years to accomplish it; just as your pathway here, as a saint, does not enter into the purpose of God for you. It is His place to test and try you, to see what is in your heart; to teach you lessons which could be learned in no other place. But God has not redeemed you for earth, but for heaven; not for this world, but for glory; this is His purpose.
You will notice here a very solemn thing. This journey, which took forty years to accomplish, was really a pathway of only eleven days. This we see from Deut. 1 "There are eleven days' journey from Horeb by the way of mount Seir, unto Kadesh Barnea."Kadesh is on the very borders of the land, at the southeast extremity. But mark the next verse, "And it came to pass in the fortieth year, in the eleventh month," &c. It was a short journey if taken direct, right into the land of promise; but through unbelief it took forty long weary years to accomplish it.
How long, may we not ask, would the journey have been, from the day that the Lord had ascended up on high, after He had risen from the dead, and sent the Holy Ghost to form the church of God, until He would return again, had she been faithful to His desire, "that they all may be one, that the world may believe"? (John 17) How soon all would have been gathered together, and the Lord have taken her home! But soon all was ruin-and God's longsuffering waited ever since, in patience, to accomplish His purpose; and we ourselves are the fruit of man's unfaithfulness and His delay.
Let us not be discouraged then because of evil: God is able to turn it all to blessing in His own way.
Now we know from 1 Cor. 10:1111Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. (1 Corinthians 10:11), that "all these things happened unto them [Israel] for examples [types], and are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come." It is not that the people are the type; but the "things which happened unto them "-a most important distinction.
We will now turn to some passages of scripture to show that the wilderness never entered into the purpose of God at all.
Let us look at Ex. 3, at "the section on the bush." When God appeared to Moses by that strange sight, "A bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed." Israel was in the furnace of Egypt; therefore God will be in the bush burning with fire. He would identify Himself with His people-wherever they are, when about to deliver.
We find this purpose told us in the seventh verse concerning Israel: "I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows.” How blessed to think that even when no cry was addressed to Him, He could say, "I have seen; " "I have heard;" "I know." These touching words unfold to us, three degrees of suffering and sorrow in His own. There is the outward sorrow that can be seen by others. This is the easiest to bear, and that in which often most sympathy is known from others. It may be with us a sickness, or some outward thing which may be recognized, and which others can share. Of this God says, "I have seen the affliction of my people." There is a deeper sorrow than this, which may be expressed by a cry out of the depths of the heart to God. "I have heard their cry," saith the Lord. It is a sorrow which can be put in words before Him, or before a sympathizing friend, and in which the heart often finds that friend's sympathy, and God Himself hears the cry which expressed the agony. But there is a deeper sorrow still; a sorrow in which the kindest friend can have no share-the sorrow that eats away the heart, and could not be expressed in words, which, if it were possible to be expressed, had better be left untold; the unuttered sorrow of the anguished heart, which cannot even be told to God in words-the " groan which cannot be uttered." Such can only be laid before Him in the silence of His presence, while the soul is sustained by those blessed, truly blessed words of His, "I know their sorrows." What rest there is in these words! "I have seen " what could be seen; "I have heard " the cry that others may have heard; but "I know their sorrows " when no words could express them even to Me; how much less even to the friend or companion who might truly sympathize!
And "I am come down to deliver  ... .and to bring them out of that land, unto a good land, and a large; a land flowing with milk and honey." This, then, was His purpose. Not one word of the waste deserts which lay between.
When the Lawgiver comes (Ex. 6) to announce this purpose to them, he tells them, in those sevenfold "I wills" of the Lord: "I will bring you out," "I will rid you out of their bondage," "I will redeem you," "I will take you to me," "I will be to you a God," "I will bring you into the land," "I will give it you for an heritage." Here, again, no word of the wilderness is expressed. It was not His purpose.
Thus faith takes up this wondrous purpose in its song-the first we ever find in scripture-(Ex. 15): "Till the people pass over, O Lord, till the people pass over which thou hast purchased. Thou shalt bring them in, and plant them in the mountain of thine inheritance." Through the wilderness? No; not a word about it in the song of faith; for faith takes up God's thoughts because He has revealed them.
So in Ephesians, we find no time, no earth, no wilderness there. We are taken out of the depths of ruin, and set in the heavenly places in Christ, without the pathway there at all. Like the robber on the cross beside the Lord: he is taken from the depths of degradation at once into the paradise of God with Christ!
Why, then, does the wilderness intervene? Why the pathway of sorrow and distress, unredeemed by a single feature of good in ourselves, as from ourselves? Why bring in that dreary journey where our failures are seen, and our hearts exposed?
The eighth chapter of Deuteronomy is the reply. It is a synopsis of the whole book that is before us.
"And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee, these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart," &c. There are two things God would always have us remember: "The day when thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt, all the days of thy life" (Deut. 16:33Thou shalt eat no leavened bread with it; seven days shalt thou eat unleavened bread therewith, even the bread of affliction; for thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt in haste: that thou mayest remember the day when thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt all the days of thy life. (Deuteronomy 16:3)), and "all the way" they passed through. Not an incident was to be forgotten; but all was turned to blessing by Him who alone could say it was “To do them good at the latter end." (Deut. 8:1616Who fed thee in the wilderness with manna, which thy fathers knew not, that he might humble thee, and that he might prove thee, to do thee good at thy latter end; (Deuteronomy 8:16).)
It was the trying of their faith; and the testing of patience too; disclosing what was in the hearts of His redeemed. He knew it well, before they were tested; but they learned it, as we do, through those testings by the way. Bitter, too, are these lessons; humbling us to the dust, as they should do; but filling the heart with a deeper, fuller knowledge of Him who has redeemed us, and of what was ever in His heart the while.
The people of Israel are now at Kadesh Barnes. (Num. 13) They had gone the "eleven days' " journey, and were on the borders of the land of promise. There were its sunny plains, stretching out before their view-the garden of the Lord; that good land, which flowed with milk and honey. Their feet were almost treading upon their possessions when in one short moment the prospect is clouded through unbelief!
These things are written for our admonition, that they may warn and instruct our souls. I speak to you who are Christians, who profess to believe in Him-the Christ of God. Many of you are true Christians; many, alas, only Christians in name, Christless Christians and lost. Yet all profess His name. This is the state of things that Christendom presents before the Lord. A place of privilege, yet a place of solemn responsibility as well.
They had all come out of Egypt: all seemed to be nearing the land of Canaan; yet thousands fell in the wilderness, and never got there at all. Why was this? The answer is ready: "So we see they could not enter in because of unbelief." (Heb. 3:1919So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief. (Hebrews 3:19).) "Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall, after the same example of unbelief." (Heb. 4:1111Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief. (Hebrews 4:11))
The people then were at Kadesh Barnea- just a step from the land-where every hope, and every promise would be fulfilled. Immediately the hitherto secret cloud of unbelief, not larger at first than a man's hand, is seen growing black, and full of sorrow. It seemed so very wise; so like prudence and caution to send up men to spy out the land. It looked well, as it reads in Num. 13, and as if all was according to the mind of the Lord. He spake to Moses saying, "Send thou men, that they may search the land of Canaan, which I have given unto the children of Israel." This is most solemn. There is no secret spring seen in the opening of this chapter, which would lead us to suppose anything was wrong.
Do we not find oftentimes the same kind of thing in our own histories? You do a thing; you seem fully to have the Lord's mind and word for what you are then carrying out. I may meet you in six months' time, and you will say to me, "It was all unbelief "! How solemn! How sad to discern that the Lord often permits a thing; yea, orders a thing "because of unbelief," as He does here. The thermometer of faith had gone down: the bright first song of faith in Ex. 15, which seized God's purpose, where faith, too, sets its seal to all that He had made known; all was gone now. Prudence and forethought were now the guiding principles; and all looked well for the moment. God then descended to their evil, and said to Moses, "Send thou men! "
Has God never done this with us, my brethren? Has He never met our desires where we were? and we thought it a good sign, and that all seemed according to His mind. Have we never discovered, after a while, that all was the fruit of unbelief?
See Moses, too, the meekest man that was in all the earth, how he was deceived; the very leader of the people of God. "And I said unto you, ye are come unto the mountain of the Amorites, which the Lord our God doth give unto us. Behold the Lord thy God hath set the land before thee; go up and possess it.... And ye came near and said unto me... we will send men before us, and they shall search us out the land, &c... And the saying pleased me well"! (Deut. 1.)
My brethren, faith never reasons. Faith does not trust God for the things that are difficult; but for the things that seem impossible! Do not say a thing is difficult, and therefore we must trust God about it. Say rather it is impossible, and therefore we will trust Him.
The people's faith, then, had gone down, and the Lord directs them to send the spies. Nay, it seems as if the Lord desired it so to be. Nay, alas, He permits it. How often have we gone on our knees and pleaded with God for things; and how did it turn out? He gave us our request and sent leanness into our souls. Have not lives been spared at the pleadings of His saints, individually or collectively, which have been the bitter sorrow of after years? Have not ways of life been sought to find our daily bread withal, and have been given to us too; which afterward broke our hearts with the sorrows they entailed? How fearful we grow as we advance in life, lest we should ask anything from Him but the right thing-that which is according to His own will. F. G. P.
(To be continued, the Lord willing.)