That is why the Holy Spirit says, “Today when you hear his voice, don’t harden your hearts as Israel did when they rebelled, when they tested me in the wilderness. There your ancestors tested and tried my patience, even though they saw my miracles for forty years. So I was angry with them, and I said, ‘Their hearts always turn away from me. They refuse to do what I tell them.’ So in my anger I took an oath: ‘They will never enter my place of rest.’”Hebrews 3:7-11
Our List of the Places of Rebellion in Order
- Mt Sinai
- Kadesh Barnea
I wrote in the last Nugget the following comment: “Kibroth-Hattaavah is a place which has fascinated me for a long period of time, ever since I first heard of it. There is an element of mystery about it.” Not only is there mystery about this place, there is also an element of contrariness or paradox about it. It is this aspect of contrariness, paradox or austerity which I also find fascinating. It is this side of God which I wrote about in the 29 Nuggets series A Puzzling Paradox: Pain & Praise, Solace & Suffering, Grief and Glory. This is another aspect of God I find fascinating, mysterious and puzzling all at the same time.
There are so many angles from which to approach this puzzle. For instance:
- Why does God lead the people of God to a place called Rephidim ‘peaceful rest’ and then says to them “they will never enter my rest”.
- Why does God create us as humans who require water to sustain us, whose bodies made up of approximately 60% water, only to lead them through a wilderness experience where water is going to be their number one problem.
- Why were the Israelites faced with an over and abundance of water one minute and then a scarcity the next?
- Why did the LORD lead the people by fire and by cloud to the wilderness of Paran from the outset? Even before any rebellion took place? (Num 10:11-13)
- Why does Moses tell the story of their being “‘in the wilderness” [barmidbar] by careful selection of the incidents of their rebellion, while he lays out the bigger picture with every stopping place named, including the place where rebellion didn’t take place?
- Why didn’t God ensure the journey in the wilderness was smooth and trouble free? He could have shown how well He treats His people for all the world to see.
It is almost like God set them up to fail. Is that why that classic verse in Romans reads:
“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”Romans 3:23
There is almost a sense of inevitability about it all; it seems that it is the human experience. Allow me to explore this theme a little. Some of you who are familiar with the Nugget series I mentioned above, likely saw immediately where the title of this Gem came from. Is God indeed mysterious, puzzling and paradoxical? I believe He is, but not in a fickle or contrary way. It is all to do with the quote from Psalm 103:
He made known His ways to Moshe, His acts to the children of Yisra’ěl.Psalm 103:7
I shared in the Nugget Hearing God’s Voice #5 about the time when I got God’s leading wrong while being convinced I was right.
These are the verses clipped from that Nugget that struck me in reading Deuteronomy Chapter 8, with the parts in bold that God quickened to my heart:-
You shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years [two weeks], that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. He humbled you . . . that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD . . . Thus you are to know in your heart that the LORD your God was disciplining you just as a man disciplines his son.Deut 8:3-5
then your heart will become proud . . .Deut 8:14
Otherwise, you may say in your heart, ‘My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.’Deut 8:17
It was like God was speaking to my heart and emboldening verses to me off the page. Following that I turned to my New Testament reading in Luke 1. The first words I read were:
He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. He has brought down rulers from their thrones, And has exalted those who were humble.Luke 1:51-52
Are you getting it now? Does this verse come to mind?
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”Isaiah 55:8-9
I am sure you see the connection as I have over the years. God is not interested in making things smooth and easy going for us. He has a higher purpose in mind. Ultimately He wants to fashion the mind of Christ in us. Sound familiar? It should do. God knows our hearts just like God knew the hearts of the people of Israel before they set out from Egypt, during their time in the wilderness and afterwards. God wants to root out of us every contrary and fickle thing. So He ensures that our experiences become part of His learning process for us. That is the only way the experience of the Israelites in the wilderness can be explained in a way that makes sense.
Some of the names of the places they went through were named before they got there. Other places were named as a result of what happened there. It is fascinating how Rephidim was named ‘peaceful‘, ‘rest‘. Yet that place where God first supplied water in abundance became a place of quarrelling and testing. Horeb and the wilderness of Sinai bears the connotation of the place of desolation and barrenness. Yet Sinai is linked to [sineh] ‘bush’; the place where God first spoke to Moses. The Jews equate Sinai with the place where God’s glory was revealed and Moses face glowed radiantly. Yet their experience there was far from glorious. It too became one of their places of rebellion as I have shown you. These places had a way of drawing out of them the true nature of their heart and their own contrariness. I have shared with you a number of times how God has dealt with me and exposed to me and others, but primarily to me, the things that have been lurking in my heart. Surely that is the purpose of God’s ways in taking us all on the journeys we experience.
I assure you there is more of the same to come as we work our way through the remaining two places of rebellion: Hazeroth and Kadesh Barnea in the Wilderness of Paran. Oh there is more to unveil related to God’s way and His acts which expose the hearts and ways of His people for what they are. Stay with me.
For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for well-being, and not for calamity, in order to give you a future and a hope.Jeremiah 29:11
God will never leave us the way we are and He will never leave us bitter, only better; no matter what it takes.Ian
God makes better choices for us than we could have ever made for ourselves.Jennifer Hudson Taylor
When you realize God’s purpose for your life isn’t just about you, He will use you in a mighty way.Dr Tony Evans