The Wilderness Wanderings




In our last lesson the children of Israel were about to leave Egypt to begin 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. After the ten plagues, Pharaoh agreed to let them depart. Before leaving, they ate a final feast called the Passover and then began their march out of Egypt, 600,000 men plus families. Coming to the Red Sea, they looked back. To their dismay they saw that Pharaoh had changed his mind and had sent his army to return them to bondage. Seeing their distress, God instructed Moses to stretch out his hand over the sea. As he did so, the water divided and Israel marched through on dry land with water on both sides. Paul says they were also under a cloud and that they " were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea" (1 Corinthians 10:2). Their baptism into Moses was thus a complete immersion in the cloud and in the sea. Consequently it was a type of the baptism commanded by Christ which is an immersion or burial in water. (See Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12.)


The Egyptians tried to follow Israel, but when the Israelites reached the other side, Moses stretched out his hand once more and the sea closed up destroying the Egyptians. After 400 years of bondage, the children of Israel were at last free. For several weeks they marched southeast through the desert. During this period they murmured against Moses for want of food and water. In response God gave them birds called quails and a kind of bread called manna to satisfy their hunger (Exodus 16). To quench their thirst Moses struck a rock from which water came out (Exodus 17). In this we have an example of God's providence in caring for His children.

Finally, the people reached Mt. Sinai at the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula. Moses climbed the mountain to receive from God the law which was to guide the Israelites until the death of Christ. God gave Moses two tablets of stone upon which He wrote with His own hand the ten commandments. Forty days after Moses had ascended the mountain he returned to discover that his brother Aaron had, at the insistence of the people, made a golden calf for them to worship! How short our memories sometimes are! Here was a people who turned to idolatry only a few weeks after their God had delivered them from slavery. So angry was Moses that he broke the tablets of stone and forced the people to drink the water into which he scattered the ground-up powder of the golden calf. Three thousand of the Israelites were killed that day for their idolatry.

Once more Moses climbed Mt. Sinai to commune with God for another 40 days. The tablets of stone were renewed and further portions of God's law for Israel were revealed to Moses. Moses, in turn, communicated to the people this law which we know as The Law of Moses.


The Law of Moses was to govern Israel for 1500 years from its proclamation to the death Jesus Christ. This period of time is known as the Mosaic Age, (sometimes Jewish Age), taking its name from the great lawgiver. The age before Moses is the Patriarchal Age; that after the death of Christ is the Christian Age. All of man's history falls into one of these three periods.

The Law, which is recorded in portions of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, covered virtually every phase of the life of the Israelites. It had civil, criminal, and judicial regulations. It governed the religious activities of the priests and the people, and set the moral standards by which they were to live.

Underlying the entire Law of Moses were the ten commandments. These moral precepts dealt with (1) man's duties to God and (2) man's duties to his fellowmen. All of them, except for the fourth commandment ("Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy") are repeated in some form in the teachings of Christ and His apostles. We are to keep these nine that have been repeated, not because they were a part of Moses' Law, but because they have been made a part of Christ's. The Law of Moses as such has been done away by the death of Christ (see Colossians 2:14) and we are not obliged to keep it today. The command to keep the Sabbath or seventh day (Saturday) has not been repeated in the New Testament. Instead, we are to worship on the Lord's day or first day (Sunday). (See Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2; Revelation 1:10.)

The Law of Moses provided for three annual feasts. They were (1) Feast of Passover or Unleavened Bread which came at the beginning of the grain harvest, about April -- a memorial of Israel's deliverance from Egypt; (2) Feast of Weeks or Pentecost, kept on the 50th day after the Passover at the end of the grain harvest; (3) Feast of Tabernacles or Ingathering which came in the fall at the final harvest and which lasted seven days during which the Israelites lived in booths made of tree limbs in memory of their wilderness wandering.

God commanded the erection of a tabernacle, a small portable tent, to be used as a place of worship during the wanderings. It had two parts -- the holy place and the most holy place or holy of holies. Into the former only the priests might enter and into the latter only the high priest on the Day of Atonement to offer a sacrifice on behalf of his own sins and those of the people.

Priests were selected from the tribe of Levi and their duties were established by the law. These included the offering of animal sacrifices for the people's sins. Chief of these were (1) burnt offerings, symbolic of entire dedication to God; (2) peace offerings, an expression of thanksgiving to God; (3) sin offerings, an acknowledgment of man's defilement by sin.


After the institution of the Law, Moses sent twelve spies into the land of Canaan. This was the former home of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the land which God had promised to their seed. The twelve reported that it was a land flowing with "milk and honey", but that the inhabitants were so strong that it was unwise to try to conquer it. Only Caleb and Joshua disagreed, urging the people to believe that with God's help they could conquer the land. But the majority prevailed and for it's disbelief God compelled Israel to wander for 40 years in the wilderness. Of all the men who left Egypt, only Caleb and Joshua reached the promised land.

We do not know much about the rest of this forty-year period. Israel wandered nomadically from place to place in the Sinai Peninsula. It is during this period that we have such stories as the rebellion of Aaron and Miriam (Moses' sister) against Moses, and the leprosy of Miriam as a result (Numbers 12); the biting of the people by serpents and their healing when they looked upon the bronze serpent (Numbers 21); and the account of the effort of King Balak of the Moabites to get the prophet Baalam to curse Israel (Numbers 22-24).

During the wilderness wandering Moses committed his great sin -- striking the rock instead of speaking to it as commanded by God, and in so doing, assuming personal credit for the miracle of water which poured out. For this he was not allowed to enter the promised land. Shortly before Israel crossed the Jordan River to enter Canaan, Moses climbed Mt. Nebo to look into the promised land. His mission completed, he died at the age of 120 and was buried by the Lord. The entire story of the wilderness wanderings may be found starting with Exodus 13 and concluding with the book of Deuteronomy.

July 22, 1997(5)

The Conquest Of Canaan



We concluded the previous lesson with Israel just east of the Jordan River, ready to enter the promised land. Moses was dead and Joshua was now in charge of the conquest of Canaan and the settlement to follow. The story of these events is related in the book of Joshua which may be divided as follows: (1) conquering Canaan, chapters 1 to 12; (2) dividing the land among the tribes of Israel, chapters 13 to 22; (3) Joshua's farewell address, chapters 23 and 24.

In the path of Joshua's army lay the great walled city of Jericho. Joshua selected two spies who slipped into the city and were given sanctuary by Rahab the prostitute. When they were discovered she aided them in their escape. Because of her favor to the people of God, her life was spared when Jericho later fell to Israel.

Having received a favorable report from the spies, the Israelites were certain that God would deliver the enemy into their hands. They prepared to cross the flood-swollen Jordan River, reminded by Joshua how God had delivered them forty years before as they passed through the Red Sea (Joshua 4:23). Now, history repeated itself, and while the Lord restrained the water, they "passed over on dry ground" (Joshua 3.) Once safely across the river, they set up two memorials of their crossing of twelve stones each - one in the bed of the river and the other on the dry land west of the Jordan.

The first obstacle for Israel to overcome was the city of Jericho. God commanded the people to march around the city for seven days and when they had done all that he had commanded, the walls fell and the city was conquered. Modern archaeologists have discovered remarkable testimony of this event. True to the Biblical account they have found that the walls fell outward down the hillside rather than inward as would have been true had battering rams been used.

The next city before Israel was Ai, small in comparison with Jericho. But Joshua and his people were soundly defeated because of the sin of an Israelite named Achan. He had taken what did not belong to him and brought defeat on God's people (Joshua 7). This was a terrible lesson that God will not tolerate sin among His children! Achan was punished with death and Ai was then easily conquered. So frightened were the neighboring people of Gibeon that they made peace with Israel. This, in turn, so angered the surrounding nations that five Amorite kings went out in battle against Gibeon. The resulting encounter (Joshua 10) between the five kings on one side, and Israel and Gibeon on the other was one of the world's historic battles. God made the sun and moon stand still that His people might be victorious. The enemy was soundly beaten and the way was opened for the conquest of Canaan which followed. In this conquest, 31 kings fell to the surging forces of Israel.

Having conquered Canaan, the tribes of Israel now cast lots for the territory they were to possess. Gad, Rueben, and half of the tribe of Manasseh had already been allotted territory east of the Jordan. The Levites were given 48 cities. Six cities of refuge were provided for those who had accidentally killed someone. Eighty-five-year-old Caleb, one of the twelve spies, was rewarded with a special inheritance. The tabernacle was set up at Shiloh where it was to remain for several hundred years. With the people now settled in the land of promise, Joshua assembled them at Shechem for his farewell address in which he exhorted them to be faithful to God. He closed with the words, "But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD" (Joshua 24:15). Having thus exhorted the people, Joshua died at the age of 110.


After Joshua's death, Israel was left without any organized government. The twelve tribes which had cooperated so closely in conquering Canaan now went their separate ways. During the next 300 years Israel seven times apostatized, turning to idol gods. Seven times the Lord sent foreign oppressors upon them to bring repentance, and when they did repent, seven times He sent them deliverers called judges. The power wielded by these judges (there were 15 in all) was more that of a shepherd than a king. They were the liberators who guided the people in time of need. They sat in judgment over differences which arose among their people. Some of them judged only part of Israel; at times there was no judge at all. The spirit of the period is best conveyed in the expression, "In those days Israel had no king; EVERYONE DID AS HE SAW FIT" (Judges 17:6).

Why did the Israelites so often apostatize? There are several reasons. (1) The people around them worshipped idols. They desired to be like their neighbors. (2) The generation which conquered Canaan died, and succeeding generations forgot how God had delivered their fathers. (3) Israel had no strong leader such as Moses or Joshua to keep them faithful to God. The people, doing what was right in their own eyes, sought to please themselves rather than God. Again and again they forsook Him, only to cry out for help when they were chastised.




Of some of the judges we are told little, but of others we know quite a bit. DEBORAH, who judged jointly with BARAK, was the only woman judge (Judges 4, 5). Gideon with 300 chosen men defeated the whole Midianite army (Judges 7). One of the greatest judges was JEPHTHAH, who nevertheless made a foolish vow to sacrifice to God that which he first met coming out his house as he returned home from battle. To his great sorrow, it was his daughter (Judges 11). And we all remember the story of SAMSON who with his great physical strength single-handedly sought to defeat the Philistines (Judges 14-16). The last and greatest judge was SAMUEL who was promised to God by his mother Hannah before his birth. He brought integrity to his people and prepared the way for a united Israel. Read the entire book of Judges to study the history of this era.


The story of the period of the judges would not be complete without some notice of the book of Ruth, which some call the greatest love story of all time. It is the account of a young Moabite woman who left her own people to follow her mother-in-law Naomi to a new home in a distant land. Ruth eventually met and married Boaz to become the great grandmother of David and an ancestress of Christ - a Gentile in the lineage of our Savior! Read the whole book. It will take you only a short time and you will find it well worth your while.

July 22, 1997 (6)

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