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“That We Might Have Hope” (Rom. 15:4)

Exodus Chapters Thirty-two Through Forty and Numbers Chapters Six Through Twenty-one

Idolatry And Rebellion: 40 Years Of Mercy

“How could they have been so foolish!” I don’t know how many times this thought has crossed my mind as I’ve studied the Old Testament children of Israel. As I have matured under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, now I say, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

How Could They?!?

God was on that mountain! No one would deny that! It was just forty days earlier that the children of Israel had seen the LORD descend like a fire and smoke ascend as from a furnace. They had witnessed the thunderings and lightnings, felt the earth shake, and heard the blast of the trumpet. They had all fled before the face of God. Their mediator, Moses, had disappeared into that forbidding cloud. How long ago all of that seemed now! Now who was going to lead?

The children of Israel not only found a new leader, but a new religion as well. The new leader was the golden calf, and how much better this leader was than that old Moses! After all, the people had a hand in creating this leader. They even had to sacrifice a little to create it by bringing their gold and jewelry. This leader wouldn’t push them around, making so many laws and rules as that Moses had done.

This new religion even came complete with its own “prophet”. Aaron was an all too willing partner in this sin against God and His people. In cowardly fashion he gave in to the people’s wishes and delivered their new god to them. Then he tried to gloss it over by declaring the next day as “a feast day to the LORD.”

How could they? How could they fall so far, so fast? Before we judge, let us consider our advantages over the children of Israel. We too have seen God. Through the eyes of faith we have walked through the Red Sea. We too have stood at the foot of Mount Sinai and heard God’s thunderings and heard His laws. More importantly, we have stood–through the eyes of faith–on Mount Calvary. We have seen our Savior from sin bleed and die in our place. We have witnessed His glorious resurrection! God’s entire plan of salvation including its glorious completion, all has been recorded for us by His Holy Spirit. His Word! More sure than the ground we stand on! Here for guidance, comfort, consolation, and encouragement!

So what’s our excuse for often letting idols be built in our lives? How many “golden calves” of pride and self-righteousness, greed or lovelessness, self-indulgence or faithlessness have we allowed to come between our Lord and our own hearts? We need to turn to our Savior in His Word for the forgiveness and guidance we need.

Confession Is Good For The Soul

Soon the children of Israel were on the move again. Onward to the Promised Land! They had to wait for forty days on the outskirts of Canaan for the report of the twelve spies. Who would have thought they’d bring back bad news! Oh, to be sure it was a land “flowing with milk and honey,” but the people! “We’ll never be able to take them in a fight,” ten of the spies declare. The people were horrified. How could God have let us down so! They were ready to kill Moses and Aaron, choose a new leader, and head back through the wilderness.

Joshua and Caleb stood firm. God has led us here. He has promised us this land. What is stopping us from taking it? The people were now ready to kill them all and the LORD Himself intervened.

This is when God blessed the children of Israel with their wandering in the wilderness. Blessed? We know that God “cursed” the children of Israel with forty years of wandering in the wilderness. He told them that they would get what they had feared for their children. Their bodies would drop in the wilderness. Wandering about, a people without a land, a nation without a country. We have to admit that hardly sounds like a blessing. Yet, the LORD is more ready to bless than to curse.

What did the children of Israel gain by not being allowed to enter the land of Canaan? They gained the realization that sin against the LORD is not without consequence. They had the opportunity to learn that confession of our sins can free our soul even if the outward conditions of our lives do no change. They also continued to receive the LORD’s tender care through His servant Moses and the bread from heaven. They also had the opportunity to instruct their children to not make the same mistakes they had made, and yet to remember there is forgiveness with the LORD.

Lord, dismiss us with Thy blessing Fill our hearts with joy and peace. Let us each, Thy love possessing, Triumph in redeeming grace. Oh, refresh us, oh, refresh us Trav’ling through this wilderness! (TLH 50:1)

— David Bernthal