Forty Days or Forty Years?

A painting by Krzysztof Lubieniecki of Moses striking water from a stone

Josh, an avid explorer and amateur archeologist, decided to act on his old desire to travel to the Middle East. He wanted to view some of the past along with some of the more recent archeological excavations in the region, and even hoped to do some digs himself along the way.

He asked his archeology classmates to join him, and six of them committed to the project. Less than eight months later, Josh and his team found themselves in the Middle East, on their way to a well-developed archeological work near the southwestern portion.

After spending many days both observing and working with professional archeologists, Josh decided that he and the team should move on to their own project some distance away. They all packed up their gear, said their farewells and headed out from the camp, excited yet reluctant. They had met many who were familiar with the area that considered Josh’s intentions and departure with skepticism. But he remained confident that he and the team could fulfill their mission in around four days.

Two days into the trip, Kathy, one of the less experienced members, began to grumble about how the ‘place’ Josh kept speaking of seemed to be farther and farther away.

Then Julio, a seasoned archeological student, came to his defense when he remarked that all the surrounding terrain looked very similar, and they should not give up so soon.

Their fears were allayed when Josh came across the first stop on their journey through the wilderness. The dig he found was small, but they were able to unearth several artifacts that might have come from King David’s era. The team cheered over their find, but the following morning, a few of their provisions ran out, and so did their enthusiasm.

That afternoon, they come across a small pool of water with a few trees nearby. One team member was elated, and he hurried over, quickly removed his boots, and walked into the water. But he had no sooner entered before wild shrieks burst forth. Josh rushed over as the man raced out of the water, only to find snakes—dozens in all sizes—moving rapidly toward him. After fleeing quickly away, Josh and the team packed as fast as they could and fled the area before anyone was bitten.

Day four arrived with no fanfare at all. In fact, most of the team was dismayed and disappointed. Kathy went into another tirade of murmuring and complaining. As she walked all around their camp, she made known her disgust and unbelief. When she became unable to restrain herself any longer, she confronted Josh face-to-face about their current predicament.

“Okay, Mr. Intrepid Explorer, where is this wonderful place you keep leading us on about? It has been four days, actually eight if you include the main archeological base, since we left the airport. What have we found? Rock and sand, tons of both, and a few artifacts! I thought the archeologists and locals way back there were wrong in their skepticism about us coming out this way. But now I’m in full agreement with them!”

Another team member came up right beside her, yelling, “Yeah, it was pleasant at that camp, and at least somebody was finding artifacts, not wandering around aimlessly in temperatures that would not only fry an egg, but dehydrate and package it for shipping, too! Where are all these water holes and the huge oases you told us about on the plane?”

Josh responded hesitantly with a vague answer. Then he wandered away and climbed up a small mountain passageway and looked toward heaven, wondering what to do next. An hour later, he concluded that continuing forward would be best, hoping the site would soon appear. After much effort, he eventually convinced the team to go on rather than going back, especially considering all the snakes in the pond earlier. So off they went with only a little more than half of their supplies remaining, and no end to their journey in sight.

photo of Sinai desert
Image by Sabine Kulau on PIxabay

Their high expectations continued to turn to disappointment and despair as day after day dragged by. They soon gave up and cried out to God for help. But no sooner did He provide, then they would take Him for granted again and begin complaining and wandering around. Before long Kathy arrived at an awful conclusion, saying: “Hey! We passed that rock formation a week ago. Way over on the right is the pool with the snakes! This means that, for over a month, we’ve been going around in a circle! Josh, how could you and your God let this happen to us?”

A scenario like this really did happen in the Middle East several thousand years ago, when the Israelites were led out of Egypt, across the Red Sea, and into the wilderness.

God intended for them to pass through the land in less than forty days, but they trudged on for forty years instead. Like the exploring team in this story, they had been going around and around in a circle.

They would not trust God. They wanted to go back to the land God had just delivered them from. They’d cry out to God for help. As soon as He provided, when the next test of their trust in Him came, they would murmur and complain all over again. They repeatedly took God for granted, and ended up going around in yet another circle. They finally reached a point where God could not let them into the land promised to them, because they no longer believed that He could help them. They would rather go back into the bondage of Egypt than trust God.

It wasn’t until sometime later that God said to the next generation of Israelites: “Ye have compassed this mountain long enough: turn you northward” (Deuteronomy 2:3). Going “northward” meant to finally travel into the land that God had promised them forty years earlier.

This account of the Israelites’ journey in the wilderness spiritually parallels our walk with God as believers in Him. God will deliberately lead us into what we consider to be a wasteland, in order to break us of our reliance on self, and bring us into dependence on Him. The problem comes when we don’t allow God to work in our lives. We want to have everything on our terms and conditions. As a result, we frustrate and hinder His efforts and, in the end, we take Him for granted.

Multitudes around the world are compassing a mountain right now, and will continue to do so until they yield to God.

He doesn’t want us to remain this way any more than we do. But, as long as we complain and murmur against Him and what He has done for us, our time spent wandering aimlessly will grow longer and longer.

Let’s not reach the point of the first generation of Israelites and be denied entrance into the Promised Land due to continual unbelief. Let’s obey as God commanded and “turn you northward” out of the wilderness and into His Kingdom. Our trust has to be in Him, not in ourself. Don’t let a forty day journey turn into forty years!

Additional image credits: Opening Image by Krzysztof Lubieniecki from National Museum in Warsaw through Wikimedia Commons on Picryl (Public Domain Mark)