By David A. DePra
If we compare the two times that God brought Israel to the point of entry into the Promised Land we will gain a valuable insight into the Truth that these events represent in our Christian walk.
The first time God brought Israel to the Promised Land they refused to enter. They sent in spies and concluded that the heathen living in that land were too strong for them. They were in unbelief. Forty years later, God brought them to the land for the second time and again they sent in spies. The heathen were as strong as ever. But nevertheless, Israel did enter by faith. What had changed? Why did they enter the land NOW, when they had refused to enter 40 years prior?
Well, we will get to what had changed in a moment. But first, let us realize what was the SAME about these two situations. Obviously, God had not changed. He never does. And His purpose had not changed for Israel. That is why He brought them back to the land He had chosen for them. Even if everyone is unfaithful to God, God is faithful to everyone – He will not abandon His purpose for them.
Secondly, the land had not changed. It was the same land God had promised to Israel, going all the way back to Abraham. Thirdly, as noted, the same heathen tribes were living in the land during the days of Joshua when Israel did enter the land by faith, as had been living in the land 40 years prior when Israel had refused to enter. God had not driven them out. If anything, they were as strong as ever. Fourthly, the only way in which Israel could enter the land and begin to take possession was by FAITH. Faith in God – this alone would always be the basis upon which they had to enter the land, and then live in it to God’s glory.
All of those things were the SAME despite the passing of forty years. But what had changed? Israel had changed. Forty years prior they refused to believe and trust God. Yet now, forty years later, despite the fact that not a single thing had changed about the obstacles to God’s purpose for them, they entered into the land by faith and began to take possession. Israel had changed from having an evil heart of unbelief, over to that of a heart of faith – indeed, the entire generation of rebellious unbelievers had died out in the wilderness. Now there was faith enough to enter into the inheritance God had given them.
The Purpose of the Wilderness
The only change that had occurred in those forty years had occurred in Israel – more specifically, in their relationship with God. Everything and everyone else was exactly the same as it was forty years before. Israel alone had changed. Unbelief had given way to faith. That was what God was after.
Now, what do we suppose changed Israel? Well, ask – what happened during those forty years? The WILDERNESS happened. Their experience in the wilderness made it possible for them to eventually enter the land God had given them.
So often we think that God’s judgment upon them was nothing more than a temper tantrum on His part, or maybe was punitive punishment. Few of us seem to realize that the purpose of God’s judgment – the purpose of the forty years in the wilderness – was to do a work in them whereby their unbelief would be purged and replaced by faith – all done by God so that He could bring them into the land by faith.God is a redemptive God. The wilderness was redemptive in nature. It was God’s judgment upon Israel – upon their unbelief — that made it possible for all of God’s promises to be brought to pass.
Now, we must be clear about something here: The purpose of the wilderness was NOT to make Israel strong and confident so that they could enter the land and overcome the enemies. It was not to make them into spiritual giants who could now qualify and meet God’s standards. No. In fact, the purpose was to make them absolutely weak and dependent upon God. It was to make them as little children. Then, and only then, could they, and would they, enter the land by faith.
What is a wilderness? It is a place void of resources. When you are in a wilderness you do not have what you need, and there is no place to get it. That puts you at God’s mercy. Thus, the wilderness is the experience wherein we discover the TRUTH – we are nothing. And there is nothing we can do to be anything before the Lord. This will continually face us with a choice: Do we accuse God and try to fend for ourselves? Or do we fall upon the mercy and grace of God and realize that this is all orchestrated to bring us to the end of ourselves so that we might rest solely upon Him by faith.
We could talk all day about material resources. But what about spiritual resources? Have we yet learned there is NOTHING in us? That without Christ we are a as barren as a dead wilderness? Well, it is the wilderness that God uses to show us this Truth.
Now note again: The wilderness doesn’t make us weak. It shows us that we have been weak all along – any other idea was a deception. The wilderness brings out all the Truth – but unto the redemptive end that we might trust the living God.
Two Expressions of Unbelief
There are two ways in which we betray our lack of faith in God – in which we betray a disguised faith that is in ourselves. First, we could walk around thinking we are strong. Christians by the millions continue to think that they stand before God on the basis of something about themselves, or on the basis of what they are doing. That is the more obvious deception. But secondly, we could walk around whining about our weakness. Those of us who do the latter are simply expressing a frustrated faith in ourselves – we want to be strong in ourselves but are not. So we say, “Woe is me. I am unable.”
True faith doesn’t focus on ourselves at all. This isn’t about whether I am strong or weak. It isn’t about ME at all. It is about whether I believe and depend upon God. And the fact is, I will not believe and depend upon God until He puts me through a wilderness – a wilderness wherein I am stripped of all of my fake strength, and all of my fake weakness, and exposed as being truly weak and dependent before God. Then I can believe and depend upon God.
Jesus said that if we want to come after Him that we need to pick up our cross daily and LOSE our lives into His hands – only then will we find true life in Him. The core of this is that we must lose self-ownership. But self-ownership often manifests just here: In our continual attempts to be good enough for God. We may not think it is self-ownership, but it is exactly that. We are taking ourselves in hand and trying to make ourselves be, not what He wants, but what WE want. To lose yourself into the hands of Jesus means that because I believe Him I leave myself alone. What else do we think the word LOSE means? You take your hands off of yourself and abandon yourself to Christ.
Examine why Israel would not enter the land. It was because they believed the enemies in that land were too much for them to overcome. And you know, they were right! Weren’t they? Sure. Israel did not stand a chance of driving out those tribes. But notice: They used their weakness as an occasion for unbelief – saying that God was unfair for putting them into this impossible situation.
What did God say to them? Was He unaware of their weakness and sin? Is He unaware of our weakness and sin today? Of our utter unworthiness to enter into the fullness of Christ and to abide in Him? Hardly. He is the One who has showed it to us. What God says to us is this: Enter into the fullness of Christ ANYWAYS.
That is grace – it is grace based on the finished work of Christ. Jesus Christ is the source of all redemption, forgiveness, and life. You cannot even so much as get started in freedom from your problems until you enter and abide in Him. That being the case, what folly it is to think that you must somehow fix yourself up FIRST in order to enter into His fullness.
In effect, we must abide in Christ by faith DESPITE our sins and weaknesses – solely on the basis of HIM – if there is to be any freedom from those same sins and weaknesses. Abide FIRST in Christ – enter in ANYWAYS – and His life and His Truth will come into your experience.Can we now see why we must leave ourselves alone and enter into Christ ANYWAYS? What do we think we are going to do about ourselves that will make us worthy to enter into Christ? God offers all things freely in His Son – despite all of our faults. The real sin is that of UNBELIEF – we won’t enter because we think we aren’t good enough. As noted – this is nothing more than disguised faith in self. It is a self-righteousness that exalts ourselves above the Christ who died for us.
Do you want to be guided into all Truth? Well, here is the Truth: There is nothing in you. Nothing. Only in Christ is their strength – His strength. But while it is easy to agree with this in principle, to be guided INTO all Truth means we have to experience it to the point where it is our life in Christ. The Christian walk is one of absolutely weakness in ourselves, but continual faith in Christ for everything.
We think God wants to make of us spiritual giants. Instead, He wants little children. Thus, God will put us into a wilderness to expose the Truth about us – we are weak, have nothing, and can do nothing. But if we learn the Truth, this will not produce misery over ourselves. It will produce rejoicing. We will rejoice in our weakness because along with it will come a inward realization of Jesus Christ as our strength, and as the sole object of our faith.
Absolutely nothing changed about the land during those forty years that Israel was in the wilderness. God didn’t’ change a thing. But Israel was changed – from a people who sought strength in themselves — and yet were in unbelief towards God — over to those who were gladly weak in themselves — yet strong in faith towards God. In effect, Israel then entered into the land ANYWAYS – despite the million reasons they could give for being unable.
Truth for Us
Can we see the application for us? It really is quite encouraging. We could give any number of reasons why entering into and taking possession of what God has for us in Christ seems absurd. Satan, circumstances, and certainly our own flesh are all formidable – these will contradict all that God has promised. But does God change our circumstances before we can enter by faith? No. Does He come down and eradicate all of our sins, bad habits, and inability to overcome BEFORE He tells us to enter by faith? No. Does He bind Satan? No. Rather, despite the many reasons we might give as to why we cannot enter into the fullness of Christ – our inability and our failings – God says, “Enter by faith ANYWAYS. That is why Christ died. Christ is the victory.”
The Promised Land in the OT is a type and shadow of our inheritance in the NT – which is, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col. 1:27) Jesus Christ is our inheritance – and then because of Christ, our inheritance includes all that is IN CHRIST. God has given us ALL THINGS FREELY in His Son. (see Rom.8:32) This not only means that ALL that God has for us is given in the Person of His Son, but it also means that there is NOTHING God has for us that is outside of Christ. Sure. We are complete in Him – and in Him dwells the fullness of Deity. (Col. 2:8-10)
So what all of this really teaches us is that there is no valid excuse for not moving forward with Christ into His purposes. He will deal with any problems that need to be dealt with – not before we believe and enter – but because we believe and enter. Again – God knows how weak and unable we are. Yet He says, “I know all about your failings. Enter on the basis of Christ ANYWAYS.”
God inspired Hebrews to exhort:
4 Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. 2 For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. 3 For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said,“As I swore in my wrath,‘They shall not enter my rest,’” although his works were finished from the foundation of the world.