Who died in the desert?

Major events of the Exodus

Major events of the Exodus

Questions seem to pop into my mind when I pray pretty often, usually instigating a scripture search and/or study. “Who died in the desert?” rattled around in my brain a day or two before I got out one of my Bibles and looked it up.

I knew it referred to the 40 years of wandering that Israel did after leaving Egypt and I felt sure I knew the answer. The ten doubting spies, of course.

Joshua and Caleb were the only spies who brought back a good report, the other ten brought back an evil report, so those ten weren’t allowed into the promised land. So, why the question?

The “rest of the story” was waiting for me to find.

All sorts of other questions came to me as I looked for that story. I kept getting sidetracked with all sorts of other interesting bits of information and questions to find answers for.

Was the wilderness truly a desert? Was there anything other than sand and rocks out there? Where was it, exactly? Were there any towns or villages, any trade routes, along the way? Why did they have to go through that particular wilderness, far south and later east of the Jordan River, instead of other wilderness areas?

Who all went along on the trip? Was it only Israelites? (No.) Or were there some Egyptians, some slaves, some other foreigners in the crowd? (Yes.)

What did they take with them? (Everything they owned, furniture, clothing, pots and pans, animals, etc.)

Were they poor? (No! They had been given the wealth of Eqypt – gold, silver, jewels, etc., etc.)

Was manna all they had to eat? (No – at first they had wheat and oil to make bread, though unleavened, plus lots of meat from all their livestock, sheep, goats, cattle.)

What did they house themselves in on the trip? (Hmmm – tents?)

I’m still reading, still looking, still getting sidetracked, still finding questions.

But that first question, who died in the desert – the doubters died in the desert. Everyone 20 years old and up who listened to the ten faithless spies and who grumbled and complained! It wasn’t just those ten faithless spies!

It was a multitude of men, and while those ten faithless spies died “now,” the other doubters died during the next 40 years, some sooner than others. Not until they were all dead could the children of Israel enter the promised land.

You’d think that after the ten faithless spies were killed for their griping at God that the other doubters would learn their lesson – but it doesn’t look like they did. They kept on finding fault, complaining and criticizing, and dying.

Start reading Numbers 14 and go backwards, like I did – or start with Exodus and go forward. It’s enlightening to say the least!

Lots of lessons in there that could apply to people today, aren’t there…

Who lives forever?

Who lives forever? Those who do the will of God, according to I John 2:17. Hmmm. “Do.” Not guess at, hope at, try to find out, but do. But what is that, the will of God? Ephesians 2:10 says there is work prepared in advance for us to do. That’s God’s agenda, itinerary, his “to do” list for us.

If you’re hired to do a job, you don’t go out and do your own thing. If you’re hired to be a painter, you paint. If you’re hired to be a plumber, you plumb. If you’re hired to be a typist, you type.

Suppose we worked at secular jobs the way we sometimes work God’s work? “Today I’ll plumb. I know I was hired to be a painter but today I think I’ll plumb.” Or, “Today I’ll paint. I know I was hired to type, but today I think I’ll paint.” How long until you’re fired?

The first part of Eph. 2:10 says that we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works. When God needed a painter, he created one and gave him the job of painting. When God needed a plumber, he created one and gave him the job of plumbing. When he needed a typist… you get the point. He has quite a long list of jobs that need doing on this planet, and he created the workers to do those jobs.

Sometimes people say they are trying to “find themselves.” They mean they are trying to find out who/what they are and what they are supposed to be doing. We may make fun of them, but that’s not a bad idea, really.

Whatever happened to The Testimony?

“The Testimony” is mentioned in connection with Moses receiving God’s law, his instructions to the children of Israel for worship, relationships and daily living. God wrote some things down on stone tablets and gave them to Moses, and Moses wrote some things down himself. Moses broke the first tablets and God had to re-write them. We’re familiar with that “Ten Commandments” story.

But what exactly was The Testimony? Interesting subject for study. Basically a testimony is someone’s account of something from their own personal, first-hand knowledge. A sworn statement of facts. The Testimony was God’s own sworn statement of facts, his own personal account from his own first-hand knowledge – of his own character.

Starting at Exodus chapter 19, there are dozens of “if” statements. If you do this, then I will do that, God said. And intermittently Moses went and told the people everything God had said up to that point. Every time, they agreed that they would abide by those “if’s.”

Moses wrote it all down, all the things God said and all the things the people agreed to. He was an educated man, literate, a detail-oriented historian. He was well equipped and well supplied to do this, and he did it. He may have been the only man in the thousands of them that could do it. These writings – The Testimony – went into the Ark of the Covenant.

But God knew they wouldn’t do any of those things. That’s why he planned Jesus from the beginning. And if they’d been honest with themselves and with Moses, they knew they wouldn’t do any of those things, too! Just look at their past, not to mention the lifestyle, culture and society they’d been living in.

I think what they didn’t know was God. His integrity, faithfulness to his word. His character. “What did God say? Well, he probably didn’t mean it.” They assumed this God of Moses would be just another run-of-the-mill god like those of the Egyptians. Whimsical or cruel? Real or imaginary? Who knows, but surely those rules Moses was handing out were like all other rules, meant to be broken. Right?

Bad assumption.

Some roots also have thorns

Dr. David Greenlee is OM’s International Research Associate. In a recent devotional article, he talks about roots of thorny weeds. He graciously grants permission for us to share these thoughts with others.

The roots of thorny problems
by Dr. David Greenlee

Roots and thorns have been on my mind a lot lately. We rented a garden plot near our apartment where my wife, a descendent of many generations of Swiss farmers, is demonstrating her green thumb. Even with that heritage, and long hours of clearing weeds before we planted anything, in several places thorny dandelion-like plants are springing up in an effort to resume their dominance of the land. What happened? Evidently the last gardeners didn’t deal with the root of these weeds – they just chopped things up and left the remains buried. Unfortunately for us, though, even a tiny length of this plant’s root can somehow revive itself and push up a nasty, thorny plant.

In one parable (Matthew 13:24-30) Jesus described a field vandalized by an enemy: a fruitful field had secretly also been sown with weed seeds. The results of the attack were only seen later and, because they looked so much like fruitful plants, could only be dealt with at the harvest. Just before that (Matthew 13:1-23), Jesus told a related story that describes the seed sown by a farmer and how well it grew in different kinds of soil. Much could be written about that parable (and has been). Some other time, for example, we might look at the seed sown on rocky soil, and explore the problem of shallow roots (Mark 4:16) in settings where young believers face serious opposition.

My current thoughts, though, center on the life-squeezing thorns (Matthew 13:7, 22). Jesus gives no explanation of their source (as distinct from the “weeds” in the other parable.) They are just there, part of the world and the environment in which seed is sown and people live-like the thorns challenging the vegetables in our garden! I have generally assumed that these thorns are like the “love of this world” that caused Demas to turn away (2 Timothy 4:10, 1 John 2:15-17). With the resources available to him as a member of Paul’s team (Philemon 24, Colossians 4:14), could he not have done something earlier to root out those thorns?

Two very different examples come to mind which are largely beyond the control of the new believer. Think of the economic system in which too many people live, both the poor of the Global South and marginalized immigrants in Europe: if a man or woman finds no time to read the Bible or find fellowship with other believers, one response is to encourage him or her to greater personal discipline. But, what can we do for precious believers, who initially sincerely desire to grow in faith, yet have been pressured into an oppressive ‘parallel labour market’ job that leaves them utterly exhausted and eventually saps their spiritual life? In some cases, the system leaves no other option.

In another setting I have observed, the thorn roots waiting to spring up were buried in the local church. European teens recently told me that their commitment to follow Jesus faded not due to pressure from non-Christians at school but because of the apathy of lukewarm ‘Christian’ teens and a general lack of support at the church they attended.

These two examples merit complex analysis. Briefly, though, I recognize that individual responsibility and an appropriate response in practical disciple-making are vital. However, as I have been in touch with people facing such problems, I wonder what more I and we the Church should do to not merely cut off the tops of the thorns but deal with the roots of the problems that keep springing up to choke these young believers.

I am not proposing details for action (and, in any case, I offer these as examples only; you can think of other thorny problems requiring different solutions.) But I wonder if, like the thorns in our garden, with hard work (and God’s help) we might find at least some success in rooting out the underlying problems that war against fruitful growth.

In our garden I try to follow my wife’s expert instruction to help fruitful plants find space to grow. In the same way, if the Lord of the Harvest gives us the tools and tells us where to dig, instead of just cutting off their tops, shouldn’t the Church be trying to root out thorns that threaten the fruitful growth of those who are coming to faith? ?
David Greenlee
Comments by Bette Cox:

As I thought about Dr. Greenlee’s remarks above, I recalled my adventures pulling skinny, treacherous vines out of overgrown azalea bushes some years ago. Those half-wood, half-steel seeming tendrils had sharp, narrow thorns every inch or so. Thick work gloves were necessary indeed. After tracing one particularly entrenched vine all the way to the ground, cutting and removing segments as I went, I had to begin digging.

That’s when I discovered – some roots have thorns! I dug, pulled, removed, dug, pulled, removed until finally I just gave up. The roots went in all directions, and occasionally when I tightened my grip on a tough section, one of those fish hook-like thorns penetrated my gloves. I got enough of that vicious vine out of the azaleas to satisfy me, but I could almost hear that thing mocking my efforts. “I’ll be back…!”

That’s the way it is with some bad habits, some tendencies of ours to do what we know is wrong or simply not wise. Isn’t it? Takes more than the normal effort to root out some of that stuff. But if we don’t, it’ll be back…