Israel of old simply couldn't remain zealous — quickly departed from God. Throughout forty years of wandering, they learned few lessons. Israel failed in struggle after straggle. But God had their biography written up for us. Read their story, their disobediences — and learn how to avoid the same problems!
"SUMMERTIME and the livin' is easy..." "That lucky old sun, ain't got nuthin' to do but roll around heaven all day..." These two old-time favorites illustrate a state of mind that can be very dangerous for a Christian to have! It's an alarming snare especially during summertime.
The weather's hot and muggy. It's vacation time. School's out. That two week paid vacation is coming due. You look forward to summer. It's time for travel and fun. Nothing especially wrong — but all this can expose us to carnal traps. It is very easy to allow ourselves a vacation from living a dynamic Christian life. And after all, what does vacation mean? Simply "emptiness." It means to "vacate" — to empty the mind, to escape! It means idleness. God warns us constantly against falling into an idle, empty, escapist, lackadaisical, fun-enthralled attitude.
Watch Spiritual Slackness
About one third of the churches mentioned by name in the New Testament had a problem of letting down, taking a vacation from Christianity, becoming spiritually lethargic. The congregations at Laodicea were neither cold or hot. They simply drifted along like that "lucky old sun." The church at Ephesus had lost its first love. Sardis was plain dead! The apostle Paul was amazed how soon the Galatian congregations were removed from the truth. They simply let down and allowed others to deceive them. The Corinthians were yet carnal. Why is there so much written about spiritual stagnancy and negligence in the Bible? Why does Christ command us to "WATCH AND PRAY ALWAYS, that we may be accounted worthy to escape." Why the parable of the ten virgins? Why the parable of the sower and those that fell on either stony ground or among thorns? Simply because letting down, vacationing spiritually, getting the doldrums is a weakness COMMON to all men! Being lackadaisical is doing what comes naturally. It's easy anytime! But it's a lot easier to let down in summer. Amazingly enough, most of the disobediences, the rebellions, the lack of faith, the griping, the losing of true goals by the children of Israel during their wilderness wandering HAPPENED IN THE SPRING AND SUMMER! That's a most dangerous time. It's interesting that God gives us a Festival in the spring, one in early summer, three in late summer or early fall. Almost as though it were planned to bolster us up BEFORE summer doldrums. Then to lift us OUT OF them after the hot summer months.
The Wilderness Drifters
If any people were drifters, the children of Israel in the wilderness were perfect examples. If ever any people were quickly removed from the truth, it was Israel. Remember, they were called the "CHURCH [ekklesia, congregation] in the wilderness" (Acts 7:38). Is God trying to tell us something? Is he trying to point out that we can learn a great lesson from that wandering? Absolutely so! "Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; "And did all eat the same spiritual meat; and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. "But with many of them God was not well pleased; for they were overthrown in the wilderness... now all these things happened unto them for examples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. "Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed LEST HE FALL" (I Corinthians 10:1-12). True, Israel was completely carnal. True, we have the spirit of God. But we are still human as they were. We are susceptible to the same problems! They had Christ in person! They saw His miracles! But it didn't do any good — at least not for any length of time! Israel repented — the people were sorry — for a little while. Then they lapsed into complaining and murmuring once again. Why? Simply because they were spiritual Laodiceans. They saw God in the picture for a moment. Perhaps were able to grasp for an atom of a second His purpose. But they quickly forgot. The same thing can happen to us. We're still physical beings. Remember we'll have human nature until we die. But we should be growing in grace and in the power of God — to counteract and put down the evils of our flesh.
The Wilderness Wandering
Very quickly, let's take a journey with the children of Israel. Let's comprehend their problem. Let's realize what God is trying to tell us by their example. Then, avoid the same mistakes Israel carelessly made. In Exodus 12, 13, and 14 we read how the children of Israel came out of Egypt with a high hand. They left sin. As they left, Israel was figuratively baptized in the Red Sea. This pictures a Christian coming out of sin and being baptized. In Exodus 15, Israel was jubilant and exulting. "Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the Lord, and spake, saying, I will sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea. "The Lord is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation: HE IS my GOD" (verses 1, 2). Read through verse 19 for the rest of this song. Here was great understanding! Here was real trust in God! How typical of a Christian when he first comes out of sin. But what happened to Israel? They QUICKLY fell from this belief in God.
The Great Gripers
Israel came out in the fifteenth day of the first month. This corresponds to our March/April. One month later, Israel had become so spiritually lax, they fell from the depths of understanding they seemed to grasp at Passover time. "The children of Israel came into the wilderness of Sin... on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departing out of the land of "And the whole congregation of the children of Israel MURMURED against Moses aid Aaron" (Exodus 16:1, 2 ). They were hungry. Their one thought was, "Let's rush back to the Egyptian flesh pots." Within a month's time — in early summer (April/May) they had already forgotten God. How long does it take you to forget all the wonders God has done for you? That's one reason why God instituted the Sabbath every seven days. We need constant reminders, constant exhortation, constant encouraging to get "back to the faith once delivered." That's why summer can be so dangerous. Filled with idleness, vacationing, separated from the influences that help you to grow spiritually — it poses a threat to your conversion. God gave Israel manna to eat. After about a week, they began their journey again. Israel continued to murmur and complain. This time they didn't have water (Ex. 17:2, 3). God gave them water to drink. In the third month after coming out of Egypt (Exodus 19:1) they came to Sinai. It was around Pentecost. God was going to make a covenant with his people. "And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the Lord commanded him. "And all the people answered together, and said, all that the Lord hath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the Lord" (Exodus 19:7, 8). Once again, Israel seemed ready to go all the way with God. They had God's conditions rehearsed in their ears. They had "counted the cost" and had decided to obey God. God gave Israel the ten commandments and various judgments (Exodus 20-23). Again, how interesting a parallel with each of our lives when we first step out to obey God. We are ready to obey God at any cost — no matter what the terms.
Shortly after Pentecost (May/June) Moses was called up to the Mount of God for forty days. It was a period of trial for Israel. How would they fare? Would they lose their first love! Would they grow lukewarm or cold? The time was approximately June/July. The weather was hot. There wasn't much to do. Idleness plagued the camp of Israel. No doubt they began to think of the "good times" (Only a fool thinks that the "good old days" were better — Eccl. 7:10). They began to let their minds wander and think about their old religious practices, their old friends, their old habits. They forgot the pact they made with God — with just a month or less gone by. Spiritual laxness led to disobedience. "And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, "Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him" (Exodus 32:1). So they sat down to eat, to drink — and to play. They took a vacation from Christ. God punished Israel. Once again they repented. You can read the account in Exodus 33. "And all the people saw the cloudy pillar stand at the tabernacle door; and all the people rose up and worshipped" (verse 10).
Mind On Work
Moses went up into the mount again. As soon as he returned Moses put Israel to work on the tabernacle. Once again, Israel seemed to be repentant. They really put their heart into the work. Again, a lesson for us. If we're really concerned, praying for and doing our part in God's Work — we won't become spiritually lazy. As Mr. Armstrong has said, "Our spiritual condition can be measured by how much our hearts are in God's work!" How much do you think about God's Work? Or is your mind on your problems, pleasures and desires? So Israel was kept occupied in the Work. Their hearts were once again turned to God. Notice how generously Israel supported the building of the tabernacle. "And they spoke unto Moses, saying, The people bring much more than enough for the service of the work which the Lord commanded to make" (Exodus 36:5-6). All through the fall, winter and early spring Israel was kept busy doing the Work of God. The tabernacle was finally finished and dedicated in the first day of the first month of the second year (Exodus 40:17). Again, approximately March/April. If they could have only maintained this zeal for God! But summer was coming — and so were problems!
Israel Becomes Lax Again
The second year the children of Israel kept the Passover (Numbers 9:5). Some people had to keep the Passover in the second month (April/May). (See Numbers 9:6-14.) After this Israel continued its journey in the 20th day of the second month (Numbers 10:11). Once again they forgot God as summer approached! "And when the people complained, it displeased the Lord: and the Lord heard it; and his anger was kindled; and the fire of the Lord burnt among them, and consumed them that were in the uttermost parts of the camp. "And the people cried unto Moses; and when Moses prayed unto the Lord, the fire was quenched. "And the mixed multitude that was among them fell a lusting: and the children of Israel also wept [complained] again, and said, Who shall give us flesh to eat? "We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick: But now our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all, besides this manna, before our eyes" (Numbers 11:1-2, 4-6). Once again, Israel forgot God. They got their minds on the physical problems around them. They were day-dreaming, their minds were wandering, they were trying to escape. They forgot how they were forced to serve with rigor in the land of Egypt. They forgot their moaning and groaning under bondage. But the point is they forgot GOD — they lost contact with their Saviour. They began to become anxious about what they should eat, drink or wear. They forgot the purpose (Deuteronomy 8) for which they were to come through the wilderness. Sometimes we forget why God gives us trials and tests in this life. Sometimes we begin to murmur and to complain. Sometimes we want to escape the realities of life.
Israel Loses Faith
God fed Israel flesh for a whole month (Numbers 11:20). Once again, Israel saw the power of God manifested. In midsummer of the second year, God told Moses to send men to spy out the land of Canaan. After searching out the land for forty days (Numbers 13:25), the men returned. All of them except Joshua and Caleb "brought up an evil report of the land which they had searched" (Numbers 13:32). Once again, in midsummer of the second year, Israel rebelled! "And all the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night. "And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron: and the whole congregation said unto them, Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died in this wilderness! "And wherefore hath the Lord brought us into this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? were it not better for us to return into Egypt? "And they said one to another, Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt" (Numbers 14:1-4). What a tragedy! Israel had lost faith! How could this be? After seeing all the miracles God had performed in their lives, why did they go quickly out of the way? Simply because they lost contact with God. As a result, they no longer had faith in Him. It's a lesson for us. We simply cannot afford to become nonchalant, unconcerned, negligent, slovenly or offhanded about our spiritual condition. Like Israel, our problems overwhelm us only when God is no longer real to us. He stops being real only when we quit diligently seeking him.
Israel Continues to Disobey
Israel mourned very much (Numbers 14:39). But the people were so far from God they didn't really know what to do. They had rebelled against going into the land. Now they tried bootstrap psychology on themselves. They WERE going to go into the land — even though God said not to! Of course, Israel was badly defeated by the enemy (Numbers 14:40-45). Right on the heels of this, Korah, Dathan, Abiram and On with other leaders of the community rebelled (Numbers 16). God had to destroy them. But Israel had become too lukewarm. Their spiritual condition was almost hopeless. "But on the morrow all the congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron, saying, Ye have killed the people of the Lord" (Numbers 16:41). God had just shown His power. But a day later, Israel forgot.
The Last Year of Rebellion
The story skips to the fortieth year of Israel's wandering. Again, it is the first month — springtime! (Compare Numbers 20:1, 25-29 with Numbers 33:38.) "Then came the children of Israel, even the whole congregation into the desert of Zin in the first month: and the people abode in Kadesh; and Miriam died there, and was buried there. "And there was no water for the congregation: and they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. "And the people chode with Moses, and spake, saying, would God that we had died when our brethren died before the Lord! "Why have ye brought up the congregation of the Lord into this wilderness, that we and our cattle should die there?" (Num. 20:1-4.) Forty years in the wilderness hadn't really impressed any truth on their minds (Hebrews 4:2). A month later, in early summer — Israel murmured once again. "And they journeyed from mount Hor by the way of the Red sea to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way. "AND THE PEOPLE SPOKE AGAINST GOD, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread" (Numbers 21:4, 5). There it is! A chronicle of forty years' disobedience. A chronicle of apparent repentance, disobedience, superficial repentance, disobedience. Never did Israel learn its lesson. These things were written for our instruction and admonition!
What We Can Do
First, recognize and admit that we have the exact same human nature as the children of Israel. That we are prone to quickly go out of the way. To easily depart from true doctrine and true spirituality. That we need constant reminders. Secondly, we must have the DESIRE to fight spiritual laziness. Christ said: "If you know these things, happy are you if you DO THEM!" Knowledge is not enough. Action is necessary! But God's Spirit will not drive you or force you. You are a free moral agent. God's spirit will only LEAD you in the right direction. This or any other article can only remind you of what human nature is. It can only bring to your attention a spiritual pitfall. The rest is up to you. Thirdly, you have to use the tools at your disposal. Daily prayer, Bible study, meditation, fasting when necessary. You need contact with God. Otherwise you WILL become spiritually lax. But it takes effort to maintain contact with your Creator. It takes constant, persevering diligence. But the promises God offers are beyond our imagination. They are worth all the effort and work! "Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises; that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. "And besides this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness love. "For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ; "But he that lacks these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. "Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: FOR IF YOU DO THESE THINGS, YE SHALL NEVER FALL" (II Peter 1:4-10). Let's remember these words this summer — and for the rest of our Christian life. Let's not take a vacation from overcoming. But rather continue to endure to the end.