But you were unwilling to go up; you rebelled against the command of the Lord your God. You grumbled in your tents and said, “The Lord hates us; so he brought us out of Egypt to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us. Where can we go? Our brothers have made our hearts melt in fear. They say, ‘The people are stronger and taller than we are; the cities are large, with walls up to the sky. We even saw the Anakites there.’ ” Then I said to you, “Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. The Lord your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, and in the wilderness. There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.” In spite of this, you did not trust in the Lord your God, who went ahead of you on your journey, in fire by night and in a cloud by day, to search out places for you to camp and to show you the way you should go. When the Lord heard what you said, he was angry and solemnly swore: “No one from this evil generation shall see the good land I swore to give your ancestors, except Caleb son of Jephunneh. He will see it, and I will give him and his descendants the land he set his feet on, because he followed the Lord wholeheartedly.” Because of you the Lord became angry with me also and said, “You shall not enter it, either. But your assistant, Joshua son of Nun, will enter it. Encourage him, because he will lead Israel to inherit it. And the little ones that you said would be taken captive, your children who do not yet know good from bad—they will enter the land. I will give it to them and they will take possession of it. But as for you, turn around and set out toward the desert along the route to the Red Sea. ” – Deuteronomy 1:26-41
Well our walk with water in the bible has emerged from numbers and passed into Deuteronomy. If I thought that it was time for an easy book…I was wrong. This is a hard teaching. God basically tells the Israelites that their kids will inherit the land, but they will not. What did the kids have that the Israelites lacked? God says that they did not yet “know good from bad”. Not knowing good from bad would seem to be problematic, unless the children are accepting what is bad or good based on some higher authority in their lives — like their parents. This would seem to imply that the Israelites were not accepting God as an authority about what is bad or good, which would also be problematic.
The teaching about children here reminds me of Jesus’ instruction that we must be like little children to enter the Kingdom of God. What is it about the character and posture of children that makes them able to enter the promised land and the Kingdom of God? Kids lack experience, which could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on what that experience is. I am reminded of the movie Forrest Gump and the Jenny character. Her childhood experience was very bad…”sometimes there are just not enough rocks”. Her life was a series of bad choices which she seemed unable to prevent. I remember feeling very sorry for Forrest as Jenny kept making poor life choices while he steadfastly loved her. Kids usually recognize authority — when that authority betrays them it is very damaging.
The Israelites seem equally unable to shake their mistrust and lack of faith in God and the consequences are not good. The Israelites are told to turn around and head back to the desert along the route to the Red Sea. In a sense the Israelites had already chosen the desert by not “wholeheartedly following God. Deserts are hard places to live, water is scarce, food is hard to come by, and days are hot.
How often do we “choose the desert”, when God stands ready to offer us abundant living water to quench our thirst? Why did the Israelites do this? Why do we do this? Perhaps part of us does not think we deserve living water even though God offers it freely. I think that was part of what was going with Jenny in Forrest Gump. She did not think she deserved a good life because of the actions of her evil father. The important difference for the Israelites is that their “Father”, God, was not evil and did not betray them, although it seems like they are acting as if He did.
God reminds the Israelites that He faithfully led them through the desert and even carried them “as a father carries his son”. When my daughters were little I carried them before they could walk on their own, when they were tired, when they got hurt, when they encountered something unsafe, and when they just wanted to ride on dad’s shoulders for fun. I think God carried the Israelites in the desert, and I think God carries all of us now, for similar reasons.
How does one carry a child? Carefully, tenderly, with great love, and with great perseverance. God carried the Israelites like a father carries his son when they were in the wilderness and the Israelites responded by rejecting and rebelling against God. God was going out of his way to show the Israelites the way they should go and yet they were unable to trust Him. This is a bit like a child rejecting a parent’s love, it happens, but it is heartbreaking when it does. There is a difference between choosing the desert and God calling us to walk for a time in the desert with the assurance that he is right there to carry us if needed.
Prayer: God thank you for carrying us when we are hurting, scared, or just tired. Help us to follow you wholeheartedly.