Through the Wilderness
The children of Israel then entered into the wilderness section of their journey. After the Red Sea, they traveled for three days in the wilderness and were unable to find water. When they found water at Marah, it was bitter and they could not drink it. The people then murmured against Moses (Ex. 15:22-24).
There will be times of bitterness in our journey as believers. We must know how to overcome bitterness in our personal lives because bitterness is very dangerous. A root of bitterness in one person can defile many others (Heb. 12:15). Bitterness reproduces very quickly.
Bitterness comes into our lives when we fail to appropriate God’s grace to overcome disappointments and hurts. There is always available grace for every trial and for every circumstance. It is always possible to overcome and triumph.
What is the key to overcoming bitterness? The bitter waters of Marah became sweet when Moses cast a tree into them (Ex. 15:25). The tree is a symbol of the cross upon which Christ was crucified. We can overcome bitterness by going to the cross of Christ. We must surrender our rights and give all of our bitter feelings to the Lord. Then we must forgive the person who wronged us and forget the wrong that was done to us. As we do those three things, the Lord will purify our hearts of bitterness.
The Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai in the third month (Ex. 19:1-2), which is the month in which the Feast of Pentecost was celebrated. It was here that the presence and fire of God came down. Mount Sinai, therefore, represents the Pentecostal experience.
In Exodus 19:5, the Lord declared the Israelites would obtain all His blessings “if you will obey my voice.” The condition to all of God’s blessings was obedience. We must obey God in order to receive the Holy Spirit. Often there is an area of disobedience in a person’s life that hinders them from receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
A man was once praying for the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the Lord said to him, “Go to the other room and release your bird from the bird cage.” In the cage, he had a wild bird that he had captured. Even though it was only a bird, how could the preacher ask for liberty when he was holding something else in captivity? As soon as he released the bird, he was filled with the Spirit and began speaking in other tongues. Sometimes God requires an act of obedience before He will give us the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
While still on Mount Sinai, the Lord gave Moses the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20). The Ten Commandments still have significance for our lives. Jesus did not come to destroy the law, He came to fulfill it (Mat. 5:17). We must also fulfill the law, and we can do this by walking in the Spirit and denying our carnal desires (Rom. 8:4). When we are filled with the Spirit, we should receive a fresh appreciation and respect for God’s laws.
Nearing the Promised Land
After several more trials, the Lord led the children of Israel to Kadesh Barnea, the border of the Promised Land. They had been in the wilderness about two years after leaving Egypt. The Lord also will lead us into wilderness times to deal with things in our lives that can only be done while we are in the wilderness.
While at Kadesh Barnea, the Lord instructed Moses to send twelve spies to view the land (Num. 13:2). The twelve spies spent forty days in the Promised Land. When they returned, ten of the spies gave an evil report (Num. 13:27,28). The testified that the land of Canaan was a land flowing with “milk and honey” just as God had promised, but said that they were unable to possess the land because their enemies were greater than them.
When God gives us an inheritance, there will be spiritual enemies that we have to defeat in order to possess it. We must not fear evil spirits. Our enemies are afraid of us (1 John 4:4); their only hope is that we do not know it. We must overcome fear of the devil and evil spirits, and it is the love of God that will enable us to overcome fear (1 John 4:18).
The negative report of the ten spies discouraged the whole congregation of Israel (Num. 14:1-4). The congregation’s solution was that they wanted to return to Egypt. As Christians we must ask the Lord to purify us of the love of the world, otherwise, that attraction will pull us back into the world. That is exactly what happened to Demas, as Paul said in 2 Timothy 4:10, “For Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world.”
Several years ago while visiting a church in Australia, the Lord quickened this passage from Numbers 14 to me for the church. I admonished them that God had a purpose for them and wanted them to move on with Him. Then during prayer one of the elders stood up and prayed: “Lord, we are well content with the wilderness. We do not want to go on. We are comfortable here.” This elder had an evil spirit of unbelief and he negatively influenced the whole church.
Several years later I went back to the same church for the installation of another pastor. Then the Lord gave me a flashback of that prayer meeting seven years before. I said to the church, “That evil spirit in that elder stopped you from going on with God, but now God is appointing another pastor. He will take you into God’s purposes for this church.” The whole congregation began weeping and acknowledged that they had hindered their pastors. They consecrated themselves to move on with God, and from that time the church experienced a real move of the Holy Spirit.