This chapter is a brief record of the travels of the people of Israel during their 40 years in the wilderness, and of the 42 different locations where they made their encampments; and it is a memorable history indeed. In their travels toward Canaan, they were continually on the move. Such is our state in the wilderness of this world; here we have no continuing city, for we are on a pilgrimage to seek a better country – that is, an heavenly one. The people of Israel were led up and down, forwards and backwards; yet all the while, they were under the direction of the pillar of cloud and fire. God led them to many different places, yet He led them in “the right way” (Ps. 107:7). The way which God takes in bringing His people close to Himself is always the best way, even though it does not always seem (to us) to be the nearest way. Amidst all the movements of the Lord’s people even today, the Holy Spirit, as the pillar of cloud, is still guiding them on; and the Lord Jesus, as the pillar of fire, is still protecting and surrounding them with His love!
Some of the events in Israel’s history for the last 40 years were mentioned in connection with the places where they happened. Similarly, we ought to keep in mind the Providences of God concerning ourselves, our families, and our land; as well as the many instances of that Divine care which has led us, fed us, and kept us all our days. The people’s need of water at Rephidim is mentioned (verse 14), and so are the death of Aaron (verses 38, 39) and the insult of Arad (verse 40). God’s miraculous deliverance of His people from the Egyptians at the Red Sea – once and for all – is referred to in the departure from Pi-hahiroth (verse 8). And even the very names of some of these places have stories that are connected with them, which would immediately come to mind just by mentioning the places. For example, there is Marah in verse 8 (the location of the bitter waters that were sweetened by the tree cast into them, in Exodus 15), and Kibroth-hattaavah in verse 16 (the memorial of “the graves of lust” in Numbers 11). Very few (if any) periods of our own lives can be thought upon, without reminding us of the Lord’s goodness – despite our own ingratitude and disobedience. As Christians, it may prove to be very useful for us to preserve in writing an account of the Providences of God concerning us, and the constant series of mercies which we have experienced. Our memories are deceitful and need this help to remember all the ways which our Lord has led us in the wilderness of this world (Deut. 8:2), and all the ways in which Jesus’ goodness and mercy have been following us all the days of our lives! (Ps. 23:6)
At the end of 40 years, the Lord brought His people to the plains of Moab, just across the Jordan River from the Promised Land that they were about to enter. Their journey was just about at its end. Someday soon, our wilderness-wanderings through this world will cease; and then we will take possession of our heavenly home forever. Happy are those whom the Lord guides with His counsel throughout their earthly lives, for He will soon receive them to His glory! (Ps. 73:24) To this state of blissful happiness, the Gospel calls us! Now is the accepted time and the day of salvation. Let sinners seize the opportunity and flee for refuge to the hope that is set before them. Let us redeem our time to glorify God and serve our generation; and He will carry us safely through all, to His eternal Kingdom!
Now that the people were about ready to pass over the Jordan River, they would be facing more temptations to worship idols. Hence the Lord commanded them to utterly destroy not only the idolatrous Canaanites who inhabited the country, but also all remnants and vestiges of their idolatrous worship. The Lord promised them that if they did this, He would progressively lead them to full possession of this Land of Promise (verses 53, 54). But they were also threatened that if they spared either the idols or the idolaters, their sin would certainly be their own punishment (verse 55); it would be like harboring vipers in their own bosoms. If they made any peace with the remnant of the Canaanites – even if it was only for a short time – those wicked people would become pricks in their eyes and thorns in their sides. We must expect nothing but trouble and affliction from whatever sin we indulge in; whatever we are willing to allow to tempt us will certainly cause trouble for us.
If we do not put our lusts to death, our lusts will put our souls to death. Let us pray for the Holy Spirit’s grace to drive out our sins, so that our sins may not drive us out. It is worthy of our closest observation to see just how frequently the Sacred Word mentions these precepts of totally destroying every vestige of the enemy! And the reason is told to us: the Lord will not allow any rival to share His honor or the affections of His people! Truly, an everlasting and irreconcilable opposition exists between the Seed of the Woman and the seed of the serpent.
Lord Jesus, we thank You for leading us as we journey through the wilderness of this world, and for driving out every enemy before us on our way to the heavenly Promised Land! Amen.
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