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Forty Years of War Israel in the Wilderness
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Forty years of war: how the Israelites were changed from slaves to warriors in the wilderness and what this means for us who wander about in our own wilderness today
Those who live in the desert know first hand what it takes to survive on a daily basis. In many situations just getting water and food for your family, flocks or herds is the chief occupation. Life in a desert leads those who survive there to a tougher and more basic lifestyle than that of the town or city dweller. The Bedouin have a genuine disdain for city people ( as do many cowboys and ranchers). Most of us desert people choose to live here, the Israelites did not. If the harsh conditions of the desert were not enough, often the other desert dwellers can be hostile to our presence. Raids and warfare can make a bad situation worse, even for those who choose this way of life.
When Pharaoh finally relented to the demand by God to let His people go, the joyous Israelites prepared to taste a freedom they had not known for generations. The open straits of land looked welcoming to the new freedmen and they eagerly followed Moses out of the city gates and the reach of Pharaoh The enthusiasm began to wane as the land grew drier and the stores of food began to dwindle. Even the miracle of the sea escape from a certain and merciless slaughter by the charioteers lost its luster as water holes grew farther and farther apart and even the hardiest of stored food began to grow tasteless and boring. How they longed for the “fleshpots” of Egypt and the sureness of water and daily allotment of leeks and green things to eat. They whined and complained that Moses had led them from a secure lifestyle, even if in slavery, out to die in the hostile environment of the wilderness. This generation even forsook their renewed relationship with God to relent and worship an Egyptian god of gold.
Those who breed and train Arabian horses develop a knowledge of what it takes to survive and even thrive in a desert. The Arabian horse was first bred in the desert over 3,000 years ago. It is probably the first intentionally bred horse. Those foals which had the desired traits of endurance, increased oxygen capacity and a unique personality of loyalty to its owner were bred into a horse that today amazes its owners and all who admire beauty and endurance.. They were bred for war and raiding, where quick attacks and retreats were essential. It is thought that Pharaoh's chariot horses were similar to the modern Arabian, although somewhat smaller in size. The desert can make you stronger or kill you, there is no middle ground.
The generation that left Egypt had turned to idolatry, complained about everything, and driven Moses almost to the point of insanity by their indifference and disobedience to God's plan for them. In the desert where they were to wander in an apparently aimless manner, fumbling towards a land their ancestors had left 400 years before, the soft generation that had worked as slaves for Egypt would die off from snake venom, the hardness of life, and from battles with hardened desert warriors who saw them as easy prey and threats to their water holes, oases and territorial sensibilties. The men of Israel had known how to make bricks and haul stone, now the next generation had to learn by trial how to gain weapons by taking the enemies' and use them effectively and ruthlessly. The new warriors knew how to scout and find water and oases that would support the tribes and their herds. Only the hardiest of livestock had survived the journey so far: sheep and goats which can live on the lowest scrub, camels which had most likely been taken in raids, other livestock which could live on small amounts of water or be carried in lightweight containers. The manna of their ancestors had been replaced by the food that God led them to seek by their efforts and hard work. Pigs don't travel well and fish were a memory, God had written into the Law the diet that they could follow to honor Him and keep moving towards the land He promised to Abraham and to which they were now returning under a new Covenant as the chosen people.
By the time Joshua had inherited Moses mantle of leadership two hard generations of warriors had grown up. They had never known slavery and had been trained and tested in the wilderness. They lived on their needs as provided by God for the day, a real definition of sustenance. They learned to trust Him because all else had been taken away from them, and they learned to obey and fight. God often takes the proud and soft and places them in a wilderness of their own. Often it means taking away the familiar and comfortable world we live in and placing us in a place where we have nothing in common with the inhabitants, where our knowledge, resumes and education are useless or unsuited to what's really necessary. This is done for one reason, to remove whatever obstacle is between the God Who made us and wants the closest relationship with us and Who is a “jealous God”. Nothing can stand in the way, not wealth, career, advancement, investment portfolio, or other relationships. He will place us in a wilderness, far away from our wants so that He can see to our needs. We are at war on a daily basis with these wants and with their leader, Satan wants to lure us away to himself with trinkets and short term instantly gratifying feelings. Our time in the wilderness will toughen us, train us as warriors to seek protection in the Tower of Strength, the Mighty Fortress that is our God. The God Who trained descendants of slaves into a nation of warriors will do the same for us. At the end of our wandering in the wilderness of this world is the true Promised Land, where our God awaits us, ready to welcome his prodigal children home at last. Follow the pillar of fire, the white cloud, be strong, obedient and faithful, He will see you through your wilderness like the Israelite desert warriors who were born of slaves and became conquerors.
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