My friend Amy loves to talk about the forty years the ancient Israelites were forced to wander in the wilderness. Sure, she also loves to talk about her kids and her husband and her job, but she brings up those poor wandering ones pretty regularly.
Over the past few years, I’ve come to realize how applicable their tale of frustration and correction can be to my own life.
Imagine for a moment standing in their sandals: You disobeyed and you misplaced your trust. Now you will have forty years to think about what you’ve done. They had just left Egypt after several generations of slavery, and they assumed everything would be smooth sailing once they crossed that pesky Red Sea, leaving Pharaoh in their dust. But it wasn’t.
There were armies to conquer and land to claim as their own. They felt as small as grasshoppers compared to what lie ahead, so they did what anyone might do in that situation. They doubted and griped. They moaned and blamed.
They complained about the food and the water. They complained that Moses talked to God too long on the mountain, and when he finished talking to God, they complained that his face was too shiny. These people were hard to please.
So finally God had enough. He told them that the majority of the adults—including Moses—wouldn’t be able to enter the Promised Land. They would have to set up their tents and wait out the next forty years in the desert. Remorseful adults would pull their children on their laps or solemnly stare at the upturned faces seated around their tables and tell them, “Learn from our mistakes.” Those children were given the task of remembering the miracles of the Passover while never forgetting God’s punishment of their elders.
My friend Amy recently asked, “Do you think it was a mistranslation and they meant to say forty days instead of forty years?” Forty years is a long time, a lifetime. She said, “They must have spent those forty years wandering and wondering.” Did they think: Why are we here? What have we done? What was the point?
Sometimes I find myself wandering in circles. Things don’t go as I plan due to events out of my control or my own actions prevent me from seeing the ending I had hoped for. Then I find myself winding round and round with the same questions: Why am I here? What have I done? What was the point?
Maybe you are wandering in a wilderness right now. Where you expected smooth sailing, you’ve found only 100 mph hurricanes. I believe it’s possible for us to reach the Promised Land. It may not be exactly what we’re expecting, but there is hope with every breath. There is time to make things right. There is a chance for us to make life better for others and then for ourselves.