the story of the Desert Journey (ca. 1250-1210 BC)

Found in: Leviticus and Deuteronomy

Going back to the promised land of Canaan should have been a two or three weeks’ journey on foot across the Sinai peninsula, but the Israelites ended up taking forty years. God was taking this time to form them, and the formation would not be pleasant!

Up until now it was the tradition of the different cultures to offer their first fruits to whatever gods they worshipped, and this included child sacrifice. In order to start civilizing the Israelites away from this practice, God had the tribe of Levi (one of the twelve sons of Israel) set apart as priests. These priests were to sacrifice animals instead of children as an acceptable substitute (“expiation"). This also served to falsify the other gods. The sacrifices were meant as an atonement for their sins, since no one could realistically keep every law (there were over 600 laws given to Moses). The ten commandments, though, held a central place, and violating some of them, particularly working on the Sabbath, could be punishable by death. 

And so the Israelites marched on in the desert, eating manna and quails that God provided when they were desperate to find food. They were headed back to the promised land of their forefathers, a land “flowing with milk and honey”. But along the way, many of them lost faith and complained to Moses, questioning God's choice of him as their leader. Moses himself even doubted at one point, needing to strike a rock a second time when God told him to strike it to draw water from it. Because of their doubts God subjected the people to famine, disease, and the sword of their enemies, and did not allow Moses to enter the promised land himself. When He told Moses again that he was ready to wipe them out and start his people all over again with Moses, Moses repeatedly intervened, reminding Him of his earlier promises. 

Before dying, Moses pronounced his blessings on Israel and commissioned Joshua to succeed him. With Canaan visible just across the Jordan River, the Israelites were left with two clear warnings: (1) keep the laws given to Moses, and (2) do NOT marry the Canaanite women living there, since they worshipped false gods which would entice the people to do the same. 

Both of these warnings would go unheeded, of course, but for now at least the forty year journey was finally over.

It was about time!



By the time of Christ the enforcement of rest on the Sabbath will have degenerated into forbidding even charitable works on the Sabbath. But at this stage God emphasizes the importance of dedicating a day of rest to him, free from the worry of work, to learn how to rely solely on him for  one’s provisions.

Many people today object to the idea of a "chosen" race, but the first people to complain about this were the Israelites themselves! Subjected to disease, famine, and death, they repeatedly questioned whether they  were better off as slaves in Egypt. 

Moses would come to be known as not just the great lawgiver but the friend of God, being the only one allowed to see Him and live.

Review questions: 

What was so important about keeping the Sabbath rest? 

What is the purpose of the priesthood? 

Who were the first to complain about the Israelites being the "chosen" people?

Time… It’s taking us forever.
Why? Will we ever ever
Find that we are a nation?
Just tribes tired of living this way.

A new divine decree: 
Instead of giving me a child for your sins,
Barbecue the animals 
and send a goat into the wild with your sins.
You and I both know 
following the rules is hard. It’s so hard.
So love me with your heart and with your soul 
and you can always play the Chosen card. 

Time… It’s taking us forever.
Why? Will we ever ever
Find that we are a nation?
Just tribes tired of living this way.

So where’s the milk and honey? 
This really isn’t funny no more, oh my Lord.
Animals, diseases, hunger, sun, but wait! 
There’s more. There’s the sword.
So tell us what’s the deal 
'cause we really don’t feel so free any more.
I mean, what’s the point of being chosen 
if you can’t even fight a war? 

Time… It’s taking us forever.
Why? Will we ever ever
Find that we are a nation?
Just tribes tired of living this way.

Time to take the land I’m giving.
Try. Don’t take the foreign women!
It’s time, so say goodbye to Moses.
It’s time, but remember you’re mine!