Sometimes, with God, we are tempted to think it’s all about "arriving." You know, getting to the destination, reaching the goal. But, as I read this chapter, I saw something different. Check out this verse: "It takes eleven days to go from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea by the Mount Seir road." (vs 2) I love the fact that, in the Bible, this verse is actually in parentheses, more like an aside. It’s as if Moses was saying, "Uh, we’ve spent forty years in this desert. Just so you know, this journey should have taken eleven days."
Of course, early on, the Israelites knew they weren’t going into the Promised Land right away. Because they didn’t trust God, they were not ready to go in. They knew they were going to wander around in the desert until the "older" generation died off and the "younger" generation could receive the inheritance. Instead of taking eleven days, their journey to the Promised Land ended up taking fourteen thousand, six hundred days.
So, if the point was to get the Israelites into the Promised Land, why didn’t God just kill off the older generation with a plague the first time they reached Canaan’s border? Why wait forty years? And then it dawned on me. The point was not to get the Israelites into the Promised Land. The point (at least for God) was to have a relationship with His people. He wanted to go on a journey with them. Canaan was just a bonus. And if His people didn’t want to journey in the Promised Land, He would journey with them in the desert. Although He was anxious to bless them by giving them the Promised Land, He cared primarily about them, not where they lived. So why should He cut the whole journey short just because they decided to take a U-turn?
I think we tend to look at the Israelites’ wandering in the desert for forty years as a punishment. But is that really what it was? That’s what I always thought... up until this very moment, as I was writing this blog just now. But what if it wasn’t a punishment at all? What if it was God’s acknowledging and accepting where His people were at (spiritually) and deciding that He was going to stay with them... even if it meant staying in the desert? What if we chose to look at God’s continued presence with them in the wilderness as His gift, instead of looking at their failure to take Canaan as His punishment?
I mean, we know from the story of the spies and giants that — without a willingness to listen to God’s instructions — there was no way they would defeat those giants. But God didn’t have to stick with them. He could have gotten rid of the older generation and taken the babes into Canaan. Or He could have gone off into Canaan Himself and left the Israelites to starve in the desert. But God didn’t do either of those things. He decided to stay with them. He decided not to give up on them. He decided to continue on the journey with them — even if their destination wasn’t His first choice. If they didn’t want to come with Him, He would go with them.
For God, the ultimate goal is not the destination, but the journey. And if and when we’re not ready, equipped, or willing to go where He wants us to go, God doesn’t give up on us. He loves us too much for that. Instead, He sticks with us, taking us along the scenic route — no matter how long it takes. In the case of the Israelites, their actual journey to the Promised Land took 1,327 times longer than it should have. But that was alright with God, because even when we give up on Him, He doesn’t give up on us.