A Way Through the Wilderness - Chapter 4

A Way Through The Wilderness
Beauty For Ashes Part II - George H. Warnock


"Be Ye Holy, for I Am Holy"

"And all the congregation of the children of Israel journeyed from the Wilderness of Sin, after their journeys, according to the commandment of the LORD, and pitched in Rephidim: and there was no water for the people to drink" (Ex. 17:1).

They are still southward-bound... still travelling farther and farther away from Canaan. For God must prove them and prepare their hearts still further, before they are ready to turn northward to Canaan.

Massah And Meribali

No water at Rephidim. God provided them with food from heaven; but now they are again without water, and ready to stone Moses. God has the answer to every physical and spiritual need, and the only reason He keeps us waiting is to prove us and try us, to know whether we will believe Him or not. Moses was told to stand upon a rock in Horeb (which means "a parched place"), to smite the rock with his rod, and God promised the waters would gush forth in refreshing, flowing streams.

"And he called the name of the place Massah, and Meribah, because of the chiding of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the LORD, saying, Is the LORD among us, or not?" (Ex. 17:7).

Why is it that we have to make a Massah and a Meribah out of every place of God's provision, just because God seems to act so slowly, and to be silent when we think we need Him most? Why do we not allow the Lord to call the experiences of life through which we must pass by such names as "Living Waters"... "Peace and Rest"... "Fountain of Living Streams"... Instead, we murmur and complain, and God is faithful to come on the scene in answer to our prayers, but He is compelled to call our place of failure by such names as these: Massah, which means "testing, temptation" or, Meribah, which means "contention, confrontation, strife."

And when God says our place of failure was Massah and Meribah, He is not saying it was the place where He tested us. He is saying rather that in the place where He sought to test us and prove us we turned it about and TESTED GOD AND CONTENDED WITH GOD AND PROVED GOD... and this is what saddens His heart. Massah and Meribah have therefore become a description of their whole way of life throughout their forty year journey in the wilderness. And when the Psalmist lifts his voice to praise and exalt the Rock of his salvation... and then bows his knee in worship before the LORD his Maker... very abruptly his praise and his worship become, in a spirit of prophecy, a very solemn warning to the people of God, who know how to praise and worship, but whose hearts are prone to hardness and rebellion:

"To day if ye will hear His voice,
Harden not your heart,
As in the provocation [as at 'Meribah'],
And as in the day of temptation
In the wilderness [as at 'Massab']:
When your fathers tempted Me,
Proved Me, and saw My work"
(Ps. 95:7-9).

This is a day when the congregations of the Lord have a know-how approach to God; and worship and praise has in many, many cases become a system, a "do-it-this-way" approach... and when it is all over, the heart remains as hard and as cold toward God as ever. There is an "art" in praise, an "art" in worship, an "art" in music, and an "art" in dancing before the Lord. And how little of it leads to true submission and worship at the feet of Him who is our Lord and Maker. And if you feel that in being blessed, and in partaking of much spiritual gift and provision you are somehow His specially favored people, listen to these solemn words at the end of this beautiful Song of Praise:

"Forty years long was I grieved
With this generation, and said,
It is a people that do ERR IN THEIR HEART,
(Ps. 95:10-11).

Here was a people who were favored above all nations on the face of the earth. They beheld miracle after miracle every day of their lives. Water miraculously flowed forth from the Rock to quench their thirst. Manna rained down from heaven every day to satisfy their every need. The Cloud of Glory abode upon their Tabernacle by day and by night for forty years...


These are frightening observations. But we need to consider these things very solemnly in this day and hour when the blessing of God upon His people is considered to be His seal of approval. This is not Old Covenant theology. This is New Covenant teaching, hidden away in the types and shadows of the Old. Listen to Paul's commentary on this episode in the wilderness: "Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the Cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the Cloud and in the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual meat; and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. But with many of them [or, 'the most of them'] God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness" (1 Cor. 10:1-5).

They were "overthrown in the wilderness" despite the fact that they had partaken of all these manifold blessings. In the very midst of their blessings, they failed to walk in obedience, and failed to enter the Land of Promise. And the apostle Paul admonishes us to learn from their mistakes, for they were types and shadows of the people of God living in this New Covenant era. (See 1 Cor. 10:11-12).

Sinai, The Holy Mountain Of God

"In the third month, when the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt, the same day came they into the Wilderness of Sinai" (Ex. 19:1).

Here they must abide approximately eleven months, camping at the foot of the holy mountain of God, and becoming acquainted with His righteous and holy laws and ordinances. Here they would build the Tabernacle, that God Himself might dwell among them. Canaan lay before them, and there was much warfare to be accomplished, but God must have a holy people to war against the unholy nations, and to enter that holy realm which Moses had already described as "the mountain of Thine inheritance... the place, O LORD, which Thou hast made for Thee to dwell in... the Sanctuary, O Lord, which Thy hands have established" (Ex. 15:17).

In this day and age this matter of holiness is usually equated with "legalism." We know that we are living in the Day of Grace. But what is often overlooked is that the Grace of God came into being in order that the righteousness and the holiness which God required in the Old Covenant, might now be PROVIDED in the New. The reason God did away with the Law was because it didn't work. And the New Covenant came into being to work into the hearts and lives of God's people that quality and character of life that the Old Covenant was helpless to produce. It was "because they continued not in My Covenant" that God saw fit to change it (Heb. 8:9). And the reason we can walk in holiness and righteousness in the New Covenant is simply because God comes into the heart and mind and soul to write His requirements there in the heart and in the mind... once again with a finger of fire, but this time "in fleshy tables of the heart" (2 Cor. 3:3). The New Covenant is not just a new "position" in Grace; it is a WRITING ON THE HEART, AND A WRITING ON THE MIND, AND A KNOWING OF GOD IN INTIMATE RELATIONSHIP. It is not just a declaration of what we are in Christ; it is a TRANSITION from the place of condemnation and death into a place of righteousness and life. It is a TRANSFORMATION from a state of spiritual death and darkness into a new state of spiritual life and light. Was God indeed concerned about sheep, and goats, and oxen, and turtledoves, and pigeons, and holy days, and sabbaths, and religious rituals of one kind or another? "Doth God take care for oxen? Or saith he it altogether for our sakes?" (1 Cor. 9:9-10). Was He really concerned that we wear a garment of only one kind of material? Or planting our garden with two kinds of vegetables? Not really. But He was giving us principles of New Covenant truth in an Old Covenant setting. In other words, God hates a mixture. He is after heart purity... purity of mind, purity of attitudes. That's what the Law is all about; and that's what the wilderness is all about. It is a revelation of the heart of His people that God is after... that in seeing ourselves in our total helplessness and hopelessness, we might draw close to Him and partake of His grace. They confidently promised God that they would do everything He said. God knew it wasn't in their heart to do it, and we hear Him lamenting... "O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear Me, and keep all My commandments always..." (Deut. 5:29). But even before Moses passes off the scene he foresees the day when God would bring forth the New Covenant:

"And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live" (Deut. 30:6).

This is the whole substance and intent of the Law, as Jesus observed. (See Matt. 22:37-40).

God's Peculiar Treasure

"Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto Myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey My voice indeed, and keep My covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people: for all the earth is mine: and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation" (Ex. 19:4-6).

Israel could not attain to this; but it has been reserved for the New Covenant people: "But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvellous light" (1 Pet. 2:9).

Who are these people who are God's special treasure, His peculiar people?

"Then they that feared the LORD spake often one to another: and the LORD hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon His name. AND THEY SHALL BE MINE, saith the LORD of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels [or, 'my special treasure']..." (Mal. 3:16-17).

They are the ones who have a wholesome, godly fear of the Lord of all creation... a fear that inspires love and devotion and commitment, even unto death. When God speaks they listen. But they do more--they obey. They seek to walk in His ways. They tremble at His Word. They speak often one to another, not in idle chitchat, but in fellowship, thinking upon His Name, meditating of His wondrous works, encouraging and edifying one another--teaching, exhorting, admonishing one another in the fear of the LORD. They are wholly occupied with Him, and therefore He is wholly occupied with them:

"If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him" (Jn. 14:23).

The "peculiar people" are not "peculiar" because they do foolish things or unseemly things. The word has the sense of a "hidden treasure"... something so precious it is concealed, and hidden from the eyes of men... something special, something superlative. They are people that are unknown, and yet "well known." For they may pass their days in this life in obscurity, scarcely known or recognized in the affairs of men. But they are "well known" in heavenly places, the subject of conversation and wonder among the celestial hosts. They are weak and insignificant in themselves... can boast of no special endowments in the natural... very ordinary and unassuming. Yet somehow without great natural ability and with no claims to any particular achievements, they love God with an intensity that sets them apart in a special place in His heart... a special habitation for the abode of Father and Son.

"Leviticus"... Before "Numbers"

We are always in a hurry to get to our destination; and God is much more desirous to bring us there than we are. But He has taught us that...

"An inheritance may be gotten hastily at the beginning; but the end thereof shall not be blessed" (Prov. 20:21). And so for almost a year the Lord keeps the children of Israel at Sinai, to prepare them for the journey NORTHWARD to Canaan. This is what the book of Leviticus is all about. It is the book of the Holiness of God, and the Holiness of His people. The word "holy" and "sanctify" are used well over one hundred times in Leviticus alone. In all the sacrifices, in all the ordinances, in all the judgments that God decreed, He is reflecting the holiness of His nature, and the desire for holiness in His people.

"Numbers" follows Leviticus; for in the book of Numbers the people of the Lord are numbered and set in orderly array, in preparation for the conquest of Canaan. But we must become acquainted with the awesomeness of our God, and learn to "tremble at His word" if we are going to be a conquering people. Would to God that the Church of this hour which is so zealous for warfare could understand this. The Battle is not ours but God's; and if we do not learn to fear before Him, and partake of His Holiness and of His character and nature, we are not going to war a good warfare against the hosts of evil that are arrayed against us. Would God that His people could understand that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but spiritual, and that...

We overcome evil with good...
We overcome hatred with love...
We overcome lawlessness with obedience...
We overcome error and deceit with Truth...

If we understood this, then we would concentrate on these kinds of weapons, rather than upon all manner of humanly devised strategies and gimmicks and forms of entertainment. And so we must remain here at the foot of the Holy Mount, to learn His ways, before we are going to be numbered for Battle.

To learn about the Covenant that is written upon our hearts with God's holy finger of fire...

To know God's wrath against the golden calf, and have our idolatrous hearts smitten with His righteous judgments...To know the zeal of the Lord, and the zeal of His priests, to cleanse the camp of God from all its idolatry...

To partake of priestly concern for God's people, that we might, as Moses did, prevail upon God to "turn from His fierce wrath, and repent of the evil" that He has purposed, and in the midst of His wrath, to remember mercy...

To set our hearts upon building the Tabernacle of God; yet even as we do, to know that "Except the LORD build the house, they labor in vain that; build it"...

To cry unto God as Moses did, "I beseech Thee, O LORD, SHEW ME THY GLORY." For it is only in beholding His glory, and radiating His glory, that we shall be able to minister life and truth to the people of God.

Then does the LORD say, "Ye have dwelt long enough in this mount: turn you, and take your journey..." (Deut. 1:6-7).

Time To Turn North

The song writer speaks of the "north wind" and the "south wind" that God sends upon His people. And so after coming out of Egypt the north wind, as it were, drove them farther and farther away from their goal. But now it is time for the south wind to blow, and to urge them northward to the land of their inheritance:

"Awake, O north wind; and come, thou south; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof might flow out" (Song 4:16).

The rule of the Cloud is still the rule by which they must move forward into Canaan. But now the holy fire of God rests upon the Tabernacle. Now the holy fire of God is associated with the people of God, to consume their enemies.

Chapter 5 - The Wilderness of Paran
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