A Way Through the Wilderness - Chapter 6

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


"Tragedy And Triumph"

"Then came the children of Israel, even the whole congregation, into the desert of Zin in the first month: and the people abode in Kadesh..." (Num. 20:1).

God had planned that the children of Israel would spend approximately a year at Sinai, to learn His laws and judgments, build the Tabernacle, and then proceed north into Canaan. Moses tells us that it was only "eleven days' journey" from Horeb to Kadesh... but they wandered about in this area for another 38 years until the old generation had wasted away.

People ask, "How long is it going to take for us to enter into the fullness of God's rest?" In many respects, it is you and I who are mostly to blame for the way we prolong our wilderness journey. God said,

"Oh that My people had hearkened unto Me,
And Israel had walked in My ways!
I should soon have subdued their enemies,
And turned My hand against their adversaries"
(Psa. 81:13-14).

On the other hand it is true that we in this generation of the Church are suffering the consequences of the sins of former generations; just as Caleb and Joshua had to linger another 38 years in the wilderness because of the sins of the old generation. But what God decreed as judgment for the old generation, became PREPARATION for the new one. Let us take courage in this. Even in the midst of this "waste and howling wilderness," God is PREPARING a new generation to take the Land.

We recognize that there is a very individual and personal appropriation of Canaan Life, and we would not minimize that. But what God is about to do in the earth is so vast, so mighty, so terrible, so awesome, that no individual could possibly appropriate it in any sense of fullness. Caleb and Joshua must wait for the new generation to be trained and disciplined of the Lord, before they themselves could go in. In the meantime they could walk before the Lord in faith, in hope, in expectation. But Canaan Life in its fullness is for a corporate people. It is simply too vast for any individual to apprehend or appropriate:

"That YE, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend [or, better 'apprehend'] WITH ALL SAINTS what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that YE MIGHT BE FILLED WITH [or, 'UNTO'] ALL THE FULNESS OF GOD" (Eph. 3:17-19).

The Old Way, And The New

As we have emphasized in a previous writing (Evening and Morning), when human failure hinders or forestalls the purposes of God, and God comes on the scene to remedy the situation and bring the people back to Himself... HE INITIATES A NEW WAY AND A NEW ORDER. If we understand this principle it will save us from a lot of frustration that we otherwise will have to suffer, as we seek to rebuild the order of a past day. God does not repeat Himself, in like manner as He worked the first time. He does not "try again" where man has failed. The second time-around is always different, always of a higher order, always a new way. We must know this if we are going to be spared the frustration and the sense of futility that so many have experienced as they sought to convince God that He must come forth and "do it this way" because this is the way He did it before. I know God is forever "the Same"; and because He is THE SAME He always does things differently the second time around. Because He is THE SAME He will continue to do "new things" in the midst of human failure. Because He is THE SAME, when man has failed He will rectify the situation through His righteous judgments, and will do something greater than the thing that man has spoiled. Because He is THE SAME He will consistently move forward, and upward, and onward with His people into new areas of revelation and Truth.

This teaching is certainly annoying to the theological mind, because it places man in a position where he cannot, even with all His knowledge of Scripture or of history, come up with a plan for revival, or a plan for the furtherance of the Kingdom of God in the earth, from all his storehouse of accumulated knowledge concerning past revivals, and past dealings of God with His people. Because God is forever THE SAME, and changes not, He always seeks for Himself a people who are dedicated, consecrated, humble, lowly, and obedient to His will. But because He is THE SAME, when He has found such a people, and has prepared such a people, He will do a "new thing" in the earth, and the old is seen to be the seed-plot and the preparatory way for the new thing that God has in mind.

This is nothing less than the operation of a Divine Law--THE LAW OF THE SPIRIT OF LIFE IN CHRIST JESUS. There is no way that man can come up with methods and procedures to bring it into being, or to control it. It leaves man totally helpless and hopeless in himself, with no other recourse but to find himself carried along, moved along, and motivated by the Spirit of God... which, like the wind, YOU CAN HEAR HIM WHEN HE SPEAKS, BUT YOU CANNOT KNOW WHERE HE COMES FROM AND TO WHERE HE IS LEADING. The Spirit of God blows softly from the heart of God, and no man can predetermine the course of the Spirit, nor can he structure and mould the substance that God will bring into being. Man has tried, and will continue to try, to reproduce something that God did in the past... but he is sure to fail, even as he has always failed in the past. Every time God moves afresh in the earth it is a NEW THING that He brings forth, and therefore He always catches man by surprise.

"Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert" (Isa. 43:19).

Let man cease his efforts to structure and form and plan and connive to bring into being the New Testament Church, or the glorious Church that Paul spoke about... it is doomed to utter failure. But God will do it through a humble people... a people who are conditioned to hear what the Spirit is saying, and who will simply move along with His Wind, which bloweth where He will. What about the Scriptures? What about the Word? We need have no fear of being unscriptural, if the Spirit of God is in control. He is the Spirit of Truth. He knows the Scriptures... for He it is who inspired His holy apostles and prophets to write the Scriptures. And when He speaks, He speaks not "from Himself" as man does, He speaks only that which He hears from the heart of God, who is the Source and the Author of the holy Scriptures.

All man can do is patch up the old, for he is of the old creation, and knows not the Spirit of the New. But God readily discards the old, for there are new things in His heart, bursting to come forth... and human failure is a challenge to His heart to come on the scene, and to judge and bring to nought the old order, and to prepare the ground for the sowing of a new seed. He simply does not go about patching up the old, or helping man to do it. Let us observe this principle from a few examples of Scripture:

(1) The Old Wineskins, And The New

"And no man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish" (Luke 5:37).

You who feel that God gave you His Holy Spirit to make you a better Baptist, a better Presbyterian, a better Episcopalian, a better Catholic... a better Something-of-a-Past-Day... prepare your hearts for the bursting of the bottles! God gave His Spirit to bring you further and further into realms of New Creation life... and not to perpetuate something of the old.

(2) The Old Vessel And The New

"And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it" (Jer. 18:4).

God simply refuses to patch up a "marred" vessel. He simply crumples it up in His hand, and starts over again. He uses the same human clay, but the vessel is brand-new from His own creative hands.

(3) The Old Man, And The New

The first man Adam was not the exalted heavenly being that some make him out to be. He was but a type, or shadow, or "figure of Him that was to come" (Rom. 5:14). He was "of the earth, earthy" (1 Cor. 15:47). He was made "dust of the earth." Now our Lord Jesus came forth from the seed-plot of the old, but He was the true and perfect image of God, the "heavenly" man, the "Lord from Heaven," the Light, and the Glory of God.

(4) The First And Second Tables Of The Law

The first tables, written with the finger of God, were smashed by the great law-giver when he came down from the mount and beheld the idolatry of the people of God. The second tables of the Law were also written with the finger of God, but were brought down from the mountain to be placed in the Ark of the Covenant. Man was not permitted to meddle with the second tables. This, of course, portrays to us the nature of the Two Covenants...

(5) The First Covenant And The Second

When God speaks about a New Covenant, He obviously implies that the first covenant has become old: "In that He saith, A new covenant, He hath made the first old" (Heb. 8:13). The reason God did away with the old was because of human failure. "Because they continued not in My covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord" (Heb. 8:9). The New Covenant, therefore, was not one for man to fulfill, but one that would be "written on the fleshly tables of the heart" enabling him to do what the Law could not do to love God with all the heart, mind, soul, and strength.

(6) The First Tabernacle, And The Second

The First Tabernacle, erected in the wilderness at the foot of Mount Sinai, was but a pattern and type of heavenly realities. But the second tabernacle was the "greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands..." (Heb. 9:11). There were many tabernacles and temples in Israel's history, as human failure brought the old one into ruin, and Divine intervention brought forth the new. But never did God ordain the reconstruction of the old one, in exact likeness to the one that preceded it (dealt with in the writing From Tent to Temple). If we understood these principles we would drop those notions about God restoring the Church to her early apostolic likeness... or about the rebuilding of a temple in Old Jerusalem. When the first becomes old, Paul says it is "ready to vanish away" (Heb. 8:13).

(7) The Rock-First, Smitten; Then, Spoken To

When the people came to Horeb, they were famishing for water, and God told Moses to stand there by a certain Rock and smite it with the rod. As he did the waters gushed out from Horeb, which means a "dry, parched place." The waters flowed down the mountain in a gushing stream of pure, refreshing water. Paul tells us that the Rock was Christ, smitten that we might partake of the pure water of Life (1 Cor. 10:4).

But on a second occasion when they needed water, God told Moses to "speak unto the Rock" and that it would send forth its water (Num. 20:8). For Christ once smitten must not be smitten again. Thereafter we walk in obedience and speak to the Rock. Moses discovered that the old method seemed to work, for he smote the Rock twice, and the water gushed forth. And sometimes we may think that the old methods can be repeated over and over again, and the results seem to prove it. But disobedience brings judgment, even though the immediate response of the Lord may indicate His blessing. Let us not forget that. For this error on Moses' part he failed to enter the Land of Promise.

(8) The First Attack On At, And The Second

When Joshua began the conquest of Canaan, he took Jericho, and then proceeded the much easier task of taking Ai. But the people of God were totally routed and defeated. Joshua sought God earnestly and God revealed that there was sin in the Camp. One in their midst had taken of the "accursed thing" during the conquest of Jericho, and hid it in his tent. Achan the culprit was taken and stoned to death in the Valley of Achor, and then they were assured of victory.

But God did not authorize a full-scale frontal attack on Ai, like Joshua attempted at first. If there is human failure and Divine intervention, there is always a NEW WAY. Their past failures, because of true repentance, would now be interwoven with God's NEW WAY. And so Joshua and his men pretended defeat, ran from the enemy as they did at first, and drew them out of the city. Then Joshua lifted up his spear and the ambush which he had hidden behind the city arose, entered into the city, and burnt it with fire. Then Joshua and his men turned on their enemies and caught them in a trap and utterly destroyed them. (See Josh. 8:1-29).

God would have us know that, defeated though we may have been in the past, as we rid ourselves of the "accursed thing" in our midst, He is able to turn our defeats into victories. But more than this: after there is true repentance, and after God has caused us to forsake the idols of our heart, OUR PAST FAILURES AND MISTAKES MAY BECOME STEPPING-STONES TO VICTORY AND ENLARGEMENT. The manner in which the men of Israel were routed and defeated BECAME THE PATTERN OF VICTORY when God turned the curse into a blessing and gave "beauty for ashes." As the enemy gloated over the men of Israel running away from the battle as they did at first, God actually used that strategy to draw the enemy into a trap for his own destruction.

Many times in our walk with God, and in spiritual warfare, we may present an image of defeatism to the world about us, or to the Church. We just have to recognize that, and bear the reproach of it all. We are not really defeated... we are just projecting that image in the purpose of God for the eventual defeat of the Enemy:

"We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; We are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; Cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, THAT THE LIFE ALSO OF JESUS MIGHT BE MADE MANIFEST IN OUR BODY" (2 Cor. 4:8-10).

Knowing that we are in the pathway of victory... knowing that we are drawing the Enemy into a trap... we bear the reproach of it all. We know God has led this way. We just know that we are "delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh" (2 Cor. 4:11). Satan never seems to understand the tremendous working of the resurrection life of Jesus in a people who are delivered unto death for Jesus' sake... and he is trapped in his own devices.

(9) Jonah's First Call, And The Second Call

It may appear, of course, that Jonah failed the first time, and so now God was simply giving him another chance. We thank the Lord for the second, or the third chance... and for His utter faithfulness in the time of our failure. But there is more to the story of Jonah than that. And there is more to our many failures than that.


Let us picture Jonah walking through the streets of this sin-hardened people and crying, "Yet forty days and Nineveh shall perish!" I wonder if anything would have changed; and God would then have to destroy the city. But the second-time-around was quite different.

Here was a man who had become a "sign" to the wicked inhabitants of Nineveh. He had been severely judged of the LORD. He had known the agonies of Sheol as he cried unto the LORD from the belly of the whale. He did not go into Nineveh performing a few signs and wonders in an attempt to get them to believe. He himself became A WALKING TESTIMONY, A LIVING SIGN THAT GOD IS A GOD OF JUDGMENT, A GOD THAT REQUIRES OBEDIENCE FROM THE PEOPLE WHOM HE HAS CREATED, AND THAT HE IS A GOD OF RESURRECTION LIFE.

Beloved, we are going to behold scenes of repentance such as this when God's prophets are "delivered unto death," and become the humble, broken, and devastated vessels of truth that God would have them to be.

(10) First, The Front Door To Canaan; Secondly, The Back Door

The first generation was to have taken the easier way, a more direct way to Canaan--through the front door. But the first generation failed God, and a new generation was on the scene, that would not fail. Not because they were any better but because God had sworn with an oath that they would take the Land. Through the first generation God had planned a frontal attack on their enemies from Kadesh; but the second generation would wander about in the Wilderness of Zin for approximately 38 years, and then make a round-about journey into Canaan through the back door. It was a more complicated, a more difficult route. And as we shall discover, God would deliberately add to their difficulties, to bring forth greater glory to His Name. God does not repeat Himself; and vain is our attempt to take our history books as a map for future conquests in the Lord. True, we look into history to learn God's ways, to know God's faithfulness, and to learn from the mistakes and errors of our fathers. But we cannot take "history" as a blueprint for future conquests. We are going to discover as we follow on to know His ways that His path is always through an uncharted wilderness, always through the mighty waters, always through pathways that are so strange and perplexing that it will require great dedication and commitment and heart-searching and crying out unto God for clear direction and guidance. We cannot go about seeking to discover the pathway through the mighty waters, because the waters have returned to their course, and the path is no longer to be seen. The wilderness pathway through which men have walked in the past is now quite grown over, so that no longer can the way be seen with the natural eye. God has planned it this way in order that in our walk with Him we might learn faith, obedience, submission, dedication, humility, brokenness, and in that way be READY for the new Way in which He would lead us today. And this, of necessity, means forsaking our well-intentioned plans for re-establishing a "Church" according to some blueprint we think we have discovered in the Word. Let that Word rather break us, humble us, lead us, guide us, chasten us, and make us hungry for God (as the manna did to the children of Israel) that we might know and see the way in which we are to walk in this hour.

For the Second Generation there is a Second Pathway that leads to Canaan. It is a much more difficult route; and when they are about to enter the Land, they face a much greater obstacle: fortified cities, powerful enemies, strong bulwarks... to hinder or to frustrate the attack of the people of God. But once again there is Divine intervention. There was the Oath of God that guaranteed their success. And along with the Oath there would be more grace and more power to bring greater glory to the God of Israel. When the first generation had failed God, He commanded: "But as for you, turn you, and take your journey into the wilderness by the way of the Red Sea" (Deut. 1:40). (This was the eastern fork of the Red Sea, not the one they had crossed over after leaving Egypt.) Here they wandered about for another 38 years. They seemed to have made a complete circle in their travels, returning almost to the same place from whence they had started at Eziongeber. (See Deut. 2:8). Thirty-eight years of wandering for the old generation; but 38 years of preparation for the new one.

It may seem awfully discouraging at times to discover, after many years of frustration and futility, that we are back where we were many years before. Often it seems to be that way. But the circles of God's purposes are not in vain. The sun rises... and sets... and rises again. It is not mere repetition. God is doing something new in each and every season. And God was leading the NEW generation, even as He was judging the OLD. Their difficulties and their trials would increase. But so would God's faithfulness and His grace increase. God had sworn that He would bring them in. And He did.

Chapter 7 - Conflicts of the New Generation
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