One of my favourite things to do on a Sabbath afternoon was sitting on the couch and watching Veggietales for four hours with my siblings, this in turn, drove my parents up the wall as we only had three Veggietales VHSs. However, that did not stop my sister and I from binge watching “Josh and the Big Wall” over and over and over and over and over and over again to the point where we not only knew the songs off by heart, but we could also act out all the parts which was crucial in case there was a black out or we were grounded from the TV. Now while “Josh and the Big Wall” is a cinematic masterpiece it did warp my point of view of the Israelites journey as I thought it did take them 40 years to get from Egypt to the promise land; that it took 40 years for them to walk 8428 km. So imagine my confusion when I realized that if they walked at an average speed of 5km/h for 6 hours a day then it would only take them 282.73 days to walk to Canaan from Egypt. Even if they walked for 1km per day for 40 years they would end up walking 14,610km which is the equivalent of going to Canaan remembering you left the stove on two thirds of the way there, turning around, going back to Egypt, realizing that you did turn it off, and then walking back to Canaan.
This isn’t the first time that the journey to the Promise Land seemed a little confusing. After Pharaoh released them, the logical path that they should take would be to go via the land of the Philistines. (Exodus 13:17-18) (You know them, the one that ended up being portrayed by peas and pickles in the VeggieTales box office smash “Dave and the Giant Pickle”.) Now the Israelites that were leaving Egypt were arguably the most fickle and forgetful people in the Bible who always seemed to find any excuse to go back to the way that things were. If there was ever a group of people who despised change more than me finding out my favourite ice-cream flavor is no longed sold, it was these guys. So, again, why 40 years?
Well it didn’t; at least not at first. Numbers 13 and 14 informs us that they made it to the outskirts of the Promise Land and Moses had sent spies (one leader from each tribe) onward in order to get a full report of the situation. They were gone for 40 days and when they returned they all informed everyone that the land was what God had promised, HOWEVER, ten of the twelve spies reported that it was going to be too hard to claim the land and that they would all die, and despite Caleb and Joshua speaking up saying that God would help them through it all and they would be victorious. These people had witnessed amazing miracles done by God, the recurrence and size in such a short amount of time was extremely rare to witness, and yet they still doubted and so the 40 years began. However, during these 40 years, they did not sit around doing nothing; they were building a fierce reputation with God leading the way.
The consensus among scholars was that the 40 years served as a time to wait for those who were of military age in Egypt to pass away, thus their desire not to enter the promise land was fulfilled. Others believed that the reason for 40 years was in correlation to the amount of time the spies spent in the Promise Land; one year for every day. But you need to remember that there were other people in the story; this isn’t like the Israelites were walking from Perth to Sydney with majority being the Nullabour. There were other nations and enemies around the Israelites. The most famous being Jericho, the city that inevitably was destroyed just after the 40 years in the desert were over; the city that, according to Veggietales, was armed with slushies that were thrown over the walls by those with a French accent. But despite all this, we serve a loving and compassionate God who loves EVERYONE, even before He sent His son. Before Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed, God sent prophets and messengers to warn them of their impending doom and they ignored it. Before God was going to destroy Nineveh, God sent Jonah to warn them and they listened and were spared. Before God flooded the world there were warnings in place, and we know that God warned Jericho because Rahab tells them so in Joshua 2:8-11. The 40 years would have served as an opportunity for people to leave and vacate the city; the seven days of marching would have been seen as psychological warfare, but it also would have shown the city that the Israelites existed and all the stories they had heard were true. God was giving the residence of Jericho another opportunity to leave.
It took nearly a whole life time for the Israelites to come home; it took nearly a whole life time for them to see that the journey was worth the destination, but we often forget that lesson. We don’t have a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night leading us, and the majority of us haven’t really had an angel of the Lord come down and tell us what our next move should be; we see the next logical direction and stubbornly believe that we should be going through the land that is occupied by giant pickles and peas because it will get us to our destination quicker than finding another way. I am guilty of this. Lately I have been struggling with where my life is at the moment; I feel like I am currently in my 40 years in the desert waiting for my time to come. It has been a learning process, one that I am realizing isn’t me sitting in the desert eating manna and waiting, but rather following God on a journey that will make me appreciate the destination.