Lessons from Ancient Israel

by James F. Turck

“Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come” (I Cor. 10:11).

Forty days had passed since the men left to spy out the land of Canaan. Moses, Aaron and the whole camp of Israel eagerly awaited their return. Many wondered, “What sort of report would the scouts bring about the Promised Land? Was it really a good and large land, a land flowing with milk and honey as God had said?”

They would soon learn.

Looking into the distance, a man spotted the scouts returning from their journey. Excited, he yelled to others nearby: “The scouts have returned. Come—let’s go out to meet them!”

The news soon spread, and a throng gathered to welcome them home. Tired and weary from their travels, the Israelites peppered the scouts with questions.

After first reporting their findings to Moses, they spoke to a crowd assembled near the Tabernacle. Joshua took the lead. Full of eagerness and excitement, he boldly stated, “It is indeed as God has said. We found a land full of all kinds of produce from which we may be well fed, and large green fertile fields greatly suited to raise our crops and graze our cattle and sheep.

“Just look at the evidence we have brought back,” he said, pointing to the sizable cluster of juicy grapes from Canaan.

“We should all be encouraged by the blessings that God has provided, and follow His instruction to take possession of the land.”

The assembled Israelites nodded and voiced words of agreement.

Just then, another scout stepped forward. Looking intently at the people, he said, “For the most part, it is as Joshua has said. But, he has not told you everything. While it is a rich and fertile land, many giants dwell there. Furthermore, the cities have tall, thick walls and are well defended with armed guards. If we try to take possession of Canaan, it will surely mean the death of us and our wives and children.”

With the exception of Joshua and Caleb, the other scouts sided with the one who gave the bad report.

And so the tide began to turn.

Cries of “Why has God brought us to this land to die?” began to be heard. “If only we had died in Egypt, or in the wilderness! Why is God going to make victims of our wives and little ones? It would be better to return to Egypt! Let’s choose a leader who will take us back.”

The complaints against Moses and Aaron were almost endless. The angry mob called for the stoning of Joshua and Caleb.

Suddenly, God’s glory appeared in the Tabernacle before Israel. He was not pleased with this latest development (Num. 13:25-33; 14:1-10).

For Our Learning

Most are familiar with the story of Israel refusing to enter the Promised Land. Many generations have heard or read how God dealt with those He brought out of Egypt. Movies have been made and bedtime stories told about these ancient events.

But for those God has called today into the Church, ancient Israel’s history is much more important than just material for movies and interesting stories.

Writing to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul desired that they not be ignorant of Israel’s history (I Cor. 10:1). After referencing several significant events, he concluded, “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples [a type or model]: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore let him that thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (vs. 11-12).

God’s Word is refined seven times (Psa. 12:6). It says exactly what He intends. Everything that God inspired to be recorded in the Bible was done for a reason, not because He needed to fill a certain number of pages. The Bible is for our instruction and learning (II Tim. 3:15-17).

Paul was telling the Corinthians that they should be able to learn from Israel’s example. They were to look back through the nation’s history with observant eyes so they would not make the same mistakes. He attached the reason in the form of a grave warning: Those who think they could not repeat the same mistakes should take heed—they could easily fall into the same bad attitudes and conduct, and suffer the results.

How much more should we—who are living at the end of the age—take Paul’s admonition to heart?

Constant Murmuring and Complaining

Through a series of miraculous plagues sent on the Egyptians, God had delivered Israel out of Egypt.

But now, the situation looked hopeless. Israel was trapped by the Red Sea in front, mountains to the left and right, and Pharaoh’s army behind.

Upon seeing their dire circumstances, the Israelites complained. “Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness?” they asked Moses. “Wherefore have you dealt thus with us, to carry us forth out of Egypt? Is not this the word that we did tell you in Egypt, saying, let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness” (Ex. 14:11-12).

They began a pattern of groaning and complaining.

Even after God parted the Red Sea, blocked Pharaoh’s army from overtaking them while they crossed over on dry ground, and then allowed the Egyptians to follow for the purpose of drowning them in full view of the Israelites, in the weeks and months ahead God had to endure their faithless complaining.

These amazing feats of divine intervention should have been enough for them to trust their lives into His hands. But as the Bible records, it was not.

Just a few short weeks later, having come to the wilderness of Sin, “the whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron…[and] said unto them, Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for you have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (Ex. 16:2-3).

They were soon to be informed their murmuring was actually directed at God.

“And Moses and Aaron said unto all the children of Israel, At even, then you shall know that the Lord has brought you out from the land of Egypt. And in the morning, then you shall see the glory of the Lord; for that He hears your murmurings against the Lord: and what are we that you murmur against us? And Moses said This shall be, when the Lord shall give you in the evening flesh to eat, and in the morning bread to the full; for that the Lord hears your murmurings which you murmur against Him: and what are we? Your murmurings are not against us, but against the Lord” (vs. 6-8).

How easy it can be to complain, gripe and groan about difficult circumstances that can arise from trying to follow the path to which God has called us. Difficulties with our employer over the Sabbath and Holy Days, troubles with family because we will not participate with them in worldly holidays, and perhaps having to make sacrifices to obey God’s tithing law, can at times seem unbearable. If not careful, we can begin to think life was better before God called us. We can begin to look back to our former life, forgetting the miserable condition from which we were called.

Perhaps you have even expressed similar thoughts. This is the tendency of the flesh.

But God hears such moaning, which is in fact directed at Him. You are, in effect, saying that God did not know what He was doing when He called you—that the way is too difficult and He is unable to protect, care for you or provide all your needs as you travel the path of true Christianity.

Be on guard for this faithless form of thinking. Rather, we should focus our minds on this promise: “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able; but will with the temptation [trial, hardship, difficulty] also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it” (I Cor. 10:13).

Rebellion against God’s Government

Korah had steadily grown displeased with how Moses, God’s servant, led Israel. Not content with keeping divisive and criticizing feelings to himself, he whispered his discontent to others.

Soon Korah had others thinking as he. Moses had too much authority, and did not make decisions the way he would. Why shouldn’t he have a say in the way things were being done? After all, didn’t he know better than Moses how to lead the people and make important decisions?

With a group of 250 co-conspirators, Korah confronted Moses.

“You take too much upon you,” he charged, “seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them: wherefore then lift you up yourselves above the congregation of the Lord?”

It was not that Korah had concern for others; he and those with him simply had a rebellious attitude against God’s government and the servants God had vested with His authority. This spirit of rebellion emanates straight from the mind of the universe’s original rebel—Satan! He hates all authority, especially God’s.

The devil continually broadcasts his rebellious antigovernment attitudes into all unsuspecting and willing minds. His ultimate purpose is to turn converted minds against God’s government and those who administer it.

Satan seeks those who let down in prayer, fasting and Bible study—spiritually weak, they make for easy prey.

There is a grave danger of ever allowing rebellious thoughts to enter your mind! Your very salvation is at stake. Resist fiery doubts from the devil at all cost!

Notice what happened to Korah and those aligned with him: “And the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that pertained unto Korah, and all their goods. They, and all that pertained to them, went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them: and they perished from among the congregation” (Num. 16:32-33).

God does not take these matters lightly!

Disbelief

No matter how many miracles, signs and wonders God performed, Israel’s lack of belief persisted (Num. 14:22). Refusing to enter Canaan was only one of many examples. Israel refused to obey God. Rather than believing Joshua and Caleb, who brought back news that the Promised Land was just as God said it would be, the Israelites chose to believe those who bore false witness. Believing the evil report was to call God a liar.

By this point in His dealings with Israel, God had had enough. His reaction was understandable. “And the Lord said unto Moses, How long will this people provoke Me? And how long will it be ere [before] they believe Me, for all the signs which I have showed among them? I will smite them with the pestilence, and disinherit them, and will make of you a greater nation and mightier than they” (Num. 14:11-12).

It was only through Moses’ sincere and humble intercession that the whole nation was not rejected by God.

Yet such a display of unbelief could not go unpunished. Lessons needed to be learned.

“Because all those men which have seen My glory, and My miracles, which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tempted Me now these ten times [yes, God counted the number of times], and have not hearkened to My voice…as I live, says the Lord, as you have spoken in My ears, so will I do to you:

“Your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness; and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward, which have murmured against Me, Doubtless you shall not come into the land, concerning which I swore to make you dwell therein, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun.

“But your little ones, which you said should be a prey, them will I bring in, and they shall know the land which you have despised.

“But as for you, your carcasses, they shall fall in this wilderness…I the Lord have said, I will surely do it unto all this evil congregation, that are gathered together against Me: in this wilderness they shall be consumed, and there they shall die” (Num. 14:22, 28-32, 35).

Heed The Warning

The Promised Land was a type of God’s kingdom. God chose and called Israel, a physical people, out of Egypt, a physical land of sin. He gave them His laws, statutes and Commandments. He performed many mighty works for them, protected and delivered them from Pharaoh (a type of Satan) and his army. God quenched their thirst with water from a rock, sent quail to satisfy their hunger and miraculously provided manna. He made promises that a land of untold physical blessings awaited them. Yet they grumbled, complained, murmured, rebelled and displayed incredible episodes of outright unbelief. They never fully believed, trusted or had unwavering faith in God.

As God’s purpose with ancient Israel was to bring them into the Promised Land, so it is His purpose to bring us—spiritual Israel (I Pet. 2:9)—into the ultimate land of great and exceeding promise—the everlasting kingdom of God.

He has chosen and called us out of spiritual Egypt, this present evil world. We have been delivered from the god of the world—to whom we were formerly enslaved! What a wonderful work God has done for us! He has given us His laws and Commandments, opened our minds to receive and understand His truth and comprehend His great Plan of Salvation for mankind. He has promised to protect, feed and clothe us (Luke 12:22-31).

Having been begotten by God’s Spirit, which enables us to keep His laws, we have been offered the opportunity to be among the firstborn into His divine Family. Neither the Holy Spirit nor salvation was offered to Israel, except for a tiny few. Think how so much more we have been given. How much more is at stake for us.

We have the vantage point of history. We can look back at Israel’s mistakes, shortcomings and pitfalls. They are recorded for our benefit—to learn from and to avoid following their same pattern.

“Wherefore (as the Holy Spirit says, Today if you will hear His voice, Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness: When your fathers tempted Me, proved Me, and saw My works forty years. Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, they do always err in their heart; and they have not known My ways. So I swore in My wrath, they shall not enter into My rest.) Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God (Heb. 3:7-12).

The Bible records that none of that generation entered the Promised Land. They never received rest from their labor or wandering.

The exhortation to us is clear: “Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest [of the kingdom of God], lest any [one of us] fall after the same example of unbelief” (Heb. 4:11).

Learn from ancient Israel’s example. Be vigilant and determine not to allow any of their glaring faults into your life.