Israel spent 40 years in the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land, and it turns out that that Bible gives short shrift to most of those years. It’s not immediately obvious until you pay close attention to the timestamps scattered throughout the Pentateuch, but 38 of those years happen between chapters 15 and 36 of the book of Numbers.
That’s a blip. Israel’s journey from Egypt to Canaan spans the books of Exodus all the way to Deuteronomy—and 38 years of that journey are crammed into 22 chapters. Why?
Because those years, for the most part, don’t matter.
Those were the years of punishment. Israel lost their nerve in Numbers 14—they rejected God, they rebelled against His commands, and they were sentenced to spend a total of 40 years wandering in the empty space between what they’d left behind and where they were going. An entire generation needed to die off before God would allow Israel a second opportunity to claim their inheritance.
Those years happened. That generation died. God doesn’t tell us much about what happened during that time. From what we can tell, most of those years weren’t time that mattered.
By contrast, Israel only spent about 11 months camped out in front of Mt. Sinai. Those 11 months are recorded beginning in Exodus 19… and they continue on all the way into Numbers 10. That’s 59 chapters—over one and a half books of the Bible—dedicated to the events of 11 months.
What do we get in those 59 chapters? We get the Ten Commandments. We get the layout and the function of the tabernacle. We get insight into sacrifices and priestly duties and dozens upon dozens of statutes, precepts, and commandments detailing what it means to live a Godly way of life.
Time that matters.
Time that doesn’t.
The 38 years those Israelites spent waiting to die weren’t actually shorter than the months they spent at Sinai—but they weren’t worth detailing in the same way.
The contrast is even sharper when you step back and look at the whole Pentateuch. The first five books of the Bible cover more than 2,500 years of human history. They take us from the dawn of creation all the way up to the border of the Promised Land—and God used one of those books (plus significant portions of two others) to tell us about what happened during a span of time measured in months. Then He gave us the book of Deuteronomy—essentially a highlight reel covering much of that same short timeframe.
Two and a half millennia stretching across 5 books, and around half of that text is focused on the 11 months Israel spent at Sinai.
I think it’s safe to say that God places a special emphasis on those 11 months.
I think it’s safe to say those might be 11 of the most important months in all of human history.
I think it’s safe to say there’s a lesson for us in that.
* * *
A second is a second. An hour is an hour. A year is a year. There’s nothing inherently special about the passage of time itself. What makes a second or an hour or a year special is what we do with it.
Given the choice, are we more likely to spend our time wandering in the empty spaces of life, or seated before the mountain of God, waiting to hear what He has to say?
One is easy to do. One is hard.
One matters. One doesn’t.
We won’t always get it right, but we always have the opportunity to get it right. That wasn’t true for the Israelites, but it is for us. No matter how long we’ve spent wandering, we always have the ability to come back, pitch our tent, and listen.
God had a destination in mind for Israel, but they chose the long and painful route. If we trust Him, God will take use where we need to go, when we need to go there.
The time that matters is the time we spend following His lead.
Until next time,