The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years. I’ve often wondered why it took them forty years to get to the Promised Land. Was Moses lost? Were they too afraid? Were they just too comfortable living in the wilderness? Perhaps some part of them wanted to go back to Egypt.
At one point “All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! Why is the LORD bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” Number 14:2-4
I believe professionals refer to this as Stockholm Syndrome:
a psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings toward their captors, sometimes to the point of defending and identifying with the captors. These feelings are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, who essentially mistake a lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness. Stockholm syndrome can be seen as a form of traumatic bonding, which does not necessarily require a hostage scenario, but which describes “strong emotional ties that develop between two persons where one person intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other.” One commonly used hypothesis to explain the effect of Stockholm syndrome is based on Freudian theory. It suggests that the bonding is the individual’s response to trauma in becoming a victim. Identifying with the aggressor is one way that the ego defends itself. When a victim believes the same values as the aggressor, they cease to be perceived as a threat.
After studying this passage of scripture I’ve come to the conclusion that they simply weren’t ready for The Promised Land. They had lived as captives for too long. They had been slaves for too long. They didn’t know how to be a civilized people without the rule of Pharaoh. Obeying and trusting God was new and difficult for them. They made a lot of mistakes. They learned a lot of lessons. They fought many battles. They fought each other. They simply weren’t ready for what God had planned. In the meantime, Moses and all of God’s people claimed victory after victory as they journeyed through the wilderness; defeating countless rulers, and defending their people and their way of life.
The Israelites wandered for FORTY years, because they lacked trust, faith and confidence in the Lord. And this resulted in their disobedience.
They survived. As a people, they survived. Unfortunately, Moses and everyone military age and older, at the time they left Egypt, died in the wilderness. Their punishment was that they would not be able to enter the Promised Land, because they were disobedient.
In the book of Joshua you’ll see that, finally, the time had come to enter the long-awaited Promised Land.
The ONLY thing standing between the Israelites and the Promised Land is the Jordan River. As the priests picked up the Ark of the Covenant and stepped into the waters of the Jordan, the water stopped flowing and the Israelites walked across on dry ground. It was reminiscent of Moses parting the Red Sea forty years earlier.
“So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them. Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (that is, the Dead Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.” Joshua 3:14
As the Israelites walked out of the river bed, there must have been a sense of awe as they stepped onto the land. They had waited so long, endured so much. A wave of emotion must have flooded over them as they realized the promise was finally coming true. All of the years of waiting and hoping were finally culminating in the fulfillment of God’s promise.
Near the town of Jericho, Joshua was confronted by the commander of the Lord’s army. Joshua fell on his face out of reverence, expressing his willingness to be completely obedient. The command was simple: “Take off your shoes for the place you are standing is holy ground” (Joshua 5:15). This was God’s territory.
There before the Israelites stood Jericho, surrounded by a great wall with the gates shut tight. As they contemplated the wall and what it would take to enter the city, Joshua received the battle plan from God. It was simple: march around the city for seven days and the walls will crumble. Joshua called the priests and explained that they were to march around the city. There’s no mention of him telling the warriors that the walls will simply crumble before them. They were simply obeying out of faith.
As day one dawned bright and sunny, the Israelites assembled. The priests took the horns and the Ark of the Covenant and began the trek around the city, with the warriors going in front of them and behind them. They were instructed not to talk, but I bet they were praying silently.
Day two came, and they repeated the process. Marching endlessly, praying silently. The people of Jericho were probably wondering what kind of battle plan they had. The Israelites were probably beginning to wonder the same.
Days three, four, and five. More of the same. Marching. Praying. Starting to question. Starting to doubt, Joshua and God. Beginning to feel foolish. Growing weary. Wondering how God would ever come through. How could THIS be Your plan? Hadn’t forty years in the wilderness been enough? And now you have us walking around the city of Jericho. This is nuts!
Day six brought more of the same. More marching. Exhaustion and frustration were probably beginning to set in. Prayers were growing old and stale. How many of us have been there? Praying for the same situation over and over, saying the same words over and over; wondering if God is even paying attention.
The heat was beating down on them. The sweat is beading off their skin. Their muscles are cramping and sore. How much more of this can we take? Even if there is a battle plan how are we going to fight? Just keep marching. Keep going. Push forward.
The people of Jericho were probably feeling confident by now. Really? THIS is your great plan? You defeated how many armies with this “walking war”? I’m guessing they were probably growing complacent inside the walls of their city. “These fools don’t have a battle plan! They think that they can frighten us by simply walking around our city! We are safe and secure within our fortress!”
And then came day seven. It started just like the previous six days. But the atmosphere was different. There was a sense of excitement in the air, an anticipation that something big was ahead. There was a restlessness among the troops. They began their trek around the city yet again, knowing that this day would require even more of them. They bounced between expectation and doubt, anticipation and fear, excitement and confusion. Everything was on the line as they waited for total and complete redemption from the years in the wilderness.
Finally, after seven trips around the city on the seventh day, the priests sounded the trumpets and all the people gave a loud shout. And just like that, the walls came crumbling down. The fortress was gone, and God allowed the people to take possession of the first city in the Promised Land. What a joyous day, a day of victory, a day of seeing God’s miraculous display of power!
The Israelites experienced full redemption on that day.
I feel as if I understand the mixed emotions the Israelites must have experienced in those days marching around Jericho. I have been in the wilderness for a number of years, wandering through the desert while seeing God provide for my every need. He has done a mighty work in my life while I’ve been in the wilderness. He has humbled me and tested me (Deuteronomy 8:2). He has taught me to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). And then he taught me to trust him with my whole heart (Proverbs 3:5).
The wilderness has been an amazing experience, an amazing opportunity to be completely dependent upon my Savior. But I know the Promised Land is near.
Several years ago my husband and I struggled to have a child. Infertility and failed adoptions took quite a toll on our marriage. We made it through. We locked arms and put Jesus first. We made a declaration that our marriage was a priority and that we would rely on God to help us through. Then, we became foster parents. Our world was turned upside down by the arrivals of little faces, needing so much love and compassion that we thought our hearts would burst from joy. Then, as time went on, our hearts were torn out of our chests as each of those little lives left our home, for one reason or another (reunited with parents, family members etc.) Our emotions raw from pain and disappointment, we received a call for a 12 year old boy. I didn’t want an older child. My heart was set on a baby. I wanted a baby! Long story short, we fell in love with our son. His first 12 years of life had been like one of the worst R rated films you’ve ever seen. You would not believe the abuse, neglect, sexual assaults; they filled his case file to overflowing. We knew he was a broken little boy, but God told us THIS was our son and we adopted him the following January.
Then Raechell and her son arrived on our doorstep. Although we never legally adopted, she is our daughter in our hearts and minds!
If that wasn’t miraculous enough, I was pregnant with a beautiful baby girl. She is my sunshine, my heart walking outside my chest. I gave birth to my precious, perfect, full term baby the following August. There were many complications that followed her birth: placenta accreta, hemorrhaging, dying on the operating table, two emergency surgeries (D&C and partial hysterectomy), one of which resulted in never being able to carry another child. I was devastated. And I was blessed.
I had my babies: a 12 year old son, a teenage daughter, a grandson, and an infant daughter. All were an answer to prayer.
The last few years have been very difficult for our little family. I don’t know if you know this, but raising kids is hard work. Raising teenagers is HARD work. And raising a teenager adopted at a late age out of foster care is REALLY HARD work. Without going into detail, my life, our lives, have become difficult. Over a year ago we suddenly became aware that our son needed serious, professional help if he was going to remain in our home. Unfortunately, professionals have deemed his behaviors unsafe and he’s been living outside our home in a safe, therapeutic group home where he’s receiving professional help. Now, unless you’ve ever been in my shoes, you have no idea how difficult it has been to parent a17 year old teenager with cognitive disabilities and dangerous behaviors. So, please have mercy when you judge my family. I want to be as transparent as possible with you, so you know that I KNOW what it’s like to live in despair, discouragement, darkness… Always questioning every decision you make, trying to keep everyone happy, supported, provided for, and losing sight of yourself in the process. I’ve been on anti-depressants, been to a counselor, lost faith in myself and in God. I’ve wandered the wilderness. Wondering how THIS could be God’s plan for my life; doubting that He was listening to my cries for help, fearing that He had forgotten me. I have been there. I was there just a few months ago. But, not anymore.
A few months ago I found out that a dear friend of mine has terminal cancer. She’s 35 years old, like me. And dying. It was like a reality check for me. Why am I living like this? Why was I allowing the devil to have a foothold in my life? Why am I settling on the East Side of the Jordan when the Promised Land is right there?! It’s only across the river. Why am I allowing my despair to rule me? Why am I allowing myself to live on this side of the river when God has PROMISED me a land full of blessings on the other side. WHY?
Because, I had grown complacent in my walk. I liked the mess. I know the mess. It’s easier to live in the mess, than to allow God to clean me up, make me whole and follow Him to the other side. And even though I know God is calling me to the land of milk and honey, and I won’t have to settle for manna and water, I sat. I dug my heels in. I refused to go.
What was complacency quickly turned to rebellion. My heart was hardening to what God has for me to the point of where I couldn’t hear Him anymore. I could not discern His voice from my own thoughts. The reason I couldn’t tell if God was hearing me…the reason I felt like I was being ignored…like He had forgotten me…is because I had stopped listening to Him…seeking Him…turning to Him for my every need. Because my mouth was saying “God, help me.” But, my heart was saying, “I got this. I can do it on my own. I don’t trust Your plan. Your way is too hard. Even if I make it across the river, Jericho will still be standing in the way.”
I had grown complacent and rebellious. Several months ago…
Today, I feel God telling me that I have crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land. I am standing on holy ground! Some days I simply want to fall on my face in worship, knowing that I am about to take possession of all God has planned for me. And yet, there in front of me stands my Jericho, walls towering over me and the gates locked tight. My son, the redemption of my family, is my Jericho.
I have been marching around the city for six days (5 years), praying endlessly, begging God to bring the walls crashing down. I feel as if I am on day seven, as if the walls will soon crumble before me. I am restless. I alternate between expectation and doubt, anticipation and fear. Some days the journey seems never-ending. I wonder how much longer I must keep walking. And yet, I have my orders. Just keep walking.
My spirit is restless. Something big is coming! Full redemption is near!
Each day, I wake up, carrying the scripture before me, saturating my mind. I continue walking and praying, reminding God of his promises and his faithfulness. I do my best to focus my mind completely on Him so that he can keep me in perfect peace (Isaiah 26:3).
Some days I walk in excitement and joy, hardly able to contain myself. The next, I’m overwhelmed with doubt and feelings of foolishness and fear. It’s a battle to keep the mind of Christ, to constantly live in that place where I trust him completely.
And yet, I know that’s where He wants me. I know that He wants me walking forward in faith, even when I can’t see the completed picture. I know He wants me to keep marching on this, the seventh and most critical day. The final day.
Very soon, I will make that seventh circle around the city. With a shout, I will begin praising God as the walls begin to crumble. I will take possession of this first city in my Promised Land, my son. I will reclaim my family.
Until then, I will keep walking.
What about you? Have you been camped in the wilderness, anxiously awaiting the promises God has made to you? Do you sense that redemption is near? Are you praying and waiting expectantly? Are you fluctuating between excitement and fear, anticipation and anxiety? Do you feel as if you have marched around the walls in prayer repeatedly, as if you can’t keep going? Not one more step.
God sees. He hears. He knows that the walls will come tumbling down shortly. He is calling you—calling you to take up his Word, step into the flooded waters of the Jordan, and march around those walls. He is calling you to continue in obedience, to trust him to fight the battle.
He is calling you to keep walking. The journey is so short. In comparison to the span of your life; it’s so short. Keep walking. Cross the river. Don’t settle on the east side. Too many people live in the mess. Don’t live in the mess. Do you have a habit, a hang-up, a hurt? Something that you’re holding onto that’s keeping you separated from God? Make the journey to the Promised Land. Live in the blessings God has for you. Come out of the shadows and live in the light.