Excerpts from the Bible (NIV). Italics denote summaries of the Bible.

From Egypt to the Promised Land
The history recorded in the book of Numbers begins 12 to13 months after the exodus from Egypt (Numbers 1:1; 9:1; Exodus 40:2). The Israelites had spent most of the year in the region of Mount Sinai, where they received the Law. Numbers records the history of Israel during the next 39 years (Numbers 33:38), prior to their entrance into the "promised land."

Discussion Questions

1. Read "Why did Israel Wander in the Wilderness?" Why did the Israelites wander in the desert for 40 years rather than entering the "promised land?"


2. God promised the land to the Israelites, yet an entire generation did not see the promise fulfilled. What does this teach us about God's promises?


3. Read "New Testament Perspective." The "promised land" symbolizes the place of ultimate blessing in the presence of God. In what way does the Christian enter into the "promised land" or "God's rest?" In other words, how is "God's rest" realized? Is it realized in the present, future, or both?


4. After God told the Israelites that they would not enter the promised land, they still attempted to enter (Numbers 14:40-44). However, they were soundly defeated (Numbers 14:45). What principle is taught by Israel's example, and how does it apply to the Christian's life? What is your experience?


Why did Israel Wander in the Wilderness?

After 11 months in the region of Mount Sinai, the Israelites set out for the "promised land" (Numbers 10:11-12). They soon began to complain about their hardships (11:1). They complained about the food, saying, "If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost - also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!" (11:4b-6, NIV) Their complaining angered God and frustrated Moses (11:1, 10). Moses prayed (11:2, 11-15). God showed both judgment and grace (11:1b, 33; 11:2, 16-17, 31-32).

After arriving at Kadesh Barnea (along the southernmost part of the promised land), the Lord said to Moses, "Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. From each ancestral tribe, send one of its leaders (Numbers 13:1-2, NIV). So they went up and explored the land (13:21). After coming back, they confirmed that the land was good, saying, "it does flow with milk and honey!" (13:27). However, they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, "The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size (13:32). "We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them" (13:33b).

That night all the people of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron (14:1-2b). And they said to each other, "We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt" (14:4). But [Joshua and Caleb], who were among those who had explored the land … said … "If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land… Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us" (Num 14:6-9b). But the whole assembly talked about stoning (killing) them (Num 14:10a).

The Lord said to Moses, "How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me?" I will strike them down" (14:11a, 12a). But Moses interceded for Israel and asked God for forgiveness (14:13-19). God replied, "I have forgiven them, as you asked. Nevertheless, … not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their forefathers" (14:20, 23a). The Lord said to Moses, "[Tell them], 'In this desert your bodies will fall - every one of you twenty years old or more … who has grumbled against me. Not one of you will enter the land … except Caleb … and Joshua (14:29-30). Your children will be shepherds here for forty years, suffering for your unfaithfulness, until the last of your bodies lies in the desert" (14:33).
The next day, the Israelites decided to enter the land anyway (14:40). But Moses said to them, "Why are you disobeying the Lord's command? This will not succeed! Do not go up, because the Lord is not with you. You will be defeated by your enemies" (14:41-42). Nevertheless, in their presumption they went up toward the high hill country … Then the Amalekites and Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down and attacked them and beat them down all the way to Hormah (14:44-45).

New Testament Perspective
Referring to Israel's wilderness experience, the apostle Paul wrote, "These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come" (1 Corinthians10:11). Hebrews 3:7-4:13 is one of the New Testament passages that applies Israel's wilderness experience to Christians today. Read the following Bible excerpts:


  • "Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? … And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief" (Hebrews 3:16, 18-19, NIV).
  • "Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith. Now we who have believed enter that rest." (Hebrews 4:1-3a, NIV).
  • "Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience" (Hebrews 4:11, NIV).


* Like the Israelites in the wilderness, the Christian is between promise and fulfillment (in the ultimate sense). Like the Israelites in the wilderness, we have been delivered from slavery, but we have not reached our final destination and resting place. As a Christian, how are you handling "the wilderness?" Are you just wandering in wilderness? Or are you entering God's rest? Are you trusting and obeying God? Are you experiencing His "rest?"
* Perhaps you are still "enslaved in Egypt." You cannot enter the "promised land" (God's rest) without leaving "Egypt!" The Bible says that only Jesus Christ can set you free.
* The Israelites "turned back" when the road ahead looked difficult. They failed to obey God's instructions and trust in his promises. Is there something in your life that you know God wants you to do, but you have not proceeded because of fear, or lack of faith. Humble yourself before the Lord, seek His help, and "make every effort to enter that rest."

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