The Israelites were in the wilderness, poised to march into Canaan, The Promised Land. Their conquest was imminent, their victory sure. God had been alongside them all through the desert, putting on awesome displays of power. The mightiest army in the world, the Egyptians, had been humbled at His hands. The Canaanites were trembling in fear at their arrival. All the Israelites had to do was put their lives in God’s hands, believe in his promises, reach out and take it.
Then the Israelite spies came back. “The people there are huge and their cities very strong!” they said. “We will surely be defeated.”
The Israelites wept and now for the tenth time rebelled against God in the wilderness. “Better that we had died in Egypt!” they cried. They decide to stone Moses and Caleb and Joshua on the spot.
“How long will this people despise Me? How long will they not believe in Me?”
God then proclaimed his doom on the unfaithful Israelites: “None of the men who have seen my glory and my signs shall see the land I swore to give
to their fathers. From twenty years old and upward, except for Caleb and Joshua, not one shall come into the land. Your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years and shall suffer for your faithlessness until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness.”
The Israelites were not simply doomed to wander the wilderness for forty years. They were doomed to wander until all the unbelievers were dead. God had decided that this generation of adults was a lost cause and wrote them all off.
Now, imagine being a young Israelite at this point. You are stuck in the wilderness for forty years, suffering the consequences of your parent’s and grandparent’s lack of faith, waiting for them to be dead before you can start doing the Lord’s work. How could this happen? They had everything they needed! They had all the signs. They had God’s favor, and they had God’s word!
There isn’t a happy or motivational twist to this story. They were a sinful people, who did not love the Lord.
What do you do when your parents and grandparents are spiritual failures? When they have completely abdicated their responsibility to do the Lord’s work? When even a whole generation of the Lord’s people—more or less—abdicates that responsibility?
First, know in your heart that there is nothing new under the sun. It has happened before, many times, and no generation lasts forever. Like the Israelites of old who rejected God, or the Pharisees of Jesus’ time, they will fall in the metaphorical wilderness eventually.
Second, your fathers’ rejection of the gospel does not excuse you to do the same! Joshua stood before that second generation and challenged them to choose to serve the Lord, to not walk in the wicked ways of their parents and grandparents. Like Joshua and that second generation, choose to serve the Lord, and do his will, and to learn his gospel, and to do his work.
Third, seek out those among that older generation who can serve as spiritual role models. Remember that—even as God was writing off that wicked generation—there were still deeply spiritual, righteous people like Moses, and Aaron, and Joshua, and Caleb. Their wisdom and guidance will shine all the greater in the darkness. Also never forget to honor your father and mother.
Fourth, commit yourself to leaving your own generation better than you found it! Do not perpetuate the mistakes of your parents. Raise godly children. Study God’s words. Reject human traditions and teach your brothers and sisters God’s ultimate will for his people and this world. Live the gospel every day and show your neighbors a life transformed by Christ.
We are God’s field, God’s building, and there is one foundation, Jesus Christ.
- Jarrod Nettles