A Short Journey Becomes a Wilderness Wandering


Deuteronomy 1:2 says, “It is eleven days’ journey from Horeb by the way of Mount Seir to Kadesh-barnea.” But, instead of the journey lasting eleven days, it took Israel 40 years. What happened?


Israel was to start its eleven day journey at Horeb. Why did Israel’s journey begin here?

Horeb is first mentioned in the Bible in Exodus 3. It is the place where Moses met the Lord, the I Am, in the burning bush (see my post Jesus: I Am the Burning Bush). It was at Horeb that God revealed himself as the self-existent one. God first revealed himself as the I Am at Horeb. At Horeb, we come to know that God’s name is a fact, I Am. As the I Am, God is everything we need. His name is a fact, a present reality, which is far greater than a promise for the future.

Horeb is mentioned a second time in Exodus 17. It is the place where Moses struck the rock to get water for the people to drink. This story is a picture of Christ on the cross being struck by Satan and yielding his water, the Holy Spirit, for us to drink.  I wrote about this in Jesus: The Rock that Was Struck.

What is significant about Horeb? Why does the journey begin in Horeb?

Horeb means to dry up, be dried. Therefore, Israel’s journey began in the dry place.

What does this reveal about us?

Our journey begins in the dry place. The journey to know God begins when we are thirsty.

Isaiah 55:1 says, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!” God calls the one who is thirsty to come to the waters that he gives freely. These waters to quench the thirst of our soul can be bought without money. Isaiah goes on to say that we get these waters by inclining our ear to the Lord, hearing that our soul may live, seeking the Lord while he is near.

In John 4:14, Jesus said to the woman at the well, “But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Jesus gives the water that will quench our thirst.

John 7:37-39 says, “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed were to receive.” Here, we see that the water that Jesus gives to quench our thirst is the Holy Spirit.

In Revelation 21:6, Jesus says, “To the thirsty I will give from the spring of water of life without payments.”

And, one of the last things we hear said in the Bible is the Spirit and the bride saying, “Come.” John writes in Revelation 22:17, “And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.”

Israel’s journey, my journey, and your journey begin when we admit that we are thirsty and go to Jesus for a drink.


Israel was to journey from Horeb, the dry and thirsty place, by the way of Mount Seir. Throughout the Bible, mounts are pictured as high places or places of worship.

So, what is Mount Seir a picture of?

Seir means to have bristly hair. The first use of the word hairy is found in Exodus 25:25, which says, “The first came out red, all his body like a hairy cloak, so they called his name Esau.” Esau is a picture of the natural man. The natural man has a wild nature and does things his own way.

Therefore, Israel was to journey from the dry and thirsty place by the way of their wild nature. But, as we will see below, the journey to was to deliver Israel from this wild nature to control by the Holy Spirit.


Israel was to journey from Horeb, the dry and thirsty place, to Kadesh-barnea.

Where exactly was this journey taking Israel?

Kadesh means to be holy, removed from common use, subject to special treatment, and forfeited to the sanctuary. The meaning of barnea is not as clear. But, when we put the two together, a possbile meaning of Kadesh-barnea is holy purifying wanderings.

We saw above that when Jesus bids us to come drink from the water he gives that he is talking about giving us the Holy Spirit. As believers in Jesus, we are to be filled by the Spirit, to be led by the Spirit, and to walk in the Spirit. All of this time with the Spirit is so that he will sanctify us in obedience to Christ. In other words, we are to be made holy, set apart for use by God, forfeited to use in his sanctuary. We are to put off our old, our wild nature.

Peter writes in 1 Peter 1:1-2, “To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood.”

Paul writes in 2 Thessalonians 2:13, “But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.” We are the firstfruits, bearing fruit in this world, by the sanctification, or setting apart, by the Spirit.

Therefore, Israel’s journey was to Kadesh-barnea, the place where they would be set apart for use by God. It was from Kadesh-barnea that Israel would go up to possess the promised land.

For us, Kadesh-barnea is a picture of the place where we receive the Holy Spirit from Jesus. It is then that we are ready to enter into his rest, the land of Canaan, so that Jesus can do his work through us to possess the inhabitants of the land (see yesterday’s post – The Inheritance of Jesus – What Is It?). It is at Kadesh-barnea that we realize the work – none of it – is no longer ours to do. All of the work is for the Lord to do in and through us.


Why was the journey to take eleven days?

Esau was also known as the nation Edom. Edom was given possession of Mount Seir. Esau, Edom, and Mount Seir have a relation to number 11. Genesis 36:40-43 says that there were 11 “chiefs of Edom (that is, Esau, the father of Edom), according to their dwelling places in the land of their possession.”

Of course, 11 is one more than 10 and one less than 12. Both 10 and 12 are symbolic of God’s government. The number 10 is symbolic of testimony, law, responsibility, and order. And, the number 12 is symbolic of God’s power, authority, and his perfect governmental foundation. Therefore, as 11 falls between 10 and 12, it represents rebellion to these ideas. The journey was to last 11 days to bring Israel out of its rebellion and into submission to God’s law, government, and order.

Israel’s journey is a picture of us no longer walking according to the ways of the world and our own flesh and coming under the control of the Holy Spirit by the indwelling life of Jesus Christ.

So, what happened to Israel? Why did the journey take 40 years instead of 11 days?


When Israel reached Kadesh-barnea, Moses spoke to Israel about what it should do next. Deuteronomy 1:20-21 says, “And I said to you, ‘You have come to the hill country of the Amorites, which the Lord our God is giving us. See, the Lord your God has set the land before you. Go up, take possession, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has told you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”

Israel had been told what the land of Canaan was like. And, God had given them his word, his promise, that he would give Israel the land for their possession and inheritance.

But, Deuteronomy 1:22 says, “Then all you came near me and said, ‘Let us send men before us, that they may explore the land for us and bring us word again of the way by which we must go up and the cities which we shall come.'” Israel didn’t trust God. So, they wanted to send spies into the land to “bring us word again.” Instead of trusting God’s word, they wanted the spies to see the land for them. Was it really like God said? Who was in it? What will we need to do to take possession of it? Israel would trust the word of the spies over the word of the Lord.

The Lord was going before Israel to fight for them. He had already been going before Israel to show them where to pitch their tents on the way that they had traveled so far. But, once they heard the report of the spies about the giants in the land Israel was afraid to go into the land.

When Israel refused to go into the land, God said they would wander in the wilderness and not one of the men of that evil generation would go into the land. But, the little ones, whom Israel said would become a prey to the people in the land, and the children, who that day had no knowledge of good and evil, would go into the land. So, God told all the man to turn and journey back into the wilderness.

After all of this, Israel responded to Moses, Deuteronomy 1:41 says, “Then you answered me, ‘We have sinned against the Lord, We ourselves will go up and fight, just as the Lord our God commanded us.’ And every one you fastened on his weapons of war and thought it easy to go up into the hill country.”

God was going to give Israel the land. He was going before Israel and would fight the battle for them. But, when Israel rebelled and God told the men they were not going into the land, the men decided they would take matters into their own hands. They would go up themselves and fight. These men would take their “weapons of war” and take the land themselves. But, that was never God’s plan. God’s plan was never to take the land of Canaan as a possession through war.

The 11 day journey became a 40 year wandering in the wilderness to remove the men of war from the nation of Israel. God wanted to possess the land his way, using his weapon – love. So, God had Israel wander in the wilderness until all the men of war perished.

Deuteronomy 2:14-17 says, “And the time of our leaving Kadesh-barnea until we crossed the brook Zered was thirty-eight years, until the generation, that is, the men of war, had perished from the camp, as the Lord had sworn to them. For indeed the hand of the Lord was against them, to destroy them from the camp, until they had perished. So as soon as all the men of war had perished and were dead from among the people, the Lord said to me, ‘Today you are to cross the border of Moab at Ar.”


What do we learn from Israel’s journey?

First, we are to trust God in his promises. Jesus said in the sermon on the mount that the meek shall inherit the earth. As joint heirs with Christ, we will inherit the earth with him.

But, he is not going to show us everything that is going to happen in order for us to inherit the earth. So, we try to spy out the earth and what we will need to do to inherit it. We try to come up with our own plans to take possession of the earth and take over the governments and systems of the world. But, seeing all that is in the earth, all the governments, and broken systems, we will be afraid. At first, we will refuse to go inherit the earth in complete trust and reliance on God.

But, when we realize the sin of not trusting God, we will try to inherit the earth our way – with our weapons of war. Instead of listening to Jesus and hearing his clear declaration that the meek shall inherit the earth, we try to inherit the earth with weapons of flesh and blood, carnal weapons, weapons of war.

What’s the result of trying to inherit the earth according to the ways of this world, through men of war fighting to take it themselves in their own strength?

We, the church, the body of Christ, wanders and wanders in the wilderness until the spirit of war comes out of us.

Did you happen to catch who God was going to send into the land though?

The little ones who would become a prey and the children who that day had no knowledge of good and evil.

Who inherits the earth?

Little ones can’t fight a war out of their own strength. Little ones don’t fight wars. Little ones go into the land as a prey. We are called to die like Jesus. We are as lambs led to the slaughter. We are as a prey for the world.

Children don’t know the ways of the world. Children don’t have a knowledge of good and evil. Children don’t know how to do things by their own wisdom. They rely on their parents for that.

Jesus tell us to come to him like little children. We are to listen to him. We are to do things his way.

Then, and only then, will we be the meek that inherit the earth.



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