Turn You Northward
"Ye have compassed this mountain long enough. Turn you northward." (Deut. 2,3.)
The generation that came out of Egypt had passed away. Forty long years of penance in the desolate territory at the northern end of the Red Sea had been endured and then the word of the Lord came again to Israel and electrified the host with its promise of great things to come.
At the terrible tragedy of Hormah, the host who had come from Egypt had attempted to take the land by force in defiance of the Divine command. They had trusted in their own swords and personal prowess instead of the arm of the Lord, and had in consequence been soundly defeated by the Canaanites. This was forty years in the past and the present warriors of Israel had not then been born. All they knew of the far-off stirring times had been told them by their fathers: when God came down upon Mount Sinai, revealing himself by signs and terrible wonders; when the pillar of cloud and fire led the tribes through the wilderness; when the judgments of God had been exacted, time and time again, in consequence of Israel's rebellion and perversity. All that remained to give evidence of those far-off days was manifest in the persons of three men, Moses, Joshua and Caleb, and those three stood before Israel, the only witnesses to the truth of God's promise.
For nearly forty years the people had lived in one place. Most of the travels of the Exodus had been accomplished in the first year of wanderings. For most of the time they dwelt, spread irregularly over the eastern half of the Sinai peninsula, from Kadesh in the north to the Gulf of Akaba in the south. They waited and hoped for God to relax his stern decree that they should remain there and not see the good land which he had promised them until his wrath was assuaged and his due time had come.
This was a new and virile generation, sons of the desert, accustomed from birth to hardship and stern endurance. They had been brought up in an atmosphere of religious observance and ritual worship that pervaded every activity of life. They were free from the idolatrous influences of Egypt and were ready for the task of building up a new nation in a new land. To them came the call "Ye have compassed this mountain long enough; turn you northward!"
Northward lay Canaan, the land of promise. Northward lay the fulfilment of all their hopes, the golden land of all their dreams, the place where they would become a great nation, and God himself would dwell with them. Under his leadership and in the glory of his presence they would fulfil the promise to Abraham resulting in the blessing of all men. No wonder that the host was excited as messengers went swiftly from camp to camp, from settlement to settlement, throughout the whole area where lived the three millions of Israel; proclaiming the message: "The time is fulfilled; the kingdom is at hand; prepare yourselves, O men of Israel, to go forward. Turn you northward!"
So these were the men who conquered Canaan and translated the promise and the hope into reality. The generation that came out of Egypt could never have done that. They began the journey; they were the people who willingly entered into the Divine Covenant and cried with enthusiasm "All that the Lord hath spoken we will do, and be obedient", and they were the people who endured the hardships and privations of that terrible desert, that "waste and howling wilderness" where the sun scorched by day and the frost chilled by night, where they hungered and thirsted and suffered as perhaps few have ever suffered. They did it for an ideal. They followed Moses because they believed he would lead them to a land of freedom for their children, and despite their often waywardness and rebellion they did, in the main, hold to that ideal throughout. We are perhaps too apt to condemn that generation for its unbelief without giving sufficient value to the credit side of the picture. Those people brought into the world, and trained in the national hope and worship, another generation which was better fitted than they themselves to complete the work. Those slaves who came out of Egypt could never, in the natural way, have conquered Canaan for themselves. They were too weak physically, too divided in counsel, too insecure in their conception of the common ideal, to act with sufficient resolution ever to win themselves the land by the sword. True, God knew that and expressly forbad them to make any such attempt. He would empty the land from before them, He said, and all they need do was to march right up in faith and possess it. But the adverse report of the ten spies was sufficient to destroy any assurance Israel might have had that God could do this thing. So, because they would not gain the land by faith, and could not gain it by the sword, their carcases rotted in the wilderness, forty years. Even so, they did, even in their failure, make a great and essential contribution to the ultimate winning of the land. They brought into the world the men and women who did eventually enter, and prepared them for the task, and for that we must give them due credit.
Today, we stand at such a time. There has been a long time of waiting in the wilderness. The exodus from spiritual Egypt is already a long way in the past. We who now live have no personal experience with the difficulties of the pioneers who through the 19th century proclaimed with fire and zeal the message they had received: "The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!" There have been experiences many and varied since then; there has without doubt been lack of faith and vision and because of that a loss of power in service and witness. The proclamation has without doubt suffered because of that. The bright vision of the coming Kingdom has measurably faded. The assurance and certainty of things to come is not so firmly held.
So consider,"The night is far spent; the day is at hand; therefore let us put off the bonds of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light." There are such tremendous possibilities before us. We can march up and possess the land, if we will. Surely we have lingered overlong in Kadesh. The Holy Spirit is with us, a Shekinah that will lead us safely if we as a people will follow together. "Speak unto the children of Israel that they go forward…. Ye have compassed this mountain long enough. TURN YOU NORTHWARD!"