It was only an eleven-day journey from Mount Seir to Kadesh-Barnea but Israel spent 40 years before they could complete that journey as a nation. The book of Numbers records the events that took place in those 40 years, when they came to an end all the generation that had exited Egypt had died in the wilderness except the two spies, Joshua and Caleb, who wanted to enter the land 40 years ago but were outnumbered. Now, in the 40th year, Moses prepares them once again to enter the promised land. He called them together and began the second recitation of the Law. That’s what the word “Deuteronomy” means: The second law. Deuteronomy 1:2-3 says, “It is eleven days’ journey from Horeb by the way of Mount Seir to Kadesh-Barnea. In the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses spoke to the people of Israel according to all that the Lord had given him in commandment to them.”

McGee comments on this passage, “Mount Sinai is in Horeb. It was a journey of eleven days from Horeb to Kadesh–Barnea, which was the entry point into the Land of Promise. Israel spent thirty–eight years wandering when it should have taken them only eleven days to get into the land. Why? Because of their unbelief. Their marching was turned to wandering, and they became just strangers and pilgrims in that desert. Because they were slow to learn, they wandered for thirty–eight years in that great and terrible wilderness. We also are slow to learn, friends. I think we would characterize ourselves by saying we have low spiritual I.Q.’s. It seems as if the Lord must burn down the school in order to get some of us out of it!”[1]

I think J. Vernon is correct. We spend way too much time ourselves in the “terrible wilderness.” We don’t enjoy all the blessings God has given us in life and remain unthankful most of the time. We are tempted in many ways and always feel like we’re under spiritual attack as Jesus was in his 40 days in the wilderness. Job had his wilderness experience. Elijah had a tough time during his wilderness experience when he wished had could die amid a severe pity party. It becomes a challenge just getting by one day at a time. Financial, material, physical, or emotional burdens may press on us. There is nothing we can do but wait on the Lord and we hate waiting, don’t we?  Paul has experience with periods in the terrible wilderness also. He describes it in 2 Corinthians 4:7-10, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” “The wilderness is an unpleasant place. We naturally want prosperity, health, and easy going. But the same God who created the garden also created the wilderness. There will be times of trial and pressure. Our faith will be tested. But the God of grace will meet us even in the wilderness. Missionary Amy Carmichael knew this truth: ‘Bare heights of loneliness . . . a wilderness whose burning winds sweep over glowing sands, what are they to HIM? Even there He can refresh us, even there He can renew us.’”[2] Well, Israel reached the point where it was time to leave the wilderness and enter the promised land. There will always come a time for us as well.

[1] McGee, J. Vernon. 1991. Thru the Bible Commentary: The Law (Deuteronomy). Electronic ed. Vol. 9. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.