In the second month of the second year after the Israelites had left Egypt, one month after they had celebrated the second Passover, the column of smoke and fire that had been guiding them through the wilderness lifted and began to move. The people packed up and began to follow. Numbers 10 tells us that this was the first time they had moved.
Up to this point, the Exodus journey has actually been going pretty well, relatively speaking. The community is primarily faithful. Most of their big acts of unfaithfulness haven't happened yet. You know, all of the things we associate with their Exodus journey going so terribly.
But here's the difficult truth about Israel's first move through the wilderness: So the Israelites moved from the Desert of Sinai and traveled from place to place until the column of smoke stopped in the Desert of Paran. (Numbers 10:12)
After a whole year's sojourn in the desert, when the Israelites were, we figure, fully aware that the entire journey should have taken no more than a few months, after their faithful celebration of the second Passover, after they had asked Moses how the unclean among them could take part in the Passover out of their great longing to do so, after faithful step after faithful step, God led them out of the desert they were in...to another desert.
No wonder Israel was frustrated!
I think this is a story that most of us can relate to, even if we don't really put it into these terms. We say things like, "It's been just one thing after another." What we mean is - as soon as we seem to have overcome one thing in our lives, there's another one just around the corner. We heal our bodies, only to have our cars break down. Or we fix our cars, only to have our homes fail. Or we end one relationship, only to have another one fall apart. It's one thing after another after another, and I think all of us, at one point or another, have had these seasons where we feel like if we could just get through this desert...only to find out there's another desert awaiting us.
And it's not - we have to recognize this - it's not necessarily anything of our own doing. As I said, to this point, Israel's been pretty faithful. They've been on board. They've been holding out their hope. Tentatively, maybe (or Tent-atitvely?), but they're holding it. They haven't seen the Promised Land, but they are still fairly certain that they're going to. They've seen God's presence on the mountain. They've heard His thunder. They've watched His pillar come to settle on the Tent of Meeting, right in their very presence. They could not possibly be more convinced that God is present among them, even if they might also be starting to wonder if God's presence is doing them any actual good at all.
Still, He leads them only from one desert to another.
There are, I think, at least two big understandings that we need to take away from this moment in Israel's history, two recognitions that may help us in our own seasons of wandering. (There are probably more than this, but I will pick just these two for now.) Stay tuned.