George H. Warnock: "A Way
through the Wilderness"
THE WILDERNESS OF SINAI
“Be Ye Holy, For I Am
“And all the
congregation of the children of Israel journeyed from the Wilderness of Sin,
after their journeys, according to the commandment of the LORD, and pitched in
Rephidim: and there was no water for the people to drink” (Ex. 17:1).
They are still
southward-bound... still traveling farther and farther away from Canaan. For
God must prove them and prepare their hearts still further, before they are
ready to turn northward to Canaan.
Massah And Meribali
No water at Rephidim.
God provided them with food from heaven; but now they are again without water,
and ready to stone Moses. God has the answer to every physical and spiritual
need, and the only reason He keeps us waiting is to prove us and try us, to know
whether we will believe Him or not. Moses was told to stand upon a rock in Horeb
(which means “a parched place”), to smite the rock with his rod, and God
promised the waters would gush forth in refreshing, flowing streams.
“And he called the name
of the place Massah, and Meribah, because of the chiding of the children of
Israel, and because they tempted the LORD, saying, Is the LORD among us, or
not?” (Ex. 17:7).
Why is it that we have
to make a Massah and a Meribah out of every place of God’s provision, just
because God seems to act so slowly, and to be silent when we think we need Him
most? Why do we not allow the Lord to call the experiences of life through which
we must pass by such names as “Living Waters”... “Peace and Rest”... “Fountain
of Living Streams”... Instead, we murmur and complain, and God is faithful to
come on the scene in answer to our prayers, but He is compelled to call our
place of failure by such names as these: Massah, which means “testing,
temptation” or, Meribah, which means “contention, confrontation, strife.”
And when God says our
place of failure was Massah and Meribah, He is not saying it was the place where
He tested us. He is saying rather that in the place where He sought to test us
and prove us we turned it about and TESTED GOD AND CONTENDED WITH GOD AND PROVED
GOD... and this is what saddens His heart. Massah and Meribah have therefore
become a description of their whole way of life throughout their forty year
journey in the wilderness. And when the Psalmist lifts his voice to praise and
exalt the Rock of his salvation... and then bows his knee in worship before the
LORD his Maker... very abruptly his praise and his worship become, in a spirit
of prophecy, a very solemn warning to the people of God, who know how to praise
and worship, but whose hearts are prone to hardness and rebellion:
“To day if ye will hear
Harden not your heart,
As in the provocation
[as at ‘Meribah’],
And as in the day of
In the wilderness [as at
When your fathers
Proved Me, and saw My
work” (Ps. 95:7-9).
This is a day when the
congregations of the Lord have a know-how approach to God; and worship and
praise has in many, many cases become a system, a “do-it-this-way” approach...
and when it is all over, the heart remains as hard and as cold toward God as
ever. There is an “art” in praise, an “art” in worship, an “art” in music, and
an “art” in dancing before the Lord. And how little of it leads to true
submission and worship at the feet of Him who is our Lord and Maker. And if you
feel that in being blessed, and in partaking of much spiritual gift and
provision you are somehow His specially favored people, listen to these solemn
words at the end of this beautiful Song of Praise:
“Forty years long was I
With this generation,
It is a people that do
ERR IN THEIR HEART,
AND THEY HAVE NOT KNOWN
UNTO WHOM I SWARE IN MY
THAT THEY SHOULD NOT
ENTER INTO MY REST” (Ps. 95:10-11).
Here was a people who
were favored above all nations on the face of the earth. They beheld miracle
after miracle every day of their lives. Water miraculously flowed forth from the
Rock to quench their thirst. Manna rained down from heaven every day to satisfy
their every need. The Cloud of Glory abode upon their Tabernacle by day and by
night for forty years....
BUT IN AND THROUGH IT
ALL THEY NEVER CAME TO KNOW GOD!
AND GOD TESTIFIED THAT
THEY WERE A GRIEF TO HIS HEART!
These are frightening
observations. But we need to consider these things very solemnly in this day and
hour when the blessing of God upon His people is considered to be His seal of
approval. This is not Old Covenant theology. This is New Covenant teaching,
hidden away in the types and shadows of the Old. Listen to Paul’s commentary on
this episode in the wilderness: “Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should
be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the Cloud, and all passed
through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the Cloud and in the sea;
and did all eat the same spiritual meat; and did all drink the same spiritual
drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock
was Christ. But with many of them [or, ‘the most of them’] God was not well
pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness” (1 Cor. 10:1-5).
They were “overthrown in
the wilderness” despite the fact that they had partaken of all these manifold
blessings. In the very midst of their blessings, they failed to walk in
obedience, and failed to enter the Land of Promise. And the apostle Paul
admonishes us to learn from their mistakes, for they were types and shadows of
the people of God living in this New Covenant era. (See 1 Cor. 10:11-12.)
Sinai, The Holy Mountain
“In the third month,
when the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt, the same
day came they into the Wilderness of Sinai” (Ex. 19:1).
Here they must abide
approximately eleven months, camping at the foot of the holy mountain of God,
and becoming acquainted with His righteous and holy laws and ordinances. Here
they would build the Tabernacle, that God Himself might dwell among them. Canaan
lay before them, and there was much warfare to be accomplished, but God must
have a holy people to war against the unholy nations, and to enter that holy
realm which Moses had already described as “the mountain of Thine inheritance...
the place, O LORD, which Thou hast made for Thee to dwell in... the Sanctuary, O
Lord, which Thy hands have established” (Ex. 15:17).
In this day and age this
matter of holiness is usually equated with “legalism.” We know that we are
living in the Day of Grace. But what is often overlooked is that the Grace of
God came into being in order that the righteousness and the holiness which God
required in the Old Covenant, might now be PROVIDED in the New. The reason God
did away with the Law was because it didn’t work. And the New Covenant came into
being to work into the hearts and lives of God’s people that quality and
character of life that the Old Covenant was helpless to produce. It was “because
they continued not in My Covenant” that God saw fit to change it (Heb. 8:9). And
the reason we can walk in holiness and righteousness in the New Covenant is
simply because God comes into the heart and mind and soul to write His
requirements there in the heart and in the mind... once again with a finger of
fire, but this time “in fleshy tables of the heart” (2 Cor. 3:3). The New
Covenant is not just a new “position” in Grace; it is a WRITING ON THE HEART,
AND A WRITING ON THE MIND, AND A KNOWING OF GOD IN INTIMATE RELATIONSHIP. It is
not just a declaration of what we are in Christ; it is a TRANSITION from the
place of condemnation and death into a place of righteousness and life. It is a
TRANSFORMATION from a state of spiritual death and darkness into a new state of
spiritual life and light. Was God indeed concerned about sheep, and goats, and
oxen, and turtledoves, and pigeons, and holy days, and sabbaths, and religious
rituals of one kind or another? “Doth God take care for oxen? Or saith he it
altogether for our sakes?” (1 Cor. 9:9-10). Was He really concerned that we wear
a garment of only one kind of material? Or planting our garden with two kinds of
vegetables? Not really. But He was giving us principles of New Covenant truth in
an Old Covenant setting. In other words, God hates a mixture. He is after heart
purity... purity of mind, purity of attitudes. That’s what the Law is all about;
and that’s what the wilderness is all about. It is a revelation of the heart of
His people that God is after... that in seeing ourselves in our total
helplessness and hopelessness, we might draw close to Him and partake of His
grace. They confidently promised God that they would do everything He said. God
knew it wasn’t in their heart to do it, and we hear Him lamenting... “O that
there were such an heart in them, that they would fear Me, and keep all My
commandments always...” (Deut. 5:29). But even before Moses passes off the scene
he foresees the day when God would bring forth the New Covenant:
“And the LORD thy God
will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God
with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live” (Deut.
This is the whole
substance and intent of the Law, as Jesus observed. (See Matt. 22:37-40.)
God’s Peculiar Treasure
“Ye have seen what I did
unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto
Myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey My voice indeed, and keep My covenant,
then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people: for all the earth
is mine: and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation” (Ex.
Israel could not attain
to this; but it has been reserved for the New Covenant people: “But ye are a
chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that
ye should shew forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into
His marvellous light” (1 Pet. 2:9).
Who are these people who
are God’s special treasure, His peculiar people?
“Then they that feared
the LORD spake often one to another: and the LORD hearkened, and heard it, and a
book of remembrance was written before Him for them that feared the LORD, and
that thought upon His name. AND THEY SHALL BE MINE, saith the LORD of hosts, in
that day when I make up my jewels [or, ‘my special treasure’]...” (Mal.
They are the ones who
have a wholesome, godly fear of the Lord of all creation... a fear that inspires
love and devotion and commitment, even unto death. When God speaks they listen.
But they do more--they obey. They seek to walk in His ways. They tremble at His
Word. They speak often one to another, not in idle chitchat, but in fellowship,
thinking upon His Name, meditating of His wondrous works, encouraging and
edifying one another--teaching, exhorting, admonishing one another in the fear
of the LORD. They are wholly occupied with Him, and therefore He is wholly
occupied with them:
“If a man love me, he
will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and
make our abode with him” (Jn. 14:23).
The “peculiar people”
are not “peculiar” because they do foolish things or unseemly things. The word
has the sense of a “hidden treasure”... something so precious it is concealed,
and hidden from the eyes of men... something special, something superlative.
They are people that are unknown, and yet “well known.” For they may pass their
days in this life in obscurity, scarcely known or recognized in the affairs of
men. But they are “well known” in heavenly places, the subject of conversation
and wonder among the celestial hosts. They are weak and insignificant in
themselves... can boast of no special endowments in the natural... very ordinary
and unassuming. Yet somehow without great natural ability and with no claims to
any particular achievements, they love God with an intensity that sets them
apart in a special place in His heart... a special habitation for the abode of
Father and Son.
We are always in a hurry
to get to our destination; and God is much more desirous to bring us there than
we are. But He has taught us that...
“An inheritance may be
gotten hastily at the beginning; but the end thereof shall not be blessed”
(Prov. 20:21). And so for almost a year the Lord keeps the children of Israel at
Sinai, to prepare them for the journey NORTHWARD to Canaan. This is what the
book of Leviticus is all about. It is the book of the Holiness of God, and the
Holiness of His people. The word “holy” and “sanctify” are used well over one
hundred times in Leviticus alone. In all the sacrifices, in all the ordinances,
in all the judgments that God decreed, He is reflecting the holiness of His
nature, and the desire for holiness in His people.
Leviticus; for in the book of Numbers the people of the Lord are numbered and
set in orderly array, in preparation for the conquest of Canaan. But we must
become acquainted with the awesomeness of our God, and learn to “tremble at His
word” if we are going to be a conquering people. Would to God that the Church of
this hour which is so zealous for warfare could understand this. The Battle is
not ours but God’s; and if we do not learn to fear before Him, and partake of
His Holiness and of His character and nature, we are not going to war a good
warfare against the hosts of evil that are arrayed against us. Would God that
His people could understand that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but
spiritual, and that...
We overcome evil with
We overcome hatred with
We overcome lawlessness
with obedience ...
We overcome error and
deceit with Truth....
If we understood this,
then we would concentrate on these kinds of weapons, rather than upon all manner
of humanly devised strategies and gimmicks and forms of entertainment. And so we
must remain here at the foot of the Holy Mount, to learn His ways, before we are
going to be numbered for Battle.
To learn about the
Covenant that is written upon our hearts with God’s holy finger of fire...
To know God’s wrath
against the golden calf, and have our idolatrous hearts smitten with His
righteous judgments...To know the zeal of the Lord, and the zeal of His priests,
to cleanse the camp of God from all its idolatry...
To partake of priestly
concern for God’s people, that we might, as Moses did, prevail upon God to “turn
from His fierce wrath, and repent of the evil” that He has purposed, and in the
midst of His wrath, to remember mercy...
To set our hearts upon
building the Tabernacle of God; yet even as we do, to know that “Except the LORD
build the house, they labor in vain that; build it”...
To cry unto God as Moses
did, “I beseech Thee, O LORD, SHEW ME THY GLORY.” For it is only in beholding
His glory, and radiating His glory, that we shall be able to minister life and
truth to the people of God.
Then does the LORD say,
“Ye have dwelt long enough in this mount: turn you, and take your journey...”
Time To Turn North
The song writer speaks
of the “north wind” and the “south wind” that God sends upon His people. And so
after coming out of Egypt the north wind, as it were, drove them farther and
farther away from their goal. But now it is time for the south wind to blow, and
to urge them northward to the land of their inheritance:
“Awake, O north wind;
and come, thou south; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof might flow
out” (Song 4:16).
The rule of the Cloud is still the rule by which they must move forward into
Canaan. But now the holy fire of God rests upon the Tabernacle. Now the holy
fire of God is associated with the people of God, to consume their enemies.