Life-Study of Deuteronomy, by Witness Lee

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A. The Wandering of Thirty-eight Years

Deuteronomy 2:1-23 speaks of the wandering from Kadesh-barnea to the crossing over of the brook Zered. Verse 14a says, "The time that we spent in going from Kadesh-barnea until we crossed over the brook Zered was thirty-eight years." Although Kadesh-barnea was the entry into the good land, God commanded the children of Israel to leave that place and to wander in the wilderness for thirty-eight years.

B. To Consume Man’s Flesh and Unbelief
and to Manifest God’s Mercy and Blessing

The purpose of these years of wandering was to consume man’s flesh and unbelief and to manifest God’s mercy and blessing (v. 7). In ourselves we are nothing but flesh and unbelief, which causes us to depart from God. Our flesh and unbelief need to be consumed. It is easy to speak about this, but it takes many years to experience it. For the children of Israel, this took thirty-eight years. On the one hand, these were wasted years; on the other hand, these years were useful in consuming their flesh and unbelief.

In these years God’s mercy and blessing were manifested. During the thirty-eight years of wandering in the wilderness, God was very exercised concerning His people. Even though they were unbelieving, He extended His love to them. How did God do this? He did it by showing mercy to them and by blessing them. In the years of wandering, God had mercy on His people and blessed them, even though they were fleshly and full of unbelief.

Because we are so far away from God and because our situation is so poor, God’s grace cannot reach us unless He first has mercy upon us. God’s mercy extends farther than His grace. We may say that mercy is God’s grace reaching farther than grace itself can reach. In other words, when God’s grace extends so far that it reaches us where we are, it becomes mercy. Since His mercy has reached us and since we are now under His mercy, God can bless us. If we realize how pitiful our situation is and how great is the distance between us and God, we will pray like this: "Lord, we need Your mercy because our situation is far away from Your grace. Thank You, Lord, that Your mercy can reach us where we are." As those who are now under God’s mercy, we should also pray for God’s blessing, saying, "Lord, we do not trust in what we can do. Neither do we trust in our labor. Our trust, Lord, is in Your blessing."

C. To Consume All the Unbelieving Ones

During the thirty-eight years of wandering, all the unbelieving ones were consumed. Concerning this, God was patient. Instead of consuming the unbelieving ones all at once, He took thirty-eight years to consume them.

D. To Produce a New Generation
for the Fulfilling of God’s Purpose

Finally, these thirty-eight years were used by God to produce a new generation for the fulfilling of God’s purpose. On the one hand, Moses might have been happy with this new generation; on the other hand, he might have been saddened by the loss of the first generation. God had changed the generation by the way of consuming the old generation. This is a serious matter.

Because Moses had witnessed the consuming of the first generation, he might have sighed deeply as he spoke the words recorded in chapter two. With the exception of Caleb and Joshua, all the fathers had died, and only the sons remained.

(Life-Study of Deuteronomy, Chapter 4, by Witness Lee)