Yes, it is in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy that we read about the Israelites’ forty-year sojourn in the wilderness between Egypt and Canaan. However, when it comes to the matter of how Jehovah provided and cared for His people during their wilderness experience, there is an extensive bit of information found in a memorable prayer that is recorded in Nehemiah 9. It is a moving prayer that came from the heart.
Nehemiah was a man of prayer, but the prayer that we read in Nehemiah 9:5-38, which happens to be one of the longest recorded prayers in the entire Bible, was prayed by Levites, not Nehemiah (9:4,5). In their prayer, those Levites rehearsed a number of things from Israel’s past and how the Lord had dealt with them. We are going to center our attention on what they said about God’s care for Israel in the wilderness. Let us listen to God’s word and learn.
How the Israelites conducted themselves: For a moment, we will hold off on enumerating the ways in which Jehovah blessed them. For starters, just consider Israel’s response to His great kindnesses:
– They acted proudly (9:16).
– They hardened their necks (9:16,17).
– They did not heed His commands (9:16).
– They refused to obey (9:17).
– They were not mindful of His wonders (9:17). – They rebelled (9:17).
– They made a molded calf (9:18).
What Jehovah could have done, but did not do:
Seeing His people’s ungrateful, self-willed hearts, the Almighty could have forsaken them instantly, but He did not do so (9:17,19). There must be a reason. Let us read on.
What Jehovah was not obligated to do, but He did it anyway: God loved His people and longed to take care of their needs, even though they were undeserving of such goodness. In what ways did He manifest His care for the Israelites in the wilderness?
– At Mount Sinai, He gave them true laws and just ordinances (9:13).
– He gave them bread for their hunger (9:15).
– He gave them water for their thirst (9:15).
– He gave them a pillar of cloud above the tabernacle “to lead them on the road” (9:19).
– He gave them a pillar of fire above the tabernacle to show them light (9:19).
– He gave them His Spirit to instruct them (9:20).
– He kept on giving manna and water (9:20).
– Their clothes did not wear out (9:21).
– Their feet did not swell (9:21).
The Israelites were super blessed, were they not? But why? Why would God put up with Israel’s obstinate behavior and keep opening the windows of heaven to pour out His blessings on them?
What the Levites confessed about God’s nature: When Israel rebelled in the wilderness, what aspects of Jehovah’s unchanging character were revealed?
– He was ready to pardon (9:17).
– He was gracious and merciful (9:17).
– He was abundant in kindness (9:17).
– He had manifold mercies (9:19).
– He is the great, the mighty, and awesome God (9:32).
Are you serious, all of those things are said about God in the Old Testament? That is correct. He always has been a God of pardon, grace, mercy, kindness, and awesome power. Always. As we read the complete prayer of the Levites in Nehemiah 9, we learn that God ultimately punished His people when they refused to turn away from their rebellious ways, but His personal nature and love for them did not change.
In considering how the Israelites fared in the wilderness under God’s care, one sentiment stands out: The Levites of Nehemiah’s day acknowledged, “Forty years You sustained them in the wilderness; They lacked nothing” (9:21). Nothing – they lacked nothing. The Great Sustainer sustained them and sustained them and sustained them some more! Let those words sink in: “they lacked nothing.”
When Jesus sent His apostles out to preach to the Jews (“the Limited Commission”), He told them not to take along certain material items (Matthew 10:9,10). Later, on the night when Judas betrayed Him, He asked those same apostles about their former preaching trip: “When I sent you without money bag, knapsack, and sandals, did you lack anything?” Their answer: “Nothing” (Luke 22:35). Just like Israel in the wilderness, the apostles lacked nothing. Why? Because the Lord was giving His people what they needed. Are we listening?
We need to develop a complete trust in God. His providence – His care for His children, cannot be denied. Jesus promised that when His followers seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness, the things that they need (not desire, but “need”), will be added to them (Matthew 6:32,33).
Lord, if we have failed to express and show our gratefulness to You, please forgive us. If ridiculous, immature, child-like complaining has come forth from our mouths, please forgive us. Forgive us of our obsessive desire to have more and more material possessions. Forgive us, Lord, if we have not been satisfied completely with what You have so kindly given to us – it is plenty! In Jesus’ name, Amen.
— Roger D. Campbell