For the Lord your God has blessed you in all that you have done; He has known your wanderings through this great wilderness. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you; you have not lacked a thing.
Deuteronomy, the final book of the Pentateuch, is crafted in the form of Moses’s final speeches to the people of Israel as they ready themselves to cross the Jordan and finally enter the long-Promised Land. Most of the book concerns itself with reiterating various religious and civil laws, including the Ten Commandments and instructions for the Passover and other festival days. It ends with an account of the death of Moses, and the passing of his mantle of authority to Joshua.
Forty years of Israelite wanderings in the wilderness are summarized in the first couple of chapters, along with an explanation for their delayed entrance into the Promised Land. They weren’t yet ready to take possession of the land and live as God intended, which they demonstrated in spectacular fashion in the incident of the Golden Calf. So God leads them through a long period of what must have seemed pointless traipsing through an inhospitable land. The text gives the reason as one of punishment: forty years is needed for everyone in their unfaithful generation to die off and their places assumed by their children, who would hopefully make better choices. (Of course, they didn’t, but those are stories told in other books of the Bible)
But I wonder: the short passage above from Deuteronomy 2 indicates that the children of Israel were blessed in their wanderings. God was with them, and gave them everything they needed, in spite of their own mistakes and failures. Although their wanderings may have seemed purposeless to the casual observer, they did in fact have a purpose which was only seen in retrospect: they needed time to learn the ways of God. Can it be that even as we wander through our own lives, trying to make sense of all its unpredictable twists and turns, that God is with us, working to bring blessings out of the often unpleasant and uncomfortable messiness of life? Even when we are the guilty party in getting ourselves into a mess in the first place? I think so. And that’s good news.