My wanderings through the ESV Audio Bible and the adult Sunday School class on the Book of Hebrews have brought me right through the experience of the Israelites in Egypt. A complaining, murmuring, disobedient generation. And when the 38 years of judgment had killed off the generation that refused to go into the land, and Moses was facing a new generation about to enter the land under Joshua, he was dismayed at their continued unbelief:
“But to this day the Lord has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear” (Deut 29:4).
The Book of Hebrews sees the Israelite wanderings as a symbol of the professing Christian’s ability to finally reject what he claims to have accepted. The author of Hebrews asks us to not reject the heavenly good news like the Israelites mostly rejected the earthly good news that was offered to them.
But for those who have received Jesus Christ in a heartfelt way and desire to follow him, the disobedient and backward wilderness generation has an all too familiar ring. We continually abuse our privileges, murmur against God’s providence, fail to gratefully accept his provision, despise our leadership, dabble in false teachings and false gods, and other offenses. This is why God’s most beloved attribute is possibly his mercy, since only a merciful God could put up with the people he chose for himself.
Today I ran across George Herbert’s application of the wilderness experience to himself. It bemoans the experience of personal backsliding and rebellion, but rejoices in the full experience of mercy that we have now through the finished work of Christ. The poem is not on my Herbert web page yet, so here it is, adapted from another website:
The bunch of grapes
Joy, I did lock thee up: but some bad man
Hath let thee out again:
And now, me thinks, I am where I began
Sev’n years ago: one vogue and vein,
One air of thoughts usurps my brain
I did towards Canaan draw; but now I am
Brought back to the Red sea, the sea of shame.
For as the Jews of old by God’s command
Travell’d, and saw no town;
So now each Christian hath his journeys spann’d:
Their story pens and sets us down.
A single deed is small renown.
God’s works are wide, and let in future times;
His ancient justice overflows our crimes.
Then have we too our guardian fires and clouds;
Our Scripture-dew drops fast:
We have our sands and serpents, tents and shrouds;
Alas! our murmurings come not last.
But where’s the cluster? where’s the taste
Of mine inheritance? Lord, if I must borrow,
Let me as well take up their joy, as sorrow.
But can he want the grape, who hath the wine?
I have their fruit and more.
Blessed be God, who prosper’d Noah’s vine,
And made it bring forth grapes’ good store.
But much more him I must adore,
Who of the Law’s sour juice sweet wine did make,
Ev’n God himself, being pressed for my sake.