Then we turned, and took our journey into the wilderness by the way of the Red sea, as the LORD spoke to me…
The story with which this order is connected in the annals is found in Numbers 21:12-35.
I. THE NEW DEPARTURE IN ISRAEL'S WANDERING. Only a few particulars will be necessary in order to show us the pertinency to an anniversary service which the ancient narrative will bring.
1. Past experience was in the word "compassed."
2. Future experience was in the word "northward." For they all knew that in that direction lay Canaan. The time was complete, the retribution was fulfilled, a young generation had arrived upon the stage of action. So another forward movement was ordered, this time in the line of progress towards the Jordan and the covenanted land of promise. Evidently a great historical crisis is reached at last. The deadlock of rebellious will is broken. Humanity shows a quickening of life once more. This is what in modern times is called "a new departure"; and this is what renders the incident suggestive as a religious symbol for our present employment.
II. THE NEW DEPARTURE IN OUR WORK TODAY. The last week in December is what merchants call "inventory time." Thoughtful religious people use it often for taking account of spiritual stock. Let the past be left behind; our hopes are all in the future; we have compassed that mountain with its twelve peaks long enough; it is time to "turn northwards."
III. THE NEW DEPARTURE IN EACH BELIEVER'S HISTORY. So vivid appears this illustration that it might easily be made to serve for a permanent exhortation to the churches. Three grand principles in ordinary spiritual life are exhibited in the image employed.
1. All true Christians have mountains to compass. Sometimes our duties are mountains, sometimes our trials. Some have more mountains than others have. Some have harder ones than others have. Some make mountains out of what would be only molehills to those who are braver than they are. But this will be the lesson: God gives all His children mountains to compass.
2. All true Christians must compass their mountains. There can be no rebellious refusal of the task God sets for us. There is no room for any ingenious evasion of His commands. There can never be permitted any sudden leaping over or flying across the difficult ridge of duty. There can be no changing mountains with each other in the hope of getting easier ones.
3. God's sovereignty decides when the mountain is compassed long enough. There is a period set for continuance and for cessation. Long enough — for the mountain's sake. Real work has to be done slowly and patiently. Some tasks there are which cannot be at all hurried.
(1) Long enough — for our own sakes. Certain disciplines must be wrought out upon our characters. Dispositions, like finest wines, require what can be done for them only by time and silence. Jehovah was preparing these people for Canaan before He suffered a single one of them to enter.
(2) Long enough — for others' sake. The principle of division of labour is here involved. Vicarious suffering is the rule for the redeemed race who follow Christ, who was cut off, and not for Himself. These young Israelites were held back to give the older people decorous space in which to die (Deuteronomy 2:14).
(3) Long enough — for the Lord s sake. He asks us to labour on and wait till He tells us what it is all for.
IV. THE NEW DEPARTURE IN CHURCH LIFE. Our admonitions grow rapidly now, for the field of application for the figure is wider.
1. To some who now hear this call it will be the language of rebuke. "Ye have compassed this mountain long enough." It is of no use to stay here any longer; the chance is lost. It is like Jesus saying to His disciples in slumber, "Sleep on now." Duty is sometimes neglected until the man is withdrawn from the charge.
2. To some who now hear it this call will be the language of comfort. "Ye have compassed this mountain long enough." Oh, how fine a thing it is to look back upon a hard work carried well and patiently through into grand success! Leave the old toil now; let the bent form straighten up; let the tired shoulder rest.
3. To some it will be the language of command. "Ye have compassed this mountain long enough; turn you northward." Yes; turn northward straight to another mountain, and another; for there is no discharge in that war! Is it your birthday? Then one mountain is well compassed; take a new one. Is it the anniversary of your first communion? One good mountain compassed; now again! And the soul is all alive with fresh exhilaration from the hill climbing.
4. For to some this call is the language of encouragement. "Ye have compassed this mountain long enough; turn you northward." And northward lies the land of covenant promise; every mountain now passed brings us nearer to the end of them. It grows a little gladder in the sunshine and clearer in the atmosphere; it seems like attaining the last hill and catching the gales from beyond the river.
(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Then we turned, and took our journey into the wilderness by the way of the Red sea, as the LORD spake unto me: and we compassed mount Seir many days.