Eleven Days' Work In Forty Years

Deuteronomy 1.2 tells us, “There are eleven days’ journey from Horeb by the way of Mount Seir unto Kadeshbarnea.” This verse may seem out of place unless we remember the context. 

By this time, the Israelites had made it through the wilderness wanderings and were at the border of Canaan near the Jordan River. These folks had endured forty years of wanderings as a punishment for their rebellion against God in Numbers 13 and 14. Remember that a generation earlier, the people had escaped Egypt by God’s power (Exodus 14). They had gone to Horeb, or Sinai, and received God’s commands (Exodus 20-35). The book of Leviticus reveals the words Moses spoke by inspiration to the Levitical, or priestly, tribe, enumerating their duties before God. The book of Numbers then records the census of the people and their eleven-day journey to Canaan (Numbers 1-13).

These people were at the southern border of Canaan when they rebelled against God. Ten of the twelve spies said that, while the land was just as God described, it would be impossible to conquer the people (Numbers 13.31-33). Israel listened to the majority rather than Joshua and Caleb and rebelled against God. They even demanded that they return to Egypt (Numbers 14.4)! God then rejected them and threatened their deaths (Numbers 14.12). 

Through Moses’ intercession, God did not destroy them in a short time. Punishment was still needed, though. So, God determined that “after the number of the days in which ye searched the land, even forty days, each day for a year, shall ye bear your iniquities, even forty years, and ye shall know my breach of promise. I the Lord have said I will surely do it unto all this evil congregation, that are gathered together against me: in this wilderness they shall be consumed, and there they shall die” (Numbers 14.34-35). 

Thus, that generation waited in the wilderness and wandered while the people from twenty years old and upward finally died (Numbers 14.29). After this, God allowed the people to go into the Promised Land. A new generation would possess it and fulfill God’s promise to Abraham so long ago (Genesis 15.13-16). Deuteronomy (“second reading”) records the final words of Moses before the people entered the Land of Promise, as recorded in the book of Joshua. They finally accomplished their eleven days’ work…in forty years!

In a study of this, sometimes we can get bogged down in the details and forget that there are lessons here for us (Romans 15.4). Is it possible we can have the problem of only accomplishing eleven days’ work in forty years? What can we learn from these people’s examples?

We can learn that our sin — any sin — will result in wasted time on this earth. Just think, after receiving the commandments and the instructions to the Levites (this lasted about a year - Numbers 9), these people were poised to begin taking the Land of Promise in just a week and a half! Sadly, because of sin (Numbers 13-14), these people would wait forty more years to do the work and enjoy the promise. 

Let us remember that a life in sin is a wasted life. The time we spend engaged in sin is wasted time that we will never get back! Some may spend a proverbial “forty years” in sin, never realizing what they would have in Christ. What a tragedy! A life of sin wastes our time, talents, and energy. The time we could have used in devotion to God and bringing others to Christ has been wasted in selfishness and perhaps even discouraging people from following the Lord! In contrast, “our labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15.58)! In other words, we do not waste our time when we are doing the Lord’s will and living for him. There are no regrets, embarrassment, or wishing for another chance in the Lord!

Let us take a moment to examine ourselves (2 Corinthians 13.5). What kind of life are we living? Too many things in this life are a waste of time, anyway. Why would we want to waste more time in sin and separated from God (Isaiah 59.1-2)? Let us repent and follow the Lord today while we still have breath and opportunity (2 Corinthians 6.2; Hebrews 3.7-8; Mark 16.16).