(6) Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. (7) Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. (8) Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. (9) Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents. (10) Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer. (11) Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.
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Israel's experience in Egypt and in the wilderness is an object lesson that God desires us to reflect on frequently. These lessons are most forcefully brought to the fore during the spring as we begin rehearsing God's plan of salvation in the annual holy days. Once freed from their slavery to Egypt, it took the Israelites but seven days to cross the Red Sea, breaking completely clear of Egyptian control. In dramatic contrast, it took them forty years to walk the remaining few hundred miles! During this trek, every man of war numbered in the first census after leaving Egypt—with the exception of Joshua and Caleb—died without reaching the Promised Land. Will we allow ourselves to match this miserable record by failing to maintain our liberty?
What a costly expedition! Hebrews 3:16-19 clarifies the cause of their failure more specifically:
For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not allwho came out of Egypt, led by Moses? Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief. [emphasis ours]
Clearly, they did not make the right efforts to defend their God-given liberties. Instead, they exacerbated their circumstances by failing to discipline themselves to submit to God's rule over their lives, even though He freely rescued them from their slavery. They were unwilling to pay the costs of directing their lives as He commanded, despite knowing, through the many manifestations of His power, that He acted exactly as Moses had said He would.
— John W. Ritenbaugh