Half of Israel was dead. Most of that first generation had found their earthly place of rest in the desert of Sinai. Aaron was no more. Moses was about to be laid to rest on a mountain plateau by God. Joshua and Eleazar were in the batter’s box. They were on the verge of leading the next generation of Israelites into the Promised Land. A new era was right around the corner.
Would this new generation learn from the woes of their parents and grandparents? Would they walk in holiness following the hard discipline of their Heavenly Father? Would they learn from history, or would they walk after the manner of their forefathers?
Some would not learn from the experience of their parents. The Israelites at Shittim added sin upon sin. They discounted the holy wrath of God, and 24,000 were killed by God’s sword and plague. (Numbers 25)
However, most of Israel learned from the transgressions of the previous generation. The Hebrews counted and listed in Numbers 26 were largely faithful. They were the ones who would march with confidence into the Promised Land. They would do better than their parents. They would be consumed with obedience, and they would be greatly blessed by the Lord.
From generation to generation, God does not change; neither does his standard of righteousness. Certain civil and ceremonial rules come and go, but his ethical desire is fixed. Therefore, one today can expect God to respond in the same manner as he did yesterday.
So what about us? Will we learn from history? Will we see how God has responded to the obedience and disobedience of men, and make the needed changes in our lives? Will we notice what God has done with empires and nations? Will we study what God has done with denominations and individual churches? Will we look at family patterns and see God’s interaction with faithful and unfaithful units? Then, will we make the necessary adjustments? Or, are we such hard-headed fools that God can only speak to us through newly inflicted disciplinary pain?
Let us be biblical and cultural historians. Let us read the Scripture, read the history books, read the newspaper, and learn from the painful discipleship of our predecessors. God is pleased with our self-correction. He does not find pleasure in painfully disciplining the next generation. Exhortation is a much easier teacher than experience. We would hate for God to have to freshly love and hurt us in order to instruct and reform us.