Forty Years in the Desert
Why did the Israelites wander the desert for forty years?
The season of Lent lasts for forty days, but the Israelites wandered the desert for forty years! God freed his people from slavery in Egypt and promised to give them the land of Canaan.
Before they got there, however, God made them wander in the desert for forty years. This story explains why they had to suffer this punishment in the deserted wilderness for so long. This story might also be called the Tale of the Twelve Spies.
As you read this story, pay attention to the reason God punished the Israelites specifically for forty years.
The Israelites were freed from Egypt and eager to enter the land of Canaan. The only problem was that there were already people living in Canaan. God assured his people that he would be with them as they entered the new land.
God told Moses to send twelve spies into the land of Canaan, one spy for every tribe of Israel. The spies went out and traveled the land for forty days.
The spies came back and reported to Moses what they saw. The land was flowing with milk and honey. There were many places to grow food as farmers. But there were also many strong clans of people living there and many of the spies were afraid of them.
Caleb and Joshua wanted to lead the Israelites to take the land right away. They were not afraid of the Canaanites. The other spies lied and said that they saw very tall and strong people, some of them the size of giants.
When the Israelites heard this, they became angry with Moses for leading them out of Egypt. They were afraid, too, and cursed God for bringing them there. They forgot God’s promise that he would help them.
God was angry with the Israelites for their complaints. They did not trust in him no matter how many signs and gifts he gave to them.
Moses prayed for forgiveness on behalf of the people. “Forgive the mistakes of this people according to the greatness of your steadfast love,” he prayed.
The Lord responded, “I do forgive, just as you have asked, but I will punish this generation of people for their lack of faith. You will wander in the desert for forty years, the same number as the number of days you spied out the land.”
- Why were the Israelites punished and sent into the desert for forty years?
- Have you or someone you know ever been like Caleb and Joshua, who had faith in God when everyone else was doubtful and afraid?
- Moses prayed for God to forgive his people. Who are the people in your life that pray for you?
More Bible Stories for Lent
Download an entire collection of short Bible stories for you and your family to read at dinner, before bed, or any time you can find to break open the Word of God: