They say that every seven years nearly every cell of your body has died and been replaced. That is more than I can know, but it is fascinating to contemplate, since the new you looks pretty much like the you of seven years ago, and one would not be accused of error to say you were the identical person.
This biological fact provides an interesting example of continuity and discontinuity, of how an entity can be the same entity over time while being composed entirely of different parts from the entity as it was formerly constituted. Similarly, consider the genius of God: He knows how to keep His promise to bring all of Israel into the Promised Land, while at the same time keeping his promise that not a man of the original Israelites (except Joshua and Caleb) will enter the land. Who would have thought of it!
Some parts of the Old Testament are better understood in the New Testament, where we are told plainly the meaning behind the events: "With most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness" (1 Corinthians 10:5). The cast of characters that opened the book of Exodus have all exited the stage---but without fanfare and below the threshold of your observation, they were picked off one by one. Exodus through Deuteronomy is the story of a slow consuming.
Consider the patience of God: He could very well have killed them all on the spot for their recalcitrant grumbling, but instead He let them die by "natural causes." It took 40 years for the last of them to have a heart attack or stroke. Let this be a lesson to us that dying of natural causes is not necessarily a sign that a person is right with God. Many have gone gentle into that good night, lulled by modern hogwash about the naturalness of death, only to be rudely awakened on the other side.
In contrast to this gradualness or naturalness in the decimation of rebellious Israel is the un-naturalistic explanation for the sudden cessation of the manna. The same experts with their calculators who gave us reef bridges and fortuitous winds to explain the Red Sea incident will doubtless have meteorological certainties about how the children of Israel came by the manna. Let's see them wriggle out of the coincidence that, after 40 years, "the manna ceased the day after they ate the produce of the land" (verse 12).
My favorite part of chapter 5 is the end-- the appearance of a sword-brandishing angel standing before Joshua, who, seeing that the man is formidable, asks, "Are you for us, or for our adversaries?" The Angel of the Lord answers "No." Good answer, too: None of the above. None of your categories. Way beyond what you have conceived: "I am the commander of the army of the Lord" (verse 14).
It is good to be reminded. We sometimes forget that the battle is the Lord's, and ours, but the humbling privilege is to be in the fight.
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