refers to the plight of the Israelites due to their disobedience and unbelief. Nearly 3,500 years ago, the Lord delivered His people from Egyptian bondage as described in Exodus, chapters 1–12. They were to take possession of the land God had promised their forefathers, a land “flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8). Prior to entry, however, they became convinced they could not oust the current inhabitants of the land, even though God told them they could. Their lack of belief in God’s word and promises brought forth the wrath of God. He cursed them with forty years of wilderness wandering until the unbelieving generation died off, never stepping foot in the Promised Land.
A seven-year famine was responsible for God’s chosen people ending up in Egypt. Initially, they flourished under the leadership of Joseph, number two in charge of the country after Pharaoh. “Then a new king, who did not know about Joseph, came to power in Egypt” (Exodus 1:8), and soon, “the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites” (Exodus 1:12). For the next several centuries the Israelites were enslaved by the Egyptians who “worked them ruthlessly” (Exodus 1:13). Eventually, God heard their cries (Exodus 2:23-25) and sent Moses and Aaron to rescue them. After enduring the last of the ten plagues—the death of the firstborn males—Pharaoh finally agreed to release the Israelites.
Upon their arrival at Kadesh Barnea, which bordered the Promised Land of Canaan, they sent out twelve spies to survey the land and its people (Numbers 13:18-25). They returned after forty days of exploration. Ten of the spies had a bad report: “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are…All the people we saw were of great size…We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes” (Numbers 13:31-33). Only Joshua and Caleb dissented (Numbers 14:6-7).
Believing the report of the ten doubters, the people lost heart and rebelled. They “raised their voices and wept aloud,” grumbling against Moses and Aaron, saying, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this desert! Why is the LORD bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword?” (Numbers 14:1-2, emphasis added).
Then the Lord said to Moses, “How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miraculous signs I have performed among them? I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them” (Numbers 14:11). However, Moses once again interceded for his people and turned away the wrath of God (Numbers 14:13-20). Although God did forgive them, He decided that “not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their forefathers. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it” (Numbers 14:23). Rather, they would suffer by wandering in the wilderness for forty years, one year for each of the forty days they explored the land (Numbers 14:34). Furthermore, God would give them what they asked for: “I will do the very things I heard you say: In this desert your bodies will fall, every one of you twenty years old or more” (Numbers 14:28-29). Additionally, the ten men who had given the bad report were struck down and died of a plague before the Lord (Numbers 14:37). Only Joshua and Caleb survived, the two faithful spies who believed God’s promise to give the land over to them.
God had promised them victory. The land He commanded them to go in and take was already theirs; they simply had to trust and obey, but this they did not do.
God will never lead us where His grace cannot provide for us or His power cannot protect us.
Indeed, the Israelites had seen the powerful hand of God at work during the plagues and miracles of the Exodus.
Yet, like many people, they
walked by sight and not by faith,
and their unbelief displeased God.
“Without faith it is impossible to please God”
Their failure to believe in God’s word kept them from entering the Promised Land.
This truth has never changed.
is a region located in the Desert of Zin that is mentioned numerous times in the Old Testament. It was located somewhere along the border of Edom and Israel, southwest of the Dead Sea. Kadesh Barnea, sometimes simply called Kadesh, is connected to many significant events in Israel’s history, specifically in the Pentateuch. The name Kadesh Barnea is thought to mean “the holy place of the desert of wandering.”
Kadesh Barnea served as a place of combat in the book of Genesis when Abraham fought the Amalekites there (Genesis 14:7). It is ironic that the very place where Abraham experienced victory over the Amalekites is where the Israelites later failed to believe that God would give them victory in acquiring the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 9:23). The account in Genesis also includes Hagar’s meeting with the Angel of the Lord “between Kadesh and Bered” after she was mistreated by Sarah (Genesis 16:14).
Kadesh Barnea seems to have been a regular camping spot for the Israelites throughout their years of desert wandering (Numbers 13:26; 20:1, 14; 33:36). It was at Kadesh that Miriam died and was buried (Numbers 20:1).
Two significant events that occurred at Kadesh Barnea were the Israelites’ faithless refusal to possess the Promised Land
and their opposition to Moses
at not having enough water (Numbers20:2–5).
These two events, marked by unbelief, grumbling, and disobedience, directly affected Moses, Aaron, and the Israelites.
The men who had left Kadesh Barnea to scout out the Promised Land, except for Caleb and Joshua, failed to believe that God could give them possession of Canaan (Numbers 14:30; Joshua 14:7). Instead, they insisted that the people of Canaan, who included the Nephilim, were too powerful for them to fight. The ten scouts bringing the evil report persuaded the people that the land would be impossible to acquire (Numbers 13:32–33). Because of their failure to believe, the Israelites had to wander in the desert for another 38 years,
waiting until all those who were 20 years and older died, so that the next generation could take possession of the land
(Numbers 14:29; Deuteronomy 2:14).
Years later, Moses and Aaron were also denied entrance into the Promised Land because of their disobedience to God at Kadesh Barnea. God had instructed Moses to speak to the rock to bring forth water for the grumbling Israelites, but he disobeyed by striking the rock twice (Numbers 20:12). Because the Israelites had failed to believe and obey the Lord, their arrival into the land “flowing with milk and honey” was postponed until Joshua led the younger generation out of the wilderness by the command of the Lord.
In the desert of wandering, the Israelites experienced plagues, death, and testing. The Israelites failed the tests that took place in Kadesh Barnea, and that remained etched in their memory forever. Their unbelief led to the postponement of entering Canaan and claiming God’s blessings (Psalm 95:8–11; Hebrews 3:7–19). May we not follow the unbelief of those who did not trust God to fulfill His promises.
When times of testing come, may we display the faith that Joshua and Caleb had in trusting God at Kadesh Barnea.
Two decisions at Kadesh Barnea determined the future.
Twice God’s people stood on the edge of their future.
The first time, the Hebrews made the decision;
the second time, Moses did.
Nobody made an announcement of what would happen at Kadesh.
No one knew how significant the transition would be.
As you face the day before you, you have the same two decisions to make.
WELCOME TO KADESH BARNEA
In southern Israel, the wilderness of Paran and the wilderness of Zin both lay claim to Kadesh Barnea, which also served as a southern border to Canaan (Num. 34:4; Josh. 15:3) and a western border to the Edomites’ control (Num. 20:16).
The Old Testament refers to Kadesh Barnea 10 times and calls the site simply “Kadesh” 14 times. Significant events occurred there:
- Moses’ sister, Miriam, died there (Num. 20:1)
- Moses’ brother, Aaron, died near there (Num. 20:22)
- Israel camped there for quite a while (Deut. 1:46)
FACING FEAR AT KADESH
In Numbers 13-14, Moses dispatched 12 men to do some reconnaissance in the land of Canaan before Israel entered in order to settle there. They saw how the land looked exactly as God said it would. However, they also saw the inhabitants — and fear gripped them (Num. 13:26).
What they saw seemed more compelling than what the Lord said — despite His history of miracles.
They opted to elect a leader and return to bondage in Egypt. As a result, the Lord refused to allow them to enter—and Israel would wander in the wilderness for 40 years until that unbelieving generation passed away.
TAKE TWO AT KADESH BARNEA
After 40 years of wandering, the Hebrews found themselves back at Kadesh Barnea for round two. Once again, the people stumbled over what they saw — or rather, what they didn’t see.
The Lord told Moses to speak to a rock and water would flow for the people. But Moses’ anger toward the people’s unbelief challenged his attentiveness to obedience. Instead of speaking to the rock, Moses struck the rock — as Moses had done before — in fact, Moses struck it twice with the rod in his hand (Num. 20:11). Graciously, the Lord provided water, despite Moses’ actions.
However, God also censured Moses because his “unbelief” put a ding in the Lord’s holy reputation.
Ironically, Moses had called the people “rebels” before he struck the rock, and the Lord said Moses also had “rebelled” in his actions that same moment (Num. 27:14).
Your strong God stands ready to lead you forward.
Just resolve to follow in faith.
YOU STAND AT THE BORDER OF YOUR POTENTIAL
At Kadesh Barnea, the Hebrews and even Moses lost the privilege to enter the Promised Land. Their actions show how unbelief can swing in two directions.
We come to Kadesh Barnea when we come face to face with the fear that faith cannot avoid. As creatures of the Creator, we live in dependence on Him. No life scenario will ever offer a path that doesn’t require faith.
We come to a fork in the road when we choose to walk the path of faith or the way of unbelief.
Ironically, only faith offers the safety we seek.
You’re on the border today. You stand at a place of decision.
How essential that you look at your future with the eyes of faith, not with the eyes of fear.
Your strong God stands ready to lead you forward.
Just follow in faith.