After rebelling against God and refusing to go into battle to take the Promised Land, God turned Israel’s words against it and condemned that generation to forty years of wandering in the wilderness (Numbers 14:28-34). The only ones of that generation who would survive that punishment would be Joshua and Caleb.
Hearing the news, “the people mourned greatly” (Numbers 14:39b) and determined to make it right but in their own way:
And they rose up early in the morning, and gat them up into the top of the mountain, saying, Lo, we be here, and will go up unto the place which the LORD hath promised: for we have sinned. (Numbers 14:40)
It sounded good. Israel was determined to obey God’s earlier command, but their obedience was too late and now the man who had encouraged them to go into battle just the day before was advising them against it:
(41) And Moses said, Wherefore now do ye transgress the commandment of the LORD? but it shall not prosper.
(42) Go not up, for the LORD is not among you; that ye be not smitten before your enemies.
Why? Because even their apparent obedience was being done in disobedience. Despite Moses’ words to the contrary, Israel went up into battle and they were soundly defeated (Numbers 14:45).
God is serious about our obedience. He is serious about us obeying Him immediately. And He is serious about us obeying according to His will. We cannot customize God’s plan for us. When we do, there are serious consequences, some of them long-term and others permanent.
Some of us have made choices in the past that have changed the trajectory of our lives. They have kept us from our original potential. Like Israel, we want desperately to recapture what once was, or what could have been when God wills it no more. What do we do when we find ourselves in that situation?
We do what we should have done in the first place. We obey what God has revealed for us to do now. Will all the damage by our past disobedience be repaired? No. Some consequences are irreversible. But that’s not to say none of it can be repaired and it does not mean we cannot learn from our past failures and educate the next generation. The Israelites who refused to obey God immediately would not see the Promised Land, but their children would (Numbers 14:31). Knowing this, God continued to teach His people what they would need to do when they did reach the Promised Land. (See Numbers 15). The one generation would never see it, but it was still their responsibility to teach the next. That would include teaching the next generation from their own failures.
For some of us, that is our duty as well. Past choices keep us from what could have been, but that does not keep us from teaching those around us how to learn from our mistakes. It also does not keep us from serving God from where we are. There is life after disobedience.