These are the stages of the people of Israel, when they went out of the land of Egypt by their companies under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. (Bemidbar / Numbers 33:1; ESV)
Every now and then I think back on the stages of my life. I have lived in several cities and have had various occupations. With marriage and having children has come new experiences, challenges, and blessings. In the midst of this, God has been taking me from one stage of life to the next - teaching me and changing me.
There are great lessons to be learned as we look back on the stages of our lives. What we are today is not the same as what we were years ago. This is true for individuals, for families, communities, nations, and the world. People were made to develop over time. We don't stay the same from year to year. We move from stage to stage.
Perhaps you haven't experienced the amount of change that I have. This could be because you are much younger than I am and time has not yet run its course. Maybe your circumstances have been more stable than mine. While this has become less typical than in the past, some people live, work, and die in pretty much the same surroundings and circumstances their whole life. Yet that doesn't necessarily mean that your life has not gone through various stages. Normal physical development alone means that you have had stages of life.
As important as our physical development is, more important is our spiritual development. The people of Israel were on a journey. Having been freed from slavery in Egypt they were on their way to the land of promise. As Moses details in this week's Torah portion, each stop along the way represents a stage in their journey. Each place was an opportunity to be better prepared for life in the Promised Land.
The stages of life are more than just the things that happen to us. As our life circumstances change or we develop as human beings, we have opportunities to learn, to allow change to occur in our inner selves. The people of Israel saw first hand the power of God in so many ways, but if they didn't learn from those experiences, they would have moved from stage to stage in their journey, but not from stage to stage in life.
One of the books in the New Covenant writings was written by the Jewish believer Yakov (English: Jacob or James). He may have been the natural brother of Yeshua. He writes:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4; ESV)
Yakov urges the followers of Yeshua to see their difficult circumstances in a positive light, since these are the things which produce good character. I don't think he is saying that difficult circumstances automatically have positive effects on our lives. On the contrary, some people become bitter over difficulties. But if we allow God to teach us what he wants us to learn through difficulties, then we can be changed for the better.
The stages of life are opportunities for us to be the people God wants us to be. As we anticipate the stages of life, let's not just try to get through them, but let's be prepared to learn what God wants us to learn. Also, as we look back as Moses did, we may be encouraged to see the things that God has done and the lessons we have learned, but there may be some lessons to be learned from the stages of life that we may have missed. Perhaps it is not too late.