There are many Biblical examples for young people. The very first converts of the early church were comprised largely of the same age group- and yes, it's possible to Biblically prove this. 1 Cor. 15:6 states that the majority of the 500 brethren who saw the risen Lord Jesus were still alive when Paul wrote to Corinth, about 25 -30 years later. Seeing that life expectancy in first century Palestine was around 50, it would follow that the vast majority of those first witnesses of the risen Lord were under 25. Daniel was only 18 at the time of Dan. 2; Joshua, Jeremiah, the disciples and other notable Bible characters also bore the yoke in their youth. It is one of the wonders of God manifestation that He can use almost any kind of simile to reveal His character to us. Thus God is likened in the prophets to both a Father and a Mother; He is likewise depicted as an old man (" the ancient of days" with glorious white hair), and also as a young man. The point is that God uses different figures of speech to reveal different characteristics to us. Our present study is unashamedly designed to encourage the youngsters of our community to pour out their idealism, their optimism, their positive vision, before the Lord- without reserve!
So we want to begin by observing that God chose to liken Himself to a dynamic young man. In fact, a young man deeply in love with a young woman- the virgin daughter of Israel (Hos 3:1,2; Ez. 16:10,14). The love and attraction which God felt for Israel in the Sinai wilderness is held up as typical of His future feelings towards Israel: " As a young man...rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee" (Is. 62:5). Speaking of the same time, Hos. 2:14-16 allows us to infer something about the attitude of God to Israel at the time of the exodus: " I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness (as God did at the exodus), and speak comfortably unto her...as in the days of her youth, and as in the day when she came up out of the land of Egypt" . In the same way as God (as it were) spoke charmingly to Israel, encouraging her to 'go for' Him, Israel responded as a keen young woman would in this situation. Her feelings towards God matched His towards her; thus He could reflect later: " I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness" (Jer. 2:2). The young man (God) tried to allure her, but she was keen anyway.
So far, so good. We have shown, if nothing else, that God's love for His people (then and now) can be appropriately typified by the romantic relationship between two youngsters. But the Bible minded reader ought to have some big questions at the back of his mind. God and Israel being so mutually in love with each other is hard to square with the frequent accounts of the problems in their relationship- to put it mildly. " They do alway err in their hearts" (Heb. 3:10), in " turning back unto Egypt" - that is God's considered comment upon their relationship. God had wanted to destroy Israel even while in Egypt (Ez. 20:8), only refraining for the sake of His Name. Later, in the wilderness, He actually wanted to destroy them in a moment, making of Moses a greater nation. Instead, God slew the majority over a forty year period- for their unfaithfulness to His covenant. Ezekiel 20 describes how Israel took the idols of Egypt with them through the Red Sea; indeed, they lugged a whole pagan tabernacle system with them through the wilderness, in addition to the true tabernacle (Acts 7:43,44).
Yet the exodus and wilderness journey is described as God, a young man, being madly in love with the young woman of Israel. How could a God who loves purity, who cannot look upon iniquity, fall in love so passionately with such a reprobate crew? It cannot be that God turned a blind eye to their sin. And how can Israel be described as going after God in the wilderness, showing Him all " the love of thine espousals" (Jer. 2:2) when in their hearts, from Egypt right through the wilderness journey, " they despised my judgments...(and thus) rebelled against me" (Ez. 20:8,13,16,21)?
I suggest the solution to this problem lies in the fact that God was attracted to a certain faithful element within the people of Israel at this time. Robert Roberts rightly described the generation that was under twenty years old on leaving Egypt as the most faithful of all Israel's generations. The faithful element with whom God so 'fell in love' was not just comprised of the 'under 20s'. Joshua and Caleb also featured amongst them, as did the Levites (who the curse of destruction in the wilderness did not apply to: Num. 14:29 cp. 1:49). Numerically, the largest of these three groups who constituted the 'faithful element' was the under 20s. It is fitting, therefore, that this faithful remnant are personified as a young person. Thus God reflected to Hosea: " When Israel was a child (s.w. " young man" ), then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt" (11:1). We are told that Israel were delivered from Egypt because they prayed for that deliverance. Yet God would not hear the prayers of sin-bitten Israel as a whole, who were content to share in Egypt's materialism (Ex. 16:3; Num. 11:5); it must have been the prayers of the righteous remnant which so moved God to respond.
Dt. 8:2-7 describes God leading Israel through the wilderness for 40 years so that they could then enter the land. 'Israel' here must refer to the under 20s, Joshua, Caleb and the Levites. It was only they who went through the wilderness for 40 years. It was 'Israel' in this sense with whom God was in love. They considered in their heart, that God was treating them as a father does his son (Dt. 8:5). This has a practical significance to it; the under 20s would have been at variance with their natural parents, who knew they were condemned to death in the wilderness, and who refused to take their covenant with God seriously. That young remnant were led to meditate that God was their Heavenly Father; natural relationships that were not based around a true love of God, paled into insignificance as they spiritually matured. Dt. 8:3 says that they learnt to live by every word of God during those 40 years. This is just not true of rebellious Israel generally. But the under 20s, Levites, Joshua and Caleb all developed into keen lovers of the word during that time. They are classic Biblical examples for young people.
There is further evidence that this group of young people were keen to 'do their Bible readings'. On the wilderness journey, God " raised up your sons for prophets (forth-tellers of God's word), and of your young men for Nazarites" (Am. 2:10,11). If it was the Levites and the under 20s who entered the land, it is likely that a strong bond formed between them. Therefore the young zealots took the Nazarite vow, which enabled a non-Levite to make the dedication expected of the priesthood. The long hair represented the high priestly mitre; and the restrictions concerning wine and defilement for the dead were identical for both Levite and Nazarite. We have suggested that the typical 'young woman' who married God in the wilderness years was primarily these keen young people. Rom. 7:1,2 significantly likens Israel's marriage to God as being a marriage to the Law. This adds further point to our deduction that those youngsters were bound together in love of the word.
One of the ringleaders of this group was Joshua- a great Biblical example for young people. His love of the word is stressed throughout the record. He was just over 20 at the time of leaving Egypt, and is styled a " young man" . The Hebrew means 'growing one', and is translated " child" in Hos. 11:1. He " departed not out of the tabernacle" (Ex. 33:11), where the Angel spoke God's word to Moses. Ps. 91 comments upon how he dwelt in " the secret place" , where the word was spoken (see the connections between the " secret" place and God's word: Job 15:8; 29:4; Ps. 25:14; Prov. 3:32; Is. 45:19; Dan. 2:18; Am. 3:7). It was because of this love of the word that Joshua was preserved in those wilderness years, as the bodies of his peer group were abandoned in mass graves in the Sinai scrub: " A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee" . Joshua calmly looked at those sights, knowing whom he had believed: " Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see (i.e. meditate upon) the reward of the wicked" (Ps. 91:7,8). Similar feelings will doubtless be experienced by the faithful young believer, as the final judgments and plagues start to fall at the Lord's return.
Despite his youth, Joshua's love of the word, and subsequent spiritual insight, led him to be chosen to accompany Moses, to witness the mighty theophany in the mount. In his twenties, soon after leaving Egypt, Joshua was made the leader of the Israelite army which fought Amalek. He was told to compose that army of men of his personal choice (Ex. 17:9). One wonders if the condemned generation had much heart for a fight. Can we not imagine him choosing the zealous young reformers of Egypt, along with the warrior-priests?
Joshua appears to have been only one of a group of Moses' " young men" , who moved around the camp running his errands (Ex. 24:5; Num. 11:27,28); as a similar group did for Nehemiah and Paul years later. The young men of the New Testament were also characterized by their love of the word (1 Jn. 2:14). Moses would have had a special fondness for this generation who were to enter the land. A large part of the Law was concerned with Israel's behaviour after they had settled in the land; these would only have been relevant to that younger generation. It is fitting that both Moses and Caleb (and Joshua?) maintained their youthful vigour right up to their death (Dt. 34:7; Josh. 14:11).
The extent of spiritual despair, despondency and apostasy amongst the condemned generation cannot be overstated. They neglected the circumcision of their children (Josh. 5:5,6), showing their rejection of the Abrahamic covenant with them. There is good reason to think that Rom. 1 is a description of Israel in the wilderness. Rom. 1:23 accuses them of changing " the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to...fourfooted beasts, and creeping things" , clearly alluding to Ps. 106:29 concerning how Israel in the wilderness " changed their glory (i.e. God) into the similitude of an ox that eateth grass" by making the golden calf. The effective atheism of Rom. 1 is matched by Ps. 106:21: " They forgat God their saviour" . The long catalogue of Israel's wilderness sins in Ps. 106 is similar to that in Rom. 1. " Full of envy" (Rom. 1:29) corresponds to them envying Moses (Ps. 106:16), " whisperers" (Rom. 1:29) to " murmerers" (Ps. 106:25), " inventors of evil things" (Rom. 1:30) to God being angered with " their inventions" of false gods (Ps. 106:29). Because of this " God gave them up" to continue in their sexual perversion and bitterness with each other, even to the extent of murder (Rom. 1:27,29). They were a rabble of about 2 million people living in moral anarchy, driven on in their lust by the knowledge that God had rejected them. Those young people had to violently rebel against the attitude of the world and older generation around them. The waters of the Red Sea truly made them new creatures. They were so evidently not the product of their environment and parental example. Psychologists mock young Christians of today for living out parental expectation, and conforming to background environment. Yet if our response to baptism has made us truly new creations, this just cannot be true.
And now for a different Biblical example for young people. John Mark was an example of one 'brought up in it' (almost) who made it real for himself in the very end. His mother Mary owned the home where the first ecclesia met in Jerusalem- he would have known all the leading lights, the doubts, the joys, the fears, the debates of the early church. Barnabas was his kindly uncle, who took him on the first missionary journey with Paul. Cyprus was OK, but once they landed at Perga, Paul insisted on leaving the coast road and going up the dangerous road to preach on the uplands; and Mark quit, scared perhaps to risk his life that far. And so he went back to his mum in Jerusalem, and the safety of the home ecclesia. And no doubt he was warmly welcomed home, as the Jerusalem ecclesia by then were beginning to consider Paul as being just way out. But over the months, things changed. John Mark wanted to go again, and his uncle Barnabas encouraged him. But Paul would have none of it. That rejection must have sorely hurt Mark; and we hear nothing more of him for about 15 years. Then, when Paul was in prison, he starts to get mentioned. He is called there Paul's " fellow-prisoner" (Col. 4:10), as if he too had been imprisoned for his bold preaching. To Philemon, Paul writes that Mark is his " fellow-worker" ; and in his last days, he begs Mark to come and see him (2 Tim. 4:9-11). Peter also, probably writing likewise from Rome [" Babylon" ] mentions Mark as his " son" (1 Pet. 5:13), and tradition has it that Mark wrote down Peter's Gospel. So the young brother who possibly had been made flabby by the nice background, eventually made it real for himself in the end.
God is ultimately perfect. He therefore loves spiritual idealism. " Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect" (Mt. 5:48) is evidently designed to provoke idealism. Perhaps it was for this reason that God was so attracted to that generation of youngsters who left Egypt. Freedom, real freedom, was what they dreamt of in Egypt- and they got it! The youth of the world has ideals which it can never realize. Over the hill of 30, very few care for the ideals of their student days. Yet a truly unique feature of our faith is that as we grow older, the real possibility of realizing our spiritual ideals becomes clearer and clearer. Not for us is the disillusion and vapidity of the world. As the outward man perishes, the inward man is made new- day by day; at times, even hour by hour.
Those young people in the desert were fired up by the word. God's word " is truth" - another ultimate ideal. The frequent Biblical association of young men with prophets and the word of God is sure proof that youth is the time for truth. The exultant flame of the well trained mind should be set loose on God's word. The word alone can absorb all the rampant intellectuality of youth. Personally grasping its truths for ourselves, as that young generation did, will give us the motivation to hold our head up in a world desperately adrift from its God. Our life now is the antitype of the circular journeys of Israel's wilderness walk. The world sees its' careers as ladders, to be raced up. To us, our work is just that circular walk. The mind of those youngsters was not on the physicalities of that repetitious, aimless wandering. It was fixed upon the true Hope of Israel, the words of the Kingdom, the covenant of the fathers. Because of this, they were bound together in true fellowship with Moses (Jesus) and the older Levites, in an intensity which few generations have equalled. Our hope of Israel, coupled with experiencing the crass spiritual indifference of this century, ought to be forging another wilderness generation.
When we’re young, we dream of success, of ‘making it’. But most people don’t, and unless they turn to God, they remain trapped within the impossibility of achieving what they dreamed of. And it is common amongst those who rise to the peak of apparent success, that they in turn come to a crisis- they can’t forgive themselves for having neglected some inner or spiritual call which they had earlier in life. They left God’s call unanswered in earlier life; and now, they perceive that in the end only one thing matters. And they wasted their lives. Youth is the time to get it right, to make the decision for God which in some ways only gets harder the longer life goes on. Of course, at any point in life, no matter what the accumulated ruins of all our errors in judgment and poor decisions, we are never outside the plan of God- we can always enter it, providing we live, but it’s so much better for our lives if we decide the only way right at the start. And somehow, all the rest will fall into place. I met recently two middle aged men. One had been raised knowing Christ, but had endlessly delayed that decision until in practice he just felt he couldn’t make it. He felt guilty, guilt was written all over him. The second man was gifted artistically, but had followed a business life, and now looked back in guilt and anger, knowing that his career was over, he couldn’t go back and live life again… it’s a fleeting, once-only affair. As someone who, for all my other misjudgments, did decide right in my youth, I appeal to you… decide for Him now. Not just by getting baptized, but by committing yourself to a live wholly for Him, in Him, because of Him, for His glory… Sense the intensity of the call of Jesus, to take up His cross, to live the crucifixion life. Death is an intense experience. Those who have the chance to draw near to death experience a new scale of values, true values and importances are the ones which abide the sifting out process. And we live as men ‘given over to death for Jesus’ sake’, ever facing the intensity of death, of dying for Him. And this is the paradoxical thing, the difficult thing, for youth- to die when you’re young, in a spiritual sense. To give it all for Him. But look at the ages of soldiers who die in combat. So many of them, and often the bravest of them, are youngsters. If they can do it for a worldly wreath, tear stained 50 year old mum and dad standing at the military funeral, and the memories slowly fading away over the next 20 years… surely you can do it for that eternal weight of glory, for the only cause truly worth fighting and dying for?