Have you ever noticed that sometimes God leads us into places that we wouldn’t necessarily choose for ourselves? Think of Moses and the nation of Israel. Deliverance from bondage in Egypt: emotional high! Trapped by the Red Sea: frightening low. The parting of the waters: jubilation! Journey into the wilderness: discouraging, unending dryness.
When I think of wilderness immediately trees come to mind. I picture something like a national park out west. The wilderness of the Scriptures, however, was more like a desert. Consider the following description from Harper’s Bible Dictionary:
“wilderness, a desolate or deserted area devoid of civilization. One Hebrew word above all others is used for ‘wilderness,’ or ‘desert,’ in the ot [Old Testament]: midbar, indicating both ‘that which is desolate and deserted’ and ‘that which is beyond,’ i.e., beyond the limits of settlement and therefore of government control, perceived by both city dwellers and villagers as being essentially disorderly and dangerous, the home of wild beasts and savage wandering tribes.”
“Devoid of civilization.” “The home of wild beasts and savage wandering tribes.” Sounds like a great place, doesn’t it? Is there a tour bus? I’d prefer to just watch the movie thank you very much!
The truth is that God led the people of Israel into the wilderness, just as He led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted after His water baptism. This leads one to believe that God is in the habit of guiding His children into desolate places. Does He have a cruel streak? No, He simply sees wisdom in using the barren to produce the fruitful.
There are specific things that God seeks to accomplish in the wilderness. The length of our stay depends upon our willingness to learn and to yield. An entire generation of Israelites spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness because they refused to conform to God’s design. A people of promise embraced a paradigm of hopelessness. Two weeks became 40 years. A journey to a new life became a walk of death.
Today it is quite rare for God to lead His people into a physical wilderness. But from a spiritual perspective, dry, desolate places abound—and with no shortage of savage tribes and wild beasts.
Over the next few weeks I’ll share some thoughts about the purpose of the wilderness and how to speed up one’s trip. But before we go there a critical truth must be established. God leads His children through dry, desolate places, but He never wants us to be dry in our hearts! His promise is that we will always be well-watered gardens. How deep is His love that He would take us through the wilderness in order to teach us to draw upon a never-ending flow of living water!
“On the last day of the feast, the greatest day, Jesus stood up and shouted out, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. Just as the scripture says, ‘From within him will flow rivers of living water.’” John 7:37-38 (NET)
Achtemeier, Paul J. ; Harper & Row, Publishers ; Society of Biblical Literature: Harper’s Bible Dictionary. 1st ed. San Francisco : Harper & Row, 1985, S. 1133