There are so many stories of the wilderness in the Bible. In the wilderness, a place of barrenness and hunger, God nourishes with manna… Jesus is tempted, God’s people are tested, revelation and law is given, miracles happen, and God makes covenants with nations. He calls many a great man into the desert to begin something new in their lives.
Moses and the Israelites…
Exodus 19:1-6 ~ On the first day of the third month after the Israelites left Egypt—on that very day—they came to the Desert of Sinai. 2 After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain.
3 Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: 4 ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, 6 you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”
God spoke to Moses and the people as they trembled from his smoking mountain. This was where His people were called out to become His own. This is where He made Himself known and He wrote His law for them on stone. They left the material wonders of Egyptian culture (even slaves there had it better than desert nomads – they made a complaint that admitted this later in the story)… and took on the humility of accepting manna from heaven under strict gathering orders, being literally fed like children from the hand of God.
Before this, Moses himself lived in the wilderness herding sheep with his wife’s family as he was on the run from the authorities in Egypt after killing an Egyptian slave driver. God used Moses’ time in the wilderness to mold him into the man who would be ready to minister to the Israelites and ask Pharaoh to “LET HIS PEOPLE GO”.
John the Baptist growing up eating locusts and wild honey…
Luke 1:80 ~ And the child continued to grow and to become strong in spirit, and he lived in the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel.
Luke 3:2-6 ~ He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.
5 Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
the rough ways smooth.
6 And all people will see God’s salvation.’”
A desert was a place of separateness from the distractions of life for John as a child. It was a bubble of protection for him, allowing him to grow in the admonition of the Lord as his parents focused to train him the way the Lord instructed. Having the senses stripped of busyness, our hearts are able to focus on what is truly important. Sometimes I feel like even as a homeschooling family, there really is no retreat that is quiet enough. Quiet time away from electronics, television, and all the advertising and things that vie for our attention can provide enough separation from the world to grow spiritually. This goes for kids, too.
In the desert, I was transported to a world without wifi (sometimes literally). Maybe if I lived in a desert town, I would get used to the scenery… but visiting was amazing. I wanted to explore and plug in to nature and quiet and prayer. I wanted to camp under the stars (the back of our SUV made a fine tent and was close enough judging from the footprints in the sand the next morning). Remembering our trip out West makes me want to get more purposeful about UNPLUGGING and going where the wild things grow. Between you and me, part of the reason we decided to move to the country was this very reason.
Even Jesus himself retreated to the wilderness before his ministry, and then to “quiet places to pray” all throughout it.
Matthew 4:1-4 ~ Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
There is something huge and mighty about vast stretches of nothing but barren beauty and endless visible galaxies of stars and stardust. The wilderness brings us down to earth and makes us rightly feel our smallness. There’s something to say for quiet and wind, landscape that stretches beyond our ability to imagine crossing it on foot… and heat that sends us seeking shelter.
Yet, even in the wilderness, God’s creation is teeming with life and creatures that He has designed to live there. It reminds me a little of the conversations God had with Job (which were mostly a one way conversation asking Job if he knew how God created the universe… and put him back in his place).
Psalm 63:1 ~ O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, In a dry and weary land where there is no water.
A little time in the wilderness may be what God is whispering for us to seek… because it’s on the way to the Promise Land.