To those devoid of imagination a blank place on the map is a useless waste; to others, the most valuable part. ―Aldo Leopold, author and environmentalist
The Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings. So I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey.” Exodus 3:7-8a (NASB)
Who knows how long and how often the people of Israel cried out to God for help in their oppressive circumstances? Certainly, it must have seemed like He didn’t hear, and therefore, didn’t care. But the living God is nothing like the idols worshiped by Israel’s contemporaries. He did hear their cries, and He did care. He simply allowed the circumstances to progress until the time for deliverance was right.
Using Moses as a go-between, the Creator of the Universe stepped into the world of human affairs to dramatically free His people from oppression. Little did they know, however, that their journey would take them through a desolate wilderness that would sorely test their faith.
In biblical times, a wilderness was the territory beyond the immediate reach of a city or village, running the gamut from a forested area to a dry, rocky 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: 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.
“evoid of civilization . . . the home of wild beasts and savage wandering tribes.” Sounds like a great place to picnic. Is there a tour bus? I think I’d prefer the movie!
On the surface, a wilderness may seem barren and void, but behind the scenes lies a territory rich in resources through which God is able to birth abundant fruit. Though certainly not a place of comfort, a wilderness experience has far more to offer than appearances suggest.
Our Wilderness Response
God seeks to accomplish specific purposes through our wilderness experiences, but in many ways, the length and difficulty of our stay depends—at least in part—upon our willingness to learn and to yield. Hundreds of thousands of Israelites wandered aimlessly through the wilderness because they refused to align their hearts with God’s design. A people of historic promise forfeited indescribable hope in exchange for a confusing existence. A two-week trek became a forty-year sojourn; a journey to a new life became a walk of death as an entire generation failed to receive the blessing intended for them by God.
Today, it’s somewhat 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 “wild beasts” and “savage tribes.” One needs only to take a few steps toward moral purity to discover how uncivilized this world can be.
The importance of how we respond to such challenges is huge, the long-term state of our hearts being formed as the cumulative product of how we navigate “that which is beyond” our control. In the face of dry times and savage circumstances, we can easily become hardened, jaded, cynical, and increasingly blind to God’s faithful love that surrounds us. If you see little or no good around you, it is entirely likely that you have not been responding well to your wilderness circumstances.
Our other option—and certainly the preferable one—is to squarely face our wilderness circumstances, viewing them through the eye of faith. Those who do so will soon see that beneath the surface of His apparent abandonment, our heavenly Father is painstakingly working out the details of an often invisible, but amazing plan to lead His highly-valued children into a land of promise.
Hope for a Better Tomorrow
God does indeed plan to guide us from bondage to fruitful abundance, but rarely does He provide clear details of how long the journey will take, or what we will encounter between those two milestones in our lives. The truly wise person will refuse to surrender to despair, but instead recognize that wilderness seasons do not necessarily indicate God’s absence, nor are they intended to be never-ending. God hears–and in that reality we can fully trust.
This post is drawn from Chapter One of Bob’s devotional: Champions in the Wilderness—Fifty-Two Devotions to Guide and Strengthen Emerging Overcomers.