Spending Time in the Wilderness
Here’s the truth …
As a young child, every summer, my parents would take my sisters and me camping. We would spend two glorious weeks fishing, canoeing, swimming, reading, and relaxing. By the time we got to the end of our vacation, while we were all sad to leave our lakeside retreat, we were also anxious to head home. But, imagine with me if you will, what if we had found out that our “camping vacation” was going to last for 40 years? I'm not sure that we would have been so happy to continue these living arrangements! The Bible tells us a true story of a group of people who did just that! They spent 40 years camping in the wilderness.
As we begin reading in Exodus 16, we see the children of Israel, who had recently departed from Egypt, were now coming upon a wilderness situated between Elim and Sinai. They had been traveling for nearly two months and were tired and worn out, and after catching a glimpse of the wild and barren wilderness stretched out before them, their first reaction was to murmur and complain to their leaders, Moses and Aaron.
How like us! Isn't that often our first reaction when we see a “wilderness” before us? We grumble and complain. We let the “wilderness” dictate our words and moods rather than looking past the wilderness to see what God is doing in our lives. Well, Moses heard their grumblings, and he went and talked with God. God then laid out for Moses how He would provide all their needs, and Moses told Aaron, who began explaining to the children of Israel. As Aaron started to talk to them, we see something beautiful happen: “And it came to pass, as Aaron spake unto the whole congregation of the children of Israel, that they looked toward the wilderness, and, behold, the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud” (Exodus 16:10 KJV). How precious! God knew that His chosen people needed a visual sign of His presence. This cloud was a constant reminder to them that God was leading them through the wilderness.
I want to take a minute and focus on the phrase, “and they looked toward the wilderness.” When you hear the word “wilderness,” what do you picture? Webster's Dictionary says, “a tract of land or region uncultivated and uninhabited by human beings, whether a forest or a wise barren plain. In the United States, it is applied only to a forest. In Scripture, it is applied frequently to the deserts of Arabia.”
I have always pictured an unknown, barren place—a place of trials, danger, and discomfort. Yet, here is where God often reveals Himself to us, in our trials and our discomforts. If we could actually see God's glory, it would blind us, and we see in Exodus, He came to them in a cloud—bright, but not blinding. This cloud was sent to Israel, to lead and guide them as they journeyed through the wilderness; and, like them, we are also able to look and follow where He leads us by using His Word as our compass. As we read His precious Word and obey it, we are then able to walk step by step in faith and peace knowing that He is leading us.
I am currently reading a book by Susannah Spurgeon, entitled A Basket of Summer Fruit. In it, Spurgeon says, “Do not fear to look toward the wilderness, then, if your God has put you there; for there are the 'goings forth' of the Lord from of old and even thus does He give ‘the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’” (2010, p. 72). Isn’t that the truth? When we yield ourselves to Him, He gives us the knowledge we need at that time to see His glory in our trials.
After the children of Israel saw the glory of God appear in the cloud in the wilderness, God again spoke to Moses: “I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel; speak unto them, saying, At even ye shall eat flesh, and in the morning ye shall be filled with bread; and ye shall know that I am the Lord your God” (Exodus 16:12 KJV). Here we see that God provided the physical and spiritual food they so desperately needed. And, just like the children of Israel, God also feeds us in the wilderness with His Word. He is the Bread of Life, the Living Water, our faithful Provider.
As Spurgeon said, we do not need to fear when we look toward our wilderness. Fear is what the devil sends to our hearts. Faith and trust is what God gives us. It can be scary venturing into the unknown, but remember, the unknown is known to God. If I can trust God to save my soul from eternal damnation and give me eternal life, I can trust Him to lead me and guide me through life, whether in a wilderness, a desert, or a valley.
Each season spent in a wilderness is a time for me to learn and become more like Christ. The lessons are not always the same, but when I have learned my necessary lesson, I will look back and see that
The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose. It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing: the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon, they shall see the glory of the Lord, and the excellency of our God. Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees. Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompense; He will come and save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert. (Isaiah 35:1-6 KJV)
Over the years, I have crawled three times through the valley called “Death of a Child” and found strength, peace, and comfort. I have crossed the barren desert of “Broken Relationships” and found love and trust. I have walked through “The Wilderness of the Unknown” and found wisdom and understanding. I can look back and say, my God is faithful and my God is good. Each time, when I looked up, God was right there. I was never alone, never forsaken, always loved, and kept safe in the palm of His hand.