The whole congregation of the Israelites set out from Elim; and Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is betwen Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.
Leaf through the pages of a Bible and you will likely notice that the Wilderness plays a major role in God’s grand story. It appears that the Wilderness is where things happen, and where God does some of His best work. Consider but a few of many references to the Wilderness in Scripture:
- “A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD.’” (Isaiah 40:3)
- “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness.” (Isaiah 43:19)
- “The word of God came to John the Baptist in the wilderness.” (Luke 3:3)
- “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” (Luke 4:1-2)
After David was anointed to be King of Israel the Wilderness was key in his training to assume the throne. Similarly, John the Baptist spent years in the Wilderness where God called and equipped him to prepare the way of the Lord. Jesus spent 40 days in the Wilderness before His public ministry; His Wilderness days were regarded as so important for His Exodus that they are recorded in all four Gospels.
But it is in the Torah, or the first five books of the Bible (Genesis through Deuteronomy), that the Wilderness especially stands out. Consider that there are 374 chapters in these first five books, and only 64 of those chapters take place outside the Wilderness. That means that 83% of the Exodus takes place not in Egypt or the Promised Land, but in the Wilderness. Wilderness seems a critical part of all of our Exodus stories. God does not rush the Wilderness.
A study of the Wilderness in Scripture shows that it is a place of danger and opportunity, temptation and revelation, deprivation and provision. Old Testament theologian Walter Brueggemann says, “wilderness bespeaks vulnerability, for without visible life support systems, direct dependence upon YHWH’s (i.e. Yahweh’s) care is intense, and anxiety is rampant” (Reverberations of Faith: A Theological Handbook of the Old Testament).
To most people the Wilderness means a place that is unexplored, unmapped, and threatening. Wilderness is a place where we easily get lost and even panic. But, “Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity” (Edward Edinger, Ego and Archetype). Instead of fighting against the Wilderness where God leads, instead of complaining to Him how bad things are, embrace the Wilderness: God is up to something! Embrace the lessons God wants to be learned. Where there is no difficulty, there is no drawing on God’s resources.
- What are temptations you have faced in the Wilderness?
- What are lessons you may have learned in the Wilderness times of your life?
- What do you do to steady yourself in the Wilderness?