1. Welcome to the Wilderness

Wilderness Meditations: 1. Welcome to the Wilderness

Num 20:4 Why did you bring the Lord’s community into this wilderness?”

A Type? For a while now this picture of ‘wilderness’ has been with me and I know it has been taken up more than once by others in these days. In my early Christian years, I studied ‘types’ and looking up my notes I observe I wrote:

“ we see Israel’s wilderness experience especially in Exodus & Numbers. It was entered at the direction of God after the Passover with the enemy of the world left behind after the crossing of the Red Sea. As a “Type” it is illustrative of the life of the called-out child of God, separated from the world (Egypt) and Satan (Pharaoh) (see 2 Cor 6:16 -18) and is entered only through death to self (see Rom 6:2,11 / Col 2:20) It was supposed to be a limited experience through which they were to pass through in order to enter the Promised Land.  We too are called to go on to maturity (see Heb 6:11-14/ Eph 4:13-15). It was a place of knowing God’s daily provision for basic needs e.g. food, water, general guidance.  We need to learn to: i) feed on him to be strong (see Jn 6:57 / Heb 5:14 ), ii) drink of the Spirit (see Jn 7:37 -39) iii) receive his guidance (see Gal 5:25 ).”

But More: As a ‘type’ I think that is all correct and yet the quick use of a concordance shows that the wilderness appears many more times and provides us with extensive resources for meditation, each instant saying something different to us. A wilderness tends to be a place of trials and hardship, with difficulties of provision and navigation. In this year of 2020, many believers, if not all of us at some time or other, have struggled with the restrictions imposed on our lives by the Covid-19 Pandemic. Doctors worry that the effects of mental stress may turn out to be almost as great as the effect of the virus itself.

Why the Wilderness: Why did you bring the Lord’s community into this wilderness?”  Now those words were spoken by the people who challenged Moses under trying circumstances, having travelled as far as Rephidim in the ‘Wilderness of Sin’.   His response was not to give an answer but to fall on his face before the Lord, and then the Lord turned up with a miracle of provision.  

There is a mystery of why Moses led them on the route he did through desert wildernesses and through inhospitable mountains instead of taking the much shorter ‘Way of the Land of the Philistines’ north and east along the coast. Maybe it was fear of the Philistines, maybe the route they took was much better known by Moses, originally to the old Egyptian turquoise and copper mines in western Sinai, maybe because it was an area with which he had become familiar in his shepherding years. Having said all that, it was a route designated by God that took them to the divine encounter on Sinai and the establishing there of the covenant of Ex 19. They were in this wilderness because God had led them there. Having said that, it was supposed to be only of limited duration and throughout their journeyings they would learn much about the Lord, about His intentions towards them, and His care for them. Without the wilderness experience none of these things would have happened.

And Today?  But the question was provoked by need. In this case it was of water, but in our case when people struggle to cope with the effects of lockdown it is a very varied need – for reassurance, for reasons why lockdown, for peace, for grace to cope, for wisdom to cope, and so on.

Many Christians have pondered, “Did God bring this about?” but the better question is, “What does He want to teach us through this time?” Maybe He did it by lifting off His hand of restraint and protection from scientists in China who then got it wrong, but even so, what have I learned so far from this time? What will I yet learn from the uncertain days ahead? Can I turn this from a time of questioning God to questioning me, as He seeks to bless and teach me to walk with head held high through these new days. Some questions to be asked and answered. The lessons of Israel in the wilderness are equally true for us today. As we said above, they would learn much about the Lord, about His intentions towards them, and His care for them.

And us? So the question must be asked, have I a teachable spirit? Have I just struggled, whether in the Pandemic lockdown or any other ‘wilderness experience’, and felt miserable, or have I used the time as an opportunity to draw nearer to the Lord, to sense His presence, to learn more about Him? Have I learned something about the resources that His word speaks about that maybe I have been casual about previously? Have I learned to draw on those resources? Have I learned to be a resource for other people who don’t have these resources?   

And So? And so God may not have directly brought this plague which appears more likely to have originated in the sin of mankind, but He will surely make use of it, to reveal the hearts of men and women (and that includes us), and to offer them His presence in a place of trial and difficulty. It may be of mankind’s making but it may yet be used to reveal the glory of the Lord.

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