Wilderness Meditations: 9. The Place for Revelation
Mt 3:3 “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”
Viewpoint: We often view a ‘wilderness time’ or ‘desert time’ as a time when God seems distant but the biblical pictures often show a different picture. It was in the wilderness of Sinai that Moses met God at the burning bush. It was in the wilderness that God turned up for Hagar (Gen 21:15) and was there for Ishmael (Gen 21:20) and, as we’ve seen, Jesus survived the wilderness and John grew up there growing in the Lord. It was there in the wilderness that John caught the sense of the message from the Lord about preparing the way for God to come, as in our starter verse above.
The Elijah Example: Now our problem sometimes is that we feel the need to get into a really great spiritual place before we can ‘hear’ God. It is then that we need to turn to the story of Elijah to put the picture straight. Elijah has indeed been doing the stuff with God and has had a tremendous victory that resulted in the deaths of a large number of prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:22-40). So empowered by the Lord was he after this that he managed to run all the way back from Mount Carmel to Jezreel ahead of Ahab in his chariot, possibly some twenty five miles. Awesome.
But it is there his life is threatened by the queen (1 Kings 19:1,2). Elijah is spent. He’s come down the other side of the mountain, so to speak, and feels in the wilderness of despair: “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.” (1 Kings 19:3-5) Exhausted he sleeps. He is wakened by an angel and given supernatural food (twice) and on the basis of that travels south into the Sinai Peninsula, to Mount Horeb, otherwise known as Mount Sinai. This again is serious wilderness-mountain country where he finds a cave (19:9). There he has a divine encounter with God where he is questioned by the Lord and reassured that he’s not the only believer left.
But it is the means of it that is significant. He’s told to stand out on the hillside to wait for God (19:11a). Before he has a chance to leave the cave a hurricane hits the hillside – but it’s not the Lord (19:11b). An earthquake rattles the mountain – but it’s not the Lord (19:11c). Then fire rages on the mountainside – but it’s not the Lord (19:12a). It is seriously dangerous out on that mountainside and so he stays where he is. And then, in the silence that follows, he hears a gentle whisper – and he knows it is the Lord (19:12b). He covers his face and goes to the cave entrance and the questioning (v.13c), instructions how to proceed (v.15-17), and reassurance (v.18), come.
The Place or Revelation: Moses had had his revelation in the wilderness on Mount Sinai (Ex 3 & 4), Elijah, as we’ve just seen it, had it there as well. Both men were at the end of themselves. Moses, once a prince of Egypt was now a nobody, a wilderness shepherd, Elijah a scared prophet. Both meet God in the wilderness and are commissioned for what was to come next. John is an orphan child (probably), living in the wilderness. He is coming from a place of weakness. He is an outcast, a weird character in the wilderness, minding his own business and ignored by everyone. But, as he grows, he starts to catch the heart and calling of God.
He is to be a voice calling in the wilderness, telling people to repent and get ready for the coming Messiah. Moses was to deliver Israel, Elijah was to anoint a variety of individuals to bring about the purposes of God, and John was to baptize the Son of God. How did John start out? We don’t know but perhaps there were spiritual seekers who came across him and banded with him. He stood on the hillsides perhaps and shouted at passing travellers. The word got out and the spiritually hungry came to seek him out – in the wilderness.
And Us? If you sense the present is a wilderness experience, don’t be put off – God will be looking for you. When you run out of your own resources you’re in a good place to be open to Him, to listen to Him when He turns up. It doesn’t matter of you feel a failure – in history you’re in good company. You only have to determine one thing: will I obey God when He speaks? If you are, then get ready to listen. If you’re not, then don’t bother to read on. Understand God loves failures – Moses, Elijah, John, the twelve disciples called to follow Jesus. He is not put off by our stumbling discipleship. Yes, we may have down times like Elijah – ours will probably be at two o’clock in the morning when we can’t sleep.
We may have a history of failure like Moses – but God is only concerned with what you will do at His bidding. You may come with no family background like John, but it’s not about you, it’s all about Him. Ask Him to build and strengthen your faith in your time in the wilderness, so when He draws near and speaks you can give the Mary answer: “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” (Lk 1:38) May it be so.