The desert becomes the incubator of trust. We learn to trust God for daily bread--enough to get us through the day, and trusting it will be there again tomorrow. We don't hoard it--that's an act of not having faith in God's daily provision.
We may long for Egypt--at least there we knew the in's and out's of our bondage. Our old life may have been empty, unfulfilling and meaningless--but at least we knew what to expect each day.
We follow Jesus--our Moses, our Deliverer, and He comes with His rod and staff to comfort and guide us and to save us from Pharaoh's army. Satan and his minions always come after us when we leave the land of his reign, escape from his bondage. His attack may start as whispers in our ears, causing us to doubt what God has done in our lives. Or, he may conduct an all-out attack to make us doubt God, His salvation plan and our place as His children.
But Jesus' death, burial and resurrection drowns Satan's supremacy over us. We stand on the shore and watch the mightiness of God as His Son died on the cross to save us from death and then arose to bring us new life.
Then...into the desert we go! The desert equally teaches us that God alone is sufficient for all that we need. He provides the bread, the water and the guidance. Our spiritual shoes do not wear out as we walk--Christ never leaves us nor forsakes us.
Go to Chapter 33 of Deuteronomy, where Moses, in his farewell address, reminds the people of how God is their king and will go before them. Moses speaks to each tribe, using a language that presages the warfare to come. Each tribe has benefited from God's provision and now will enter the Land under a mandate: subdue the land and its people. Then, towards the end of his speech, Moses again reminds the people that God is the One Who will go before them and fight with them:
There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, [Israel]
who rides across the heavens to help you
and on the clouds in his majesty.
The eternal God is your refuge,
and underneath are the everlasting arms.
He will drive out your enemies before you,
saying, ‘Destroy them!’
So Israel will live in safety;
Jacob will dwell secure
in a land of grain and new wine,
where the heavens drop dew.
Blessed are you, Israel!
Who is like you,
a people saved by the Lord?
He is your shield and helper
and your glorious sword.
Your enemies will cower before you,
and you will tread on their heights. (26-29)
Huh? Isn't God just going to enter the Promise Land, do a whole lot of smiting and then the people just stroll in and pull up a chair, as it were?
This is the language of war, isn't it, and not of Club Med?
But don't we make the same assumption? We stroll into the life that Jesus desires for us: "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." (John 10:10) A life filled with blessings, right? With God always granting immediate answers to prayer, right? A life with no sickness, no heartache, no poverty, right? A life that is truly Heaven on Earth, right?
The very reason God led His people into the desert is the same reason we are led there as new Christians:
Be careful to obey all the commands I am giving you today. Then you will live and multiply, and you will enter and occupy the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors. Remember how the Lord your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey his commands. Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors. He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. For all these forty years your clothes didn’t wear out, and your feet didn’t blister or swell. Think about it: Just as a parent disciplines a child, the Lord your God disciplines you for your own good. (8:1-5)
We are humbled knowing that only Jesus and not our good works or good selves could secure salvation; that He is our Provider, Guide and Defender; and He is trying to transform our thinking away from slaves to that of being His children--loved, cherished and needing correction. How long are we to wander in the desert? As long as God deems it necessary to do so. We learn to live by every word that comes from His Word.
But the desert is a way station. The Promised Land is where sin reigns and is filled with the enemies of God. His are ours, so in we must go. All of creation groans because Adam and Eve chose their way over God's way. The Promised Land is our planet, and it is subject to the Fall and its terrible consequences:For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us.(Romans 8:22-3)
So, while the Promised Land is not the desert, it requires warriors. We are a people prepared by suffering and hardship yet always leaning in God to keep going. The language of war given to Israel by Moses is given to us by Paul:
A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. (Eph. 6:10-12)
So, the desert fits us for battle in the real world--where we live, work and live our lives from day to day, following Jesus. And as the years go by, do we begin to forget how great a sacrifice He made for us? Perhaps this is one of the greatest battles we face: to never forget Who saved and provided for us:
So obey the commands of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and fearing him...When you have eaten your fill, be sure to praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. But that is the time to be careful! Beware that in your plenty you do not forget the Lord your God and disobey his commands, regulations, and decrees that I am giving you today. For when you have become full and prosperous and have built fine homes to live in, and when your flocks and herds have become very large and your silver and gold have multiplied along with everything else, be careful! Do not become proud at that time and forget the Lord your God, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt... He gave you water from the rock! He fed you with manna in the wilderness, a food unknown to your ancestors. He did this to humble you and test you for your own good. He did all this so you would never say to yourself, ‘I have achieved this wealth with my own strength and energy.’ Remember the Lord your God. He is the one who gives you power to be successful, in order to fulfill the covenant he confirmed to your ancestors with an oath. (Deut. 8:6, 10-14, 16-18)
We didn't earn it, free ourselves or rescue ourselves. It was God alone. But as we drink the sweet water that is Jesus and our souls are filled with the precious Word of God, it will be easy to lose sight of how bad we were and how good He is.
But the battles await. God allowed the sea to close and drown Pharaoh's army. Satan was defeated by Jesus' death on the cross. But this planet is filled with corruption, sin and the stench of its offenses rise to the nostrils of God.
We leave the desert to be His partners in conquest of this planet. But just as Jesus suffered immensely when He took on this planet, so too, will we. The battles here are bloody, harsh and sometimes unrelenting, but we enter the Land with our Joshua--Jesus' and Joshua's name mean the same thing: "The LORD saves."
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