Living in the Wilderness
The Israelites had lived through the plagues that marred the whole land of Egypt. These plagues were far worse than the tornadoes, the fires, and the floods that have visited our land in recent months. The culmination was the death of all first-born, both man and animal. But the Israelites had showed their confidence in their God by putting themselves and their families under the blood-soaked doorway. In drawing the knife across the throat of that innocent young lamb, in dabbing the blood on the entrance to their home, and in staying inside their home all night, these Israelites showed their confidence in the saving character of their God.
And what a saving it was! Laden down with the treasures of Egypt, all the gold and silver of the wealthy ones, these Israelites rushed out of their land, headed for the Sea. But everything was so rushed! Soon they found themselves caught between 2 cliffs, with the Sea in front and the greatest army on earth behind!
God's character is to save.....always! He doesn't forsake His people. He doesn't dump us when we get into a hard spot. And He miraculously opened the Sea for the people, and then used that same Sea to defeat the enemy of His people.
And after the salvation, He stayed with them. Leading them by His presence....a pillar of fire during the nighttime, when the desert was dark and cold, and a cloud during the daytime, when the desert heat was unbearable. Where did He lead them? Deeper and deeper into a terrain that is among the worst in the world. The Wilderness of Sin is in the Arabian Peninsula. It is a desolate place!!! Like deserts around the world, it is a place of vulnerability, of exposure, without reliable water, with little food or shelter. Sand storms arise suddenly. Poisonous snakes hide in sand holes.
Yet God led them there. Why? For the simple reason that before they could dwell in His promised land, they had to get Egypt out of their hearts.
The same is true for us in the 21st century. If you are one of His people, God has miraculously saved you. The culture around you... the hopelessness, the anxiety, the addictions...spells death to you. God has miraculously, by His grace, chosen you to come apart to Him, to escape a living death brought on by wickedness in the culture around you.
And just as He led the Israelites into the place of vulnerability and exposure, so He leads you and me into such places. He has not forsaken us in these trips. Rather, He wants to remove Egypt (our cultural thinking and values) from our minds, our affections, our relationships.
Let's look at 3 of these places in the Wilderness. The first place is in (Exodus 15:22ff.). After 3 days of walking in hot temperatures, where the humidity was almost zero, the water of the Israelites was at the bottom. Many canteens were empty. Mouths were dry. Bodies were becoming weak. They needed refreshment; they needed re-creation.
Ever been there? Have you ever "walked" in stressful paths for a length of time, and found yourself needing refreshment? Oh, to have a glass of nice cool water! The imagination runs wild. You can feel that water going down the throat, soothing your anguish, strengthening your muscles!
The Israelites came to one well. One well for thousands, perhaps millions, of people! They scrambled...rushed to satisfy their thirst. But they found it was bitter water. It did not satisfy. In fact, it made their situation worse! And their spirits turned from complaining to anger! They were emotionally shaking their fists at God....."How dare You!!!" "What right do You have not to satisfy our need for refreshment? " "Can't You see the state of exhaustion and need we are in?"
Ever been there? Ever looked to a miserly little well for your deep need for refreshment? Ever sought the needs of your soul in the wells of the world system?
The typical person who claims to be one of God's people will run to the beach, or a mountain cabin, or perhaps a casino, or a baseball game, or a movie, to get the refreshment that his soul craves. But like that well in the Wilderness, there is no refreshment here. There is only bitterness, and the end is worse than the beginning. And we shake our fist at God and declare "How day You!! How dare You not satisfy my soul in the manner that I chose?"
Before we can live in the Promised Land, we must learn to allow God, in His time and His way, to satisfy the needs of our soul. We must leave our need for refreshment, for re-creation in His Hands. We must trust Him. We must keep walking in the dry land, without complaining, until He brings us to the refreshment of His choice.
In Exodus 15 we see that He supplied a special branch for the sour well....but more than that, He led them the next day to a place that had 12 (TWELVE!) wells. Out here in the middle of the wasteland, God had a dozen wells close together, with easy access, with palm trees for shade! For those willing to be taught, God was showing the Israelites who He is. He is the God who provides. And we can trust Him to be Who He is!
After a while the Israelites began to dream. The story is in Exodus 16. Walking along the dusty road, day after day of barrenness surrounding them, their food reserves were getting boring, they began to remember the mountains of fresh meat and abundant fresh vegetables that was their former life. The Scriptures do not say they were hungry...they say only that they were remembering the food of Egypt. They were lusting after the Old Way (Num. 11:4-35).
So what are your dreams?
Possessions....Comfort...Education....Salary...Children...Grandchildren..."Happy Marriage"....Ministry... The list can get very long!!! Where is the place of the One who saved you out of bondage in all these dreams? Have you forgotten the bondage that accompanies these dreams? The Israelites forgot all the slave labor. They forgot the beatings, the sweating, the forced murder of their children.
How human we are! We have very selective thought patterns. With possessions, comfort, education, children, grandchildren, 'happy marriage', ministry....the whole list of potential dreams....comes slavery. Of course, the Evil One will not allow us to see that slavery. He sets the trap with the dreams, the visions, the hopes...and then he springs the clamp of entrapment before we realize what happened!
As the Israelites' fantasies turned to complaining, the Lord met them. He supplied their cravings, and He gave to them the natural consequences of their cravings. You see, the Old Way was to get all you can! The Old Way was to satisfy your cravings, to indulge, to gorge yourself on good things. And with that engorgement comes sickness and death.
The New Way is to take what is needed for today, in moderation, expressing thanks to the One who supplies. God told the Israelites: "Every morning you must gather only the amount you need for that day. And on the 6th day, you must gather 2 days' worth" (Exod. 16:4-5). God has told us: "Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you" (Heb. 13:5 ).
The New Way is one of contentment with the Savior. The cravings are changed to crave the Savior, not the old food. And the new dream is obedience. The vision, the dream, the hopes of the person headed for the Promised Land is to just be obedient, and then to be content with what He supplies day by day.
Are you there yet? Are you in the Wilderness bodily, but still in Egypt in your heart and mind. Are your thoughts on the ways of the unsaved, longing for the pleasures that they seem to be enjoying? Do you fantasize about what good times you could have if you only didn't belong to Him?
The One who called you, who saved you by His blood, wants to teach you the joy of obedience and the satisfaction of simplicity. Remember the sample prayer of our Lord Jesus? "Thy will be done...Give us this day our daily bread" Jesus had His time in the wilderness, then the Tempter showed Him all the glories of the future kingdoms (Matt. 4:8-10). The gold, the glitter, the comfort, the prestige. But Jesus knew the slavery that accompanied those things. "All these things will I give to you if you will fall down and worship me," the Tempter said. Dreams that end in slavery.
Jesus said to the Tempter what the Israelites were taught in the Wilderness: "Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve." The dream to obey, the vision of service to Him is the dream that does not carry a bitter enslavement with it. It is a lesson that you and I need to learn.
The last lesson in the Wilderness came in Exodus 17:1-7. "Where is God?!" "Show Him to us!" "Prove His presence here amongst us!" In walking with God, we expect companionship that we can see and feel. How often do people going thru the Wilderness say to God "Show Yourself to me!"
This challenge to God's Personhood is a dare. We dare Him to be who He says He is. We draw a line in the sand and tell God to step over it, to accommodate our terms of the relationship. "If You do this, then I will do that." "I won't.... until You...." Challenging, bargaining, demanding. Wow! Who do we think we are???
The Tempter encouraged Jesus to challenge God. "Hey, Jesus! God has said that He will protect you from harm. I challenge you to see if He keeps His word. I challenge you to see if He can really do what He has said He can do. Throw yourself off this temple spire, and let's see if God is who He says He is and does what He says He will do!" (Matthew 4).
Ever been there? The emotions are dried up. The circumstances are getting darker. The Scriptures seem as lifeless as dead men's bones. And the natural inclination is to question God's character, even His existence!
If we are to live in the Promised Land, we must learn to trust His character by faith. He has said it, and that settles it. No ifs, ands or buts. Our feelings, our circumstances are irrelevant. The innuendos of others that God has somehow failed are utterly out of line. The subtle thoughts the Evil One plants "Has God said?" are from the pit of Hell, and His purpose of destruction is clear.
You see, it's not over until it's over. And God will always have the last say. He is faithful. He is present. He is sufficient. He is just. His mercy is new every morning. His love never fails. So many, many things He has delighted to tell us about Himself....and all He asks is that we accept His word on the matter. "I am that I am" He told Moses. And it is enough for those of us who dare to live with Him.
So, my dear friend...are you in the Wilderness? If so, learn the lessons of the Wilderness....
June 30, 2011