Have you ever found yourself feeling as though you are in a desert or wilderness? You might describe it as a dry, lonely place. You may not know how or why you arrived there, and you certainly don’t know how long it will last. You wish it would end soon though, because it’s just not much fun! If you have ever found yourself there figuratively or spiritually speaking, you are not alone.
The word wilderness is translated 300 times in the Bible. In the Old Testament, it refers to a desolate, often sparsely populated, generally dangerous place - where an individual may face wild animals or hostile nomadic people. In the New Testament it’s simply an “isolated place.”
There are a lot of lessons that can be drawn from observing people in the Bible and their experiences in the wilderness. As we look at just a few, perhaps you’ll be able to identify with one or more of them. These really are in no particular order except for the first one, because of it’s prominence.
Perhaps the most famous wilderness experience is that of the Israelites as they wandered around in it for forty years. God initially directed them there for their own good, but after developing a lack of trust in God it became a place of punishment. It all started with their murmuring and complaining, but it didn’t stop there. As is often common with us, a critical and complaining attitude, if we’re not careful to repent of, can develop into a heart of fear that makes it hard to trust God. When that took place with the Israelites they found themselves wandering in the wilderness as a place of punishment. It’s important however, not to get stuck thinking that every wilderness experience is a place of punishment. There are some really good purposes for the wilderness.
The second is that of protection. David is the primary example here. He was being hunted down by Saul. At one time he was a servant in the palace of King Saul. But when Saul’s heart turned away from him, the desert was a place of refuge and protection. He never appeared to have a home, and was always on the run. The wilderness was the place he found protection from Saul.
The third is that of preparation. We can find a number of examples of this in scripture, but Moses probably exemplifies how this worked. For forty years Moses was hiding on the backside of a desert. He had given up on what he thought God had called him to do. He lacked confidence to exert himself as a leader. Yet, God found him faithfully tending sheep and those forty years were not a waste. It was a place of preparation for what was ahead.
In the life of Elijah, we find the wilderness to be a place of provision. In 1 Kings 17, we find God directed Elijah to hide out in the Kerith Ravine. It was after Elijah obeyed, that God had ravens bring Elijah both food in the morning and at night. It’s worth noting that miracles will often happen in the wilderness.
Finally, the wilderness is a great place to experience God’s Presence. In each of the prior examples we know that to be true, but we are definitely reminded of this when we read of Hagar in Genesis 21. Hagar was sent away from Abraham and found to be lonely and afraid in the Desert of Beersheba. Yet God was already there. All looked lost, yet when the presence of God appeared everything changed. How true that can be in our own lives.
Regardless of what type of wilderness we find ourselves in, or how we arrived there, God is near. Don’t lose hope or focus, God has a way of revealing Himself and reminding us of His Love in the dry seasons of our lives.