The glorious ambiance of the Red Sea deliverance is awesome: enjoy it while it lasts. The sea only parts one time! And while we relish in worship at our sin’s passed-over when the blood has been applied, the Christian life moves on to its next challenge.
Please do not misunderstand me. I am not suggesting that you stop singing and shouting about your salvation, nor am I belittling our celebration of the victories our God has won. What is clear, however, is that the Christian life will naturally progress us to the harder challenges of our faith.
For God’s children the way from Egypt to Canaan was via the wilderness. There was no other way for them, nor shall there be any other way for us. You cannot avoid the wilderness! God will turn you towards it. There would seemingly be an easier way, but there is no other way!
When Moses was led by God to make a late turn to encamp before Pihahiroth by the sea, the obvious outcome was that the wilderness had shut them in, for that is certainly what Pharaoh would say (Exodus 14:1-4). However, when you look at the story, as well as the story of our lives, the children were not turned towards the wilderness to be shut in to it; rather, they were turned to it so that they might be shut in with God! There, the Divine Presence awaited them. There, miraculous provision awaited them. There, the glory of God in cloud and pillar of fire would lead them. You cannot avoid the wilderness, because like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, God’s presence precedes you into it!
The wilderness shows up often in the Word of God (289 verses & 1,275 references to be exact) and God’s choicest servants did their time in it! Elijah went to the wilderness after the fire fell from Heaven on Mt. Carmel. Paul was taken to the wilderness after his conversion. John’s ministry was centered in the wilderness where he baptized Jesus before He Himself was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the Devil for 40 days.
As opposed to a cultivated land, a wilderness is a wild field where animals graze and wild beasts live (Joel 1:19-20). It is often an uninhabited place, a land without water, that lies in desolation. It is a place of great need, where is felt a stark need for food and water.
It has been noted that there is a psychology, as well as a geography, to the wilderness, and spiritually speaking, it is a place of isolation and danger. Yet, it proves to be a place of divine deliverance and renewal. No believer loves the wilderness, but the growth we experience in God is without parallel.
This place of distress, doubt, and alienation is where we, like John Baptist, question our faith— and the God of that faith. It is the place where we think that God has forgotten about us, therefore feeling abandoned…where our past efforts are viewed as questionable wastes. It is where we feel unspiritual and unlovable. Should we return to our old life, or move forward in God?
Have you ever experienced a crisis of faith or a form of spiritual depression? Have you ever doubted the promises of God? Have you ever questioned God’s goodness? Have you ever fallen to temptation? Have you ever read your Bible and seen nothing but blank words on lifeless paper? Have you ever prayed and felt the heavens were brass? Have you ever had a dry spiritual season that followed the greatest mountaintop moment of your spiritual life? Welcome to the wilderness!
The Lord who brought us out of Egypt knows that to enjoy the pleasures, peace, and profits of Canaan we must enter the wilderness. There has to be a seven-circuit march arounds the walls of Jericho before they come tumbling down! There has to be a famine in Bethlehem-Judah to prove to doubting mothers that God is able to care of her children! There has to be a Gethsemane! There has to be the death of the Messiah to prove to fledgling disciples that Jesus is everything He said that He is! There has to be a cross before the crown!
Someone suggested that when you accept the fact that dry seasons and difficult times exist, yet God is in control of them both, you will discover a sense of divine refuge, because your hope then is in God and not in yourself. Brother, do not be discouraged: the wilderness is for you!
Why does God choose the wilderness for us?
The children of God would first need to come to know God for who He is, not what they imagined Him to be. Keep in mind they were just coming to know this God. For over 400 years their forefathers lived in the land of Egypt. They had no sacrifice— no temple— no priesthood. What do they know about Jehovah God? Little! The gods of Egypt, which they seemingly knew more, were essentially mean and onerous, but this God was loving and kind. Egyptian gods demanded your death for their pleasure, but this God deemed His Son’s death to be His pleasure for us!
Every single day in the wilderness God provided evidence of His sustaining grace. After having seen the Lord move over each of their homes in approbation to the blood on their lentils, and after having seen the mighty hand of God part the mighty waters of the Sea, one can only imagine what they assumed awaited them on the other side of sweet deliverance! Surely there were trees, lakes, lush vales, teeming forests, and growing gardens! There, they would find built cities, with terraced landscapes, and pleasures a-plenty!
There was nothing there. Few trees. No water. Vast emptiness. The exclamation points of their assumptions of goodness turned quickly into question marks aimed like sharp arrows at the heart of Moses and Aaron. “This is not a place of life! This is a place to die!”
Their assumptions about God quickly changed. Everything thus far had been easy and occurred in moments. Forty-five days later, however, Exodus sixteen declares that this part of their salvation, also known as sanctification, was not so immediate.
Their false assumption was that God was easily predictable and that His love and provision would exceed their expectations! Yet, now, they say, “How can God do this to us? He is not at all what we expected! We don’t want this kind of God! We want a molten calf! We want visible proof! We want a God that we can predict!” What if God’s goodness, grace, and mercy does not come to you in the ways in which you expected it. Would you still say, “God is good!”?
What they were learning, however, is that the wilderness is where you come to know this great God. It is the place where He strips all pretenses and peripheral things away. The wilderness is where all extenuating criteria are removed, and we come to a desperate need of God. If we are to eat, He must provide bread! If we are to drink, He must send forth rivers of water! If we are to walk, He must stretch our shoes and deepen the “souls” of our shoes! If we are to be warmed, His fire must envelope us! If we are to know the way home, we must follow His cloud! If we are to be forgiven, we must seek His tabernacle! If we are to live peaceably with Him, ourselves, and others, we must follow His law!
Even today, people do not go to the city to see the stars; they go to the desert. In a remarkable way you can see Heaven clearer from the desert places, because God removes all of your distractions. Sure, the people will learn much about themselves. They will learn how to properly worship. They will learn how to properly eat and drink. They will learn how to govern, how to marry, how to be intimate, and how to be clean. Yet, all this self-knowledge proceeds from the knowledge of knowing God!
The wilderness is where you find yourself in Him…like Moses and Paul and David and John. Removed from the city life of distractions, there is no place like the wilderness to see Heaven and Him!
Everyone wants worship but few want the wilderness. Learn to sing in the wilderness. Embrace it as your friend. If you learn to be patient and to wait upon the Lord, you will sing upon Zion, too, but do not waste the wilderness. It is your friend—- for there, God for you awaits. Selah.
Daniel & Marie Cox are best friends, soulmates, and co-laborers in the ministry. They and their four children live in Florida, where they have established a church, a private, Christian school, and a fun-loving family!