Wilderness Wanderings

Most of us, when we think of planning a honeymoon, plan to take our new bride to an exotic or lush location where we can enjoy the beauty and the delights together. Not surprisingly, Hawaii and Florida top the honeymoon destinations within the US, while Mexico, Jamaica, and the Bahamas are popular destinations just beyond our southern border. So where does God take his new bride as he rescues her from the clutches of her ruthless Egyptian masters? The wilderness. Not exactly a top destination for honeymooners.

When God brought His people out of Egypt, He didn’t take them immediately to the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey. In fact, He did what appears to be an unusual thing: He takes them to the wilderness. To a place devoid of all that is beautiful and delightful. A place devoid of life itself. Many times in their wilderness wanderings they found themselves without even the essential: water. Why would God take His new bride on a honeymoon to the wilderness rather than the Promised Land?

In Jeremiah 2:1-3, God remembers with fondness the intimacy and love that He and His bride experienced in those wilderness days. Not that things were perfect! People rebelled. There was the whole golden calf incident. And the grumbling. And more grumbling. But the honeymoon in the wilderness was a time of purifying, of sanctifying.

Take for instance the matter of the golden calf. Yes, the people had “broken loose” (Exodus 32:25), but God dealt with their sin. And as a result, the people repented of their idolatry and a beautiful thing happened that day: they stripped themselves of their ornaments – those beautiful reminders of Egypt – from that day forward (Exodus 33:6). God was making Israel a bride purified for Himself (Ephesians 5:25-27) .

Why did God take Israel to the wilderness? It was here that all the distractions and attractions were stripped away and Israel learned to trust God. It was here that God fed His people day by day with manna. It was here that God spoke to His people and gave them His instructions. It was here that they learned to trust God and depend upon Him. It was here that they learned new habits, learned how to worship, and learned how to walk by faith.

It is amazing to look at the generation of those who came out of the wilderness with God as opposed to those who went into the wilderness. They were a people ready to follow their King into the Promised Land. They were a people who had seen the mighty works of God and knew they could trust Him. They were a people who were ready to conquer, even if in the most unlikely of ways (Joshua 6). They were a people holy to the Lord. Perfect? No. Purified and devoted? Yes.

As I ponder this truth, I can’t help but look at our current situation. For months (even years?) we have been praying for revival. We have been praying that God would awaken His Church, and in particular, awaken our church from her sleepiness and conflicting desires. For years we have tried to maintain a semblance of fidelity to God, while at the same time running after the things of this world, and our Master’s words ring true: We cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24).

So what has our Groom done? He has called us out into the wilderness where we can re-learn what it means to walk by faith. He has systematically stripped away the ornaments of Egypt and shut down the activities that so often take our attention away from God. The idols we often run to are tottering: wealth, health, and sports. But God is unmoved. There is a resurgence of the family, that sacred institution that has for years been pushed to the side. There is a return to family dinners. There is a simplification of our schedule. There is a renewed focus on things that matter.

And I believe that we are just at the beginning. Just as God took His people to a place of desperation where they had nothing – so that they would realize that when they have God they have everything that they need – I believe that we will be further humbled. The Lord will graciously teach us total dependence on Him and that these other things are empty wells that do not satisfy (Jeremiah 2:13). Yet there is such hope in this reality, for, just as Israel came out of the wilderness holy to the Lord and ready to acquire the Promised Land, if we will draw near to God in these days and leave behind the ornaments of Egypt, we will find ourselves awake and eager to do His will.

May we tremble at His Word.

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