There are three main characteristics in this geographic region: shepherds and herds, wide open space with plenty of room for herds to roam, and desert-like areas such as the Negev (Gen. 13:1), the Wilderness of Paran (Num. 13:16), and the Wilderness of Zin (Num. 27:12-14). Life in this area is unpredictable because of the low rainfall and sparse population. It can be a silent and lonely place. It can also be a place of solace and peace. Life in the wilderness is demanding, exhausting and exhilerating. It emphasizes the need for community and the necessity of placing your survival in the hands of the Lord. You will see this in play when you read through Old Testament passages that involve places like the Red Sea (Ex. 13:17-18; 14:1, 9, 21-25), wadiis (Num. 21:12-15), cisterns (Gen. 37:18-24), and Mount Sinai (Ex. 19:1-2), or people like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses who recognized their success there was due to the Lord’s hand upon their lives (Gen. 12:14-18; 21:22-24; 26:1-4; Ex. 15:1-3).
The wilderness can evoke several responses from us. It may bring up thoughts of fear, distress and desperation as it did in the story of Hagar (Gen. 21:9-21). It may remind us of Elijah’s flight there and how the Lord used the wilderness as a place of restoration after his showdown with the prophets of Baal and Jezebel’s subsequent threat on his life (1 Ki. 19:1-8). It may remind us of disputes and arguments over territory and wells as in the days of Abraham and Isaac (Gen. 21:22-34; 26:18-25). The wilderness may remind of us of Jesus when He was tempted by Satan and withstood the test by quoting Scripture (Mt. 4:1-11; Lk. 4:1-13). For Jesus the wilderness became a place of testing and fortitude. It stands to reason that since so many people across the pages of Scripture faced time in the wilderness, that the wilderness will be a part of our life too although we may not find ourselves literally stuck in it like some reality show contestant. Through His Word the Lord tells us that it’s inevitable; life will lead you into the wilderness at one time or another (Ps. 23:4)! Therefore, all these stories are examples for us to draw upon when we face our own wilderness experiences.
While it may seem like uncharted territory to us, it is possible to survive and thrive in the wilderness. There are still people living and surviving in Israel’s wilderness area today. It takes a little know-how, but it can be done. Abraham survived there and Moses led a nation through the wilderness. Each knew the lay of the land, but they also acknowledged that their survival was ultimately the result of the Lord. Like our Biblical predecessors it is beneficial for us to remember WHO guides and protects us through those wilderness experiences (Ex. 15:13; Neh. 9:19; Ps. 31:3; Jn. 16:13). With that in mind it is important to remember that wilderness experiences are not necessarily BAD! Oftentimes they can bring us closer to the Lord and help us to recognize that if we are in the wilderness, the Lord will provide a way for us to come through it (Phil. 4:10-13).
I am not a fan of those reality shows I see advertised on TV where average people agree to be dropped off in the middle of nowhere and are faced with the task of finding their way back to civilization. The shows are not really about how these people survive. They are more about how soon they will fall apart because they are not prepared for the stress of living in “the wilderness”. Some manage to conquer their fears and survive. They are held up as a symbol of what humankind can accomplish by sheer human will. But I think the Scriptures present a different picture. We may have some skill at maneuvering through a wilderness experience but any ability to do so is truly something given by God and not due to our own merit (see David’s testimony to Saul concerning his skills as a shepherd: 1 Sam. 17:31-34). Perhaps you are facing a wilderness experience right now. You may wonder what the outcome will be. It may be a fearful time or it may be one of rest. Whatever the case may be, it is a time you can use to draw closer to the Lord, to see His hand at work in your life and to learn more about dependence on Him. The question is, will you?
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 1/8/2017