[bl]W[/bl]andering. This verb implies lack of direction and intention. Aimless traveling. An interesting word choice to describe the desert journey of a people being led by their Creator. But remember, the story of God is told by people. These chosen and delivered people. It’s their stories – their God inspired words – that we read. And they must have felt like they were wandering. As if God had rescued them from one unfortunate reality and placed them in another. Hunger hardly seems like freedom. A place deplete of resources can’t be the route to a promised land of milk and honey.
And yet, God was present in this desolate place.
The LORD your God has watched over your journey through this vast desert.
The desert journey had distinct meaning and purpose. God was shaping the faith of an entire people group. He was humbling them, testing them. He wanted to know what was in their heart. He wanted to know whether they would keep his commands. If they would be faithful.
In the desert, God teaches his people a way of life that is difficult to follow. To man it looks like rigid rules. To God, it’s faithful living that produces great fruit.
He knows what is best for his creation.
And he’s preparing them to be his chosen people, in his chosen land, among the rest of the world. To make himself know.
And in the desert, God teaches his people that the LORD God can be trusted. That he will provide. Not only for today, but for tomorrow.
Because today’s manna won’t fill us tomorrow. Every day we must seek the Lord’s provision and trust that he will fill us.
For man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.
I’ve known this verse my whole life, but reading it within context brings so much meaning. God was giving manna to fill their stomachs, but what he really wants his people to eat, what he really wants them to live on is him.
I imagine it was difficult for God to only give enough. What he wants for his children is abundance. But he knows that in abundance, they will forget him. And they do. We do.
And yet, even in the desert – places deplete of resources, where life appears not to grow — the people of God have what they need.
These forty years the LORD your God has been with you, and you have not lacked anything.
Stomachs were full. Clothes did not wear out. Feet did not swell.
But how quickly we forget.
I stop in the story to find myself in it. I stop right at the border of Canaan. Right before the Israelites are about to enter the promise land. I stop to hear God’s warning. His urging not to forget.
For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land…and when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. But remember the LORD your God. Be careful that you do not forget.
I stop and consider the ways my abundant provisions keep me from remembering. Prevent me from really seeing. If our wells are full and our pantries stocked, will our spirits hunger and thirst for the Bread from Heaven that truly satisfies? If our homes are too comfortable, will we cross into places of discomfort to engage the world around us? If our calendars are scheduled and routines established, will we be available to the living and active work of God?
And I realize that this is why life can feel like wandering. Because we are walking without faith. We are traveling in circles, beating down paths God never intended for us.
It was not God’s plan for the Israelites to wander for forty years in a barren desert. He led them to the promised land of Canaan, and this people who God delivered with a mighty hand out of Egypt, did not trust him to be victorious again. The presence of enemies caused them to lose heart and fear.
How is it we forget so quickly what God has done for us? He has shown himself faithful and victorious, yet we live in fear that we’ll be conquered.
The LORD your God went ahead of you on your journey, in fire by night and in a cloud by day, to search out places for you to camp and to show you the way you should go. In spite of this, you did not trust.
The fear of God’s chosen people changed their future.
Not a man of this evil generation shall see the good land I swore to give your forefathers, except Caleb, because he followed the LORD whole-heartedly.
Fear keeps us from an abundant life.
Your children who do not yet know good from bad – they will enter the land. I will give it to them and they will take possession of it.
I recall the words of Jesus. Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.
And that is what happened.
But as for you, turn around and set out toward the desert along the route to the Red Sea.
I pause to consider how the gracious God I know is also just. He will not let the unfaithful enter into his intended places. And maybe it has less to do with “not allowing” and more to do with “knowing.” Knowing that the unfaithful will never be free even in lands of freedom. The fearful will never experience abundance, even when drinking milk and honey.
And so it’s only through faith and the grace of God that makes entering and experiencing the promise land possible.
The Israelites finally realize they have sinned. And they try to redeem the situation themselves. Armed with weapons, they cross over to face the enemy on their own.
We will go up and fight, as the LORD our God commanded us.
But God warned them. Do not go up and fight, because I will not be with you. You will be defeated by your enemies.
I breathe in this truth. God will not join me in my activity. He wants me to follow and trust him in his activity.
But the Israelites did not listen. They tried anyway, and were defeated. And God directed them back to the desert. And so began the wandering. Wandering and waiting, until the unfaithful generation died.
We cannot cross into God’s intended places for us on our own. We need him. His timing, his leading, his going before us.
Like Israel, we are people on a journey of faith. We are sinful people, in need of deliverance. We are delivered people who quickly forget. We are fearful people, who wander until God’s grace and our faith cross us over into promised lands of freedom and abundance.
Deserts will always be apart of our journey. But don’t be afraid of them. Consider the ways the Lord is shaping you, preparing you. And believe whole-heartedly that he will never leave you there.
And always, in all things, be thankful.
#113 Laughing so hard I cry
#114 Snow that melts quickly
#115 Snow and an absent husband that brings a friend
#116 An argument that allows our children to see us reconcile and say I‘m sorry, I forgive you.
#117 A mother’s house to camp out in.
#118 A full moon noticed by a son who is always wanting to learn.
#119 Top 40 music sung by my children whose innocent minds hear the wrong words.
#120 Transitions that come right before the birth of new life.
#121 A healthy baby, a contented mommy. And a promise found in the proclamation Luke is healthy.
#122 A walk through the woods that will soon be ours to care for.
#123 A little girl who struggles through change. And the opportunity to listen to her fears and tell her I care.
#124 A husband who hates leaving his family, and always returns eager to be with us.