One morning in my “quiet time” I pondered this question: “Lord, how come, cricket, business and success, which was once such an obsession, has now become so relatively unimportant?”
I believe I got an answer! “You had to go through all of that to get to here.” I had been in the wilderness. Yes, I had to experience all that so that I could truly draw objective and meaningful comparisons and conclusions. Life does not offer shortcuts or quick-fixes!
For 40 years, a very good biblical time-span, I was in that “wilderness” and I have subsequently come to appreciate the significance and necessity of this period in life’s maturing process. The dictionary defines “wilderness” as “a desert, a confused assemblage of things.” Interesting, I thought, in the light of all that happened to Moses and company during their four decades of wilderness wandering!
Furthermore the dictionary also describes a “voice in the wilderness” as “an unheeded advocate of reform.” No prizes for guessing where that originates! Certainly, there is much to learn from the wilderness.
I must confess that I have always been intrigued and challenged by the fact that God’s people got so hopelessly lost out there in the desert. Let’s take a look.
Two powerful witnesses, Moses (Deuteronomy 8:2-5; 11-20) and Paul (1 Corinthians 10:1-12) speak profoundly about the Wilderness.
God’s chosen people were in Egypt, captive and enslaved. Pharaoh was persecuting them, making life well nigh impossible, certainly uncomfortable and difficult!
The believers cried out and God heard them, and responded by sending Moses. Moses was accredited with miracles but initially these “miracles” were matched by the locals. Yes, the devil is a mighty magician! But the turning point in this great spiritual contest was the blood. It always is!
The blood of the Lamb. The death of the “first born” shook Egypt and its king to the core. It was absolute. The believers had been warned. If there was no blood on the door, there was NO protection!
It was as simple, and as arbitrary as that. The blood had to be applied, not just acknowledged. It was a tough gospel. Nothing has changed! The road is narrow! Few are saved!
God’s people were to be separated. Holiness is separation unto God and that, too, has never changed. The message was loud and clear!
Then into the Wilderness they went. They had walked through the Red Sea, the water walled up on both sides, and then seen the Egyptian army swallowed alive. Over 12 000 miracles ensued. And some huge ones! Food, quail, water! Shoes and clothes didn’t wear out! All the spiritual heavies were there. Moses was there! Aaron was there! Joshua was there! Caleb was there!
God was there by sight, at night a fire, by day a cloud. When this “presence” moved, they all moved. It was a million-strong megachurch. Hallelujah!
But what happened? Moaning, groaning, debauchery, idolatry, arrogance and presumption! In fact, it became a counterfeit covenant community. Humanistic self-interest dominated. Carnality took command and imitations and half-truths became the order of the day.
It’s difficult to understand how the people could be so fickle and selfish, but at the slightest setback tongues starting wagging and fingers started pointing.
Soon there is disrespect and its prodigy, indiscipline! Everyone does his own thing and as we see later in the Book of Judges (chapter 18) it’s the tribe of Dan that picks and chooses its Levite priest, not God.
Man inevitably takes over and questions God’s authority. Man always wants a king, as we see later when the Israelites demanded from Samuel that they be like the other nations with a monarch. And they ended up with the disaster that was Saul.
But this time, believe it or not, the rebellion was against the mighty Moses. Korah and company wanted more authority and recognition. It all sounds rather familiar! And just how spectacularly did God deal with this dissension, the ground opening up!
But is it not amazing how easily and how quickly we take even the most awesome things of God for granted. It’s frightening how quickly we revert to type, even in the church.
Yes, it had been awesome when God’s delivered his 10 Commandments. God had spoken and it shook the Israelites to the core. They were even shocked and surprised that they had survived the experience. Phew!
There were some sweaty palms and brows but they had made it, records Deuteronomy chapter 5. Their response was unanimous. We can’t take too much of this! It was too close for comfort. God’s presence was too powerful, too convicting.
And this is always the hallmark of the true presence of the Holy Spirit. At Pentecost it was barefaced, anointed truth followed by inevitable conviction. “What must we do?” cried the mass.
In Deuteronomy their response was very human. The masses did not want to get too close! They preferred that Moses rather spend time with God and then come and tell them what to do. They promised that they would then listen and obey!
Indeed they wanted to escape His presence. They didn’t want too intimate a relationship but preferred what would be best described as arms-length religion.
There was, for the mass, a certain safety in numbers. But knowing God is not a corporate thing. It is one to one. It is that individual listening ear that the Book of Revelation talks about.
The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, and has to do with an awesome reverence and respect for Him that is nurtured and built around an intimate working relationship, not relying on somebody else’s ministry.
God is not a tyrant but neither is He a doting father. Through the blood of the lamb and the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit, there develops within us this confidence and respect that sustains us against the wiles of the devil and helps us live victorious, overcoming lives in a world full of doubt, fear and evil.
But most are too scared of the direct, pure and holy voice of His Spirit and Word! Draw near to Him, is a suggestion that petrifies us today as much as it did way back in the Wilderness. We would rather find for ourselves a type of Moses figure. Perhaps that is why we are so inclined to follow men and their ministries!
What is God’s view? They say the right religious things. They make the right “spiritual” protestations. They have become “spiritually” streetwise. But I know their hearts! If only they would fear me and obey me. There are just far too many hard and rebellious hearts!
And the type of hard heart that sorely troubles God belongs to the professed believers who just refuse to listen and obey.
The people wanted the “softer” voice of Moses. It is easier to ignore a human, to rationalise what he says or accuse him of human bias and error. With our deaf ears and blind eyes we still want to hear and see what pleases us and fits our humanistic demands and expectations.
Please, we don’t want any more of those hard gospel messages. We don’t need negative preaching with that scary doomsday stuff. We don’t want anything that attacks our egos or encourages any guilt trips.
Please take the terror out of sin! Tell us rather about love and forgiveness. Yes, please, no more thunder, fire and shaking. No more audible voice! Give us someone who likes us, then we will listen and obey. We promise!
That’s how it was at the foot of the mountain! God had laid His awesome foundation and the chosen people wanted their human shield. They didn’t want to look up. They preferred to keep it all at eye-level. This type of familiarity will eventually breed contempt, even as it did with Moses.
The people had survived God’s presence. “Man can live even if God speaks with him,” was their response of amazement. Problem is, it boosts the ego and given enough grace, love and forgiveness we have soon constructed our own false security and presumptions.
In tight spots we soon begin to side with the world. Our compromise is often subtle but it is dangerously undergirded by the belief that even if we are letting Him down or fooling ourselves on some sin issue, He will forgive us anyway. Simply, we are just too scared to confront the world. Unbelief has bred contempt and, sadly, profanity is rife!
The wilderness church saw only two, Joshua and Caleb, complete the narrow road and enter the “promised land.” And it took its toll even on Moses who struck the rock in anger because his humanity had allowed him to get affected by the behaviour of the people, his co-pilgrims. Makes you think, doesn’t it?
Paul reminds us that this is “an example, a warning from Israel’s history.”
In John 6, Jesus makes a similar point: “Your forefathers ate manna and died!” Yes, they had been part of the Wilderness Church with all the fancy signs, wonders and ministries and yet they did not make it. The Bible tells us that many were offended by this reminder and deserted!
Clearly nothing much has changed. Disobedience, compromise and rebellion still cause havoc. It’s not about miracles and ministries, the right church or the right place. If only we would hear that still, small voice from the wilderness beckoning us to seek first the kingdom and His righteousness. Those who do not learn from the wilderness are doomed to stay there and die there.