In previous devotions from Deuteronomy chapters 4 through 10, I’ve talked about doing Bible study with a “2 -rail system”. Think of a train needing to run on two rails. So, it is with the “2-rail system”. One rail has to do with understanding what was taking place in the Bible story; context, lessons for Israel, main characters, connection to Jesus, etc. The other rail has to do with its application for us today.
So, when we think of what “the wilderness experience” was for the Israelites, we are talking of that period of time when they were delivered from the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt all the way to the time when they crossed the Jordan River and entered the Promised Land.
When we think of the second rail, the application to what the wilderness experience is in our lives, I would describe it as any experience where we have a vision for some thing in the future, (our promised land) and the circumstances we currently find ourselves in today. The time in between is our wilderness.
Let’s first consider what the wilderness experience was like for the Israelites.
8:2-6 (ESV) 2 And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. 3 And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. 4 Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. 5 Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you. 6 So you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him.
8:15-He led you through the great and terrible wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground, where there was no water. He brought water out of the rock of flint.. In the wilderness He fed you with manna which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do good for you in the end.
9:7-8 —remember this and never forget how you aroused the anger of The Lord your God in the wilderness. From the day you left Egypt until you arrived here, you have been rebellious against The Lord. At Horeb, you aroused the Lord’s wrath so that He was angry enough to destroy you.
9:9-21-(10:1-11) Among, other things, we read of Moses interceding before The Lord at Horeb on behalf of the Israelites and Aaron
9:22- the Israelites made The Lord angry at Taberah, Massah, and Kibroth-Hattaavah
9:23-24–again, The Israelites rebelled against The Lord at Kadesh Barnea and are described as being always rebellious, ever since Moses knew them.
Regarding the Israelites journey from Egypt to Israel, God could have led them on a direct path from Egypt to the land of Israel, which would have been shorter than the way He led them. (Exodus 13:17 (NASB) “Now when Pharaoh had let the people go, God did not lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines, even though it was near; for God said, “The people might change their minds when they see war, and return to Egypt.”
So, immediately a question comes to mind, “if this was the shortest route to the Promised Land, where eventually there would be war with other nations anyway, why would God send them on a much longer route? ? The answer to that question has relevance to understanding both the story of the Israelites, but application for us as well. Could there be a benefit (s) to the Israelites (and to us) for not getting things handed to us, or coming to us easily? Could there be benefits to us for taking “longer” routes to get to the place of meeting our goals?
As I have done on numerous occasions in these devotions, I again want to encourage you to take your time reading the verses above (and maybe going to additional verses that come to your mind) and meditating on them. As you do, what is the Lord speaking to your heart? What insights does He want to give you? My goal is that I want you, the reader to “own” this study. I can start the ball rolling, but for you to benefit the most, rather than these thoughts being all mine, where you just read them and judge them for their value, my hope is that these studies become interactive for you. Like a running post on social media, I would be encouraged if you would read one of these devotions and then add to it, saying something like, “what struck me as cool was this point…, or God brought this insight to my mind when I was going through this study ….
Here are some that have come to my mind, but I believe there are many more gems to be found. Let me start the conversation going:
-trials and tough times are growth opportunities. God had a purpose for the Israelites in leading them on the longer wilderness route. He was preparing them mentally, physically, spiritually to get them strong in these areas so that when they came to the land of Promise, they would be victorious. The wilderness time was training time.
– God was with them the whole time (Deut. 4:37 says “He personally brought you from Egypt by His great power…). Their time in the wilderness was tough, no doubt, but they were not alone on their journey. One of God’s desired goals was that the Israelites would realize this would always be the case-He would always be with them. Although, He would not be always there in a cloud or pillar of fire, He would always be present, and always wanting to be depended on. They needed to learn that lesson.
– the wilderness journey would be difficult. There would be lots of reasons for complaining, but what would be the benefit of focusing on the negatives? They needed to become a people of faith, thinking on bringing solutions, rather than dwelling on the problems. They were crossing a desert, so this would not be like taking a long walk in Central Park. It was going to be uncomfortable. It was going to be hot, very hot. There was not a lot of food or water around. There was the monotony of the same daily experience most of the time–sand everywhere and manna, every day for food.
Although God was leading them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire at night, the familiarity of this miraculous sight seemed to get old (maybe its like us getting tired of seeing a rainbow in the sky, although it is a divine reminder from God that He will not flood the earth again).
– the wilderness was dangerous. Besides the extreme heat issues and lack of food and water, there was also “fiery serpents and scorpions”. There would also be pagan peoples who would fight back to protect their lands.
* 8:2,15 -notice it was God leading them (He was in charge, although by looking at their circumstances they might not think so)
*8:2,15 -he humbled them in their circumstances in order to test them to know what was in their heart, whether they would obey His commandments or not (tough times would reveal what was important to them. Someone once said, “if you really want to understand the character of a man, don’t look at how he acts, but how he has reacted to tough times”). Although “tests”can have a bad connotation, especially for people like me, who tended to cram for tests, taking tests can also be a very positive, confidence-building time for us as it gets confirmed to us that we really do know our material and it makes sense for us to move on to next grade, or to a deeper level of study or experience.
8:3,15 God’s goal was to train them (to discipline them) to help them understand the really important lesson that what truly matters is God: His Word and that He is faithful. Despite the severity of their circumstances, He could be depended on to get them through, day by day.
8:2 and chapter 9- the Israelites were told to “remember” and learn from their past. By being confronted with their many instances of complaining, rebelliousness, foolishness, etc, they could be challenged and motivated to do better. Why not aspire to have a better legacy than what they have had?
6:10-11 – the final destination —there was a Promised Land that they were moving towards. Their life was not a meaningless existence. They were being trained in the wilderness, physically, mentally, and spiritually to prepare for their upcoming battles in the land of Promise. The wilderness was a training ground for victory in their new home.
So, to complete this devotion, what kinds of “points of application” are there for us as we consider this second rail–how it can apply to us.
– trials and tough times are growth opportunities- like the Israelites, God allows tough times in our lives too. Far from being a negative judgement from God to punish in some way, these are really blessings for us and opportunities to grow. It seems God is more concerned with our character than our comforts.
The challenge comes to us regarding what we will focus on: the negative circumstances, which will lead to complaining and self-pity or to hope in a living God, who is with us throughout, who has provided this circumstance as an opportunity for us to grow. How do we grow?
We grow by persevering and not depending on our abilities, but depending on God to help us. We grow by accepting the challenges He puts before us and we see them through to victory, to where He will lead us
– God was with them the whole time– we do not serve a deistic god who creates us, then abandons us to do life on our own. Far from it, once we are reconciled to Him through believing in Jesus Christ as our Savior, we are indwelt by the Spirit of the Living God. We are never alone–NEVER!
– the wilderness journey would be difficult.—life is hard. There will always be challenges, temptations, and tough times. Deal with it. Take responsibility for your actions.
– the wilderness was dangerous. –The Israelites had to do deal with “fiery serpents and scorpions, and pagan peoples, and daily survival issues. Our lives today can also be dangerous, with threats of terrorists, troubled individuals acting out, people we come in contact with substance abuse issue, conflicts with neighbors, family members, and co-workers, let alone having to deal with a world system bent on removing the mention of God from our culture and a Devil who acts like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
The life to which we are called as Christians is a difficult one. We are told throughout the New Testament to not be surprised when we are called upon to suffer or face persecution. Acknowledge and prepare for the life to which we are called.
– Character and Spiritual development– the reality is that we will face challenging times, but we are to have perspective. Romans 5:1-5 (NIV) says: 1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit,whom he has given us
Friends, every “negative” situation can be a positive if we only calmly pause and consider what positive take away lessons there are for us.
-Lastly, we are only passing through this life. — Earth is not our final destination. Once we have been saved, why wouldn’t God just take us right to Heaven if all there is? Because He is not done with us yet. Because He loves us, He desires our growth and development and our enjoyment of Him. He wants us to begin experiencing Him now and understand what an awesome God He is. He also wants to enrich our lives by using us to be a blessing to others and to demonstrate practically His concern for people.
As counter-intuitive as it may sound, friends, look forward to your “wilderness” times for your blessings of growth that can come from them.