"And the LORD spoke to Moses in the desert of Sinai ... Take the
numbers of all the congregation of Israel ..." (Numbers 1:1,2).
The fourth book of the Torah is called in Hebrew "In the
Desert/Wilderness" (b'midbar) or in English "Numbers".
Establishing a Nation
Numbers speaks to us of organization and order. The people of Israel were
numbered according to the qualifications set by God - in order to
establish an army, a priesthood and a code of laws by which the nation
could live - and not just live, but model a society with the living God
in their midst.
Preparing for Challenges
Historically and biblically the desert and the wilderness are places
where God has taken His servants in order to prepare them to face the
challenges that lay ahead. This is not just metaphorical. They
experienced real struggles and we will too.
The wilderness journeys that each one of us will "travel", come in many
different forms and different lengths of time. Other people may be
involved, but ultimately there must be a personal encounter with God over
all else, one that removes distractions and obstructions.
In the gospels - Matthew 4 and Luke 4 - we see Yeshua Himself being led
by the Spirit of God into the wilderness to be confronted by Satan for
40 days. What was at stake was His physical well-being, His faithfulness
to His Father's commandments and His spiritual authority.
Desert cave south of Beersheba
These same things were also at stake for Moses, though his time in the
wilderness was framed in three segments of 40 years instead of 40 days.
His first 40 years as a favored son in the house of Pharaoh might not
seem like a wilderness experience, but it set the stage for the next 80
years. During the second 40 years Moses was exiled from Egypt, tending
sheep for his father-in-law on the back side of the wilderness of Sinai.
He was reduced to the humblest of all men (Numbers 12:3) while God
stripped him of any self confidence that he once might have had. This
made it possible for him to spend the last 40 years fulfilling the will
of God as the shepherd of stiff-necked Israel. Note that most of
Moses' life consisted of "desert experiences!"
John the Immerser
Of John the Immerser it is written in Luke 1:80 "And the child
continued to grow, and to become strong in Spirit, and he lived in the
deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel."
John's life was totally shaped and directed in the most challenging
things the desert could bring to an individual.
Another example is that of Paul (Shaul) who spent three years in the
wilderness of Arabia after his encounter with Yeshua on the Damascus road
(Galatians 1:15-19). This time was a confrontation between his
well-educated background in Judaism, and learning to hear from heaven
without needing the acceptance and approval of men.
One last example is Elijah the prophet fleeing from Jezebel after
destroying hundreds of her prophets in I Kings 19. He ran to the
wilderness where he encountered God. He ran in fear because his life was
threatened, and he claimed that he wanted to die. He was depressed and
felt worthless, less useful to God than his ancestors had been in the
wilderness. An angel commanded him to eat and continue running. He did
run, for 40 days and nights, from Beersheba to Horev in Sinai –
where he hid in a cave. There he felt as if he was the only faithful
Israelite, the only zealous one left.
Elijah lamented his circumstances, and then the desert and the elements
began erupting into a cataclysm. God called him out of the cave and spoke
to him when the commotion ended. The Lord ministered to Elijah, giving
him vision, direction, encouragement, instruction and satisfaction. He
never would have been able to absorb the Word of the Lord and make the
transition without that divinely ordained wilderness journey. In spite of
the fact that the journey was difficult and unpleasant, it accomplished
the will of the Lord and the transformation of Elijah.
Louis L'Amour, one of my favorite authors, described the
desert's transformative qualities like this:
"…Look yonder! That's desert! Real ol' desert! But
let me tell you somethin'. It's been called 'hell with the
fires out,' an' that's a fair description, but
there's life out there, boy! Life! You can live with the desert if
you learn it. You can live with it, live in it, live off of it but you
gotta do it the desert's way an' you gotta know the rules.
"But never take it lightly, son! If you do, she'll rise right up
an' the next thing you know, the wind is playin' music in your
ribs and honin' your skull with sand. You take it from me, son, you
just take it from me."
So when you find yourself in the desert, seek God there and learn from