In thinking about the wilderness this week, I read some of the Israelites’ story from Exodus. We can learn at least six things about their journey through the desert!
When Pharaoh finally let the people go, God did not lead them along the main road that runs through Philistine territory, even though that was the shortest route to the Promised Land. God said, “If the people are faced with a battle, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led them in a roundabout way through the wilderness toward the Red Sea.Exodus 13:16-17
God leads us to and through the wilderness. I love this little fact tucked in Exodus 13 about how God directed the path that the Israelites would take as they were being delivered from Egypt. God specifically led the people in a roundabout way through the wilderness!
God plans the best path for His people, even traveling through rocky, dry places. He closes some doors, opens others, provides opportunities that help to direct our steps. We can trust God even when it seems that the way is long and arduous. Our journey in the shadow of the Almighty is the best place to be!
The Lord directs the steps of the godly.Psalm 37: 23-24
He delights in every detail of their lives.
Though they stumble, they will never fall,
for the Lord holds them by the hand.
The Israelites left Succoth and camped at Etham on the edge of the wilderness. The Lord went ahead of them. He guided them during the day with a pillar of cloud, and he provided light at night with a pillar of fire. This allowed them to travel by day or by night. And the Lord did not remove the pillar of cloud or pillar of fire from its place in front of the people.Exodus 13:20-22
God goes ahead of us, and He never leaves us. He is always there, providing direction for our journey. His presence is a comfort to us; it is a reminder of His faithfulness, His trustworthiness.
We don’t see God as a cloud or pillar of fire today. But God has given us His Word, which He tells us is a lamp to guide our feet and a light for our paths. That same Word cleanses us as we abide in Him. The Spirit of God uses the Word to teach, guide, correct, and train us. And when we lack wisdom, we can ask God, who gives us what we need generously without finding fault.
He leadeth me: O blessed thought!Joseph H. Gilmore, 1862
O words with heavenly comfort fraught!
Whate’er I do, where’er I be,
still ’tis God’s hand that leadeth me.
But Moses told the people, “Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today. The Egyptians you see today will never be seen again. The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.”Exodus 14: 13-14
I imagine that as the Israelites marched out of Egypt, they were excited to escape the hands of their enslavers. But when they reached the Red Sea, their first insurmountable challenge, they cried out that they would rather be enslaved people than corpses in the desert. Their first response wasn’t, “I wonder how God is going to work this out?” This event was the first of many times when they grumbled and complained against Moses and God. It’s the beginning of the pattern that if you read the rest of the story of their travels, you’ll see repeated again and again.
There are times when I get caught up in worst-case scenarios. The “What if?” game is not healthy. Our unbelief is unbecoming. Instead, we need to remember the promises of God. He tells us He will never leave us nor forsake us.
What shall we say about such wonderful things as these?Romans 8:31-37
If God is for us, who can ever be against us?
Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love?
Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?
No, despite all these things,
overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
When the people of Israel saw the mighty power that the Lord had unleashed against the Egyptians, they were filled with awe before him. They put their faith in the Lord and in his servant Moses.Exodus 14:31
In Deuteronomy 26, we read that the Israelites retold the story of the Exodus as they made their offerings to God. The miracle of the Exodus was their salvation story. They had been chosen as a people when God called Abraham and experienced oppression under the Egyptians. They were rescued and brought to their promised land.
The miracle of salvation is also ours. We were chosen before the foundation of the world and experienced the oppression of sin. We were rescued through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. And we now are seated in the heavenly realms and will one day experience the fullness of our redemption. Our salvation is no less a miracle than the dry land amid the Red Sea. And our salvation should fill us with awe!
So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.Romans 8:1-2
Then Moses led the people of Israel away from the Red Sea, and they moved out into the desert of Shur. … So Moses cried out to the Lord for help, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood. Moses threw it into the water, and this made the water good to drink. … “I have heard the Israelites’ complaints. Now tell them, ‘In the evening you will have meat to eat, and in the morning you will have all the bread you want. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’”Exodus 15:22-25; 16:1-12
God provided for the Israelites’ needs miraculously. For forty years, the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, and during that time, their clothes and shoes did not wear out; they did not have “bread” to eat, nor did they have any wine. Instead, God provided all that they needed.
In John’s gospel, he records a conversation between the crowd of people and Jesus. They asked Him for a miraculous sign and pointed to the manna that “Moses” provided. Jesus reminds the people that it was God that provided the manna and that now, He was providing the true Bread of Life, Jesus Himself. Our God supplies all our needs in Christ Jesus; He gives us all we need for life and Godliness.
By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.2 Peter 1:3-4
When the people saw how long it was taking Moses to come back down the mountain, they gathered around Aaron. “Come on,” they said, “make us some gods who can lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.”Exodus 32:1
Moses was gone 40 days meeting with God. The Israelites got impatient and felt like they needed a representative god. They felt abandoned by Moses. The lesson here is that it takes little time for us to forget all of the miraculous things God has done for us and to adopt idols of our own.
Our hearts are the most deceitful of all things and desperately wicked. Scripture warns us to flee the worship of idols, we are to resist Satan’s temptations, and he will run from us. Whatever captivates our hearts, our desires, our time causing us to love God less, or to not love our neighbors as Christ loves us may very well be our idols. Idols cause us to ignore God to search for what we think we need. Our felt needs cannot always be trusted!
The God of the modern evangelical rarely astonishes anybody. He manages to stay pretty much with the constitution. Never break our by-laws. He’s a very well-behaved God and very denominational and very much like one of us…we ask Him to help us when we’re in trouble and look to Him to watch over us when we’re asleep. The God of the modern evangelical isn’t a God I could have much respect for.A.W.Tozer
As we begin our journey through the wilderness with Jesus this Lent, we should consider how others fared on a similar journey. We can learn at least these six lessons from the Israelites. Paul teaches the Corinthians and us that the Israelites ate the same spiritual food, and drank the same spiritual water. Yet God was not pleased with most of them, and their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. These things happened as a warning to us, so that we would not crave evil things as they did, or worship idols as some of them did. These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age. (1 Corinthians 10:1-11).
Spirit of God, help us to learn from the scriptures. Teach us the truths we need to hear. Reveal our idols. Help us to forsake them completely. May we trust God to guide, direct our steps. Build our faith. May we be in awe of our miraculous salvation and live to glorify our great God.