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Wilderness Experiences

Elijah in the wilderness - the angel ministering to him.
“Herman van Swanevelt, Elijah in the Wilderness, etching, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund, 1973.32.65”

Ever since God banished Adam and Eve from the garden, we have all had to work through various seasons in the wilderness. The Bible doesn’t say “if” you experience this; it instead says, “when!”

Listen to the Lord who created you, “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

Isaiah 43:1-3a

Sometimes the wilderness serves as a place of escape.
Notice these three instances –

Moses flees to the wilderness-

Moses escaped Pharaoh after having killed an Egyptian by fleeing to Midian. Midian was a wilderness area, untamed, and the people who lived there were nomadic. God protected Moses there, giving him a family with whom to live.

The man replied, “Who appointed you to be our prince and judge? Are you going to kill me as you killed that Egyptian yesterday?”
Then Moses was afraid, thinking, “Everyone knows what I did.” 
And sure enough, Pharaoh heard what had happened, and he tried to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in the land of Midian.

Exodus 2:14-15 NLT

David runs from Saul

David escaped Saul by fleeing into the wilderness, and God protected him there – not letting Saul find him.

So David and his men—about 600 of them now—left Keilah and began roaming the countryside. Word soon reached Saul that David had escaped, so he didn’t go to Keilah after all. David now stayed in the strongholds of the wilderness and in the hill country of Ziph. Saul hunted him day after day, but God didn’t let Saul find him.

1 Samuel 23:13-14 NLT

Elijah escapes Jezebel

Elijah escaped Jezebel by fleeing into the wilderness. An angel ministers to him there with bread and water.

So Jezebel sent this message to Elijah:
“May the gods strike me and even kill me if by this time tomorrow I have not killed you just as you killed them.”
Elijah was afraid and fled for his life.
He went to Beersheba, a town in Judah, and he left his servant there.
Then he went on alone into the wilderness, traveling all day. He sat down under a solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die.
“I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.”

1 Kings 19:2-4 NLT

Sometimes the wilderness is a meeting place with God.
God calls these three men while they were in the wilderness –

Jacob wrestles with God

Jacob wrestled with God in the wilderness and, there, receives his new name. No longer is he known as the “deceiver,” but now he is Israel, “one who has prevailed with God.” This event and God’s blessing change Jacob’s life.

This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break. … “Your name will no longer be Jacob,” the man told him. “From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.” … Then he blessed Jacob there.

Genesis 32:24,28,29b NLT

Moses’ calling in the wilderness

Moses met with God in the wilderness – Moses received his orders to go, rescue, and be the leader of God’s people in the wilderness. This calling forever changed his life.

One day Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian. He led the flock far into the wilderness and came to Sinai, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the middle of a bush. Moses stared in amazement. Though the bush was engulfed in flames, it didn’t burn up. … When the Lord saw Moses coming to take a closer look, God called to him from the middle of the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

Exodus 3:1-4 NLT

John preaches

God messages John (the Baptist) in the wilderness – indicating it was time to preach his message of repentance, preparing the way for the Messiah. And his life was forever changed.

Annas and Caiaphas were the high priests. At this time a message from God came to John son of Zechariah, who was living in the wilderness. Then John went from place to place on both sides of the Jordan River, preaching that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven.

Luke 3:2-3

Jesus is led into the wilderness.
Notice these connections!

The Israelite nation, God’s son, was tested in the wilderness for 40 years.

Moses, the representative of the Israelites, spent 40 days and nights on Mt. Sinai.

Elijah, an old covenant prophet, spent 40 days and nights in the wilderness.

Adam failed in the abundant garden and was banished to the harsh wilderness because he succumbed to Satan’s temptation.

Jesus, God’s one and only son, was tested in the wilderness for 40 days.

Jesus, our representative, spent 40 days and nights in the wilderness.

Jesus, the new covenant prophet, also spent 40 days and nights in the wilderness.

Jesus, the second Adam, was victorious in the harsh desert, overcoming temptation to give us abundant life!

Temptation and Sin

When Jesus is tempted, we learn that temptation itself is not a sin. In James 1, we understand that God does not tempt us. Temptation comes from our desires, which entice us and drag us away. Our sinful actions are born out of those desires. Similarly, we also learn from Paul in 1 Corinthians 10 that the temptations we experience are similar to one another – common experiences. We shouldn’t be surprised by our temptations. And God is faithful. He doesn’t allow temptation more than we can bear. He always provides a way out.

Our wilderness experiences might be when we feel distant, alone, tried, tempted, fearful or discouraged. These scriptures speak to me, though, reminding me that God is with us. Certainly, He uses the wilderness seasons to teach us to shun temptation and draw us closer to Him. We learn to wait on Him, depend on Him for our joy.

Bare heights of loneliness…a wilderness whose burning winds sweep over glowing sands, what are they to HIM? Even there He can refresh us, even there He can renew us.

Amy Carmichael

Future Blessings

In conclusion, there is one more picture of the wilderness in scripture that we need to examine. The Old Testament prophets illustrate God’s future blessings when the wilderness becomes a lush garden, like Eden but oh so much better!

The Lord will comfort Israel again and have pity on her ruins. Her desert will blossom like Eden, her barren wilderness like the garden of the Lord. Joy and gladness will be found there. Songs of thanksgiving will fill the air.

Isaiah 51:3 NLT

They will come home and sing songs of joy on the heights of Jerusalem. They will be radiant because of the Lord’s good gifts— the abundant crops of grain, new wine, and olive oil, and the healthy flocks and herds. Their life will be like a watered garden, and all their sorrows will be gone.

Jeremiah 31:12 NLT

When Jesus comes again in victory, He brings a new heaven and a new earth. Waters will burst forth, a river with the water of life, clear as crystal, will flow from the throne of God and of the Lamb! There will be crops of fruit, a crop every month! And medicinal leaves to heal the nations. Consequently, there will be no more wilderness, no sorrow, no tears! Praise God!

When we fix our eyes on Christ crucified, we see how the wilderness of this world is already being restored to a Garden-Paradise and will one day gloriously manifest itself fully in the New Heavens and the New Earth wherein righteousness dwells–the Garden paradise of the Heavenly Jerusalem.

Nicholas T. Batzig

Hymn of Affirmation

Guide me, O my great Redeemer,
pilgrim through this barren land;
I am weak, but you are mighty;
hold me with your powerful hand.
Bread of heaven, bread of heaven,
feed me now and evermore,
feed me now and evermore.

Open now the crystal fountain,
where the healing waters flow.
Let the fire and cloudy pillar
lead me all my journey through.
Strong Deliverer, strong Deliverer,
ever be my strength and shield,
ever be my strength and shield.

When I tread the verge of Jordan,
bid my anxious fears subside.
Death of death, and hell’s Destruction,
land me safe on Canaan’s side.
Songs of praises, songs of praises
I will ever sing to you,
I will ever sing to you. 

William Williams 1745

*If you want to explore the concept of wilderness, check out this previous post on women in the Bible who experience the wilderness and meet with God!

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