Navigating The Wilderness
by Jesse L. Smith
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“And He humbled you, and allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna, which you knew not, neither did your fathers know; that he might make you to know that man does not live by bread only, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD does man live.” –Deuteronomy 8:3
Jesus was baptized by John and had an amazing encounter with God where He was sealed with the Holy Spirit as a testimony of God’s approval. The moment he left the shores of Jordan He did not begin His ministry, but was obedient to the voice of the Holy Spirit as it drove Him into a desolate wilderness. There in that desert place His faith in God would be sorely tested, as the physical circumstances around him would tempt Him to turn His eyes away from the Father. In His hunger after 40 days of fasting Satan tempted Jesus to use his own power to deliver himself by turning rocks into bread. Even though Jesus had the power to do so, He refused because He had not received a command from the Father to do so. In the same way, Satan tempted Jesus to demonstrate His power by jumping off a cliff into the hands of angels. Jesus understood however that the moment He trusted His own power over the Father’s Word, was the moment He would have yielded to Satan’s power.
Fourteen hundred years before God also made Himself known to His people Israel through mighty signs and wonders in Egypt. After deliverance from Egypt God divided the Red Sea and they crossed from the land of their captivity to the land of their freedom in a symbolic baptism. On the other side they were no longer slaves of Egypt, but children of the Most High God. However like Jesus they did not immediately possess the land that God promised, but were directed of God into a desolate wilderness with no provision. Unlike the green pastures of Goshen in Egypt, this wilderness had no water and was incapable of sustaining the millions of people and cattle. But even though the physical circumstances indicated certain death, a giant pillar of fire occupied the camp by night and as a cloud by day indicating that the God of Heaven was among them. This was a time when God was training the people not to rely on their own power for deliverance, but to wait on His direction and believe in His power.
The task that God had for His people was far too great to accomplish on their own, as famously mighty kings and armies waited for them on the other side of the wilderness. The only way to be victorious over their enemies was to go in the strength of the LORD. However the temptation of the wilderness proved to be too much for many of the people, and even though God was clearly visible among them the circumstances of no food and water tested their faith in His goodness. Maybe after all God didn’t want them to possess a land of promise, but had brought them out to the wilderness to die. In their rebellion they appointed themselves leaders that would bring them back into Egypt where they knew the physical circumstances would be more pleasing. In their error many chose to trust more in their own power than in the God who had done so many amazing things among them.
Because of their unbelief Israel spent 40 years in the wilderness instead of only 40 days. During this time God taught the people not to rely on their own understanding, but to follow the direction of the LORD. Instead of charting a course through the wilderness to the other side, the people followed the pillar of God among them. Where the pillar stayed still they stayed still, and where the pillar moved they moved. Deuteronomy 1:33 tells us that God Himself was directing the people in this manner, saying He “went in the way before you, to search out a place for you to pitch your tents, in fire by night, to show you by what way you should go, and in a cloud by day.” For food the people had to rely on a heavenly food that would appear on the ground like frost every morning, and for water they had to rely on a stream that came forth from a Rock.
Like Jesus and Israel, everyone that is baptized into Christ will go through a wilderness time where they are trained to rely on God’s power instead of their own. God has a land of promise for all of us, but He knows that we will be incapable of possessing that land in our own strength. It is in the wilderness that we gain the confidence in God’s power that we will need to face the giants that occupy the land that God has for us. Also it is a time where we develop a closeness and intimacy with our Savior that we could not have otherwise developed. God has a training program for every one of us, and He says “What man is he that fears the LORD? Him shall he teach in the way that he shall choose. His soul shall dwell at ease; and his seed shall inherit the earth.” –Psalms 25:12-13
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