Any place where God is not is hell though His control is over that also and since God is light, hell is full of darkness with Satan being in charge. Since God’s love is also not in its inhabitants, each one is busy trying to pull the other down. But after submitting to God’s plan in our lives, we move into His Divine light and guidance with a way being made available to overcome that situation. The journey of this change starts with a step of faith in the Creator and His love.
Why do we land up in the wilderness? We were not created to be in the wilderness, for God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and they received His blessings and guidance everyday in the evening. It was their sin that resulted in their being expelled from the garden. What is wilderness? This is a place where one is deprived of the basic necessities of spiritual and material nature and each person must recognize and look towards the other. What is the purpose of being sent into the wilderness? When Jacob went into Egypt with seventy people of his family while Joseph and his two sons were already there (Exodus 1:5). The number that left Egypt under Moses’ leadership were 6, 40,650 and this number excluded women and children and the Levites. Legend has it that the total number was more than 2 million
The Israelites spent a total of 430 years in Egypt. But after a time a new king of Egypt came who ‘did not know Joseph’ and seeing the increased number of the Israelites, he ‘set taskmasters over them to afflict them with their burdens’ (Exodus 1:8-11). First the Israelites were asked to volunteer to help in building activities and this later turned to slavery that lasted about 200 years. During this period of slavery it finally turned into a life of every family for itself and bonds were weakened. The people developed a slave mentality since all opposition was brutally crushed by the Egyptian taskmasters and the Israelites were turned to be dependent on the Egyptians and their link to the LORD God became weak. Moses grew in Pharaoh’s house but he did not forget his people and at around forty years of age he killed an Egyptian who was beating a Jew (Exodus 2:11-14). But when he confronted a Jew who was fighting with another despite having wronged him, he was accused of killing the Egyptian and questioned about his authority over them, forcing Moses to flee Egypt for fear of punishment for murdering the Egyptian man.
Moses was led by God into the house of Jethro the Midianite priest and the purpose of God in both cases was the same to train and prepare for their specific role in God’s plan. God led the Israelites out of Egypt and after crossing the Red Sea, there was great rejoicing for freedom. After Moses had been on the mountain for forty days the Israelites contributed and asked Aaron to make ‘us gods that shall go before us’ (Exodus 32:1). Their perception of freedom was to do what they liked while Moses was receiving the law from God that would help them develop and live in a close relationship with God and each other. God desired to make them a community having common faith in God by turning them away from self towards common good. Till then they were not a community but a crowd.
At the end of forty years of wandering, is the first time that the Israelites were called ‘Kol Yisrael’ or simply Israel whereas before they were referred to as ‘Bnei Yisrael’ or children of Israel (Deuteronomy 1:1). Till then they were connected through their common ancestry in Jacob but now they were to have their individual existence. They were no longer children but adults, ready to have their individual relationship with God, to fight their battles, provide for their needs and personal safety and become a nation from being a family. Before this God was serving people as their Provider but now they were to serve God in the Mishkan or Tabernacle. The Israelites were God’s chosen and God promised them ‘Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand’ (Isaiah 41:9-10). The Jewish people had this promise and God is faithful but like Adam and Eve, they were not.
Moses told the Israelites about the reason that God led them ‘through that great and terrible wilderness, in which were fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty land where there was no water’ (Deuteronomy 8:15-16). God fed them with manna, which their fathers did not know, ‘that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do you good in the end’. The purpose was not to harass or afflict them, for all their needs were met.
When God leads a person or people into the wilderness it is to firstly, test the person’s suitability for the upcoming role that he/she is going to be assigned. After baptism, Lord Jesus’ real identity had been declared by none other than the LORD God Himself as His Beloved Son and the Holy Spirit descended on Him (Matthew 3:16 to 4:1). Immediately thereafter, He ‘was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil’. But surely God the Son was definitely suitable for the role of Redeemer that He was sent for to the earth as a Man. God tested the faith of Abraham by commanding him to offer ‘your only son Isaac, whom you love’ as ‘a burnt offering’ to become a great nation, with a great name, be a blessing that the families of the earth be blessed in him (Genesis 22:2). God Himself considered Job a unique person on the earth, ‘blameless and upright, who fears God and shuns evil’ (Job 1:8). Yet God placed all that Job had and later his own body also under Satan’s control to test him. God as a loving Father would never lead any of His children, both believers and unbelievers alike, to suffer but to reveal to them their hidden potential. Wilderness is about getting closer to God and receiving His provision daily through looking unto Him in faith.
Apostle Paul was the suffering Apostle who at his being chosen by God was destined to suffer greatly for the Lord (Acts 9:15-16). Despite all that he could say, ‘No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it’ (1 Corinthians 10:13). The only recorded prayer of Lord Jesus, He prayed to God the Father about His followers for not taking them out of the world that is filled with turmoil but to ‘keep them from the evil one’ (John 17:15). Just before this, He clearly informed the disciples about tribulation in the world, but then encouraged them to ‘be of good cheer, I have overcome the world’.
What happens before, during and after the temptation? – First, Equipping – Just before Lord Jesus was betrayed by Judas Iscariot, He prayed for Simon Peter that his faith should not fail, for Satan had asked for him from God to sift him as wheat (Luke 22:31). Lord Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit before being led into the wilderness for temptation by the devil (Matthew 3:16).
Second, Expose and prepare – During temptation we are exposed to the vile tricks of the devil but the indwelling Holy Spirit, our Teacher and Helper, strengthens us in facing him. Lord Jesus is our High Priest who underwent temptation like anyone else yet was without sin, so that He could sympathize with us (Hebrews 4:15). He suffered much more than anyone else and through temptations we are prepared to face future trials.
Third, Empower –After facing the temptation in the wilderness, Lord Jesus ‘returned in the power of the Spirit’ and was fully empowered to start His work as Redeemer (Luke 4:14 – 19). He then declared fulfillment of prophecy about Him and about His ministry for the next three years (Isaiah 61:1-2A).
Four, Revelation about the Heavenly Kingdom – There are two periods of wilderness in Lord Jesus’ life on earth, the first is from 12 years of age (Luke 2:42-52). After He surprised the scholars of Scripture in the Temple, He was for 18 years subject to His parents and during this period ‘increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men’. There is no written record of His life in Nazareth for this period. The second time is of forty days and temptation by Satan.
Five, Obedience is learnt in the wilderness –The All-Knowing God was aware of the Israelites being gripped with fear after seeing the inhabitants of the land of Canaan, ‘which I (God) am giving to the children of Israel’ (Numbers 13:2). The idea was not from God but from the people for the Scripture command is ‘Send out for yourself men to spy out the land’. They were to go and capture the land that the LORD God had already decreed for them and their disobedience led to forty years of wandering to cover an 11 days journey.
Six, wilderness leads to glory –The disciples claimed to have left all to follow Lord Jesus and were assured thrones in heaven to judge the twelve tribes, receive a hundredfold, eternal life (Matthew 19:27-29) and the glory of the Second Adam (John 17:22).
Seven, Blessings –Young David was anointed by Prophet Samuel and the Spirit of the LORD came upon him (1 Samuel 16:13). As a young shepherd boy, he developed a close relationship with the LORD God and was trained (1 Samuel 17:49-50) for fighting Goliath, the giant. At Ziklag, the Amalekites looted David’s camp and took everything captive including women and children and his men thought of stoning David to death (1 Samuel 30:6-7). ‘But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God’ and recaptured all that and much more. After King Saul’s death, the men of Judah anointed him as their king and he reigned in Hebron over Judah for seven years. After that all tribes of Israel anointed him their king and he was king for 33 years over all of Israel and this was after nearly 20 years from the first anointing.
King David realized the Sovereign authority of God over all created beings by accepting that God had planned and recorded all days of his life before his birth, ‘when yet there were none of them’ (Psalm 139:16). Apparently not a day is wasted and we are prepared for the next day, whether in the wilderness, lack or abundance.
Why do only few suffer in the wilderness? In his/her life everyone comes, at least once, to Kadesh- Barnea (Numbers 13:26) where the right decision leads to the Promised Land of rest and victory and the other way is to wilderness, wanderings, failure, defeat and death. Apostle Paul identifies two men in any person – the ‘inner man’ or the soul of a believer is renewed day by day by being changed into the image of our Redeemer (2 Corinthians 4:16). The body or the outer man is suffering deterioration daily as per laws of nature. God leads us into such places to be alone with Him so that His Spirit can work in us to transform us from the inside out. Anyone who is in the wilderness but is not getting renewed will probably remain in that position for long. However, greater the reward, the tougher will be the temptation and longer the stay in the wilderness.
Joseph was much younger than his other brothers but ‘he brought a bad report of them to his father’ (Genesis 37:2 & 24-36). They hated him and when they had a chance, they threw him into a pit and then sold him off to the Ismaelites for twenty shekels of silver. In Egypt he was bought as a slave by ‘Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh and captain of the guard’. Joseph was pulled out of the pit but he kept getting into one pit after the other. He as a slave was falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife of molestation and put in prison. Pharaoh’s butler and the baker of the king of Egypt forgot about him, though he had correctly interpreted their dreams. In all this one thing stands out that all could see ‘that the LORD was with him and that the LORD made all he did to prosper in his hand’ (Genesis 39:3). God does not send anyone to face temptation and then forgets about him/her. His promise of not leaving nor forsaking a believer results in boundaries being set for the tempter.
Apostle Paul urges all believers to not ‘be conformed to this world (the ways of this world), but be transformed by the renewing of your mind’ so that in our thoughts, desires (heart), way of life (soul) and all that we have the love of God may get reflected (Romans 12:2). Joseph met his brothers, who had sold him into slavery, when they had come to buy grain during the seven years of famine (Genesis 45:7-8). All these years had changed him from inside that he could forgive and say to his brothers, ‘God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you who sent me here, but God’.
Joseph’s destiny was this and his dreams were but a small part of his life. God prepares us for the bigger challenges of life and great blessings by helping us fight smaller battles. Apostle Paul considered the sufferings of this world to be insignificant as ‘compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us’ (Romans 8:18). The promise of Lord Jesus of ‘life of abundance’ (John 10:10) is for all but many times the way to that passes through the wilderness and trials. Why do some people not suffer hardships at all? This is a question which has been asked by mankind since ages and since our ways and thoughts are different from God, it is difficult to understand and declare everything about life (Isaiah 55:8). I would rather count my blessings that are new everyday and thank God for His mercy and grace rather than question His ways. Seek strength and patience through His Spirit everyday for that is what He desires for us to pray, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ (Matthew 6:11).
The LORD God permitted His own Son to undergo all types of tests and trials so that we can look unto Him as our role model and confidently seek and receive answers to our prayers. God was well aware of our state and experienced the same physically also through the life of our Redeemer to fully sympathize with us. God promises to never leave us in any situation but do we cling to Him to seek His hand to tide over our situation. The step from wilderness to blessings is just this walk of faith!