At no stage of creation and since then has God desired that we should go into lack or suffering. But when victory is almost in our grasp, many a time, we simply miss out due to one reason or the other. We witness to someone, who gets ready to surrender his/her life to the Lord as His Savior but backs out at the last minute. God as a Father would definitely like His children to be successful in everything they do, then how come we fail? Why does God not intervene when we take the wrong turn and get us back on track?
Why do we get into difficulties? – God does not at any stage desire to send anyone into wilderness or a place of suffering and lack except for preparing someone to reach a higher level than where he is. Wilderness is both a punishment as well as a training and testing ground and even the Son of God was led by the Holy Spirit to be ‘tempted by the devil’. God was and is complete in all respects and does not need anything from man nor was there any need for Him to create the heavens or the earth and all that is in there. All that He has created is an expression of His Divine love and His love is about giving and not taking. Godly love is ‘agape’ which means unconditional love and is the highest type of love where the one who is loved is placed before self also. This love of God is expressed in His Son, Lord Jesus, who became man to let man get back in fellowship with God through forgiveness of sins. His love is expressed in creation, that God created all that man needed before creating Him and visited them in the Garden of Eden daily. Such a loving God also blessed man with free will to make a choice about every action of His life. It is His love that warned Adam not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, to escape death and separation from Him and His blessings (Genesis 2:16-17).
The question asked is why did such a loving God create the forbidden tree at all? – If man did not have that, then what is free will, when all that is available can be enjoyed without restriction. Man was created above everything else to exercise dominion over all else by listening to God’s voice and not that of an animal. Eve used her free will to listen to the serpent and disregarded God, and Adam also followed suit. If God’s warning of death does not happen, He will become a liar and not dependable. The question by an All-knowing God from Eve, ‘What is this you have done?’ is not about wanting to learn something but to ask, whether she is aware of the result of her action (Genesis 3:13). The curse is pronounced only on the serpent, the devil, while the curse on Adam, Eve and the earth is because of their own action. Therefore, God did not send Adam and Eve out of the Garden into the wilderness but they chose that option.
God’s warning to Cain about sin at his door and encouragement to ‘rule over it’ is to save him from the evil that he planned (Genesis 4:7&15). The LORD was still compassionate towards him and ‘set a mark on him, lest anyone finding him should kill him’. Abraham’s advice to his nephew was ‘let there be no strife between you and me’ and Lot’s prosperity was due to Abraham only (Genesis 13:8-9). But Lot decided to choose the ‘well watered plan of Jordan’ where he knew nobody. God did not send him to Sodom and Gomorrah, he chose that area because of which he lost everything. Moses listed out all the great blessings for the one who would diligently obey God (Deuteronomy 28:1-14). These blessings shall not only ‘come upon you’ but ‘overtake you’ for that is what God desires for all.
Jochebed, Moses’ mother, placed him in a bucket lined with Tar and put him in the Nile river from where he was taken by Pharaoh’s daughter into the palace to be brought up as a prince. Why did God let this happen? Various answers are given; first to save him from sure death from Pharaoh’s decree about the killing all male Jewish children. Second, that Pharaoh’s magicians had prophesied that the person to lead the Israelites to freedom will be put into the river and his mother intended to put him there and then pull him out some distance away. But then how would she have saved him from the Egyptians. Third, Miriam had prophetically told her mother to do so for a better life for him.
But God’s plan was different. All Israelites were brought up with a slave mentality and their future leader had to be trained in the ways of royal courts to stand up to that. Also, since God knew about their wilderness years, the leader must also be trained to bear the heat of the weather as well as the opposition. Moses had to spend the next forty years in the harsh desert heat under Jethro, the Midianite priest, to be hardened for the role in Pharaoh’s court and in the desert.
It is not only our free will that takes us into the fire of suffering but God also designs our travel route in such a way to ensure that we reach our destination. How can God let one into success without developing in that person an attitude of gratitude for that and be dependent on Him. Saul of Tarsus was touched by Lord Jesus on his way to Damascus (Acts 9). After staying for a few days in Damascus, preaching the Gospel, he went to Tarsus, and was in the Arabian Desert being taught by the Holy Spirit from the Old Testament about the Messiah (Galatians 1:11-20). It was this period of more than three years that made him the teacher and preacher that he became. He went to Jerusalem after that and stayed with Apostle Peter for fifteen days without meeting anyone else.
Apostle Paul, lived most of his life suffering for the Lord, but could still advise us, ‘Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you’ (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Amidst all the opposition and resistance from the Jewish leaders and His suffering, there is never an instance of the Lord complaining to God. In his last epistle, Apostle Paul from Rome and could say, ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness’ (2 Timothy 4:7-8). After having endured all the sufferings he could look forward to the blessings, for wilderness period would lead to great blessings both here on earth and eternally.
Our responsibility in the wilderness – Prophet Elijah declared the stoppage of rain and dew on the Northern Kingdom, to King Ahaz, whose wife Jezebel, was a Sidonian princess, the area of Baal worship (1 Kings 17). Baal was considered the god of rain and good harvest and Elijah’s word was a straight challenge to Baal. LORD God commanded Elijah to go the Cherith brook and the ravens would bring him food daily. Raven or a crow is an unclean bird and God wanted Elijah to humble himself and eat what He gave. God provided Manna to the Israelites for forty years and it was faith in the leader, Moses, and Yehowah that sustained them in the wilderness.
Identify the time to be still and let God and the time to battle with the enemy in faith – At the Red Sea, Moses told the people, ‘The LORD will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace’ (Exodus 14:14). But later he told Joshua, ‘Choose us some men and go out, fight with Amalek’ while he would be on top of the hill ‘with the rod of God in my hand’ (Exodus 17:9).
Remain strong as a group – Apostle Paul’s command to believers is ‘Comfort (strengthen) each other, and edify one another’ (1 Thessalonians 5:11). The chain is as strong as the weakest link and the enemy will always come and attack the weak in faith and laggards, be it in our homes or in the church.
Remain focused on guidance from God – After the Cherith brook dried up, God moved Prophet Elijah to move to Zarephath, in Sidon, region of Baal worship, where a widow was to feed him (1 Kings 17:8-9). Joshua was met by Lord Jesus, as Commander of the LORD’s army, and given detailed plans for conquering Jericho (Joshua 5:14).
Seek God’s help for every battle and victory is His and not yours, so give Him glory – After the Israelites sin of the golden calf, God commanded Moses to move into the Promised Land under the guidance of an angel of God. – Moses refused and said to God, ‘If Your presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here’ (Exodus 33:1-15). Without God heaven will also be worse than hell.
Every battle is new, seek new plan from God – Joshua sought God and received a different plan for conquering Ai as compared to Jericho and defeated the enemy (Joshua 8:4-8). Every battle has a spiritual and a physical angle and only God through His Spirit can guide us about both to lead us to victory.
Choose and train a worthy successor to lead the people after you – Nobody can complete the chain of events of God’s work set in motion through you. Seek God’s help to appoint a suitable person, train him/her and be prepared to hand over charge when ‘the call to climb the mountain comes from God’. Moses sought God’s help and was told to appoint Joshua ‘on whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him’ (Numbers 27:15-21). Moses was also told to give ‘some of your authority to him, that all the congregation of the children of Israel may be obedient’.
Hope for supernatural success, for God is your partner – Four kings with their armies attacked and defeated five kings of Sodom, Gomorrah and other neighboring areas and looted all and took everyone captive, including Lot and his family (Genesis 14:14). Abraham went after these kings with 318 of his household servants and defeated them, rescued Lot and all others and all their possessions. The Amalekites had looted David’s camp at Ziklag, burnt the place and taken women, children and all others captive. David’s companions of wilderness blamed him and planned to stone him (1 Samuel 30:8-9). David called Abiathar, the priest, and inquired of the LORD, ‘Shall I pursue this troop? Shall I overtake them?’ and God’s answer was, ‘Pursue, for you shall surely overtake them and without fail recover all’. Though two hundred of his soldiers stopped on the way due to fatigue, David defeated the Amalekites and recovered all the people and much more than they had lost. David could then send gifts to his friends (leaders) of families in Judah out of the recovered booty.
Lord Jesus has said, ‘I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit’ (John 15:1-2). The result and length of our stay in the wilderness depends on us, whether we are ready for pruning for better results or for getting discarded. Wilderness is the place for us to be in isolation to get close to God, strengthen our faith while facing the lack and adversity, be trained for future responsibilities greater than the present while learning to be thankful to God for all that He has done. Apostle Paul could confidently assure, ‘that he who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ’ (Philippians 1:6). The way to the crown has to go through the tough fire of the wilderness for that is where God refines us as silver.
Can we escape the wilderness? – God defines what He desires from mankind, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings’ (Hosea 6:6). Knowledge of God, that is true recognition of Yahweh’s nature and will mixed with mercy and kindness with a loving and compassionate heart totally dedicated to God, is desired by Him in us. This verse in action is seen in Lord Jesus’ call to Matthew, the tax collector, to follow Him (Matthew 9:9-12). And then eating at His house with his friends, those cast outside the community, causes a conflict with the religious leaders. The same is in the Pharisees objection that His disciples do not fast and in exorcising of a demon. The Son of God is charged to be using the powers of the devil to cast out demons.
The Lord then suggests to the Pharisees to learn the meaning of Hosea 6:6 for they prided themselves on their knowledge of Scripture. The Son of God based His ministry on this theme of mercy towards mankind and healing of all who were brought to Him irrespective of their spiritual state. Presently He is seated at God’s right hand, with all power and authority, and intercedes for us. Mercy, compassion and forgiveness have been the hallmark of Lord Jesus’ message and that is what He desires from all of us. The Lord’s prayer proclaims the same, ‘Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors’ (Matthew 6:9-13). We pray that if we do not forgive then we also do not deserve to be forgiven the punishment of our sins.
There are two aspects of sin, one is the action itself and second, effects of that sin. Lord Jesus has taken up our sins and we are forgiven that but the after effects of our deeds we suffer through ignorance. Lord Jesus ‘was bruised for our inequities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed’ (Isaiah 53:5). This healing is of both the body and the soul. This was also confirmed by Apostle Peter, ‘that we having died to sins, might live for righteousness – by whose stripes we were healed’ (1 Peter 2:24). It is a perfect, complete action with a continuous result till the day of the Lord’s second coming. At the Last supper, while offering the cup to the disciples, Lord Jesus termed it as ‘the New Covenant in My blood, which is shed for you’ (Luke 22:20).
Being born again in the Lord is ‘spiritual rebirth’ as compared to physical birth and is about being accepted into God’s family. On the other hand, Holy Communion as instituted by the Lord is partaking of the effects of His suffering on the body and of His shed blood. Holy Communion is not a ritual but the act of receiving blessings. Eating the sanctified bread, brings healing to the body from top to the soles of the feet through the stripes that fell on His back. When the blood is taken, we say, ‘Lord Jesus, thank You for Your precious blood, the sin-free, disease-free, poverty-free life in Your blood that was shed for me. Through forgiveness of all my sins of past, present and future, You have made me completely righteous. Today I celebrate and partake of the inheritance of the righteous, which is preservation, healing, wholeness and provision’.
The Second Adam has restored to the believers, life of the Garden of Eden, the abundant life that He promised and we receive this through faith (John 10:10). The Israelites remained in the wilderness not because of God but due to their own unbelief. Martin Luther’s prayer to the Lord was, ‘Confirm, O God, in us that thou hast wrought, and perfect the work that thou hast begun in us, to thy glory; Amen’. David Guzik, in his commentary in Enduring Word has said, ‘As Creator, His hands formed our souls at the beginning, as Redeemer, His nail-pierced hands ransomed them at Calvary; His glorified hands will hold our souls fast and not let them forever’.
Our destiny is permanently linked to our Creator, to bring glory to Him through our thoughts, words and deeds but He does not depend on us for anything. The more we depend on Him, the closer we get to Him and more is the rejoicing. Our thoughts and ways are totally different from the thoughts and ways of God and we remain unable to understand His plan for us. We are required to subordinate our will and plans to His and then move in His power to face any situation. He is a loving Father who desires and gives His children the best!