Not a pleasant place to think about. Fond memories don’t jump to mind. But let’s take a closer look at what the bible has to say about it. The desert or wilderness is a geographic region beyond the limits of civilization. Most of it is dry, hot and inhospitable. These areas include deserts (Deuteronomy 32:10), rocky mountainous regions (Deuteronomy 1:19), forests (Ezekiel 34:25) and wilderness grasslands (Jeremiah 9:10). It is a parched land (Jeremiah 12:11), of salt flats and salt pits (Zephaniah 2:9). It is a vineyard left uncultivated (Isaiah 5:6). Some of it could be very nice if it had water and inhabitants. Sometimes the rains provided good pastureland for roaming nomads flocks.
But the desert is a metaphor for our spiritual walk with the Lord:
– it can be a place we put ourselves into because of our own actions or inactions. The Israelites traveled in the Sinai desert for 40 years because they didn’t trust God (Numbers 13:27 – 14:35).
– sometimes God is silent and seems far away from us. It’s not what’s really happening but it can seem like that. He is always right by us. He never deserts us (Matthew 28:20), but sometimes He is silent. An old saying says that the teacher is always silent during a test. It is during a test that we are given an opportunity to show what we have learned about trusting God. The bible tells us that Jesus was made mature (or perfect) thru His suffering (Hebrews 5:8,9). God gave us Jesus as our example (Hebrews 2:18). We become mature in the faith thru suffering also. Spiritual maturity is often hastened by going thru tests and trials (James 1:2-4).
– also remember that God sometimes speaks to us in the desert. He spoke to Moses (Exodus 3) and the Jews (Exodus 19:3) from the Sinai desert. David received valuable training in both trusting God and battle skills while he was tending sheep in the wilderness (1st Samuel 17:28, 34-37). Paul received training from God in the desert (Galatians 1:15-18).
– today He speaks to us in a still, small voice (1st Kings 19:11-13) wherever we’re at, even in a desert place.
– the desert can also be a place of temptation. Jesus was tempted by Satan in the desert wilderness ( Matthew 4:1).
– several times, Jesus withdrew to the desert wilderness to pray and commune with the Father (Luke 5:16).
– the desert can also be a place of protection (Revelation 12:6,14). God protected and strengthened Elijah there from Queen Jezebel in 1st Kings 19:1-18).
– finally, at the end of this age, the desert wilderness will be restored. The uninhabitable places will be habitable and glorious (Isaiah 32:15,16 35:1,2,6-10 41:18-20 & 51:3). This is a future worth living for.
The Old Testament mostly pictures the desert wilderness as God’s judgement against a sinful world. There are visions of cities that “lie waste without inhabitants” (Isaiah 6:11) & of lands laid waste (Isaiah 42:15). The Jews described the Sinai desert as a “vast and dreadful wilderness of thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions (Deuteronomy 8:15). I have personally been to the Sinai and it is just like this.
In the New Testament, the desert wilderness is often a place of revelation and proclamation of the good news. John the Baptist lived in the wilderness (Luke 1: 80). Philip’s missionary outreach to the Ethiopian takes place in the desert.
In summary, the desert wilderness can be a positive or negative place in the bible. It is a place of deprivation, desolation and possible danger. But it can also be a place where God speaks, provides, protects and revels Himself to His people.
The best thing to do if you feel you’re in a desert is to find out why you’re there. Even if you cannot determine why you’re there, draw near to God. Being close to Him is always the best place to be. Remember, no matter what desert you’re experiencing now, the future will be glorious. Every tear will be wiped away (Revelation 21:4). The Earth will be restored to its Eden-like condition (Revelation 22).
“The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary”, edited by Allen Myers
“Dictionary of Biblical Imagery”, edited by Ryken, Wilhoit & Longman III-excellent book
For His Kingdom,