In The Wilderness
Posted on June 19, 2020
There’s a story in the Bible when God’s people, the Israelites, had increased to such a number that it terrified the Egyptian pharaoh. Out of fear that the nation would join Egypt’s enemies and fight against him, he ordered “slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor” and “work them ruthlessly” (Exodus 1: 11-13). Long story short, God eventually calls a man named Moses out of that burgeoning nation to lead His people out of Egypt and into the promised land where they would be free from the brutal treatment of oppressive slavery and blessed with prosperity. Though the Israelites were looking forward to the blessing, what they weren’t prepared for was the necessary journey they needed to take to get there.
Used to the familiarity of their old lifestyle as slaves, the Israelites were terrified to step outside of their comfort zones and navigate through unknown territory into and through the wilderness — an external wilderness that symbolized their own internal wilderness where faith and trust in God would need to cultivate. For the Israelites to mature to such a level inside of their hearts, God knew they needed to belong in the wilderness a little bit longer— forty years longer, actually.
On numerous occasions, the Israelites had been too afraid for what lay ahead that they actually began reminiscing about their lives as slaves and wished they were still under Egyptian oppression. They had even begun projecting their fears and insecurities onto Moses as if he had brought them out into this foreign place to die. Even more so, because it was difficult to trust in a God they could not see, it felt safer for them to create their own “god” in the form of a golden calf.
The Israelites had a lot to learn about the true character of God who only wanted to grant them freedom from slavery. The journey through the wilderness was to be a walk into His love that matched all fear and shame that they had ever known, but I imagine that it was difficult for them to see it that way. For all they knew, they were left stranded in the wilderness. They no longer belonged in Egypt and they would not belong in the land promised to them just yet. The Israelites were challenged to accept that their sense of belonging was where they were in the present, in that very wilderness, where it was just them and God.
When we read about the Israelites’ journey in the book of Exodus, we are challenged to think about how many times we look back at the past unable to let go to grow into the next level of ourselves that God intends. We are challenged to consider how many times we try to rush the present as if things would be better in the future. And we are challenged to think about how many times we try to avoid entering into our own wilderness that God is calling us to navigate through.
Even though we are not living in the days of the Israelites from thousands of years ago, our internal wilderness is not much different from that of theirs. It is only when we are willing to walk through it — where we must face our own fears, shame, and insecurities in the face of uncertainty outside of our comfort zones — that we can fully experience the journey of walking deeper into His loving promises. And the path of that journey is exactly where we belong.