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  • Writer's pictureZack DeBruyne

Stagnant Faith: The Wilderness

Wilderness: Land that is wild, sparsely inhabited, unfit for living. Biblical wilderness is characterized by dry, desolate, rock and sand. It is rough, uneven, and deadly.

With this definition in mind, what do you think of when I say spiritual wilderness?

Have you ever experienced a wilderness season in your life of faith?

The Whole Biblical Story: A Story of Wilderness and Desert

  • The whole of biblical history has been interpreted as having a desert or wilderness motif.

  • It can be seen in the realm of disobedient human experience outside the garden of Eden.

  • In the wandering of Israel in the exodus.

  • In the struggle between pure faith in the desert and soft, idolatrous city life.

Wilderness in the Bible

Israelite Wilderness

Read Exodus 16:1-3

The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt. 2 In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. 3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”

  • Most of the first 5 books of the Bible are in the wilderness. The books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy all account for and follow the Israelites as they endure the wilderness for 40 years.

  • Wandering and dry seasons, where the Israelites are struggling with their own sin, with their hearts desire to wander from God, and their wishing that they would have never left the slavery of Egypt.

    • The wilderness wanderings chronicle the movements of the Israelites from Egypt to the entrance and conquest of the promised land.

  • The Bible is entirely unconcerned with the specific path that the Israelites took through the wilderness, no scholar has been able to recreate it. Instead, it is the formation of the people through their wilderness. This is the primary concern of Biblical wilderness.

  • Ascent Psalms: Psalms that were sung by the Israelites as they travelled toward the holy city of Jerusalem from lower altitude towns and villages.

    • Psalm 23

Jesus in the Wilderness

  • Jesus, at the beginning of his ministry, enters into the wilderness to be tempted by Christ Jesus.

  • These stories illustrate that man does not “live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Dt 8:3; Mt 4:4).

  • In quoting this text Jesus identified himself with ancient Israel. Like them he went into the wilderness to prepare for his life’s work.

Have you ever considered how important the idea of wilderness is throughout the Bible?

  • Some argue that the main motif of Scripture is that of wilderness, of God’s people experiencing and enduring the suffering dryness of wilderness seasons and God drawing near.

Wilderness as a Season of Silence from God Read Psalm 13:1-2

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?

How long will you hide your face from me?

How long must I wrestle with my thoughts

and day after day have sorrow in my heart?

How long will my enemy triumph over me?

  • Lament psalms, comprising approximately one-third of the book of Psalms, are the most numerous category of psalms. They are also called “complaints” by the psalmists themselves.

  • These are words used by faithful followers of Christ experiencing seasons of silence and desert like faith in God.

Wilderness as a Season of Temptation

Read Matthew 4

  • First Temptation (4:1–4)

    • After Jesus is led to the wilderness, he fasts and is hungry. The first temptation by the devil encourages Jesus to use his power as the Son of God to feed himself, but Jesus refuses.

  • Second Temptation (4:5–7)

    • In this paragraph the devil guides Jesus to the next place of temptation. Jesus is told to jump from a high point of the temple. T

    • he devil quotes Scripture (Ps 91:11–12) to try to tempt Jesus to trust in God’s promise for safety. As with the first temptation, Jesus responds by quoting Deuteronomy.

    • This continues to build the parallel between Jesus’ testing and the testing of Israel.

  • Third Temptation (4:8–11)

    • The final temptation has the devil taking Jesus to another high point, this time a mountain.

    • From that vantage point, Jesus is given a vision of all the kingdoms of the world, and the devil indicates that Jesus can receive these things if he just bows down and worships the devil.

    • As with the first two temptations, Jesus responds with a quotation from Deuteronomy. With the time of testing completed, the devil departs, and angels come to minister to Jesus.

      • Douglas Mangum, ed., Lexham Context Commentary: New Testament, Lexham Context Commentary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2020), Mt 4:8–11.

Wilderness as a Season of Lifelessness

Read Job 3:20-26

  • Oftentimes, the wilderness is a place of death, dryness, and devastation. Deep and dark places where we feel unable to find the faith to live on.

  • Job experiences complete and total devastation of all that he has and loves. He struggles, he calls out to God in desperation and anger, he has nothing left – and it is in that place, that God meets Him.

    • But before God meets Him, Job expresses all of what he feels. All of his hurt, pain, and suffering.

  • He calls out to God for Chapters, and for a time God does not immediately respond.

  • It isn’t until Chapter 38 when the Lord responds to Job and his friends desperately trying to understand the lifelessness of the current moment.

Wilderness as the Place Where God Draws Near

Read Deuteronomy 32:10-12:

In a desert land he found him,

in a barren and howling waste.

He shielded him and cared for him;

he guarded him as the apple of his eye,

like an eagle that stirs up its nest

and hovers over its young,

that spreads its wings to catch them

and carries them aloft.

The Lord alone led him;

no foreign god was with him.

  • And it is in spite of our faithlessness, our struggle to believe, our overwhelming doubts and anger toward God for our suffering; that God meets us.

  • For some, this is where faith becomes faith. It is in the deep, dry, and dark recesses of life when the grace of Christ finally hits different.

  • We experience for the first time the purpose of faith.

Hope in the Wilderness: Remembering

  • That we have hope in the spite of the wilderness.

  • We have hope that we will not gasp for God-filled air while the desert sand fills out lungs.

  • We have hope in the living water of Christ.

  • We have hope because we can remember that God was faithful to the Israelites, to Christ, to the disciples, to the early Church.

  • That no matter the wilderness, that He will always remain faithful to His promises to be with us. To dwell with us in the desert. To weep with us and mourn with us. As Psalm 119:49-50 says,

    • Remember your word to your servant,

for you have given me hope.

My comfort in my suffering is this:

Your promise preserves my life.

  • The whole of Scripture, the whole of the Christian faith, is a fieldguide to the wilderness. A ‘how-to’ experience the fulfillment of Christ in the wilderness, of bringing our desperate pleas to a God to hears us, and to hope no matter how distant and dry that God will meet us and move in us to the Promised Land.

  • This does not necessitate that we will never wander in the wilderness again, but instead, that we much like Job, will understand and experience the wilderness as a season of temptation and difficulty, yes; but also, a season of life-changing grace spoken to our weary souls.

Psalm 13:1-4

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?

How long will you hide your face from me?

How long must I wrestle with my thoughts

and day after day have sorrow in my heart?

How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.

Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,

and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”

and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;

my heart rejoices in your salvation.

I will sing the Lord’s praise,

for he has been good to me.

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