When we think of a desert, we don’t often think of it as a place full of life. The desert conjures up feelings of thirst, scorching heat, exhaustion, and death. If we fell out of an airplane, it would be the last place we want to find ourselves in. It is a landscape we usually pass through, not live in. And yet, God leads us there on purpose to give us life. He leads us there to test us and teach us.
What about those times on the mountaintop? What about those times when we are in the lush forest? Doesn’t He teach us and test us then? We often feel close to Him during these times. He sends us plenty of refreshing, flowing springs of water. However, faith is easy when everything is going well. In fact, we may even be tempted to think that everything is good because of something we did. But, is that real faith?
Weeds or Cacti?
God takes us to the desert because it’s in the tough times that we show our true colors. Our faith—or lack of it—really shows when the springs of blessings seem to dry up. Will we grumble, complain, doubt, and blame God for our troubles? Are we shriveled weeds that dry up and blow over the sand? Or, are we like cacti, drawing on the Living Water that God poured into us during the good times?
The Bible is full of stories of weeds that died in the desert. Many of us are familiar with the story of Moses and the nation of Israel. Before the exodus from Egypt, the patriarchs lived in fertile areas near the desert where their sheep and cattle grazed. Sometimes, they traveled through the desert, but God did not call them to spend extended times in the desert. So, the great exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land of Canaan is the first time that God’s people spend a long time in the desert. Their experiences hold warnings for us today.
Trust and obey? No way!
The nation had just witnessed miracle after miracle in Egypt, as the great I AM demonstrated His power and judgement. God rescued them from slavery, He parted the Red Sea and they were on their way to Canaan, which He had promised to Abraham centuries before. In addition, God traveled with them in a cloud, a visible reminder of His presence. One might think that with all of these blessings, the people would be grateful and trust the Lord.
But, no, their faith was weak. The first time they show this is when they get to the Desert of Shur. They grumble and complain because the water is bitter. Moses cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became sweet. (Exodus 15:25).
So, God is right there with them and instead of trusting Him, they complain. Obviously, He knew their hearts because right after He made the water sweet, the Lord made a decree and a law for them, and there he tested them. He said, If you listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord who heals you. (Exodus 15:26)
Grumble, grumble, grumble
But what did they do? Two weeks later, they grumbled again, this time in the Desert of Sin. They still didn’t trust Him, they still said it was better to be slaves in Egypt. They wanted bread and meat. God rained down manna from heaven and sent them quail. He gave them specific instructions about how much to gather each day and some of them still didn’t obey. Their faith was still weak.
When they left that desert, they again came to a place with no water. They grumbled and complained. Again, Moses cried out to the Lord and He told him, I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink. (Exodus 17:6).
One might think that by now, after all the Lord did for them, their faith would be stronger. But, what happened? They finally got to the promised land, Canaan, and are frightened by the Canaanites. They rebel against God and start making plans to go back to Egypt, back to slavery. God burned with anger, ready to destroy them all. Moses interceded for them. So, God said that they would wander through the desert for forty years. They would never get to enjoy His blessings (Numbers 14:20-35). God was patient, but eventually, He had to bring judgement because He is a Holy and Righteous God.
“I’d rather be a slave than follow you”
When we hear the story of the Israelites, we often shake our heads and say, “What was wrong with those people? God did all those miracles, and they still didn’t obey Him. They still had hard hearts and wanted to go back to Egypt! I don’t get it. Were they blind? What was their problem?”
Their problem was that they wanted freedom from the hard labor and mistreatment, but they didn’t want to change anything else. Hundreds of years earlier, Joseph had given them the best of Egypt, Goshen. Goshen was not far from the centers of Egyptian government, near the Nile River delta. Imagine what that would be like, living in the shadow of beautiful palaces and gardens, able to grow food and raise cattle without trouble. They would have been happy to stay in Egypt if only they could escape from slavery. They didn’t really want to be rescued from Egypt, only from oppression.
Take a look at Numbers 11:5, We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic. Also, check out Exodus 16:3, 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.”
But, they weren’t just slaves to the Egyptian masters, they were also slaves to the Egyptian way of thinking and living. God needed to rescue them from themselves as well as from Egypt.
We shake our heads at the Israelites, but how do we react when God leads us into the desert? What do we do when our mountaintop experience is over and we experience a drought?
Vessels of Living Water
To survive in the desert, living things must figure out how to hold on to water. After all, they don’t know when rain will fall again. When we experience a season of great blessing in our lives, we need to figure out how to hold on to the Living Water that we receive. We never know how long the rainy season will last. We must be like cacti—vessels filled with a reservoir of water—and stand. Cacti have shallow roots that reach out far and wide to gather as much water as they can. We must do the same, gathering up all that God has to give us, to fortify ourselves for times of trial. We must be quick to defend all the good blessings and to prevent the enemy from bleeding us dry. Just like cacti, we need sharp spines of truth to keep him away.
Remember James 1:12, Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.
God brought the Israelites into the desert to take them out of sin and test their faith. They refused and died there. He takes us there for the same reasons.
How do you react? Do you stand on His promises and blessings? Do you thwart the enemy with arrows of truth? Or, do you forget and succumb to complaining and grumbling, pining away for what once was?
Do you cry out to God or shake your fist at Him? Do you join your voice with David—
You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water. (Psalm 63:1)
Or join with scoffers?
Let’s choose today to join with David and cry out to our Lord and Savior when we are in a desert land.
Do you need a little help?