My youth group has a yearly reading challenge, which we discuss daily on the GroupMe App, and we are smack-dab in the middle of Saul and David in 1 Samuel. Coincidentally, some of my favorite moments in Israel happened in places described in this portion of the text (1 Samuel 21-24). I have been able to share stories and pictures with my students and hope to begin to bring the Bible to life for them as well.
One of my most favorite days of the entire trip was on the sixth day. We had been in the Negev desert for four days. It is HOT (we had at least two people nearly succumb to heat exhaustion). It is dry, dusty, with terrible, rocky, steep terrain. The sun just sucks the energy out of you. And we were even carrying electrolyte packets and two liters of water!
The desert in the Bible is always metaphor for tohu (chaos). It is a place where people are tested by God, where they are disciplined by God, and most importantly, where they go to meet God. It is a place where God gets to show off! He has to by providing, because otherwise, death is imminent. The desert in the text is a double-edged sword: in one way, you get to experience God clearly and intimately, but in another, it is extremely hard and painful.
In life, deserts can be times when bad choices lead to life-changing consequences that are extremely trying. For example, when I was living rebelliously and became a single mom at sixteen years of age. This was a desert of discipline, but also one which led to intimacy with God.
Deserts can also be the hard times of life, over which we have no control. My dad’s sudden passing when I was 27 was a deep and terrible desert place, which was no one’s fault. It just happened. This was a desert of wooing. God was the only place I could turn to for provision and relief. And He proved to be so faithful.
Deserts of life happen in a number of ways, for a number of reasons. It’s just life. And life is filled with chaos. The Promised Land is a metaphor for the best version of our lives, and even it is made up of 70% desert. Desert is always part of life, but even in its overwhelming painfulness, sweetness can come from it when God traverses the desert with us.
After we had been in this desert for four days, our bodies were exhausted. Our minds were full and tired, and our muscles hurt and were changing. We were tired. But then, in the midst of our exhaustion and heat, we walk upon En Gedi. In the middle of the Negev Desert, we found an oasis. These desert mountains are made of limestone and chalk. Limestone absorbs water like crazy. But there are deep veins of chalk within the limestone, and the chalk repels the water totally. Where you have these deep veins of chalk, it pushes the water back out of the limestone, and you find a totally pure, freshwater spring that is teeming with animals and lush life.
After these days in the desert, walking upon En Gedi was a shock and rush of gratitude, awe, beauty, and simply overwhelming thankfulness. It was life where we had been walking through death.
Just like the desert is a metaphor for life’s tohu, En Gedi is a Biblical metaphor for God’s shalom (which means that everything in life is exactly, perfectly, as God intends for it). When we are walking through the desert of life, God’s presence brings us shalom. Sometimes, it’s just enough to keep us going for the next step; sometimes, He brings us to an En Gedi, where we get to dance and revel in His shalom, and which sustains us and refreshes us enough for miles of journey.
The incredible thing about God is that he doesn’t choose to do it alone. From the beginning of time, God chose people (Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Israel, and finally the Gentiles), who would partner with Him to bring shalom to the chaos of the world.
While at En Gedi, I wrote in my journal these words:
This incredible sense of awe, beauty, incredible gratefulness, is what others experiencing tohu should feel in our presence, as they experience God’s shalom through us.
So the lesson of En Gedi, and what I want to ask you today, is where are you jumping into the deserts of those around you, and being an En Gedi? When you see a life in tohu, are you choosing to do your part to bring shalom?
I would love to hear your stories: Where has God brought shalom into your desert? Where are you bringing shalom into the deserts of others?