We spent the weekend in the desert. Physically, it’s pretty miserable. It is blasted hot. Dry. Terrible footing. Hard, uphill terrain. Or hard, downhill terrain. Scorpions. Poisonous snakes. Flash floods kill more people per year than any other natural phenomenon in the desert. Deuteronomy 8:15 calls it the “great and terrible wilderness.” And that is exactly what it is. Without a special set of skills one cannot survive there. There is no water to be found unless water drains from the northern hills in the rainy season.
Yet. Hosea 2:14-15 says,
“Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
and bring her into the wilderness,
and speak tenderly to her.
And there I will give her her vineyards
and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth,
as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.”
In the Prophets one finds a theme of God bringing his beloved into the desert to woo her to his side by whispering sweet words into her heart.
The desert is a metaphor for life in the biblical narrative – it is a place of discipline, a place of calling, a place of refuge, and a place of renewal. It is a place where God feels closer, his words louder, his heart clearer.
How I love the desert – both in the physical and metaphorical sense.
I love the metaphor hidden within the physical truth of the desert: in every one of life’s desert, there can still be times of breathtaking beauty. God is one who gives water from the rock, brings grass and flowers from nothing. He brings hope from desperation and joy from grief. He does not let us sit in the desert without providing what we need along the way – including moments of respite.
Is it any wonder the Israelites were hardened warriors – tough from forty years hiking in an unforgiving, dreadful place. But ones whose physical strength was balanced by their spiritual foundation in the God who wooed them there. In a place without food, God provided manna. In a place without an inch of rainfall annually, God provided water from the rock.
Though they were physically cared for, can you imagine going forty years without rain? They had what they needed. Only what they needed – nothing more. In that gap between need and excess, they found a God who brings the source of life.
I come from east Tennessee, where rain is plentiful and the thunderstorms take your breath away. I began to think of forty years without feeling the rain on my face and how much I miss it even now – only 2 months without it here in Israel. Can you imagine how the first rain experienced by the Hebrews in the Promised Land must have felt? I wonder if they danced in it? I wonder if they shouted for joy and played alongside the children, reveling in the wonder of the God who waters the earth from the sky? I wonder if they sang the songs of Miriam and Moses when the rains refreshed and renewed their spirits as if they were freed from slavery all over again.
God brings us into each new season of life with new perspectives. Sometimes we are led into the desert that we might hear the whispered words of the Lover of our souls. Sometimes we stay there to be strengthened – desert tested and ready for impending battle. Always, there is reason to dance and sing, with spirits refreshed and renewed from the excess of the Shekinah (Name of God’s Presence). Each season reveals new things about ourselves and about our God.
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.