Rev. Langerak is pastor of Southeast Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
How easy it is to forget we live in the wilderness! With solid homes, comfortable clothes, fine food, and every convenience readily available—beds queen size and king, cell phones and Internet, refrigerators and microwaves, RVs and SUVs, doctors and hospitals—the wilderness seems quite far away. But in the wilderness we live, and there we shall die.
God did not create the world as such. The blame lies with Lucifer, who, beginning with Eden, transforms all he touches—from lush lands to golden cities—into wilderness (Is. 14:17). Spiritually, it is all wilderness, a waste-howling place (Deut. 32:10), great and terrible (Deut. 1:19), a solitary way where the soul faints (Ps. 107:4), men are entangled, shut in (Ex. 14:3), and die, their carcasses wasted and then consumed (Num. 14:35). To travel there is to pass through the shadow of death (Jer. 2:6). It is a perilous place (II Cor. 11:26), a land of darkness (Jer. 2:31), great winds (Job 1:19), thorns and briars (Judges 8:7), hunger and thirst (Num. 21:5), fierce enemies (Jer. 3:2; Ezek. 23:42), ambush (Lam. 4:19), and wild dragons, fiery serpents, and scorpions (Is. 43:20; Deut 8:15). And in the wilderness expect to encounter the seven-headed scarlet beast and its mysterious bejeweled rider, drunk with saint-blood and blasphemous—Babylon the Great, Mother of harlots, Abomination of the earth (Rev. 17:3-6).
Israel spent a long season in the wilderness (Num. 14:33), passing from one to another—Etham, Shur, Sinai, Paran, Zin, Kedemoth, even Sin. And from the moment they entered the wilderness they lusted exceedingly (Ps. 106:14), murmured (Ex. 16:2), disobeyed and tempted God (Num. 14:22). They provoked Him to wrath and grieved Him (Deut. 9:7; Ps. 78:40). Even after they entered Canaan—an imperfect picture—they were never very far from more wilderness—Beersheba, Bethaven, Judah, Gibeon, Ziph, Maon, Engedi, Moab, Jeruel, and Tekoa. In one of them, young David would keep sheep from bears and lions (I Sam. 17:28). In another, John the Baptist would be a voice crying, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord” (Mark 1:3).
God always brings His church through the wilderness. By grace, He transforms that perilous place into a refuge (Ps. 55:7). So in the wilderness, Moses found safety from Pharaoh (Ex. 3:1), David hid from Saul and Absalom, and Elijah from Jezebel (I Kings 19:4). And how God has cared for His people there! In its darkness, He appeared in blazing glory (Ex. 16:10). To the wandering He gave a law, a reason to worship and give thanks (Lev. 7:38). He forsook them not, but by cloud and fire led in the way they should go, gave His good Spirit to instruct them, and sustained them so they lacked nothing (Neh. 9:19-21). He made them to go forth as sheep, guided them like a flock (Ps. 78:52), and delivered them in their distress (Ps. 107:4). For the hungry and thirsty He furnished a table, rained bread from heaven (Ps. 78:24), and brought geysers from the rock (Ps. 78:19). He numbered them (Num. 1:19), humbled them, and proved them (Deut. 8:16). He carried them as a man bears his son (Deut. 1:31) and kept them as the apple of his eye (Deut. 32:10).
How comforting that the ministry of Jesus began in the wilderness. Among wild creatures, hungry, thirsty, and sorely tempted, Christ overcomes the Beast (Mark 1:13). In the wilderness Jesus feeds the multitude (Matt. 15:33), seeks that which is lost (Luke 15:4), and is lifted up that whosoever believes on Him should not perish (John 3:15-16). Because of His covenant of peace, they dwell safely there (Ezek. 34:25; Hos. 2:6). He gives His church eagle’s wings to fly to her prepared wilderness place, nourishes and keeps her safe from the Serpent (Rev. 12:6-14). And He transforms that waste-howling wilderness into a new thing (Is. 43:19). He pours out His Spirit from on High so that the barren place becomes fruitful (Is. 32:15), the solitary place becomes glad, the desert place blossoms as the rose, and waters break out into streams (Is. 35:1-6). Even the animals shall honor Him (Is. 43:20). He shall comfort all the waste places and make them again like Eden, the garden of the Lord, where joy and gladness are found, thanksgiving and the voice of melody (Is. 51:3). Out of the wilderness He comes forth, like pillars of smoke, and the church also, leaning upon her beloved (Song of Sol. 3:6, 8:5).