Jot down words that come to mind (without having to think about it) when you think of a desert.
If I don’t pause to think, then my list would be something like this – scorched land, sun, hot, barren, golden brown, sand, vast, ridges etc. Take a look at your list. Have you written any positive words? Perhaps yes. However, it would be most likely that they would be much lesser than the negative words as the term ‘desert’ is viewed negatively (unlike ‘dessert’!!)
I thought of sand when I thought of a desert. Apparently sand covers only about 20% of earth’s deserts! (I hear the long beep of a buzzer – our preconceived ideas!). It makes me realise how often we categorise concepts and carefully place them in rigid compartments. Did I think of the date palm that grows in the desert? Not till I tried to focus on the positives!
The desert isn’t a place where we are without God. Referring to Ishmael, the writer of Genesis records, “God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer” (21:20). Being in the desert didn’t mean he was deserted!
Moses led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. This is where he saw the bush on fire which was not burning. This is where he met with God for the first time (Exodus 3:1). Exodus 4:27 records the LORD telling Aaron to go into the desert to meet Moses and that Aaron met him at the mountain of God. Theophilus, the writer of the book of Acts, records this historical information: “An angel appeared to Moses in the flames of a burning bush in the desert near Mount Sinai” (Acts 7:30). Interestingly, God told Moses to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go so that they may worship God in the desert (Exodus 7:16). God led them by the desert road and it was so that they didn’t have a change of mind (Exodus 13)!
Why did God choose Horeb to be in the desert? Why did God reveal Himself to Moses in the desert?
Despite the grumbling and discontentment of the Israelites, the LORD performed many miraculous signs and wonders for them. “Lack” of water and food is what the people perceived, but God sustained them – He carried them on eagles’ wings and brought them to Himself (Exodus 19:2). Yet, they didn’t perceive it… their focus wasn’t on HIM! God says they (other than Caleb) disobeyed Him and tested Him TEN times (Numbers 14:22). The glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud in the desert. The Israelites had the tabernacle of the Testimony with them in the desert too!
God told Hosea that He was going to allure his adulterous wife and lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her – not harshly but tenderly. He also said that He would give her back her vineyards there, right in the desert and that she would sing as in the days of her youth, right there in the desert (Hosea 2:14-15).
John the Baptist came preaching in the Desert of Judea. He was “a voice of one calling in the desert” who was preparing the way for the Lord (Matthew 3:1-3). In fact as a child, he “grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel” (Luke 1:80). Speaking of John the Baptist, Jesus asked the crowd, “What did you go out into the desert to see?… A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you…” (Matthew 11:7-9). Jesus referred to the desert in a positive manner – as a place where a prophet could be found. He had been led earlier to the desert by the Spirit too.
It seems as if though God has taken some people to the desert before their public ministries! However, there was a point in time when the Jews began to plot to take His life, Jesus no longer moved about publicly but instead He withdrew to a region near the desert (John 11:53-54).
In fact, Revelation prophesies about the woman (clothed with the sun, moon and stars) fleeing into the desert to a place prepared for her by God where she might taken care of for a set period of time (Revelation 12:6). This woman’s offspring are those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus (12:17).
The desert does signify God’s care despite our eyes perceiving barrenness. In addition to protection, it can also be a testing period. If we rebel from God, it will end up as a time of discipline. Much preparation has happened in the desert.
We view life in the same way as we view a desert. The negatives get highlighted and the positives pretty much ignored. We forget that nothing is impossible with God. Like He said, He can put in the desert the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive (Isaiah 41:19). He can do anything in your life! Embrace the unexpected.
“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert” (Isaiah 43:19). Allow God to make your desert a fertile field. All the while give thanks for the desert and attempt to perceive the blessings without overlooking them.
Great things have happened to God’s people in the desert and they haven’t been deserted by God,
unless of course they have constantly rebelled!