“Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.”Deuteronomy 8:2
When you hear the word wilderness what comes to mind? Here are some of the most common responses I hear from other believers:
This pretty much sums up how most of us have understood . . . the wilderness. Being there meant we had messed up or missed out.
God went to crazy lengths to set His people straight . . . thrustingthem into a wilderness . . . the place where the Israelites spent most of their 40 years wandering.
Our time in the wilderness challenges us to take an honest look at what the Bible actually had to say about the wilderness. What we will find out will shock you . . . beginning with the word wilderness itself.
“His voice calls us out to the wilderness, where we can be with Him and hear what He’s saying apart from distractions.”
Since Hebrew is read from right to left, let’s start with the character on the right. It’s a מ, (pronounced mem). It originally represented water, and symbolized the mysterious or unknown.
Next we have the ד (pronounced dah-let) which depicted a door or tent flap. It represents an opening, or the cycle of going out and coming in.
Then the ב (pronounced bayt) which originally represented a house or a tent, or the family living inside. (When God talks about establishing someone’s house, it’s about the family, not the structure). It’s about belonging.
The final character is the ר (pronounced resh). It originally depicted a human head in profile, symbolizing strength and authority.
So we could read the word מדבר like this:
“the mysterious door to the house(hold) of strength”
How would your life be different if, instead of being a season of aimless wandering, your wilderness was a gateway to strength and belonging?
We could camp out there, and talk about that for a few weeks. Because for most of us, that would be a life-altering shift.
But there’s more.
Since every Hebrew word can be interpreted on several different levels, this word has more surprises in store for us.
It comes from the root word that means “to speak”.
What if, instead of being the place where God is distant and silent, the wilderness is where God speaks?
“His Voice calls us out to the wilderness, to be with Him apart from distractions.”
When we look at each of the hundreds of times this word appears in the Bible, you will be stunned to see how often God led people into the wilderness to speak to them.
Which brings us to Psalm 29 . . . lets look at the descriptions of God’s voice there, and verse 8 says “The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness . . .” Initially one might imagine . . . this verse as God’s voice just echoed through this vast wasteland, shaking inanimate objects. Now, it’s connecting, reaching the ears of His beloved. His voice calls us out to the wilderness, where we can be with Him and hear what He’s saying apart from distractions. It’s shaking me, and shaking the hearts of people I love. People who have answered His call and embraced their wilderness.
This shaking is disruptive, and it can feel violent. It can also be how we find our place (as in the expression, “We’ll see how this shakes out”).
So if you’re feeling shaken, wondering where you messed up or how you missed out, you’re not alone. Every major Biblical character (with the possible exception of those in the book of Esther) spent significant time in a physical wilderness. Realizing how God equipped, united, protected, instructed and revealed Himself to them in the wilderness gives me so much hope for us.
How has God’s voice shaken you?
How has He spoken to you in your wilderness?
How has a wilderness been a gateway to strength and belonging in your life?