Red Sea Behind... Wilderness Ahead
Exodus 15:22 Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went out into the wilderness…
For a couple of summers after high school, I worked at a fly-in fishing camp on Black Sturgeon Lake north of Kenora, Ontario. Calling it a ‘camp’ is probably a bit of a stretch, as it was really just a clearing in the bush large enough to accommodate four canvas tents – two for guests, one for myself and another as a mess tent (as far as a washroom facility was concerned, if the word ‘kaibo’ doesn’t mean anything to you, then I will simply leave it to your imagination). Every weekend, a new party would be flown into camp, as the pilot expertly landed the plane on the lake and guided it up to the dock, and every weekend that same pilot would bid farewell to the party by saying the same thing… ‘Welcome to the wilderness. Make the most of your stay. You’ll be home before you know it.’ I sometimes wonder if that same phrase wouldn’t be one of the more helpful and accurate things that could be said to believers.
The book of Exodus records God’s miraculous salvation of Israel from captivity and it almost seems as if the story of the Lord’s amazing redemptive plan could well be on its way to a speedy conclusion. It would actually seem quite natural and logical to our minds, that God’s salvation from captivity should be immediately established with the rest and prosperity of the Promised Land. But, between captivity in Egypt and the Promised Land, between our captivity to sin and the ultimate fulfillment of all of God’s salvific promises, the Lord leads His people… into the wilderness.
Though the same physical, material dangers may not always apply to us, God’s people in the New Testament continue to live in a ‘wilderness’ that is just as threatening and inhospitable to a life of faith. It’s possible that at no time over the last couple of generations (at least in our small part of the world), has the reality of wilderness living been as palpable as it is for many believers right now. The pandemic has brought an incredible amount of upheaval and consequences that are bearing down on many of us, all of which heighten our awareness that we are always living with clear and present spiritual threats (Eph.6:12), that we are always toiling in a sin-cursed world with the hot ‘East-of-Eden’ sun beating on our necks (Gen.3:17-19; Ecc.1:14-15), and that we are always persevering against opposition to Christ and His gospel mission (Mt.10:22, 24:9; Jn.15:18-19).
When God’s people saw the Red Sea close in behind them and swallow up the Egyptian army, they rightly broke into celebration and began to worship God. However, just as the choir is winding down (Ex.15:21-24), the gravity of wilderness life immediately hits the Israelites – ‘Out of the frying pan of Egypt, just to end up in the fire of the wilderness… thanks a lot Moses!!’ The wilderness was an inhospitable environment where not only the persistent threat of encountering wild animals or marauding bandits existed, but also the danger of not finding the basic essentials for human survival - like food, water and protection from the elements. Vulnerable and unforgiving, survival in the wilderness constantly exposes the fragility of life and the necessity of faith. People of God… meet the wilderness.
Accepting the reality of wilderness life may seem like a disheartening exercise, but it should ultimately encourage us. Exodus goes on to describe how the wilderness became a place of incredible care, compassion and nourishment for God’s people, as they were repeatedly sustained by His miraculous provision and protection, and this ought to give us great comfort and hope as we move through our own wilderness journey. Wilderness life will always demand a constant exercise of our faith as we persistently wrestle to keep our confidence and joy anchored in the Lord, and not in any sporadic ‘oasis’ or ‘season of reprieve’.
The wilderness is where God leads His people, and until Christ returns to take us home to our eternal land of promise, it is where the Lord will grow and test our faith and devotion to Him; it is where He will dependably nourish and care for us. Brothers and Sisters... Welcome to the wilderness. Make the most of your stay. we’ll be home before we know it.