Wandering the Desert with Moses (and Dain)
Driving through some of the most beautiful country God has created, I was unfortunately not enjoying it much. Instead, I was dogged by that uneasy feeling that often confronts men when faced with the classic two-pronged dilemma. First, admitting to myself that I was lost and secondly, and of much more concern, admitting it to my wife, who was dozing comfortably next to me.
“How could I have possibly blown this?” I thought to myself. Earlier that morning while studying the map (yes folks, an actual paper map), I calculated that today’s drive from Zion National Park in Utah to the Grand Canyon Visitor Center in Arizona would only consist of making three turns.
Three turns! What could possibly go wrong? But the sign I just passed said “89a north” and I knew for a fact that we were supposed to be heading south. Pulling the rental car over to the shoulder and reaching for the safety of the GPS on my phone, my wife stirred from her sleep, sat up, and looked at me with a curious expression. Suddenly I was aware of the great biblical irony of this moment.
You see, on that very same day we were supposed to be in Israel. In fact, on this actual date I was supposed to be on a bus with a group of 38 people from Kauai Christian Fellowship. I was supposed to be leading them as we headed north from Capernaum, crossing the Jordan at Jericho and heading up the hill to Jerusalem. We quite literally on this day would have crossed the Jordan, passed Jericho, and headed into the Promised Land.
Instead, because of the Coronavirus outbreak, here I was, lost in a desert place. For those of you that have already caught the irony of this situation, now consider that my wife and I had quite literally just that morning driven away from a mountain named Zion.
My wife, groggy from her nap, asked “Where are we?”
“Oh,” I replied, staring at the GPS, “I somehow made a wrong turn and we have to backtrack a little bit.”
“Backtrack how far?” she asked.
Quickly calculating, and then subtracting a few minutes to preserve my honor, I somehow came up with the figure “Forty minutes." Lucky for me she didn’t grumble something along the lines of “Why have you brought us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” Instead she just sighed and closed her eyes, for which I was grateful.
“Forty minutes!” I laughed to myself. “At least it wasn’t forty years!” And I’m such a Bible nerd that I spent the next few miles entertaining myself with all the biblical comparisons from Exodus.
“Let’s see, because there is a pandemic, or a plague, we have found ourselves wandering around the desert instead of going to Israel, or rather, the Promised Land. And after leaving Mount Zion, we get lost and have to inquire of….” Hmmm, well this is where the analogy broke down, because whereas the Israelites consulted Yahweh for direction, I had turned to the GPS. However, this train of thought led me to another memory, regarding a fact I had heard just a few days earlier.
Before we headed north to Utah, we were still in Southern California when a friend offered to take us to go see Joshua Tree National Park. Having never been there before, I was astonished at how much vast wilderness still existed out there, and a mere few hours’ drive from my hometown of San Diego. Even more astonishing was what my friend told us. “See all the warning signs about bringing water and so on? Every year they lose people in this desert, and they will typically die of dehydration in just a day or so. Many times they never even find the bodies.”
This kind of blew my mind. How is it possible that in this day and age, that with GPS technology and modern search and rescue organizations that even possess aerial surveillance, people could still become irretrievably lost in a desert a short distance from a modern metropolis? It seemed ludicrous, and yet I quickly began to see an interesting parallel that speaks to our current global crisis. And not surprisingly, this led to a great biblical analogy for our time.
You see, never in my life can I remember a situation where nobody seems to really know what was going to happen, and what situation we might be in a year from now. Will this be a small blip on the radar, and soon we will have gone back to “normal”? Or is this just the first rumblings of a major catastrophe of (no pun intended) biblical proportions? Are we headed towards a total breakdown of society as we know it? Or should we start planning our vacation for next year already? The thing is, though everybody you talk to will have an opinion about the situation, it is clear that nobody actually knows for sure.
Fortunately for us, because we know God, and we know His Word, we can go to Him and seek His guidance for how we should best conduct ourselves during this time. Allow me to offer up three short biblical principals that I believe can help us be a faithful witness to the world, and give us peace.
We can begin by simply trusting God with this day. Most of us already know that Jesus said “Do not worry about tomorrow, each day has enough trouble of its own.” But God has been telling His people this message since the very beginning. He showed this to the Israelites during their time of desert wandering by providing manna every day for them to eat. And they were only to gather as much as they needed for that day. It was an exercise in not worrying about the future, instead having total reliance upon God in that moment. How can we do this in our own lives as we face the situations of the day? Ask God every morning to give you the strength, wisdom, courage and faith to deal with whatever challenges belong to today.
Make a Tent of Meeting
Secondly, in the Book of Exodus we also see that Moses pitched a tent outside the camp and called it the Tent of Meeting. Every day he would go inside the tent and “The pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance, while the LORD spoke with Moses,” Exodus 33:9. This is a great way to start your day when wandering through a desert unsure of your future! How can we do this? Create for yourself your own Tent of Meeting. I’m not talking about pitching a dome tent in your backyard. Instead, create a time and place to meet with the Lord every day. Mornings work best for most people, but you might have to adapt to your own
schedule. Personally, you will find my Tent of Meeting is the Lazyboy chair in my living room between 5 and 6am, a stiff cup of coffee steaming on the end table.
And how does God speak to us, as He did Moses? Your Bible, of course! Think about it. The Bible is God’s specific revelation about Himself to His greatly loved creation…you. As you begin to read scripture, soon enough you will begin to hear Him speaking specifically to you. And like Moses, you can bring to Him all the worries of this day, and if need be, even complain a little about these “stiff-necked people” God has put you together with! Perfect for a time of quarantine.
Fix Your Eyes on Jesus
Lastly, while the Israelites were wandering around in the desert (for 40 years!), we read in Exodus chapter 13 that “By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or by night.” There are a few interesting lessons from this event. The cloud and fire gave them direction. In the New Testament the author of Hebrews puts it into a modern context by telling us to “keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.” If we do so we will avoid pitfalls and distractions, and be able to keep what is really important at the forefront of our thinking.
One thing people forget is that the cloud went behind the Israelites to protect them from their enemies. We can likewise trust that God is actively moving on our behalf to protect us from any dangers or hazards that threaten us. Have you lost your job? Is a loved one sick? Have peace in knowing that God is moving, and acting with His mighty power on your behalf to both protect and provide for you.
Lastly, and for me this is what gives me such peace, is the guiding cloud of Exodus is proof that God has a plan. Everything they were going through in the desert was preparing them for the ultimate victory that would bring them into to the Land of Milk and Honey. Trust in God today, that He has a plan. And His plan won’t be thwarted by world events, whether that be a global pandemic or a economic crisis.
So as we struggle through this bizarre and difficult time, with it’s great “desert of uncertainty”, may I encourage you to take on only what is in front of you this day, create a Tent of Meeting for yourself to speak to God and listen to His voice, and keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. Put your trust in the fact that God has already gone on ahead of us, and He also has our back. He has a plan, and His plan is perfect. He will get us there, whether that is to our final resting place in heaven, a recovered economy, a resumption of work or…as was the case for me last month, simply to the Grand Canyon.
And we did make it across the desert eventually, (forty minutes later than planned) and we were able to enjoy a snowy time viewing all the splendor of God’s creation encapsulated by the grandeur of The Grand Canyon. And a good thing too, because three days later they closed the park!
A blessing from the Lord to the Israelites during their time in the desert:
The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn his face toward you
and give you peace.