My Lord Knows the Way through the Wilderness
Many years ago there was a popular gospel chorus that went something like this: “My Lord knows the way through the wilderness, all I have to do is follow. My Lord knows the way through the wilderness, all I have to do is follow. Strength for today is mine always and oh there’s hope for tomorrow. My Lord knows the way through the wilderness, all I have to do is follow.”
I was a young new Christian when I first learned this song and the words meant little to me as I sang them in church. As far as I knew back then, following Jesus meant immediate answers to my prayers and happiness and joy in my life and victory and salvation for the future. But I am much older now and have had time to watch and see that many who follow Jesus not only follow Him through the triumphs and the good times but at some point must also follow Him on a path of self emptying surrender. His way is always the way of the cross – the way through the dry and desolate wilderness.
I believe the word “wilderness” in this little song may refer to the wilderness that Moses and the Jewish people traveled through on their way to the “Promised Land”. This occurred in approximately 1,400 B.C. (Exodus 14-Joshua 1) Even though God miraculously freed the Jews from slavery in Egypt and pushed back the waves of the Red Sea so that they could escape from the pursuing Egyptians, the Jewish people still complained constantly! Their time in the wilderness was a scary unsettling time and they fussed and fussed on and on about it.
They fussed about not having a ready supply of water in the dessert, even though each day God led Moses to a new hidden water supply. What if they ran out of hidden water supplies and then they would all die of thirst? What if? It was scary worrying that they might not find water each day for their children to drink. Miles and miles of hot dry sand as far as the eye could see with no oasis or spring in sight! What if one day God didn’t come through? Did Moses bring them and their children out here to die of thirst in this barren wasteland?
And then they fussed about the lack of a reliable food supply in this desolate desert. They would all starve for sure out here in this dry expanse! But then God came in and took care of their food worries by sending them manna! Fresh bread (manna) from heaven sent to them each and every day! They had a God who cared and provided! But did that stop them from fussing?
The Jewish people were learning lessons in the wilderness that they had not learned when they had been living in
. In the wilderness they were not able to hunt
and farm and draw water from the well for themselves. They were forced to trust God each day for
their basic survival – their supply of food and water. If God didn’t supply
their food and water each day then they would all die. Egypt
But there was more. The Jewish people felt lonely and vulnerable in the wilderness! The Egyptians would make them slaves again if they turned around and went back to
. But they were frightened to keep going
forward too. They were on their way to
the land where their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had lived. The land that God had promised would be their
land! But someone else was already
living there! Egypt
At that time the fierce warring Canaanites were living in this Promised Land. Their prophet Moses had been telling the Jewish people that God had spoken to him and told him that He had given this land to them and they were to go take it back from the Canaanites. But that was scary!
The Canaanites living in the land were a fierce warring tribe that sacrificed their little children to their idol gods. It would seem that possibly the Canaanites had been weighed and found wanting by God and God would no longer continue blessing their lifestyle. Some have criticized the Bible saying that surely God shouldn’t help the Jewish people take the land from the Canaanites. But God is God and He sees and knows everything. God can make judgments that humans cannot make. Many of the Jewish people were afraid of the Canaanites and didn’t believe that God would be with them if they met them in battle.
But God was always with the Jewish people! That was a wilderness lesson He was trying to teach them. The people could see God’s Presence right there with them guiding them in the right direction and protecting them from their enemies. In the daytime they could see His Presence in the “pillar of cloud” that went before the camp leading them and at night God’s presence was with them in the camp as a “pillar of fire” guarding them as they slept.
In the wilderness, God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses to give to the Jewish people. And Moses also taught the people that God commanded that they bring sacrifices and burnt offerings to God for their sins – pointing to the future “Lamb that takes away the sin of the world.” – Jesus. God commanded his people to love and forgive one another and to be kind to one another always.
The older Jewish people in the group did not believe that God would help them take over the Promised Land. They were afraid of the Canaanites. They voted to turn around in the desert and not follow God’s leading or continue traveling on to their new land. Scripture records that none of the ones who voted against following God onward ever enjoyed the joy of living in this Promised Land. After forty years of wandering around in the wilderness the older folks were all dead.
But the next generation, - their children - learned to believe and trust God while following Him around in the wilderness and then they learned to follow Him all the way out. They lived to march around the walls of
blowing their ram horns and praising God!
And they stood and watched as the walls of the city came tumbling down! They learned to trust God all the way! And they enjoyed finally being in the land
that God had promised them. Jericho
More than a few Bible scholars have compared the experiences that the Jewish nation had in the wilderness 3,400 years ago to the experiences a follower of Christ may have today when the Lord leads us through our own personal wilderness. I have watched in horror as fellow Christians have descended into their own individual wilderness. Watched as they have been stripped of every shred of accustomed comfort and watched and prayed for them as they have been forced to give up every expectation and ambition they counted on.
A friend and devout Christian woman comes to mind. Sally was a woman who loved God and loved and dedicated herself to others. But Sally developed ALS/Lou Gehrig’s Disease in her late 30’s, an illness that slowly, inch by inch, robbed her of her speech and her ability to move and smile and eat. First Sally had to give up her prized teaching position and then she could no longer be a part of her church. And finally she had to be separated from her beloved children and husband and live in a special facility for the disabled. Today her family almost never visits her and year after year passes as she waits to die in her paralyzed state, forgotten and alone in this place. I trust and believe that God is with Sally there in her wilderness and someday she will arrive at the Promised Land.
And then a Bible scholar and dedicated caring Christian pastor we knew so long ago comes to mind. His wife ran off with the choir director and divorced her pastor/husband, taking their children with her. The church members believed that divorce was the worst sin ever to be committed and demanded that this good pastor resign. Fellow Christians turned against this distraught man in his hour of need and his goodie good church denomination ex- communicated him. His ex wife and her choir director lover raised his children and taught them that he was a bad person with false accusations ruining his reputation. Everywhere this good man turned in his personal wilderness he was met with condemnation and rejection which he did not deserve. I believe he had to walk through a dark wilderness.
We may never know why God lets bad things happen to good people! But, like the Jewish people, we will have to rely on God for our emotional and often our physical survival during the bad days in ways that we did not need to do when we were going through the good times. God’s assurance of love and His presence allows us to learn to be at peace in the dark nights of our spiritual journey, knowing that victory is promised if we keep on trusting.
If God is leading us through our own private wilderness we will need to learn how to walk through it. How to follow Him. We can remember the lessons the Jewish people learned as God lead them through their wilderness. First we remember that God is always there with us to comfort and to guide. As He fed the Jewish people every day with manna, God will feed us with spiritual food every day and find us hidden springs of living water in our desert.
We will need to remember to keep on following the Lord toward our Promised Land – claim the promises in Christ that are there for us. And never turn back to
or to our
old life of slavery to hate and sin. In
the wilderness God taught the Jewish people to offer a lamb as a sacrifice to
Him. The lamb would represent the coming
“Perfect Lamb” or Jesus who would be sacrificed and die to forgive their sins. Egypt
Because God forgives our sins He commands us to forgive those who sin against us. So we can learn how to walk through our darkness forgiving those who harm us and loving those who make us mad. God will help with that one. And our last lesson for walking through the darkness.- Keep believing and trusting God. And keep remembering that our Lord knows the way through the wilderness. All we have to do is follow!