From The Wilderness
The truth of the wilderness is a strange truth to most of us. Why would God actually lead us into a wilderness? Our Heavenly Leader will sometimes take us to a place where we are limited, walled in, and hindered from going forward. This is the first wilderness the Hebrews had to pass through, and so will we. It is the wilderness of Shur.
Moses led Israel onward from the Red Sea into the Wilderness of Shur. For three days they trekked through the wilderness without finding water. (Exodus 15:22)
Shur is a Hebrew word that means “a wall, hemmed in, or limited.” The name of this wilderness is significant. God led them along a wall. They could not escape this desert. Have you ever felt as if you have come to a place of restriction and limitation, making it impossible to move forward without a miracle? Have you ever felt like your back was up against a wall?
The Hebrews had followed the cloud to a wilderness of limitation. This was not because of rebellion or disobedience. It was because of God’s perfect plan for their advance. Our loving Leader will always have a purpose in bringing you to the wilderness of Shur, the place of being walled in. This was the first test they were required to face in the desert!
Limitations are veiled opportunities to realize God’s miracle provisions. There is a realm of plenty just beyond our limitations. We often come to the end of our hoarded resources only to find God’s abundant supply is waiting for us. Miracles will happen in the land of your limitation. The end of your strength is the beginning of his!
God had proven himself to them. There was no limit to his power, no end to what he would teach them. Notice the lessons everyone must learn as they move from spiritual captivity into freedom – a freedom that includes a wilderness! What is this place of barrenness that we all pass through on our way to our destiny?
Remember, the wilderness is simply a place in life where you don’t want to be. Relationships that are not working, jobs you despise, and dreams that seem to never come true. All of these unexpected problems make up our wilderness. It is the place where the God of glory meets with the barren soul, showing us the deepest lessons of our lives. How we need the wilderness seasons to teach us more of God’s ways.
There are the five great lessons that must be learned from wilderness experiences:
After you receive a new revelation, a test will follow.
This often comes as a “pop quiz.” Even Jesus faced this: “From the moment of his baptism, Jesus was overflowing with the Holy Spirit! He was taken by the Spirit from the Jordan into the lonely wilderness of Judea, to experience the ordeal of testing by the accuser for forty days,” (Luke 4:1-2).
No sooner had Jesus heard the Heavenly voice – “You are my beloved son” – than he was led into a land of limitation where that word of Sonship had to be proven. God will bring tests before us to teach us his ways. It’s not the devil but God who is guiding us to Marah’s bitter waters. The cloud of glory will bring us to the water’s edge. God will lead you into the wilderness just as he did his beloved son. Your wilderness proves you are his beloved one!
The revelation at the Red Sea of God’s ultimate triumph over every foe was followed by the trial and test of a wilderness where everything seemed to crumble around the Hebrews. The desert wilderness appeared as the very antithesis of the pristine Garden of Eden. All its elements seemed in opposition to man. It was desolate, seemingly empty, and barren of life. It was either too hot or too cold, and a place devoid of hope. The desert in which the Israelites found themselves is described in Deuteronomy 8:15 as “a great and dreadful wilderness, with venomous snakes and scorpions, a dry and thirsty ground.”
Perhaps the fact that the desert was the extreme opposite environment of Eden makes it the perfect place for us to meet with the Creator God. The barrenness reflects the effect of sin on the soul – a spiritual dryness and withering of fruitfulness and life. This realization should serve to draw us back to God’s ways of wholeness and spiritual abundance. As basic supplies are scarce and self-preservation is of paramount concern, the desert is a place where God can exhibit his divine protection and daily provision of sustenance.
The starkness of the desert landscape mirrors the futility of human strivings and self-dependence; nonetheless, God meets us there and provides the vision and the means to reverse the curse Adam and Eve brought upon themselves in the garden. The wilderness is a test sent from God to reveal how much we trust him in our discomfort. So remember: the next time God pours out his Spirit of Revelation with fresh insight and wisdom and the glory begins to swirl around you, it is to prepare you for the lessons of the land of Shur. May our limitations release us to his fullness!
Great problems often follow great victories.
After a Red Sea, there’s usually a desert! The Israelites were on their way to the Promised Land, but it was proving to be a difficult journey. What began with a dance of triumph became a desert of trial. We see Israel move quickly from the joy of victory to the bitterness of disappointment. Exodus 15:22 says, “Moses led Israel onward from the Red Sea into the Wilderness of Shur. For three days they trekked through the wilderness without finding water.” Only three days into their journey, they encountered their first difficulty: a shortage of water. Expect some of your most difficult trials to come immediately on the heels of your victory! At times we assume that a continual experience of victory is the norm, when in fact, it is often sandwiched between the lessons we learn from our difficulties.
Testing comes before resting.
God has the right to bring into our lives whatever he chooses in order to make us more like Christ. When we turn our face to him in the midst of pain and impossibility, character and Christ-likeness are formed in us. Christians throughout the ages have discovered that God will turn everything into good if we will but love Christ through it all!
For three days the Hebrews found no water. Their reserve tank was running out. Thirst began to settle in. They were on the edge of death! What a disappointment following so closely on the heels of the glorious miracle at the Red Sea. They progressed from the parting of the waters only to arrive in a dry and barren land with nothing to satisfy their thirst. The seasons of our own lives are no different. We witness a miracle only to be “set up” for the test ahead. Miracles are meant to do more than fascinate our soul; they are meant to convince us that God’s faithfulness will not fail when the dry desert days come. They knew Yahweh was powerful, but they did not know yet if he was good.
The glory cloud over their heads had led them through those three thirsty days, and that cloud was a constant witness that God was with them. The same pillar of cloud that saved them from Pharaoh was not leading them into a desert. God may lead you into the wilderness just as he did the Israelites and his beloved son. The end result will be resting in the goodness of the one we love.
God designs our tests to teach us his ways.
It is not the devil but God who is guiding us to the test of Marah’s bitter waters. Exodus 15:23 explains, “When they came to Marah, they found water, but it was undrinkable and extremely bitter.” The word Marah means “bitter, grief, or calamity.” Israel came to this very place while walking under the cloud and in the will of God. They were not being punished. They were not being tested so that they would fail but that they would learn.
It was a three-day journey into the wilderness of Shur – three days without water! Three days is a picture of the resurrection realm. Under the cloud, led by God, they were walking in “resurrection life.” The distance from the Red Sea to Marah was thirty-three miles. Jesus was raised to new life after being crucified at age thirty-three.
Sighting the waters after a three-day desert trek must have brought rejoicing to the Hebrews. Can you imagine how excited they were when they saw the glimmer of the surface of Marah’s waters? Their thirst would be quenched, their livestock watered, and their reserves replenished. What a disappointment it must have been to discover that the waters were bitter and undrinkable! Their lives in Egypt were described as “bitter,” (Exodus 1:12-14). Must they now drink bitter water? Now even their freedom became bitter at Marah.
God made the waters of the Nile undrinkable as a plague to hit the land of Egypt in order to free the Hebrews from their bondage. There is a relationship between the plagues of Egypt and the sweetening of the waters of Marah. The Egyptians were unable to drink the waters of the Nile because they failed to heed the command, “Let my people go!” (Exodus 7:16-18). Now God expected the Israelites to let the ways of Egypt with its compromise go from their lifestyle! They had left Egypt, but the ways of Egypt were still in their hearts. It was time to let “Egypt” go from God’s people!
Their joy at discovering water was quickly turned to anger at Moses for leading them to such a place. How could Moses, the prophetic singer, bungle this so badly? Singing at the seashore three days before gave way to complaining at Marah. They spoke as if it had to do with Moses only. But what about that cloud of glory over their heads?
So the people vented their anger and grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?” (Exodus 15:24)
We are no different in our reasoning. Oftentimes we put expectations on our leader to do something about circumstances and situations instead of God. We can witness a breathtaking miracle, like Moses leading the people through the Red Sea, and only three days later when a problem arises, we’re convinced that it is God’s leader who has led us wrongly. He or she must be the reason for the unpleasant circumstance!
Also, just like the children of Israel, we have often complained about our bitter situations. Amazing! We can sing and dance under the anointing one day and be grumbling the next. We gather on Sundays to worship and praise the one who delivered us from our sins, and then we fail to trust him in the smaller details of our lives throughout the week. The same God that can handle the Red Sea can handle the bitter waters of Marah. So let’s quarantine the virus of complaining and trust God to make our bitter waters sweet.
Often, when we are tested in life, we fail to see the problem as a spiritual test. We are quick to blame our Moses instead of looking to God, who is our guide. The Hebrews cried out to Moses for water but not to God. All of this took place while the pillar of cloud was over their heads. If they were led wrongly, wouldn’t it have been God who made the blunder? Wouldn’t it have been the leading of his cloud of glory that made the mistake and not Moses?
We shorten the wilderness by seeing God’s purpose in it.
Have you ever felt like you were groping along a wall in the dark? Every one of us must go through the confining process of being led to places we would, personally, not choose. Like sheep led through a chute, the Israelites groped along in the wilderness until they were brought to Marah’s bitter waters.
The sooner we learn the lesson of Shur, the sooner we are promoted and given grace to move out of that wilderness. But it must be heart-deep. Like the children of Israel, we have often complained about our bitter situations. We complain, “God, where is my miracle? Why can’t I have another miracle like the Red Sea? Why won’t you do something?” Just wait, dear one. The beginning of your miracle is even now at work inside you!
Lean into me. Lean into my Word and find all that you need. The rest I bring is sweet to your soul. It’s time for me to reshape your life. Let me arrange the priorities and remove distractions. Your true life is discovered when you lean into me. Weakness disappears and worries vanish when you lean into me.