When the children of Israel cried out to their God he heard them and he delivered them. God broke the greatest power of the age, humiliated its false Gods, destroyed its ruler and his mighty army and led his people out carrying the riches of their former masters. These were his people and they left in triumph.
The promised land was just a few days away. The dream of God since he uttered the first words was in sight of fulfilment. There world be a new and better Eden. There would be a place on this earth where God and man could live together.
Except the Israelites were not ready for such a place. Newly released from bondage and still longing for the world they took one look at the promised land and its powerful inhabitants and gave in to doubt. They knew they could not conquer Caanan. They did not know that their God, the God who humbled Egypt was unconcerned by the military might of the Canaanites.
The Lord’s people had no idea who their Lord was. That mattered. That really mattered.
When the Israelites left Egypt they knew their God was powerful but that was about all they knew. It wasn’t enough. Solomon wrote that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. It is, but the fear of the Lord is not the end of wisdom. Knowing him intimately for who he is and trusting him is much greater wisdom. And knowing our Lord is easier in the wilderness than in the land of plenty.
The Israelites spent forty years wandering back and forth in the wilderness and it was in the wilderness that the Israelites came to know their God.
In the Gospel of John Jesus described himself in seven ways. He said:
I am the bread of life.
I am the the light of the world.
I am the gate.
I am the good shepherd.
I am the resurrection and the life.
I am the way, the truth and the life.
I am the true vine.
Every one of these statements was proved in the wilderness. When the Israelites were hungry in a land where nothing lived God fed them.
When the Israelites could not see the way there was God in a fiery pillar leading them on.
When the Israelites could not get through because the Amalekites blocked the way God destroyed the Amalekites and opened the way.
When they needed the care and concern of a loving shepherd God was their shepherd.
When their hope was gone as they sat before the Red sea knowing that they were about to be enslaved or slaughtered God stepped in and gave them a new hope and a new life in freedom.
When they were lost God guided them with fire and smoke.
I confess I am still looking for the true vine in the wilderness but I am convinced it is there.
In the land of plenty it is easy to overlook and forget the source of our abundance. It is easy to forget where our true hope lies. God is our life, our food and drink. Without him it does not matter what temporary riches we have. He is our only valuable possession and our true home is with him. It does not matter whether we are surrounded by the wilderness or the height of a fruitful harvest. He is our true life and in him there is always an abundance. Unless we discover this in the wilderness, in the hard times we will never truly know it in the land of promise.