Hello, desert.

posted in: Writings | 0

I’ve been thinking a lot about you lately.

We’re all familiar with the desert season to some extent. We’ve all experienced some form of feeling dry, empty, and lonely.  And I’ve noticed we often rebuke the desert season, believing the devil brought it on, and we see it as a curse whereas we feel entitled to walk in blessing. After all, God promised us blessing.

“Surely, this is not from the Lord! Still waters and green pastures! That’s what God leads us into. But not deserts. No, definitely not this desert…”

Isn’t this what we often say?!

One night, not too long ago, I was on the phone lamenting to one of my best friends about my particular desert season. And then he said something along these lines, “Danielle, every season – every blessing, struggle, joy, or pain – is an invitation to encounter God’s heart on a deeper level and come closer to Him.”

That really stuck with me and it made me think that maybe – just maybe – desert seasons are actually blessings in disguise. Maybe they are invitations to face-to-face encounters with God. Maybe, in the middle of the desert, we see a facet of God’s nature that we would have otherwise never seen. And this led me to think about the Israelites’ journey as they were led out of Egypt and into the Promised Land…

We all get excited about the part of the story where God delivers them out of Egypt and we all love to hear about how they took the Promised Land. We especially like to rave about how they defeated the giants that inhabited the land. But what about the 40-year long journey in between those two exciting moments in history?

  • Could it be that the things they learned about God’s nature – His miraculous provision, His constant presence, His continual faithfulness – instilled in them the correct belief system that enabled them to slay those giants?
  • Could it be that, without the process of wandering through the desert and experiencing God in what were often uncomfortable ways, they would have never been able to take the Promised Land because they would not have been equipped and empowered to?
  • What if they gained experiential knowledge of who their God was that solidified their faith in the promise He had given them?

If you’d like to dive into these questions, please read on…

Let’s start at the beginning of the story where God gives the Israelites a promise — deliverance from their shameful past and hopeless present (they had been slaves in Egypt for quite a while) and a promise of a hopeful future: CANAAN – a land flowing with milk and honey and clusters of grapes so big it takes two men to carry!

“Therefore tell the Israelites: I am Yahweh, and I will deliver you from the forced labor of the Egyptians and free you from slavery to them. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and great acts of judgment. I will take you as My people, and I will be your God. You will know that I am Yahweh your God, who delivered you from the forced labor of the Egyptians. I will bring you to the land that I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you as a possession. I am Yahweh.” – Exodus 6:6-8 (HCSB)

Sign. Me. Up.

And yet, even with that promise, the Israelites didn’t believe their God “because of their broken spirit and hard labor”. (v. 9) They were discouraged. Hope deferred makes the heart sick. (Prov 13:12) But after God reminds them of who He is by protecting them through the 10 plagues, they were onboard again. So the Exodus begins. And I love this next part:

“They set out from Succoth and camped at Etham on the edge of the wilderness. The Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to lead them on their way during the day and in a pillar of fire to give them light at night, so that they could travel day or night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night never left its place in front of the people.” — Exodus 13:20-22 (HSCB)

With the tangible, physical presence of God in the form of a pillar of cloud & a pillar of fire they set out on their journey. We then read in the next few chapters that God not only parts the Red Sea for them which they then safely cross with Pharaoh pursuing them, but, as icing on the cake, the Red Sea closes up just in time, drowning Pharaoh and his bad boys.

We see in chapter 15 that Miriam decides to sing a song of praise. Good thinking, Miriam. After an event like that, I would, too.

So the Israelites continue their journey, but it takes them only about 3 days before they start grumbling (and we see later that “grumbling” should definitely be on the Israelites’ strengths list).

Yet God, in His kindness, comes through again and turns the bitter water at Marah into drinkable water again. Israelites happy. And God leads them to an oasis with 12 springs of water named “Elim” (which means “grove of oaks” and in all my geography lessons I’ve never heard about oaks growing in the desert…). I love dwelling on the goodness of God. We know the Israelites’ journey had only just begun, but as a loving Father God takes care of them by leading them to an oasis, right off the bat, to refresh and restore them.

But, get this. In chapter 16, they’re grumbling again!

“The entire Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by pots of meat and ate all the bread we wanted. Instead, you brought us into this wilderness to make this whole assembly die of hunger!” – Exodus 16:2-3 (HCSB)

Hmmm… Pots of meat and all the bread you wanted? Let’s backtrack real quick and see if that’s what slavery in Egypt really looked like.

“Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and powerful than we are. Let us deal shrewdly with them; otherwise they will multiply further, and if war breaks out, they may join our enemies fight against us, and leave the country.” So the Egyptians assigned taskmasters over the Israelites to oppress them with forced labor. They built Pithom and Rameses as supply cities for Pharaoh. But the more they oppressed them, the more they multiplied and spread so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. They worked the Israelites ruthlessly and made their lives bitter with difficult labor in brick and mortar and in all kinds of fieldwork. They ruthlessly imposed all this work on them.” — Exodus 1:9-14 (HSCB)


That doesn’t sound like an all-you-can-eat Indian buffet with pots of butter chicken masala and unlimited naan to me.

But then again, how often do we look back and reflect on the “glory days” of the past – remembering seasons that may not have been all that glamorous for being the “time of our lives”? This attitude feeds our growing discontentment for the season we are currently in, blinding us to the miracles God is doing and the goodness He is showering us with.

God, rich in mercy and slow to anger, provides for the Israelites. They never go hungry again because of “manna” – this miracle bread that rained down from Heaven. But the Israelites quickly grew tired of this wonder, too, and wanted meat. (I’m guessing my food blog would not have done very well with them, cause these guys were definitely not pro-vegan). Be careful what you ask for cause God gave them quail and they ate it until it came out of their nostrils (Num 11:20).


And in the chapters to come we see that God protects and provides for them moment after moment, despite the Israelites’ constant moping, grumbling, and forgetting their God. And, if I read my Bible correctly, that pillar of cloud & pillar of fire is still with them every day. How are they forgetting something that’s right in their face??? Then again, I have to give these guys grace because how often have I chosen to throw a two-year-old temper tantrum with God while He is showering me with His grace & love?

Some of the highlights include God making water flow from a rock after they complain about thirst (Exodus 17), healing and protecting them from deadly snake bites when they look at the bronze snake on the cross (Num 21:9), and their clothes not wearing out even after decades (Deut 29:5). I love the reason God gives for this.

“I led you 40 years in the wilderness; your clothes and the sandals on your feet did not wear out; you did not eat bread or dink wine or beer – so that you might know that I am Yahweh your God.” – Deutoronomy 29:5-6 (HCSB)


“As all the people saw the pillar of cloud remaining at the entrance to the tent, they would stand up, then bow in worship, each one at the door of his tent. The Lord spoke with Moses face to face, just as a man speaks with his friend. The Moses would return to the camp, but his assistant, the young man Joshua son of Nun, would not leave the inside of the tent.” – Exodus 33:10-11 (HCSB)

Yup. There’s that pillar of cloud again.

But besides that, look at Joshua. He was a man captivated with the presence of God. He longed for it so much so that he didn’t want to leave. And I wonder if there’s a direct correlation to that fact and the fact that he was the new leader that led Israel into the Promised Land.

He was the leader of the giant slayers because He knew who his God was. He had seen God provide and protect for His people throughout their time in the desert, and He took recognition that there was something special that He needed in the presence of the Lord.

And might I just add, that in Luke 4:1 we see that even Jesus – full of the Holy Spirit – was led into the desert. And in verse 14, after being spent, hungry, and having withstood temptation, He came out of the desert in the POWER of the Holy Spirit. Jesus had been equipped in the desert.

So instead of complaining about my circumstances and everything I’m not seeing going my way, I’ve challenged myself to get before the presence of the Lord and ask Him to open my eyes to the things He is doing. I’ve decided to worship Him for who He is – good – and not what He does, even though that, too, is good. I just don’t always recognize it when I’m wandering around in the valley.

Now I don’t do this well 100% of the time. I am most definitely still a work in progress. And in the posts to come I will share a little bit more about the ups and downs of my raw, real process. But recognizing that this desert season has set me up to encounter God like I’ve never before is sustaining me through the heat and dry. I know I’m being formed here so that I can be equipped to slay my giants and invade my Promised Land in the next season of my life.

And I know the Lord is extending that invitation to you, too.

“Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” – Hebrews 10:23 (HCSB)

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