In Deuteronomy chapter 1 we become well acquainted with the Israelites’ rebellion and disobedience against God. I remember reading some of the stories in Deuteronomy when I was in high school, and all I could think was how stupid the Israelites were. They had seen the mighty hand of God send plagues, part waters, and provide fire by night and clouds by day for the Israelites to be protected. What on earth could allow the Israelites to disobey? Yet they did, and they did so numerous times. Not only did they doubt God, but they actively rebelled against him. You read, “God said,” followed by, “But you did.” Does this sound familiar? I know it does for me. My heart is rebellious, and that is the problem. By nature and by nurture, I am sinful. I am inclined to rebel, “prone to leave the God I love.” And, while painful, God disciplines those he loves which brings me to an interesting place. In the middle of reading Deuteronomy 2, it hit me. I touched on this in an earlier blog. God did not abandon Israel. Israel abandoned God. God never left.
Then the LORD said to me, “You have been traveling around this mountain country long enough. Turn northward and command the people, ‘You are about to pass through the territory of your brothers, the people of Esau, who live in Seir; and they will be afraid of you. So be very careful. Do not contend with them, for I will not give you any of their land, no, not so much as for the sole of the foot to tread on, because I have given Mount Seir to Esau as a possession. (Deuteronomy 2:3-5)
Even in the midst of their disobedience and subsequent punishment, God was directing Israel, as the author always conducts the characters of his book, as if God is saying, “You will do this, because I have done this. I am the Author.” Could Israel have risen up against the people of Esau? God had already promised this land to Esau, and this speaks to the very character of God. When he promises, he delivers. When he appoints, he provides. God will not be outdone, or undone. He is just that: GOD. Meditate on this. Let it sink to the very fiber of your being. What are you worried about? If God promised it, he will deliver it. (Do not mistake this for so-called “name-it, claim-it” theology. There is no such thing. I can no more claim athletic ability or medical healing than I can claim that the man in the moon is my brother. Hogwash!)
This is not really where I want to camp, though. Read on:
You shall purchase food from them for money, that you may eat, and you shall also buy water from them for money, that you may drink. (Now pay attention!) For the LORD your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He knows your going through this great wilderness. These forty years the LORD your God has been with you. You have lacked nothing.
Now that is good! “For the LORD your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands…These forty years the LORD your God has been with you. You have lacked nothing.” Stop. Think about this truth. Even in the midst of your discipline, in the middle of your wilderness, in the middle of the silence of God, God has been with you. Wow. WOW! This attests to the great hope that we have in the One True God. He is with us. He knows our going out and our coming in. He knows our sleeping and our waking. He knows us, and he is with us. Remember that the Israelite’s wandering in the wilderness was God’s ordinance to bring them to full dependence upon him. Again, this speaks to the character God more than it does the value of his people. God’s people, we, are unfaithful, sinful, rebellious, and prone to wander. God is faithful, perfect, righteous, and steadfast. “These forty years…God has been with you.”
Perhaps you need to be reminded of this today. Maybe God has given you a direction, a dream, a desire but you are in the wilderness. And maybe you have been in the wilderness for a long time. “He knows your going through this great wilderness…God has been with you. You have lacked nothing.” You may not be where you thought you were going, or where you believe you will end up. You may be passing by Mount Seir and thinking, “That looks like a good land,” but God is saying, “Not this one. I have promised this to someone else. Keep going.” God has been with you.
I want you to notice something about this passage. Look at the word “your.” I had to read this line several times before it finally hit me. I kept thinking it was a typo. Your. The word should be “you’re” meaning you are. God knows YOU ARE going through the wilderness. But that is not what it says. It says your. “God knows YOUR going through this great wilderness.” It is personal. He knows YOUR path, YOUR wilderness, YOUR frustrations, YOUR praises, YOUR cries. He knows YOU. Oh yes, he knows you are, but more importantly he knows YOU. As you continue to pass by land after land, dream after dream being reminded, “Not this one. I have promised this land to someone else,” take courage knowing that he knows YOUR path, and has a land, a dream, a desire that is YOURS.
For forty years the Israelites wandered, and finally God showed them.
Rise up, set out on your journey and go over the Valley of the Arnon. Behold, I have given into your hand Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and his land. Begin to take possession, and contend with him in battle. This day I will begin to put the dread and fear of you on the peoples who are under the whole heaven, who shall hear the report of you and shall tremble and be in anguish because of you. (Deuteronomy 2:24-25)
God had a purpose for the wilderness – that Israel would be found utterly dependent upon God. Notice that the Israelites did nothing to take over the land. God told them, “I have given into your hand.” It is the appearance of self-fulfillment, but God was the provider. Not only this, God was the contender. “This day I will begin to put the dread and fear of you on the peoples.” God had already secured the victory, provided the land, and sealed the results. All Israel had to do was move. We will look more at this next time. Be encouraged. God has been with you. He knows YOUR going through this great wilderness. You have lacked nothing.
In the spring of 2006 I was nearing graduation from college. Life was about to change in a major way. No longer would I have the luxury of “working” for only 4 hours per day then returning home to play countless hours of video games and hang out with friends. This was tragic, of course! Not only was the schedule about to change, but so were my dreams. At the age of 14 I surrendered to ministry. At the time, I believed this meant I would be the pastor of a mega church in Suburbia, America. As time went by, my vision of ministry changed. By the time I graduated college, nearly eight years later, my vision of ministry as it began no longer existed. I began filling out an application to join a mission organization and was planning on heading to the Middle East or India upon graduating college. In April, though, I stopped filling out the application, but I still knew in my heart that missions – whatever that would look like – was my calling.
In May of that year I fell in love with the woman that would later become my wife. One of the things that drew us together was our commitment to ministry, and in particular – missions. As we grew together our commitment strengthened, culminating in my resignation from a youth ministry position in April 2008 to leave the comforts and confines of America and head to the mission field of post-Christian Europe. But God had not given us that land. For reasons beyond our control, we were not able to go, and thus, the beginning of our journey in the wilderness. (I wrote about this on a previous date. See Running.) The great thing about the wilderness is how God uses these times to draw us closer to himself. Now this did not happen in the beginning. In the beginning came frustration, anger, etc. But now, having been reminded of God’s faithfulness, comes the closeness. We have drawn, and continue to draw closer to God, because of his faithfulness – his character – because for all the days in the wilderness God has been with us. We still do not know where our land is, but we know we are going with the full confidence that God knows our going through this great wilderness, and that he has been with us.