I am sure all of us are familiar with the Story of Job. You know, the story where all hell came against a guy who love the Lord. Yet, after the storm hit, Job stood strong and faithful to the Lord. However, there came a time (as a matter of fact, it was in chapter 14) when Job started considering how frail human life really is. From the words he used, it becomes clear that he didn’t have a clear assurance of the life to come. Now we shouldn’t be too critical of Job because many of us don’t don’t yet have clear understanding. But in Job’s mind, the “land of the shadow of death” is apparently a “land of thick darkness, as darkness itself . . . anyone that goes down to the grave will never come up again.” Friends, those are the shores many have walked . . .
You see, all of his life Job had walked with his God and had experienced His blessings, but now, through his affliction, he would learn what he never was able to learn in his prosperity.
Oh, don’t throw stones at me, for that. Ecclesiastes 7:3 says, “sorrow is better than laughter, [Why?] for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better and gains gladness,” that “sadness has a refining influence on us” (Living Bible). Paul wrote, “For God sometimes uses sorrow in our lives to help us turn away from sin and seek eternal life. We should never regret His sending it” (II Corinthians 7:10).
Now granted, it’s unfortunate that this “refining influence” can’t be found in our times of peace and prosperity. However, as we draw closer to our Lord, we discover that the realities of His Kingdom will only be unveiled to us when the love of everything this world has to offer has been stripped from our grasp.
Purifying fire and times of crisis will cause us to get things out of our lives that we didn’t even realize were in there.
Let me illustrate this: Pretend you just created a vase out of clay, then placed it into a kiln to harden. The extreme pressure caused by the heat hardens and purifies the clay. Any foreign substances in the clay, like a piece of straw or dirt, will cause the clay to expand and explode, marring the vase. So it is with our lives.
If there are any impurities in our lives, the stress of adversity will force them to the surface and if we don’t deal with then, will, I believe, destroy our testimony and cause anger to rise against our Father. Yes, I am sad to say, many are in the faith for selfish reasons. And, given the correct situation, will run away and deny Him.
That is why Scripture tells us that sorrow will teach us lessons that laughter never could. It has been said that there can be no Pentecost without first experiencing a Calvary. There can be no Canaan without first going through the Wilderness.
Yeah, some have argued with me that the wilderness experience of the Israelites wasn’t at all necessary. Their argument says that the reason the people of God had to spend that time wandering around in the desert was because of their own sin, that it wasn’t God’s desire or plan.
This may be true, although, the scripture also says, “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine Country, although that was shorter. For God said, ‘if they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.’ So God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea” (Exodus 13: 17-18).
So evidently, even before the people of Israel sinned and had to wander for 40 years in the wilderness, the Lord already knew something about them. He knew that they weren’t ready to go right into the Promised Land. It has been said that it took one day for God to take Israel out of Egypt, but it took 40 years to take Egypt out of Israel.
Moses told them to remember how the Lord led them in the desert for 40 years, “to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He gave you manna to eat in the desert, something your fathers had never known, to humble you and test you, to do you good in the end” (Deuteronomy 8:2-5, 16).
Clearly, God’s purpose for the wilderness journey was for training, for discipline, for instruction. God was acting as a father to provide for His people. Part of His provision was to bring His children through the wilderness.
I assure you that our God does indeed have a purpose and He is bringing us into the land of promise. However, when we get there, we have to be mature enough to accept the responsibilities and privileges of that inheritance. He has to lead us through a process of growth, of training, of instruction, so that we will not only be brought out of Egypt, but that Egypt would be brought out of us.
Granted, the actual number of years wandering around was indeed punishment for sin. The Israelites could have gone into the Promised Land much sooner if they had only submitted to His training. But there was still something in the plan of God that involved a journey in going through the wilderness.
One way or another all of us have to go through a wilderness of our own, and the length of time that it takes will vary depending on our response to His leading and instruction. The most important thing to remember is that His purpose is to do us good in the end.
So often what we may desire is not what the Lord wants to give us. Look, it is not because He is a mean stepfather who wants to take away all the dreams and desires of his children. No, He actually has something that is better for us. Yet, we cannot see that any more than a screaming child who has been denied something he desires, can see the long-term benefits of the present denial.
This exhortation by Moses was motivated by the fact that the people of God were missing the food they had back in Egypt. There were actually a lot of things that they didn’t miss, but what they could remember were the fresh, crisp vegetables, the juicy watermelons, tart onions, fish, Domino’s Pizza and Taco Bell. But now, here they were, out in this wasted wilderness, supposedly on their way to some “Promised Land” which didn’t seem to be anywhere nearby, and all they had to eat was something called manna.
Now, this gives us another of those great moments in Bible history that we learn about in our childhood days of Sunday School: the raining down of Manna from heaven. But, wouldn’t you know it, there was much more to this episode than simply providing food that God supplied. There is some important instruction being laid out here. That’s right, God was going to put them on trial. So let‘s look at this . . .
Three million Israelites were hungry. They had left Egypt almost 2 months before, and their food supply is running out. They went to Moses and don‘t ask him what they could do. No, they want to know why he brought them out into the desert wilderness just to die from starvation. (Those ungrateful wretches!)
So, Moses takes this complaint to God and the Lord responds by telling the Hebrews that He was going to feed them by raining Butternut down from Heaven. Now, the Hebrew word used here is lechem. But, lechem means “bread,” but it also is a general word meaning food. Just like the old fashioned term “breaking bread together” literally meant taking a loaf of bread and breaking, or cutting, it and sharing it, it most often simply meant to eat a meal together.
The Hebrew word used here gives us the impression that it really can‘t be defined — think of it as whatcha-ma-call-it . . . In other words, they looked at that stuff and said, “what in the world is this?” Now can you imagine eating the same thing every meal, day after day, and not even knowing what it is? I mean I often eat the same thing for breakfast several days in a row, but the same thing for every meal? Every day? Yuck!
Moses was saying that they had to remember all that. Then explains why: “To humble you, to test you, and to discover whether or not it was in your heart to keep his commandments.”
So, here they are out in the desert, for forty years, looking for the land that flowed with milk and honey and all they could see were the sand-which-is here. (Say it fast and you will catch the pun . . . get it? –you may groan now).
What I am saying is that your struggles and trials — the hardships and “suffering” — is simply a time of training and exactly what the Lord is up to in our wilderness. Maybe it is a wilderness of loneliness, or singleness. Maybe it is a debilitating case of depression. Possibly, a wilderness of working in a job you don’t like or a wilderness of missionary work that is just plain hard work instead of the glamor you expected. Whatever it is, is it for nothing? NO! It is to humble you, to test you, and to discover whether your heart is set on obedience and if you will be able to find contentment even in turmoil. That is why Paul was able to declare, “I’ve learned to be content in whatever situation I’m in. I know how to live in poverty or prosperity. No matter what the situation, I’ve learned the secret of how to live when I’m full or when I’m hungry, when I have too much or when I have too little. I can go through any experience through Christ, who strengthens me!” (Philippians 4:11-13) Have you?
My encouragement to you is to stand strong during your time of “testing.” Call out to your Father and don’t rest until He answers you! Pursue His wisdom and guidance and support as you would a buried treasure — make whatever sacrifices that are needed. Throw aside every hindrance to find the light of Righteousness and Liberty!
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