July 17, 2023

Wilderness Essentials

A few years ago, I decided to go on a backpacking trip with some friends. I love hiking, and a backpacking trip is basically an extended hike where you carry camping gear with you and camp along the trail. On this type of trip, it is critical to be well prepared—you don’t want to end up stranded without necessary equipment. At the same time, there’s no room for unnecessary items since you must carry everything on your back. Having no prior backpacking experience myself, I signed up for a class called “Wilderness Essentials: Top 10.” It seemed like a good place to start.

The class went over the most important items for backpacking and how to take into account variables such as climate, terrain, and duration of the trip. It covered basic necessities like food, water, shelter, bedding, and clothing, and gave insight on common mishaps that can occur. We were given advice on first aid supplies, repair kits, maps, and other tools. I felt much more comfortable with the idea of backpacking after hearing from people who had experienced it before.

Even with that class and careful planning, my first trip was challenging. Our group intended to camp at three sites in a national park, but due to heavy rains, the second site was flooded out. Due to those same heavy rains, we got soaked to the bone on our first day of hiking! We spent twelve hours on a trail that should have taken half that time, and were freezing cold for most of those hours. That first day gave us a glimpse of how difficult the wilderness can be.

About a year later, I was reminded of that trip while reading Psalm 106, which describes another difficult wilderness experience. This was about the Children of Israel. Verses 8-11 recount how prior to entering the wilderness, God had miraculously delivered them from bondage in Egypt, parted the Red Sea before them, and then drowned their enemies in the same place. Verse 12 says, “Then believed they his words; they sang his praise.” Verses 13-15 were not what I was expecting to come next: “They soon forgat his works; they waited not for his counsel: but lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, and tempted God in the desert. And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul.” How disappointing. After such a great victory at the Red Sea, the Israelites encountered the difficulty of the wilderness and did not survive it. Joshua 5:4 tells us that entire generation perished in the wilderness.

The Israelites’ failure was not that they were lacking the right gear. The greatest challenge for them was spiritual in nature. God had promised to give them the land of Canaan as an inheritance, but they were not in Canaan yet. They needed to remain faithful until they received that promise, and the wilderness was what they had to pass through to get there. It was a physical depiction of their spiritual journey.

As God promised the land of Canaan to the Israelites, He has made many other promises to us. These include our Christian experiences, provision for daily needs, guidance, healing, an eternal home in Heaven, and more. However, those promises are not always fulfilled immediately. Sometimes we need to hold on in faith for a period until we receive, and that time of waiting can be considered a “spiritual wilderness.” It is a time when our faith is tested, and it can be very challenging.

To help us make it through a trial of faith, we can learn a lot from the Israelites’ experience. We might consider Psalm 106:13-14 to be our “Wilderness Essentials: Top 4.” These verses highlight four key lessons for wilderness survival.

They soon forgat his works;
They waited not for his counsel:
But lusted exceedingly in the wilderness,
and tempted God in the desert.

#1: Remember God’s works

About one month after the Israelites sang God’s praises for defeating their enemies at the Red Sea, they ran out of food. They said to Moses, “Ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (Exodus 16:3). They had seen God perform so many wonders in Egypt and at the Red Sea in order to set them free, yet they “soon forgat his works” and did not believe He would feed them.

This makes me wonder, how many times does God have to demonstrate His power before we stop doubting whether He will deliver in our current situation? How many times must He prove that He loves us before we stop questioning His care? We do not want God to have to teach us the same lessons over and over again; we want to go on to deeper truths. So if we find ourselves doubting God, perhaps what we need is a reminder of His works. This could mean simply rehearsing our own experience of salvation, reading the Bible and testimonies of others, or listening to inspiring music. God has done wonderful things in the past, and He is not done! Whatever it takes, we must not forget His works in the wilderness.

#2: Wait for His counsel

About two months into the Israelites’ journey, God called Moses up to Mount Sinai to give him the instructions for how to have a right relationship with God. The people did not realize that Moses would be gone forty days, and at some point during that time, they decided to stop waiting and forged their own way. They fashioned a calf out of gold and began worshiping it (see Exodus 32:1-6). It is tragic to realize that while God was imparting precious oracles of divinely revealed truth, they “waited not for his counsel” and chose to settle for a worthless, man-made idol instead.

In the midst of a trial, at times we may feel anxious and want to take matters into our own hands. However, without clear direction, the best course of action is not to move ahead of God in our planning and decisions, but to wait. If we need guidance from God and He is being silent, there is a reason for His silence. The Bible has plenty of instruction about what to do while we wait on Him: we can go to church, serve others, seek Him in prayer, study His Word, etc. Where we must be careful is making decisions that cannot be taken back. During trials, we are particularly susceptible to strong emotions that could cloud our judgment and lead us in a wrong direction. That is why it is critical, especially in the wilderness, to wait for God’s counsel.

#3: Be content

Despite their unbelief, when the Israelites lacked food, God graciously provided them with a substance called “manna.” It met all their nutritional needs, and an ample supply appeared fresh on the ground every morning. What a blessing!

The people appreciated the manna initially, but they soon began to take it for granted. Numbers 11:4-6 records, “And the mixt multitude that was among them fell a lusting: and the children of Israel also wept again, and said, Who shall give us flesh to eat? We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick: but now our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes . . . and the anger of the LORD was kindled greatly.” The Hebrew word translated lusting means “to wish for, covet, greatly desire; a longing.” The definition does not say that the thing desired is sinful, and indeed there is nothing sinful about fish, melons, or garlic. The problem is that an uncontrolled longing can lead to sin. In the case of the Israelites, their craving resulted in ingratitude and complaining. Psalm 106:15 tells us the result: “[God] gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul.”

God has promised to supply our needs, and He will. However, we must be prepared to go without some comforts. It wouldn’t be a wilderness if we were enjoying all the luxuries of life. For that reason, it will be essential to proactively practice contentment. We want to count every blessing and thank God for each one of them. Even in a wilderness, we will not run out of blessings to count, and doing so will help us guard against longing for something that is not God’s will for us.

#4: Do not tempt God

At the start of their journey, the Israelites went days without finding drinking water. Water is not a luxury item like cucumbers and melons; water is essential. Humans can only survive about three days without it, so we can imagine how the Israelites’ distress would have intensified with each passing day, especially those who had children to care for. On the third day, people began to murmur and complain. Then Moses cried out to God and He miraculously provided water for everyone.

About a month later, they were again without water. This time should have been less stressful since they knew God could undertake for them. Sadly, the people did nothing differently the second time around. They again murmured and complained, and Exodus 17:7 records, “. . . they tempted the LORD, saying, Is the LORD among us, or not?” The Hebrew word translated tempted means “to test; to attempt to prove or try.” The Israelites had seen God work mightily on their behalf, yet they still did not trust His character and questioned if He was even with them.

It is not a small thing to go days without water, and some trials we face in life are also not small. But, we have God with us! He has a solution for every problem. When we face a serious challenge, the enemy of our souls would like us to believe that God has abandoned us, forgotten us, or is allowing us to suffer excessively. Those are lies—we know from God’s Word that it is not possible for Him to do any of those things. How hurtful it must be to God when people turn against Him—the One who loves them most, has already done so much for them, and is ready to help them again. We want to seek God’s face, ask for His help, and cling to Him, but never tempt Him in the desert.

God will see us through

The Israelites’ failure was not inevitable. They could have entered Canaan if they would have trusted and obeyed God, and the next generation of Israelites did just that. We can also receive God’s promises because His Word is sure. There will be challenges along the way, but each can be overcome because God is faithful. As we await the fulfillment of His good promises, we can remember these lessons from the Israelites and determine to keep trusting and obeying the Lord. He knows the wilderness better than anyone, and He will take us through.

apostolic faith magazine