I have often heard it said that God allowed Israel to wander in the wilderness to teach them to trust him. I’ve also heard it said that his goal was to get Egypt/the ways of the Egyptians (aka worldliness) out of them. But I think the overall point of their journey is much simpler than that.
Jesus said: “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”
Israel assumed that once they got to the promised land life would finally be comfortable. They had known slavery and suffering in Egypt so it’s not surprising that they craved freedom and comfort. It must have been bewildering when their journey wasn’t as easy as they thought it would be and disappointing when they realized that they, once again, had to depend on someone else for their provision.
A daily dose of manna was the last thing a people craving independence and abundance wanted. I understand their sentiment: if the God who created the universe is able to provide all we need why does he force us to ask him for provision every day? That mentality may as well be: why can’t he just provide for us and let us live our lives in abundance (aka leave us alone)?
That’s it. Right there. The fall of humanity started with the desire for independence—life without restraint, no inherent need for God or anyone else for that matter. But contrary to what we crave, we were not meant to be alone. Our cravings often lead to destruction and Israel discovered that over and over again.
I’ve come to the conclusion (after experiencing my own wilderness journey) that God was continually trying to show Israel that if they were not satisfied with him in the wilderness they would not be satisfied with him in the land of promise. There is no provision great enough to satisfy, no peace without the actual presence of God. Adam and Eve discovered this the hard way. They had everything they needed, there wasn’t a reason to ask for more. But provision wasn’t the craving: it was independence.
When we read the Hebrew Scriptures we see this pattern over and over again. When we look at our own lives, we will probably see it, too. Always a drive to “arrive” at a place of satisfaction and rest on this side of eternity. But that’s not what we’ve been promised.
It’s been quite healing for me to come to this conclusion—to realize that my wilderness/desert journey has not been for nothing, I have been provided for the entire time, and that the Lord himself has been my guide and strength through it all. Coming to an understanding that a true relationship with God is my core purpose in life has helped and continues to help me process when I grieve, experience disappointment, or find myself baffled by unexpected disruptions.
If you’re walking through desert/wilderness and are battle-weary, longing for peace and abundance and rest, remember: He is the promise. He is your peace. He is the abundant life you crave. He is your rest. You don’t have to wait for someday you can have all of that now, even if your current situation doesn’t change. If you’re grieving, suffering, or anxious, remember, he is near. He is your promise. He is enough. And if he isn’t yet, he wants to be.
“For the scripture says, ‘Everything who believes in him will not be disappointed.’” Romans 10:11