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Sometimes God’s deliverance feels like abandonment.

When you read the story of the Exodus, the people of Israel have barely left Egypt before they start complaining about the situation into which God has led them. After 400 years of slavery in an oppressive, pagan, foreign country, God finally frees his people. Yet at the first sign of struggle, they would voluntarily put their shackles back on than journey into uncertainty.

I love the sarcasm of the Israelites when they complain to Moses:

“Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt?”
— (Exodus‬ ‭14:11‬ ‭ESV)

This is exactly the kind of lip I find myself giving to God when he places me in a position where more faith is required. You see, most of us would trade the slavery we can predict for the freedom we can’t yet see. We fall back continually into the same traps because there is comfort in the familiar, but God rewards those who walk in the hope of what is yet to be revealed.

Most of us would trade the slavery we can predict for the freedom we can't yet see. #Faith Click To Tweet

To be saved from a difficult situation can feel like exile because the distance between Slavery and the Promised Land is the wilderness journey of faith and struggle. The heroes of our faith from Abraham to Elijah to David to Paul, all voluntarily journey into the wilderness after leaving oppression in order to be the beneficiaries of Divine provision.

In the wilderness, no one can boast of their possessions. In the wilderness, no one can lean solely on their grit to survive. In the wilderness, passive knowledge about God transforms into active reliance upon his promises. The wilderness puts a spotlight on our true condition: lost, alone, and defenseless apart from the grace and power of Jesus.

The distance between Slavery and the Promised Land is the wilderness journey of faith and struggle. Click To Tweet

When life is “normal” or when things are going well, we believe that our efforts are making things happen for us, and that our hustle and dedication are working for us peace and success. This is slave speak.

To believe that your hard work can earn you a moment’s peace is a rejection of God’s promise to provide rest to the weary, by grace alone.

God takes the Israelites into the wilderness to teach them this lesson: your hard work will not provide any salvation for you.

Take a look at how Moses responds to the people:

“And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.””
‭‭– Exodus‬ ‭14:13-14‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Did you catch that? The Israelites believe that salvation from death would come through their work as Egyptian slaves. God says that their salvation comes from the work that He will do, they “have only to be silent.”

This reminds me of when Elijah goes up to Mount Sinai to pray for the destruction of the idolators in Israel. He keeps expecting God to show up in some grand way, but God’s presence comes to him in a “still, small voice.” The Hebrew term here could just as easily be translated as “the sound of silence.”

This is the call of the wilderness: Be silent.

And in the silence you will hear the voice of the One who will fight for you, the One who will feed you with manna, the One who will part seas at the opportune moment, and the One who always makes himself visible–even if by cloud or fire.

Yes, the wilderness looks like punishment, but it’s actually blessing. It feels like exile, but it’s God’s embrace.

Leader, pastor, friend, do not fear the wilderness. Lean into the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. The wilderness is where we wean our pride, grow in faith, and discover grace on our way to the Promised Land.

The wilderness is where we wean our pride, grow in faith, and discover grace on our way to the Promised Land. Click To Tweet