Ancient Desert Sojourns: Environmental Implications @ the National Level

Abstract

Historically, deserts have served to distinguish the essential from the superfluous. Therefore, a desert experience has been an excellent lens with which to focus on what really matters and to learn what may be impossible to learn in more stable environments. The desert experience of the ancient Hebrews, as they journeyed from Egypt, land of slavery, to Canaan, land of promise, embodied a number of timeless spiritual truths in the context of an environmental framework where priorities became crystal clear. Three elements of this framework will be presented here as we examine the Jewish people, liberated in a land "that was not sown." First, the desert environment revealed the reality of God. While the portrait of God painted on the sandy canvas of the Sinai Peninsula was incomplete, it served well to reacquaint this wayward people with their Lord. Second, the way in which the Israelites were sustained pictures a specific attribute of God, that of provider. He actively met the needs of His chosen people as a loving father meets the needs of his children. God provided everything from food and water for physical survival to discipline and guidance for healthy spiritual and emotional growth. Finally, their desert experience illustrated that disobeying God caused environmental disaster. The desert they crossed sustained life when the Israelites trusted God but failed to do so when they disobeyed Him. Through the physical experience of wandering in the wilderness, the Hebrews learned a spiritual lesson of faith and saw how their corporate faith affected the quality of the natural environment for the entire nation. This timeless lesson, if applied today would result in significant environmental improvement worldwide.

Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ. But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness.

Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it. I Corinthians 10:1-5,11-13

Nature of the Desert - Nature of Life Apart from God

Deserts are dry. But there is much more to a desert than a lack of moisture. They are complex places characterized by extreme aridity, hot temperatures, high winds, and horrendous levels of solar radiation. Deserts have traditionally been considered dangerous, the haunts of criminals and grotesque creatures.

In spite of these consistent characteristics, scientists have been unable to come up with a standard definition of a desert. According to the Encyclopædia Britannica Online, these varied environments defy a "concise definition that satisfies every case." Intellectual understanding of the desert is a challenge but the emotional response to crossing the desert is typically biased against the experience. Yet, some people intentionally seek out the desert for peace, personal renewal, and to pursue a closer relationship with God.

The Bible paints a fascinating portrait of the birth and development of a nation as it crossed the desert. Scholars have long studied how the desert influenced the Jewish people. McGinn (1994) and Norris (1933) present how intimate was the relationship between the Hebrews and the land during their wilderness wanderings. Contrary to the views of some historians, this relationship fostered a "profound respect" and "almost reverence" for the land (Johnston 1990). Some have gone so far as to say that the desert experience of Israel in some respects parallels the very creation of the universe in its meaning and significance for this peculiar people of God (Propp 1985, Lees 1909). According to Bergant (1993), "the whole of biblical history could be told from the perspective of wilderness." It began with the call of God on Abraham to wander in the wilderness and it extends to the present day.

The Israelites may have respected the desert landscape but their attitude appears to have been motivated more from fear than love. According to Williams (1962) and Janzen (1987), the desert was often associated with death and the presence of demons. Due to the importance of water for survival, biblical texts refer to water more than any other single attribute of the desert. A lack of water causes landscapes to be barren and lifeless (Anderson 1959, Schaff 1888). The scarcity of surface water in the Holy Land had a number of significant implications for the Israelites, economically as well as spiritually (Ngan 1991). Great effort and ingenuity were utilized to secure reliable water once they began to settle in localized communities. Jerusalem is one of the better examples of successful water works in this region during the biblical period (McCabe 1875). Cisterns, fountains, and aqueducts were utilized to provide the holy city with an adequate supply of water throughout its history.

Surviving in the desert for an extended period of time fostered the development of spiritual insight, as a simple dependence on God took root early in the life of Israel (Harel 1963 and Darr 1984). Spiritual growth was not retarded by a life of hardship in the desert. Rather, it was able to flourish. This has led some to conclude that crossing the desert was an ideal time in the relationship between God and the Israelites (Bernstein 1998, Fox 1973, and Seale 1974). Others, however, reject any notion of a positive perspective on the desert experience by the ancient Hebrews. Greenspahn (1973), for example finds "no evidence of a positive attitude towards the desert period." The extremely harsh conditions were considered anything but positive as the Israelites faced death from dehydration or starvation at every turn. Like their desert neighbors they viewed the desert as hostile, a land bereft of all comfort, and a place of judgment (Riemann 1964, Cahill 1998, and Grundmann 1995). Regardless of how the Israelites viewed the desert while crossing it, the harsh conditions they endured, influenced their cultural and spiritual identity for generations to come (Hareuveni 1991, Wright 1987, and Grundmann 1995).

God Revealed in the Desert Experience

Any creation says something about its creator. Therefore, nature, God's handiwork, offers valuable insight into the heart and mind of God. However, creation's story is incomplete and inadequate (Yancey 1995). Like any message, its clarity is subject to audience interpretation. We can also discover a great deal about God by listening to what He has said about Himself. Our words reveal much about who we are. The same is true of God. The Bible, God's word, like nature, God's creation, are inseparable and indispensable messages from God, given that we might know Him as He really is.

The fact that God cannot be seen does not mean that He cannot be known. He consistently reveals Himself through His word and through His creation. Isaac Watts, Father of Christian Hymnody, reflected on this dual strategy of God to make Himself known with his hymn, "The Heavens Declare Thy Glory Lord," based upon Psalm 19, "The Works and Words of God." This psalm perfectly pictures God's message to humanity through His creation as well as through His word, the Bible. In order to more readily disseminate the Bible's teaching of what God is like, Watts used music as an instructional aid among the illiterate parishioners of his day.

Due to varying levels of literacy, teachers throughout the ages have utilized singing to get their message across. Simple, yet profound truths are easily learned by singing them. Unknown to most environmentalists as well as Bible toting church goers, is the fact that several ancient, as well as modern songs, sung in church week by week echo the extensive environmental message found on the pages of Scripture (Johnson 2000, Appendix D). Understanding God solely through creation or solely through the Bible would be like reading a richly illustrated text by looking only at the pictures or only at the words. Either reading would be lacking something, great beauty or essential details. Therefore, in order to fully understand God, it is important to examine everything He has communicated about Himself, in the context of our own lives.

The Heavens Declare Thy Glory Lord

The heavens declare Thy glory Lord
In every star Thy wisdom shines
But when our eyes behold Thy word
We read Thy name in fairer lines
The rolling sun the changing light
And nights and days Thy power confess
But the blest volume Thou hast writ
Reveals Thy justice and Thy grace
Sun, moon, and stars convey Thy praise
Round the whole earth and never stand
So when Thy truth began its race
It touched and glanced on every land
Nor shall Thy spreading gospel rest
Till through the world Thy truth has run
Till Christ has all the nations blest
That see the light or feel the sun

Isaac Watts (c1700)

Psalm 19

1 The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. 2 Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. 3 There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. 4 Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun, 5 Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race. 6 His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof. 7 The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. 8 The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. 9 The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. 10 More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. 11 Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward. 12 Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults. 13 Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression. 14 Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.

Individual perceptions of God vary widely depending on personal experience. At one moment we may view God as a judge, when under the conviction of the Holy Spirit. At yet another time, we may see Him as our Savior, as we experience the freedom of His forgiveness. The Bible paints a dynamic portrait of God with colorful words such as Heavenly Father, Consuming Fire, Refuge, Light, Love, and so on (Appendix Desert-A). Nature too, especially the desert, contributes to this vocabulary in some unexpected and miraculous ways. Trained by desert hardships to experience the truth of God can turn the most unlikely "desert rat" into a true prophet of God such as with Moses, Amos, Job, David, or John the Baptist (Day 1931). Desert life simplifies a person's perception of God to the smallest common denominator. God is real.

Miracles

The miraculous is variously defined as an "extremely outstanding event" (Webster), a "stupendous manifestation of God's power" (Halley's Bible Handbook), "works of a supernatural origin and character such as could not be produced by natural agents and means" (Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words), and a "marvelous event" (Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary). Each makes a distinction between the common place and the uncommon. However, anyone with a child-like sense of wonder could associate the simplest, most common event with the miraculous work of God. Events such as a desert downpour, a lone flower blooming in a dry sandy streambed, a bird on the wing, or a shooting star streaming across a dark desert sky have the potential to stir up a mysterious sense of awe described as a miracle.

The desert crossing of the ancient Hebrews sheds a great deal of light on the nature of God and the interaction between God, people, and the natural environment. God miraculously intervened in nature and in human affairs throughout the biblical narrative (Johnson 2000). Miracles associated with Moses and the Exodus period were especially frequent. They include the well known accounts of the burning bush (Exodus 3:3), the ten plagues upon Egypt (Exodus 7-12), and the parting of the Red Sea (Exodus 14). Additionally, wooden staffs were changed into serpents (Exodus 4:3-4, 30 and Exodus 7:8-10), the hand of Moses was made leprous (Exodus 4:6-7, 30), and a pillar of cloud/fire guided the desert travelers day and night. (Exodus 13 and 14).

The Sinai Desert was an extremely different environment from what the Israelites had known in Egypt. As the desert crossing stripped away the comforts of settled life, the experience of "nothingness" began to penetrate their lives, resulting in a radically different perspective on how they related to God and the natural world. The miracle of simply staying alive took on immediate significance. Here bitter waters were made sweet (Exodus 15:25), water came forth from a rock (Exodus 17 and Numbers 20), bread and meat rained down from heaven (Exodus 16 and Numbers 11), and a bronze serpent provided healing (Numbers 21:9). Not all the miracles recorded in the desert crossing were considered beneficial, however. Numerous desert miracles also expressed divine judgement, such as the destruction of Korah.

And Moses said, Hereby ye shall know that the LORD hath sent me to do all these works; for I have not done them of mine own mind. If these men die the common death of all men, or if they be visited after the visitation of all men; then the LORD hath not sent me. But if the LORD make a new thing, and the earth open her mouth, and swallow them up, with all that appertain unto them, and they go down quick into the pit; then ye shall understand that these men have provoked the LORD. And it came to pass, as he had made an end of speaking all these words, that the ground clave asunder that was under them: And the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods. Numbers 16:28-32

Perhaps the most important miracle in the Bible was the gift of life when death had made its call. Presenting each of these events is outside the scope of this discussion (Appendix Desert-B), however, the bodily resurrection of the dead is clearly taught, in both Old and New Testaments, as the miraculous work of God. The miracle over death, whether God intervened to sustain life in the desert or to raise the dead, each miracle had the same purpose, to make God known (Exodus 10:1-2, and John 11:42). In spite of God's efforts to reveal Himself through miracles, Jesus repeatedly warned the religious elite of His day that miracles alone would not reveal God to the observers of the miraculous event. Faith would have to be exercised on our part with or without the miraculous working of God (Luke 11:29-32, 16:19-31 and John 12:36b-38).

Nature is a road sign pointing to its Creator (Ray 1717b). Though not a dominant theme in Scripture, this idea is consistently seen and is especially well developed in the New Testament where any number of natural elements serve to illustrate the reality of God (Johnson 2000 section 7). For example, sheep illustrate that people occupy a special place in the heart of God as sheep occupy a special place in the heart of a shepherd.

The Good Shepherd and His Sheep

One of the most interesting pictures of God seen in the desert crossing of the ancient Hebrews is that of a Shepherd (Deterding 1981). The Israelites had no idea where to go. In order to get where they needed to be, where food and water could be found, they had to follow God's guiding hand. The relationship between God and the Hebrews is pictured as that between a shepherd and his sheep throughout Scripture. The prophet Isaiah proclaimed that "All we like sheep have gone astray..." (Isaiah 53:6). One of the best loved Psalms pictures the Lord as our personal Shepherd (Psalm 23). And the Lord Jesus described himself as the "Good Shepherd" (John 10:14), seeking His sheep when they go astray (Luke 15:1-7).

Desert crossings and wilderness wanderings have changed little over the past several thousand years. Regardless of the form of desert (spiritual, physical, etc.), or the people who traverse them, both have remained essentially the same. Philip (1986) offers innumerable evidence from the Scriptures that the pattern of human behavior, in response to the desert recorded so long ago, bears striking resemblance to contemporary events. For example, he takes a favorite children's story, Balaam's talking donkey which took place during the Israelite's desert wanderings, and identifies a number of principles that play out daily in the lives of so many facing similar circumstances. First, he observes the deceitfulness of the human heart where individuals, Balaam in this case, allow their view of God's will to be colored by their own ideas. Second, he suggests that the donkey represents the suffering of the innocent brought about by those who are at odds with God. Third, he reminds us of the power of sin over our perception of spiritual realities. Finally, he sees that our determination to do things our way, rather than God's way, is fraught with complication, embarrassment, and even danger to life. In addition to a timeless commentary on human behavior, he finds here a rich source of material illustrating the abundant mercy of God towards those who need it the most. Who needs mercy more than someone facing a tough stretch of prolonged desert wandering?

Sermon on the Mount and the Provision of God

God's love for each individual is repeatedly affirmed throughout Scripture (John 3:16-17). Some have even referred to the Bible as God's love letter to humanity. However, the message of God's love, as given in nature, has frequently been misunderstood. In fact, the lesson taught in some pulpits is that God's love for people is not evident through nature. However, within the context of nature in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says yes, God does love you.

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. Matthew 5:44-45

God consistently demonstrates His love for us through the environment by providing for our daily needs for food and shelter (Deuteronomy 10:18). This extends to the spiritual dimension as Christ Himself becomes our life sustaining bread (John 6:35), because people do not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. This is pictured well by a parent bird feeding its young - mouth to mouth. The young bird accepts all that it is given. So too with God's children, as the Lord seeks to spiritually nourish them with His every word (Psalm 81:10).

All the commandments which I command thee this day shall ye observe to do, that ye may live, and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the LORD sware unto your fathers. And thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no. And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live. Thy raiment waxed not old upon thee, neither did thy foot swell, these forty years. Thou shalt also consider in thine heart, that, as a man chasteneth his son, so the LORD thy God chasteneth thee. Deuteronomy 8:1-5

The Exodus and desert wanderings taught the ancient Hebrews to depend directly upon God for their needs. The desert environment clarified the connection between God, as provider, and child of God, as recipient. It was not possible to confuse anything else for God, since there were no intervening channels of provision - no farmers, no trucking networks, no markets, and no grocery store chains. Food and water came to the Israelites directly from the hand of God.

Then said the LORD unto Moses, Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or no. Exodus 16:4

Take the rod, and gather thou the assembly together, thou, and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth his water, and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock: so thou shalt give the congregation and their beasts drink. Numbers 20:8

A profitable exercise would be to search for illustrations of the spiritual reality of God in nature, such as with the sand dollar, passion flower, praying mantis, grapevine, or metamorphosis of a butterfly. At the heart of Isaac Watts' great hymn, "I Sing the Mighty Power of God," lies the message of God's provision and at its conclusion is the proclamation that all of nature reveals the reality of God.

I Sing the Mighty Power of God

I sing the might pow'r of God That made the mountains rise That spread the flowing seas abroad And built the lofty skies I sing the wisdom that ordained The sun to rule the day The moon shines full at His command And all the stars obey

I sing the goodness of the Lord That filled the earth with food He formed the creatures with His word And then pronounced them good Lord, how Thy wonders are displayed Where I turn my eye If I survey the ground I tread Or gaze upon the sky

There's not a plant or flower below But makes Thy glories known And clouds arise and tempests blow By order from Thy throne While all that borrows life from Thee Is ever in Thy care And ev'rywhere that man can be Thou God art present there

Isaac Watts c1700

It became evident to the ancient Hebrews that God was their provider as there was so little food and water naturally available. Every drop of water and each morsel of food was brought about by the miraculous hand of God. The concept of God providing for even the smallest of needs would quickly become part of your everyday thinking under such circumstances (Anderson 1959). The notion of God as provider is a dominant theme from one end of the English Bible to the other (Johnson 2000 section 3). The theology which developed within this geographical backdrop was one of total dependence on God (Bergant 1993). Beyond the horizon death loomed. Their experience was not a matter of receiving more or fewer blessings. Apart from God's ever present intervention, they would have no way to stay alive (Grundmann 1995). Though the ancient climate in the region of the desert wanderings may have been wetter than present day circumstances, the supplies of food and water as described in the desert narrative is nothing short of supernatural (Schaff 1888).

Environmental Consequences of Our Response to God

No biblically-based environmental principle is as important as the fact that our relationship with God has a direct relationship to environmental quality. This theme is especially well developed in the Old Testament (Johnson 2000 section 8). The environmental extremes of the Sinai Peninsula were frequently used by God to discipline the Israelites as they marched toward the Promised Land. Lacking technological sophistication such as centralized heating/cooling, worldwide communication and transportation networks, chemical fertilizers, and powerful earth-moving equipment, the ancient Hebrews were immediately impacted by any sort of environmental fluctuations. God's use of the environment to discipline His 21st century children has yet to overcome our technological ability to "fix" the problem rather than turn our hearts toward God for help. In fact, we have looked everywhere but "up" to solve our present environmental problems. However, if isolated problems such as desertification in Africa become more widespread, or if worldwide problems such as global warming intensify, spiritual solutions may become more appealing as technological solutions fail to make any substantive difference.

We have sought scientific and technical solutions to the "environmental crisis" of the latter 20th century, ignoring the spiritual dimension to the problem. Lynn White was exactly wrong in 1967, fixing the blame for the environmental crisis of his day on the Christian faith. He was right, however, in suggesting that religion rather than science should play a key role in developing a real pollution solution to this crisis. A couple of desert examples serve to illustrate this point.

The consequence of speaking against God, as well as His chosen leader, in route from Egypt to Canaan led to a severe imbalance in biodiversity, causing an explosion in the local population of poisonous snakes. The solution to this problem did not include the introduction of a predatory species to control the snake population. The solution did not involve habitat modification or a trapping/relocation plan. The Hebrews were quick to realize the ultimate solution did not lie with the visible environment but with the invisible God of the environment. God's solution was not to adjust the snake population nor their habitat, but to reestablish the faith relationship that had been broken with His people.

And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread. And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. Numbers 21:5-6

The pollution solution is not dilution as taught in college but contrition, according to the Bible (Figure 1). The pollution solution for the 21st century, or any age for that matter, is a right relationship with the God of the Bible, the Creator, not His creation. This right relationship is rooted in love and expressed through obedience (Leviticus 26:3-13, (Leviticus 26:14-43).

Figure 1: Relationship - Spiritual / Environmental Quality


And it shall come to pass, if ye shall hearken diligently unto my commandments which I command you this day, to love the LORD your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, That I will give you the rain of your land in his due season, the first rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil. And I will send grass in thy fields for thy cattle, that thou mayest eat and be full. Take heed to yourselves, that your heart be not deceived, and ye turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them; And then the LORD's wrath be kindled against you, and he shut up the heaven, that there be no rain, and that the land yield not her fruit; and lest ye perish quickly from off the good land which the LORD giveth you. Deuteronomy 11:13-17

In the end, God makes it clear that the land is good. It was good when He created it. But its goodness is not guaranteed. It is dependent upon the quality of our relationship with God. If that relationship deteriorates, so too will the land, to the point that the land itself will vomit up its inhabitants.

24 Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things: for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out before you: 25 And the land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants. 26 Ye shall therefore keep my statutes and my judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations; neither any of your own nation, nor any stranger that sojourneth among you: 27 (For all these abominations have the men of the land done, which were before you, and the land is defiled;) 28 That the land spue not you out also, when ye defile it, as it spued out the nations that were before you. Leviticus 18:24-28

This is not to say that rebellion against God is the only reason for environmental problems. Human ignorance and Satan himself may also be directly involved. In fact, the devil is implicated in both the Old Testament (Isaiah 14, especially verses 17 and 20) as well as the New Testament (Revelation 12:12-16 and Revelation 13, especially verse 13). While environmental problems occasionally foster a closer relationship with God throughout Scripture, environmental conditions ultimately fail to lead the masses back to God (Revelation 6:16, 9:20-21, and 16:9-11, 21). However, love and mercy consistently yield better results.

One of the most often over-looked attributes of God during the desert wanderings was that of His gracious love and mercy (Fox 1973 and Darr 1984). God considered annihilating the Israelites on more than one occasion in the desert for their transgressions. However, He always exercised mercy with discipline to preserve a remnant in order to fulfill His ultimate goal of redeeming the world through the Jews.

Looking Back: Later Biblical Commentary on the Desert Experience

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. Psalm 106:13-15

So often we seem to forget the good and remember the bad. Impatient with God, we go astray. Self-centered, we seek that which we want rather than being satisfied with what we have. One of the most painful lessons of any desert traveler is to learn to focus on what really matters to avoid the dissatisfaction associated with distractions, such as a mirage. Unfortunately, those things which so often capture our attention in the deserts of life, are not as good as that which God really desires for us to have - Himself.

Go and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith the LORD; I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown. Jeremiah 2:2

God too, has a selective memory but His focus is on the positive. Even though the period of desert wanderings was full of wickedness and rebellion by the Hebrew people, God calls to mind that young love between Himself and His bride as He freed her from slavery under a foreign oppressor.

But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness: they walked not in my statutes, and they despised my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them; and my sabbaths they greatly polluted: then I said, I would pour out my fury upon them in the wilderness, to consume them. But I wrought for my name's sake, that it should not be polluted before the heathen, in whose sight I brought them out. Ezekiel 20:13-14

Blessed assurance, God can't violate His own nature! He has a reputation of faithfulness to maintain in spite of the lack of faithfulness we demonstrate.

I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your fathers as the first ripe in the fig tree at her first time: but they went to Baalpeor, and separated themselves unto that shame; and their abominations were according as they loved. Hosea 9:10

Becoming like that which you love suggests that we ought to exercise great caution with the selection of any object of affection. Starting out pure, it is a tragedy to see how far we can fall into the most shameful activities. God calls us to a life of separation unto Him, not apart from Him. But the choice is ours.

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. John 3:14-17

The most well known and often quoted verse of Scripture centers on the desert experience of the ancient Israelites. Though the event of the bronze serpent calls to mind a tragic example in the history of God's chosen people, Christ finds an expression of hope even in this sad story. Truly, this is God's specialty - turning sad situations and souls around from darkness to light. The difference between gazing at the serpent verses the Savior, is a matter of permanence. Trusting God by obediently gazing upon the bronze serpent merely delayed their physical death. Trusting God by obediently gazing upon the Savior permanently sets aside the power of death over the believer.

Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat. Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. John 6:31-35

The problem with satisfying physical hunger is that any individual so satisfied will sooner or later come back for more. Ultimate satisfaction for our deepest needs lies with the spiritual satisfaction of feeding on the Bread of Life.

Wherefore as the Holy Ghost saith, To day if ye will hear his voice, Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness: When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years. Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do alway err in their heart; and they have not known my ways. So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest. Hebrews 3:7-11

Desert life is a life under extremely harsh conditions, a life on the move. Desert travelers must be ever vigilant in their search for water, food, and shelter. Given the choice, anyone would choose to live under more favorable circumstances, where one could find rest from the endless search for the basic needs of life. Unfortunately, many have been wandering around for so long, searching in all the wrong places, they think that such searching is normal. Consequently, their hearts have become hardened, dull, and insensitive to God's voice, calling them home to rest - in a growing relationship with the living God. The choice is ours.

References, Resources & Readings

  1. Anderson, Robert T. (1959). The role of the desert in Israelite thought. The Journal of Bible and Religion 27: 41-44.
  2. Bergant, Dianne. (1993). The desert in biblical tradition. The Bible Today 31(3): 134-139.
  3. Bernstein, Ellen. (1998). Ecology and the Jewish spirit: where nature and the sacred meet. Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing.
  4. The BibleGateway (2001). Online. Available: http://bible.gospelcom.net/bible?language=english&version=KJV, 20 January 2001, 05:00am.
  5. Cahill, Thomas. (1998). The gifts of the Jews: how a tribe of desert nomads changed the way everyone thinks and feels. New York: Doubleday.
  6. Cody, Aelred. (1979). What the desert meant in ancient Israel. IN: Monasticism in Christianity and Other Religions. Rome: Gregorian University Press. pp.29-42.
  7. Darr, Katheryn Pfisterer. (1984). Breaking through the wilderness: references to the desert in exilic prophecy. Thesis, Vanderbilt University: Nashville, TN.
  8. Day, Richard Ellsworth. (1931). Heritage of glory is released through life in barren places, minister declares. Arizona Republic Sunday Morning 18 January.
  9. Desert. (2000). Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. Available http://www.eb.com 30 May 2000.
  10. Deterding, Paul E. (1981). Exodus motifs in first Peter. Concordia Journal 7(2): 58-65.
  11. Fenyvesi, Shamu. (1995). Friend to the desert owl: towards a Jewish environmental ethic. Thesis, University of Montana.
  12. Fox, Michael V. (1973). Jeremiah 2:2 and the "desert ideal." The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 35: 441-450.
  13. Goehring, James E. (1993). The encroaching desert: literary production and ascetic space in early Christian Egypt. Journal of Early Christian Studies 1(fall): 281-296.
  14. Göran, Eidevall. (1996). Grapes in the desert, metaphors, models, and themes in Hosea 4-14. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell International.
  15. Greenspahn, Frederick E. (1973). The desert in biblical religion. Thesis, Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion: Cincinnati, OH.
  16. Grundmann, Fred. (1995). Exodus by His mighty hand. Edited by Julene Grenant Dumit. Saint Louis: CPH.
  17. Harel, Menashe. (1963). Desert landscapes in Isaiah's prophecy. The Interpreter's Forum 17:319-323.
  18. Hareuveni, Nogah. (1991). Desert and shepherd in our biblical heritage. Translated by Helen Frenkley. Israel: Neot Kedumim.
  19. Harlow, R.E. (1974). Desert journey: studies in Numbers and Deuteronomy. Toronto, Canada: Everyday Publications Inc.
  20. Janzen, J. Gerald. (1987). Rivers in the desert of Abraham and Sarah and Zion (Isaiah 51:1-3). Hebrew Annual Review 10: 139-155.
  21. Johnson, William T. (2000). The Bible on environmental conservation: a 21st Century prescription. Electronic Green Journal 12 (Spring). Online. Available http://egj.lib.uidaho.edu/egj12/johnson1/index.html 4 August 2000.
  22. Johnston, Mark Warren. (1990). Edward Abbey's 'Desert Solitaire' its relationship to the Bible. Thesis, Regent College: Vancouver, BC.
  23. Jones, Larry Paul. (1995). A study of the symbol of water in the Gospel of John. Thesis, Vanderbilt University: Nashville, TN.
  24. Kleinig, John. (1983). The holy way, an exegetical study of Isaiah 35:1-10. Lutheran Theological Journal 17: 115-120.
  25. Lane, Belden C. (1993). Desert catechesis: the landscape and theology of early Christian monasticism. The Anglican Theological Review 75(3): 292-314.
  26. Lane, Belden C. (1994). Desert attentiveness, desert indifference: countercultural spirituality in the desert fathers and mothers. Cross Currents 44(summer): 193-206.
  27. Lees, G. Robinson. (1909). The witness of the wilderness: the Bedawin of the desert. London: Longmans, Green and Co.
  28. Lewis, Clive Staples. (1978). Miracles: How God intervenes in nature and human affairs. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company.
  29. Lockyer, Herbert. (1979). All the miracles of the Bible - the supernatural in scripture, its scope and significance. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
  30. McCabe, James D. (1875). Pathways of the Holy Land or Palestine and Syria, being a full description of those countries, their history, antiquities, inhabitants, and customs. Philadelphia: National Publishing Co.
  31. McConnaughhay, JoDee. (1999). Molly wants more! Cincinnati, OH: Standard Publishing, Co.
  32. McGinn, Bernard. (1994). Ocean and desert as symbols of mystical absorption in the Christian tradition. The Journal of Religion 74: 155-181.
  33. Murphy-O'Connor, Jerome. (1986). The Judean desert. IN: Early Judaism and its modern interpreters, edited by Robert A. Kraft and George W.E. Nicklesburg. Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press. pp. 119-156.
  34. Nave, Orville J. Revised by S. Maxwell Coder. (1974). Nave's topical Bible, a digest of the Holy Scriptures. Chicago: Moody Press.
  35. Ngan, Lai Ling Elizabeth. (1991). Water in ancient Israelite society during the period of the monarchy: substance and symbol. Thesis, Golden Gate Theological Seminary: San Francisco, CA.
  36. Norris, Beuford Abraham. (1933). The influence of the desert on the Old Testament literature. Thesis, Phillips University: Enid, OK.
  37. Philip, James. (1986). Numbers. IN: The communicator's commentary, edited by Lloyd J. Ogilvie. Waco, TX: Word Books, Publisher.
  38. Propp, William Henry. (1985). Water in the wilderness. Thesis, Harvard University: Cambridge, MA.
  39. Psenechnuk, Michael. (1970). Water in the Old and New Testament. Thesis, St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary.
  40. Ray, John. (1717a). The wisdom of God manifested in the works of the creation. Online. Available http://www.jri.org.uk/, 20 January 2001, 13:30.
  41. Ray, John. (1717b). The wisdom of God manifested in the works of the creation. New York: Garland Publishing Company.
  42. Rice, Gene. (1961). Egypt, the desert, and Canaan. The Journal of Religious Thought 18(1): 23-25.
  43. Riemann, Paul Alfonso. (1964). Desert and return to desert in the pre-exilic prophets. Thesis, Harvard University: Cambridge, MA.
  44. Robbins, Martha. (1981). The desert-mountain experience: the two face encounter with God. The Journal of Pastoral Care 35(1): 18-35.
  45. Schaeffer, Francis A. (1970). Pollution and the death of man, the Christian view of ecology. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.
  46. Schaff, Philip. (1888). Through Bible lands: notes of travel in Egypt, the desert, and Palestine with an essay on cryptology and the Bible. London: James Nisbet and Co.
  47. Seale, Morris S. (1974). The desert Bible, nomadic tribal cultural and Old Testament interpretation. New York: St. Martin's Press.
  48. Shreve, Forrest and Ira L. Wiggins. (1964). Vegetation and flora of the Sonoran Desert, volumes I & II. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
  49. Vivian, Tim. (1991). Mountain and desert: the geographies of early Coptic Monasticism. Coptic Church Review 12(1): 15-21.
  50. Wilkinson, Bruce. (2001). Secrets of the vine. Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers.
  51. Williams, George Huntston. (1962). Wilderness and paradise in Christian thought: the biblical experience of the desert in the history of Christianity and the paradise theme in the theological idea of the university. New York: Harper.
  52. Wright, John. (1987). Spirit and wilderness: the interplay of two motifs within the Hebrew Bible as a background to Mark 1:2-13. IN: Perspectives on language and text: essays and poems in honor of Francis I. Andersen's sixtieth birthday, July 28, 1985. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns. pp. 269-298.
  53. Yancey, Philip. (1995). Finding God in unexpected places. Nashville, TN: Moorings, Ballantine Publishing Group.

Appendices Desert-A (selected verses): According to the Bible, God is...

Appendix Desert-B: Miracles of the Bible

To view these appendices please visit the author's web site at
http://hislight-az.com/env/desert.html

Emerging Church Economics

There are too many errors in this book for unsophisticated readers. McLaren’s book has value only to readers who recognize the mistakes but are willing to learn about a position that springs from ideology and a theological framework. For me, the emerging church movement is enough to consider by itself without flawed economics intertwined

Mordecai Kaplan: Rethinking Judaism for the New World

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