Devotion: The Wilderness Years
Updated: May 19, 2020
I will be your God throughout your lifetime—until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you.
---- Isaiah 46v4-6
All through the Old and Tew Testament, men and women rose before the people of the Lord in remembrance of times when God fulfilled the covenant he made to rescue and protect them. In Deuteronomy 2, Moses, leader of Israel, stood before the Israelites with a commandment. The Lord was calling them "to turn and take journey in the direction of the Red Sea so that they might enter and take possession of the land he had promised them (v1)." But the people were afraid. Redirecting to the Red Sea felt like returning to the uncertainty and bondage of a past life; their fear led them to forget the covenant God had made with their forefather, a covenant from which they had been born. In this moment of wavering, Moses called them to remember God's enduring faithfulness:
Do not be in dread. The Lord your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your own eyes, and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the Lord your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to arrive at this place.'
God sought safe places for the Israelites to pitch their tents. He guided them in fire by night and clouds by day as he called them towards a promised land where they would find rest and stability (v33). The Almighty had already and would continue to equip them with the strength (and faith) to walk in his divine, abundant plan, no matter how dangerous the direction might have seemed.
In Acts 7, an apostle named Stephen (a man of grace and power, 6v8) also reminded the early Christians of this passover protection. His fellow believers were frightened, uncertain of what would befall them under Rome's oppression. But Stephen admonished them. He asked them to reflect on the truth: they had already been rescued from bondage. Many of the early Christians (and religious leaders) greatly cherished this story. Around tables decked with a Seder feast, they would have gathered to recount its miraculousness, praising: Baruch atah Adonai eloheynu, melech ha’olam. Blessed are you, O Lord our God, king of the universe.
In the Exodus, God met his people where they were. He plagued the land, led them out of slavery, split the Red Sea, provided manna from heaven, water from earth. When the Israelites faced cruel attacks from the enemies around them, God delivered them. His loyalty worked in mysterious, miraculous ways. In Exodus 17:15-16, after a battle against the fierce Amalekites, the Bible says that "Moses built an altar and called it The Lord is My Banner." Even so, the Israelites were in continuous need of rescue. They were in a flight of survival against earthly principalities.
But God's plan from the beginning was rescue his people from supernatural evils. To draw them from sin, call them forgiven and guide them towards a promised eternity. In Acts 7, Steven asked the people to reflect on times when God rescued their ancestors from slavery in the Old Testament as well as mediate on Jesus' sacrifice. How his sacrifice on the cross rescued them from the dominion of darkness and drew them towards his Son, in whom everlasting redemption and forgiveness is found (Colossians 1v13-14).
Even unto his death, Stephen held steadfast to his faith, believing in the Messiah's promise of restoration-----not in the momentary or physical, but the eternal and spiritual. Although God works miraculously in both the momentary and physical, Jesus's sacrifice on the cross fulfilled the Law (Matthew 5v17) and created for us a new covenant. The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, in 31v33, records:
This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel aafter that time, declares the Lord. I will put My law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people.
In Luke 22v20, at the Passover celebration, Jesus lifted the cup and said to his disciples:
This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is poured out for you.
This act was significant because the cup of wine represents the redemption of Israelites from slavery under the Egyptians. Traditionally, a fifth cup is reserved for the prophet Elijah in hope that he will visit, and represents future redemption. Jesus' new covenant supports the old (as the original). In Hebrews 9v14-15, the apostle Paul writes:
How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemish to God, cleanse our consciences from acts the lead to death so that we may serve the living God? For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance. He has died as a ransom to set them free from sins committed under the first covenant.
These verses emphasise the nature of God, who faithfully keep and complete his promises. Like Moses, Stephen and Paul, I pray that we become believers who remember and remind one another of this truth, especially in moments of wilderness, doubt or wandering. In Romans 8:37-39, Paul writes:
We are more than conquerors through Him who loves us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
In Exodus, the Israelites were afraid of the route God was taking them to reach the promised land. In Acts, the early Christians were also afraid. Their lives were wrought with uncertainty, loneliness and persecution following the death and resurrection of Jesus from the cross.
My friends, maybe we share in this? Maybe our days feel weighted with anxiety over different, valid concerns: health, university assessments, family members across the world, job security, the list continues.
Like men and women from the New and Old Testament, I pray that we will rise with courage to remind one another of this moment (when hope and assurance found us in the covenant above): We live in love. God's eternal, restorative love.