I led you forty years in the wilderness; your clothes and the sandals on your feet did not wear out… (Deuteronomy 29:5, CSB)
I had to throw away my favorite sandals this week, and I’m now going to dress in sackcloth and ashes for a few days. They were the perfect solution to my innate desire to be barefoot at all times in those situations where it is not socially acceptable to be so (and when my $2.99 black Old Navy flip-flops weren’t quite dressy enough). These sandals had been my companion for almost 10 years, which is pretty impressive for a pair of sandals that got regular wear.
As I got out of my car the other day, my right sandal felt weird. I started to walk and realized the back was flapping around, as if my foot had come out. Upon closer examination, however, I realized that it was time to say goodbye to my faithful footwear. It was the end of an era. But maybe, just maybe, it was a signal that my time in the Wilderness may be coming to an end…
When God rescued Israel from slavery and Egypt, He led them to safety in a place we Christians have come to associate with desolation, waiting, deep need, and even punishment. But a closer examination of their circumstances teaches us no such thing about those times God sends us into the Wilderness.
Initially, the Wilderness was a place of safety – far from Pharaoh’s grasp. As they stepped foot into the Sinai Desert in Arabia, they were officially free for the first time in 400 years. For the first time, they could breathe, rest, and worship. In the Wilderness, in those first days of freedom, God gave them water and food. He gave them His presence and permission to do nothing for a while after centuries of working every single day. The Wilderness was the first Sabbath for God’s people.
After the people had taken a few naps, the Wilderness became a classroom. In the Wilderness, God gave the people His Law, provided His leaders, and moved in with them into the Tabernacle. The Wilderness next provided a place to regroup as a people, to learn how to live in freedom, and it taught them about the God who had been caring for them all along.
The Wilderness was a place of blessing.
It wasn’t until Israel rebelled against God – a lot – that the Wilderness became a place of punishment. Because of their rebellion, the Wilderness brought plagues, fire from Heaven, sinkholes, and snakes. (See Numbers 11, 14, 16, and 21 for a sampling of Israel’s rebellion and God’s responses. It’s not pretty…)
But even then, even in those painful circumstances, God was with His people, feeding them, making sure they had water, and, keeping their sandals together.
I’ve been in the Wilderness for a long time, and until just recently when I was studying Exodus and reading Numbers, I kept begging God to let me out, let me go back to my life, to rescue me. But now I know, the Wilderness I’m in is a place of safety, of rest, of regrouping, of learning, and of worship. With this change in perspective, I have learned to enjoy this Wilderness time, to make the most of it, and to trust even more in the God who provides.
My favorite sandals, now broken and unwearable give me hope that it may soon be time to pack up my tent for good and head on over to the Promised Land God chose for me before He even said, “Let there be light”. (See Ephesians 1 for a powerful reminder of who you are in God’s sight!)
If you’re in the Wilderness, let me encourage you to take a close look at your surroundings. Is God providing for you? Is God giving you rest? Is God teaching you new things? Are you finding yourself worshipping Him more, trusting Him more, and learning more? I hope so, but if you’ve been viewing your time in the Wilderness as punishment, you may want to talk that over with God. It may be true, but the purpose of the Wilderness was never punishment.
Wilderness times are meant to heal and prepare us, not to hurt us.
How have you usually viewed your own Wilderness times? What do you need in order to see those times as a gift instead of a punishment? Where can I get a new pair of cute, “barely there” sandals? 😉