We have been in the midst of a series this year called Hope Starts Here. When we go through hardships and difficulties, we need some hope. In this lesson we are going to look at how to have hope in the wilderness. Why did Israel have to go through the wilderness after their exodus from Egyptian slavery? When you look at a map you will see that the path of the wilderness is the longer way to go to the land of Canaan. God could have led them by the sea so that they could avoid the wilderness. But God did not lead them on the short path or the easier way. So why did God intentionally lead his people through the wilderness? Turn in your copies of God’s word to Deuteronomy 8 where Moses gives Israel the answer. The answer that Moses gives to the people of Israel is the same answer that God gives to us for why we must also go through the wilderness before entering the eternal promised land.
Why The Wilderness (8:2)
So why did Israel have to go through the wilderness? There are three answers that are given in Deuteronomy 8:2. First, God’s people have to go through the wilderness to be humbled. God allows us to go through difficulties, hardships, suffering, and loss in this life so that we would be humble. We need humility. Humility is necessary for spiritual success. Jesus opened his teaching with his sermon on the mount by declaring that the blessed people are those who are poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3). But humility does not come through prosperity and victory. Humility comes through hardship and loss. God tells Israel that they needed to be humbled. The wilderness is the place where self-reliance is exchanged for complete dependence on God. When you are in the wilderness you cannot rely on yourself. When you are in the wilderness you see that you do not have the power or the wisdom to take care of yourself. It is in the wilderness that we look for help. It is in the wilderness that we realize that only God can be the help we need.
Second, verse 2 tells us that we need the wilderness so that what is in our hearts will be revealed. Suffering shows who we are. Suffering reveals what is inside of us. Trials put who we are on display. We can fake faith when things are going well. But only when we are put through severe trials are we able to know who we really are. Faith is made real when life is hard.
Third, verse 2 also says that we need the wilderness because it shows if we will keep God’s commands or not. Keeping God’s commands are much more challenging when life is hard. Trials are asking if we will still obey the Lord when life does not go the way we want. Trials are seeing if we will still obey when we are going through painful times. You may remember Job’s wife having a response that essentially asked Job why he would still maintain his faith and integrity toward God. Just curse God and die (Job 2:9). Many stop obeying the Lord when they are suffering. The wilderness is intended to see if we will humble ourselves before the Lord. The wilderness is intended to see what is in our hearts. The wilderness is intended to see if we will obey when life is difficult.
Not An Accident (8:3-4)
Then Moses says something really important for us to consider regarding Israel’s time in the wilderness. Look at Deuteronomy 8:3. “He humbled you by letting you hunger.” Have you ever thought about this? Not only did God lead Israel into the wilderness but also made the wilderness hard for them. God let them hunger in the wilderness. We read about this in the account of Israel going through the wilderness. God let them hunger for a month in the wilderness before providing food. God let them be thirsty in the wilderness for days before providing them water. God brought Israel into those moments. This is what we see in the first two chapters of Job where we see God leading Job into the great life suffering that he would endure. Why did God lead Israel in places where there would be no food? Why did God lead Israel in places where there would be no water? Look at the rest of verse 3. “…that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”
God wanted Israel to learn that life is dependent on the word of the Lord. Have you thought about what this is teaching? We have a song that says this and we might have heard this. But what does this mean? Do we not need food to survive? Won’t our flesh die if we do not have food and water? What is God teaching? Please consider that Jesus quoted this statement when he was hungry in the wilderness and Satan was tempting him to sin (Matthew 4:4). What is God wanting Israel to understand?
God wanted them to know that they would live because of the words that came from God’s mouth. Israel’s life was not dependent on their ability to scavenge for food or figure out some way to catch water. Israel’s life was dependent on God’s word. What do I mean? God had told Israel that he would take them out of Egyptian slavery and take them to a land flowing with milk and honey, called the promised land. If God said that this was their outcome, then they knew that they could depend on God to sustain them while in the wilderness. This is what Jesus is saying. God’s word was not that the Christ would come to earth and die of hunger in the wilderness. God was going to be with the Christ and carry out his purposes through him. His life was not hanging in the balance on food but on the word of God. Therefore, Jesus showed his trust in God’s word to provide for him even though he was hungry in the wilderness.
This is what God wanted Israel to learn and what God wants us to learn. Our lives are dependent on God and not on ourselves. Our hope is not in what we do but in what God can do for us. God wanted them to rest their lives on him, not on themselves. God wants us to learn this while we are in the wilderness. You can depend on God. You have every reason to trust him with your life even though life is really hard.
When you look at verse 4 you see that this is God’s point because God says that he proved it to them. Your clothes did not wear out. Your feet did not swell. Your sandals did not wear out. You had manna in the wilderness. The Lord kept his word and cared for his people. God proved himself to Israel. God puts us in the wilderness to prove himself to us. Has God proved it to you? Look back over your life in the wilderness and consider how many times God has been faithful to you. Consider how many times God has helped you in your suffering and pain. Consider how many difficulties have been overcome because God has been with you and helped you.
What You Need In The Wilderness (8:5)
Look at verse 5 because God tells us what he wants us to know through our time in the wilderness. Know that just as a parent disciplines a child, so the Lord your God disciplines you. Now it is important that we do not miss what God is saying. We often think of discipline only in terms of negative punishment. But that is not the only way to understand the word in English, nor in the Hebrew. Discipline is often pictured in the scriptures as training and instruction. In fact, even when we think of discipline as negative punishment, the purpose is for training and instruction. What God is saying to us is that we need the time in the wilderness so that we will be instructed, corrected, and trained in the way of the Lord.
God teaches us in our difficulties. This is an important message for us to consider while in the wilderness. God is teaching us. This is what James and Peter are saying about trials. James says that endurance is being produced in us when we are in trials. Peter says that our faith is being made genuine and purified when we are in trials. God’s point is that he is teaching us, refining us, and training us in righteousness.
What To Do In The Wilderness (8:6-10)
So what are we supposed to do while we are in the wilderness? Look at verse 6. Keep the commandments of the Lord by walking in his ways and fearing him. Why should we obey while in the wilderness? Look at verses 7-10. Walk in his ways and fear him because he will bringing you into that good land that he promised. What is Moses’ point? Moses’ point is that your time in the wilderness is temporary and God is bringing you to all that has been promised. You will not be in the wilderness forever. You are going to the land God has promised. Moses’ answer is the same answer that the apostle Paul gave.
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:16–18 ESV)
Your time in the wilderness is not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. But notice what else Paul said. We must suffer with Christ so that we can be glorified with him. In other words, we need the wilderness. We need the wilderness to humble us. We need the wilderness to reveal our hearts. We need the wilderness to see if we will obey the Lord. We need the wilderness to learn that God is all we need. We need the wilderness to instruct us, correct us, and train us. So we follow Jesus while in the wilderness and learn from Israel’s failure.
Israel’s failure is an important point that Paul makes in 1 Corinthians 10:1-13. Paul warns that we cannot do what Israel did while they were in the wilderness. What did they do? Paul says that Israel desired evil (1 Corinthians 10:6). They desired evil and indulged their flesh because things were hard. Is this not something we do? Our way to mute our pain in this world is to sin. We will indulge in our desires because we are having a hard time. God says do not do that because that is the path of failure. We are not learning what God wants us to learn when we do this. Do not turn to sin. Turn to God and let God prove his love toward you.
What else did Israel do in the wilderness? Paul says that Israel complained (1 Corinthians 10:9). We criticize Israel for complaining about their hardships in the wilderness because they have left their slavery and are on their way to the promised land. How can you complain? You were in slavery! You are on the way to the promised land! I know it is the wilderness but it is temporary. Think about the promised land! But that is the same message for us. Do not complain and do not desire evil. You have left the slavery of sin and you are on your way to the eternal promised land.
Friends, the wilderness is exhausting. The wilderness is painful. The wilderness is just hard. But here is hope: the wilderness is worth it and the wilderness is needed so that we can enter the glory to be revealed. Let the wilderness humble you. Let the wilderness reveal your heart and your faith. Look for God’s instruction and put your hope in the glory to come.