LESSONS IN THE WILDERNESS

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TEXT: Exodus 2:15–25; Deut. 32

INTRODUCTION:

You will remember that when Moses stepped out on his own to become the deliverer of Israel it was an unmitigated disaster. He ended up killing an Egyptian and then hiding his body in the sand. In his failure we saw how no matter how talented or educated we may be we can do nothing without God. We saw that we are capable of terrible things if we persist in our own ways. We discovered that hiding our wrongs does not erase them it only postpones its discovery. Verse 15 tells us that, “When Pharaoh heard of this matter, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh and dwelt in the land of Midian; and he sat down by a well.”

Fleeing to the land of Midian, Moses ended up at a well, to which the daughters of a priest of Midian have brought their father’s flocks. [The Midianites were also descendents of Abraham (through his second wife – Kethurah- Gen. 25:1-2) and may have remained worshipers of the true God.] We find the story beginning in verse 16, “Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters. And they came and drew water, and they filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. (17) Then the shepherds came and drove them away; but Moses stood up and helped them, and watered their flock.”

After traveling a long way across the desert wilderness Moses “sat down by a well.” While he is there the seven daughters of the priest of Midian came to water their father’s flock. As they began drawing water to fill the troughs some shepherds came and ran them off, intending to use the water that had already been drawn to water their own flocks.

Moses who noticed what was happening “stood up and helped them.” I like to think that words “stood up” have a double meaning, he not only stood to his feet but he stood up for and protected these young women. He “helped them” by running off the offending shepherds and he then helped them to water their flocks. Notice that the former prince of Egypt helped these women to water a flock of smelly sheep. Moses was already beginning to learn the lessons of servanthood.

The young women then returned to their home where the scripture says in verse 18, “When they came to Reuel (roo’-el) their father, he said, “How is it that you have come so soon today?” (19) And they said, “An Egyptian delivered us from the hand of the shepherds, and he also drew enough water for us and watered the flock.” (20) So he said to his daughters, “And where is he? Why is it that you have left the man? Call him, that he may eat bread.” Their father who is called Reuel (which means “friend of God”) is later called Jethro (3:1), one of names is probably the family name and the other is his title.

Jethro wants to know why they are back so early. They told him how “an Egyptian” (no doubt his speech and dress had led to this conclusion) had defended them from the shepherds and drew water for their flocks. Jethro responded by saying, “where is he? Why is it that you have left the man? Call him, that he may eat bread.” Their father gently chastised his daughters for not extending the hospitality of a meal to this stranger who had helped them. So the daughters go out to bring Moses to their father.
With the great economy Moses records how his chance encounter at the well resulted in a length stay in Midian, his marriage and the birth of his first son. According to verse 21, “Then Moses was content to live with the man, and he gave Zipporah his daughter to Moses. (22) And she bore him a son. He called his name Gershom, for he said, “I have been a stranger in a foreign land.”

Can you believe it? A man with an advanced knowledge of science, literature, and military tactics eking out an existence on the backside of the desert, living with his father-in-law, raising a couple of boys and watching over a flock of sheep that did not even belong to him.

Moses entered the desert at the age of forty and didn’t leave until he was eighty (Acts 7:30). So during what most people would have been considered by many as the most productive years of a person’s life – Moses tended sheep in what must have seemed like Hell’s backyard. He was a man who did not become productive for God until he was eighty years of age. According to the account in Acts 7 the life of Moses can be divided into three 40 year segments. The first forty years he was nursed by his mother and educated in the courts of the Pharaoh. The second forty years he spent in the desert taught by God and the final forty years he sent with the spend with the Hebrew people in the wilderness.

Dwight L. Moody phrased it this way, “Moses spent his first forty years thinking he was somebody. He spent his second forty years learning he was a nobody. He spent his forty years discovering what God can do with a nobody.” [as quoted by Charles Swindoll. Moses: A Man of Selfless Dedication. (Nashville: Word, 1999) p. 20]

Moses now enters into the second aspect of his schooling. “God’s School of the Desert,” or The Wilderness Experience…Perhaps you have taken some courses there too.

The desert is a place of desolation. Some people spend a few weeks in the wilderness. For others it is months. Moses walked this barren land for forty years.

Your wilderness experience may involve caring for an ailing family member over an extended time. For others your dry and desert time is a physical condition that does not improve. It could come in the form of an absent spouse or a rebellious child. It could be a thankless job or an unending routine. The desert can wear any number of faces. It can be crowded with people, yet lonely. Does God know? Yes! Does God care what you are going through? Yes! After all he is the one who allowed you to be there. His schooling includes some time in the wilderness, for it is there that he gets our attention.

Sometimes God has to take us to the barren wilderness places before he can teach us what we need to learn. When faced with time in the wilderness we are prone to offer one of three responses. The first is, “I don’t need it!” My spouse may need it, my sister may need it, my neighbor may need it, but I certainly do not need it.”

The second response is, “I’m tired of it.” No matter how long we may have been in a desert experience it seems too long. But Moses remained in the desert for forty years!!! Do you ever feel like saying, “Lord I weary to the point of death with this situation, this person, this circumstance. I feel trapped, and I have had it.” The response that God is waiting to hear is, “Here I am Lord what is that you want me to learn?” You will really never graduate from the school of the desert until you do.

1. GOD NEVER DOES ANYTHING WITHOUT A PURPOSE.

God put Moses through forty years in the wilderness and then had him turn right around and lead the children of Israel for forty more years in the desert. Moses had a forty year course of study of survival in the wilderness so that he would know how to lead a whole nation through a similar wilderness.

Why does God lead us through desert places? Moses himself tells us that it is in order that God can humble us, and test us, that the true condition of our heart might be revealed. It is not so that God can know us, he already does, it so that we can know ourselves. In Deuteronomy 8:2 says, “And you shall remember that the LORD your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.”

God taught Moses some important lessons in the desert that he could not have taught him anywhere else.

One of the most difficult questions at times like this is the question of why. Why did this have to happen now? Perhaps some of us have been taught that it is spiritually “taboo” to ask God why we must endure certain trials. Yet I am reminded that God is a loving and caring Father who does not abandon His children in their quest for understanding when the seasons of life suddenly and often abruptly change. Essentially Job asked why, and God gave an answer.

Brothers and sisters, I want us to know that God knows we have feelings. He knows that changing life circumstances often will elicit reactions from us, some good and some the result of the natural human inclination to find out why. Our God designed life to be experienced not in vacuum, but in an environment where He is the only real constant.

Our character is often sorely tested without warning; we are often at loss to even find words to describe our situation, so we sometimes shrug our shoulders and just say, “stuff happens”.   Sometimes we seek refuge in the port of human hurt when we question the unfairness of it all and just say with feeling – why me?

Given the inescapable fact that we must not only face trials in this life, or be in the wilderness experience, but also tackle all that comes with “going through”, it is easy to feel as if we are being treated unfairly. Many times we won’t say it out loud, but we feel like giving up…Despair leads to depression.

Yet I suggest to you today that God has created a built in purpose for each trial or wilderness experiences He allows in our lives. Even those that seem to hurt so much, even and especially for them, God has made a purpose.  God uses our trials as opportunities for us to embrace our moments of greatness, for us to learn even more in life…

The first thing that I want to consider is that God taught Moses how to deal with failure in his past,

  • God taught him how to deal with memories.   As Moses marched off into the desert his heart was heavy with regret. Have you ever been truly disappointed with yourself and your own actions? Have you ever felt that you messed things up so badly that you feel that it is hopeless? That you have whatever it is can never be straightened out. Well I believe that Moses felt that way about himself. He must have believed that God could not, would not ever use him again. God used the years in the wilderness to teach Moses how to forgive himself. And maybe today, God is just but teaching you to stop blaming yourself…to come out from the dark place of your life, that you’re telling to yourself that you’re a good for nothing guy…KUNG NAG-FAIL KA MAN NUON, TAPOS NA YUN…HINDI MO NA MAIBABALIK YUN…LAHAT NAMAN TAYO NAGFAIL, Don’t let yourself wallow in that defeat or failure…Can you imagine what the 40 years guiding the whole nation of Israel through the wilderness would have been like if Moses had not learn to first forgive himself so that could forgive others.
  • Second important thing that God taught Moses in the “School of the Desert…” He Was Building Moses’ Patience.

God is not at all concerned about your concept of time.  God is not limited by time. He has His own perfect plan and His own perfect timetable. Forty years in the desert taught Moses how to wait on God.

God allows our trials to build our ability to wait. Not to wait and complain, but to wait with the earnest expectation that the hope within us will be fulfilled. Why are some of us still going through, still in the wilderness experience? We simply have not learned how to wait.

The only way to a patient walk with God is to wait on Him. Yet we wait not in vain, for in reference to waiting, God has attached some promises to those who wait on Him:

  • Psalms 27:14 – Wait on the LORD; Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the LORD!
  • Psalms 37:9 – For evildoers shall be cut off; But those who wait on the LORD, They shall inherit the earth.
  • Psalms 37 34 – Wait on the LORD, And keep His way, And He shall exalt you to inherit the land; When the wicked are cut off, you shall see it.
  • Isaiah 40 31 – But those who wait on the LORD Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.

There is blessing in learning how to wait! IN WAITING, GOD IS TEACHING US HOW TO BE MATURED. God’s ultimate goal for man was to build a creature that was complete, and mature in his relationship with his Creator. He did not intend to build the whiny, feeling sorry for myself, some-timey or no-timey creatures we see in the mirror; but He wanted mature creatures who could choose to love Him, choose to love those around them, and choose to love themselves – NO MATTER WHAT!

How far we have deviated from God’s plan! Not only do we not demonstrate our love for God and others with a “no matter what attitude”, we don’t even love ourselves – no matter what!

When will we learn that God’s purpose is our maturity? Perhaps the reason we are going through is that we have a different purpose in mind. God says grow up, yet we desire to remain “Toys-R-Us” kids in reference to our spiritual lives… I don’t wanna grow up…God says patience is an indication of maturity, the more patience you have, the more mature you are in Christ. The spiritual babies are the ones who can never wait for anything…

  • Wilderness experience is also teaching us to humble ourselves before God…Trials and tribulations can be a test of our humility . The Lord humbles us by allowing us to go through seasons of trials and tribulations. The Lord wants us to have the mind of Christ who humbled Himself to take the form of a slave and became obedient even to the death of the cross. Such humility will bring great honour from the Lord. Trials and Tribulations will reveal the extent to which we are willing to humble ourselves.

Illustration:

She then gave a powerful illustration of her 2 year old son who doesn’t like to hold her hand in the parking lot.

“She said, ‘He either wants to run ahead or lie down and throw a tantrum. Sometimes, however, he will think it over and realize that he ought to hold on to my hand and walk at my pace and go where I lead him.’ Then she said, ‘that’s the way I am so often.  I either want to run ahead of God, or lie down and throw a tantrum. How much better it is to hold on to God’s hand and walk humbly.”

In order to survive the wilderness experience of this life we must hold onto God’s hand through prayer and worship and walk humbly with Him.

Brothers and sisters, in our wilderness experience, the purpose of God is not to change our situation, but to change us…to teach us important lessons in life that we can use to rise above our situations…

Illustration:

One time a preacher asked a little boy, “Sonny, who made you?” The little boy replied, “Well, to tell the truth I ain’t done yet.”

No child is done yet. In a sense, this is true for us all. We’re mature in some ways, but not in other ways.  God is at work in us, but He’s not done yet. Every person is a work in progress, slow as it might be.

2. GOD NEVER LEAVES US ALONE IN THE WILDERNESS.

In Deuteronomy 32, the Song of Moses, verses 10 we read, “He found him in a desert land And in the wasteland, a howling wilderness; He encircled him, He instructed him, He kept him as the apple of His eye.”

These verses can be personalized for use. The “He” in these verses is God. These verses would say to us today, “God found you in a desert land…God found you in a howling wilderness. God encircled you. He instructed you. And kept you as the apple of his eye (literally the pupil of his eye).”

When we find ourselves in a wilderness experience we feel that God has either abandoned us or that he does not care.

Neither of course is true. But before giving into feelings of abandonment we need to take a closer look at those verses in Deuteronomy 32. These verses tell us four things that God does for us. First, He encircles us. Second, He instructs or cares for us. Third, He guards us as the pupil of his eye. Have you ever thought of how protective you are of your eyes.  That is the point God shields us with the greatest of care. God has neither abandoned nor forsaken you.

God does not depend on our feelings for our awareness of Him. Christians today are far too experiential for their own good. We live in a sensual world and there is unending emphasis on feelings and appealing to the feelings. Unfortunately, Christians have fallen into this, with regard to relating to God. We are not to seek to experience God- we are to seek God. This is what scripture calls us to. This is what God calls us to.

The song has a good title, “Never Alone.” And in it, Barlow Girl echoes the words that we have all heard from the Bible. Words that are easy to read.  Somewhat believable. And yet often leave us still feeling void, forgotten and alone. The words can be found in Hebrews 13:5, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  They echo the words spoken to Joshua, “Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.”  And yet, ninety-two percent of the Christians on a survey 5 years ago admitted in a that feelings of loneliness are a major problem in their lives. Feeling all alone.

Although we may “feel” like we are alone in our wilderness experiences we are not. “Whether you have known it our not, felt it or not, even believed it or not, God has not taken His hand off your life….It is dry. It is lonely. You feel dismal and sad. But whatever your emotions may be telling you, the Bible says you not alone.[Charles Swindoll. Moses: A Man of Selfless Dedication. (Nashville: Word, 1999) pp. 76, 77]

3. GOD NEVER FORGETS HIS PROMISES.

Just based on what we have read thus far we might be tempted to think that the life of Moses ended in obscurity. But in spite of the appearances, God is very much at work as we see in the final verses of this chapter. In verse 23 we are told, “Now it happened in the process of time that the king of Egypt died. Then the children of Israel groaned because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry came up to God because of the bondage. It is highly probable that Moses hidden away in the wasteland of the Midian desert still heard about the plight of the Hebrew people. His heart must have ached to do something to help them but this time he did not go charging back he waited and he rested and relied on God.

Verse 24 tells us, “So God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. (25) And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God acknowledged them.

Humanly speaking it looks as if everything is working against Israel. But our text uses four verbs to record the depth of God’s response to the groaning and the cries of his people; “God heard…, God remembered…, God looked…, God acknowledged (was concerned).” The facts are that God is very informed, involved and intent upon fulfilling His promises and His purposes for Israel.

So the problem is not really about God…He never forgets…the bearing is in us…

Let me ask you tonight, do you have anyone in your life that you can absolutely trust all the time? I mean, that without any doubt, you know that person will be there for you in every circumstance to stand behind you. You know that person has your back at all times. I would hope that most of us has a person like that in our lives.

Now, the second part… If you have someone like that in your life, and I hope you do, are you willing to actually come to the place where you are willing to put that trust into action? Not just saying you trust but actively trusting!

How many of you remember your first time on an airplane? Tell me the truth; were you a little apprehensive about the ability of a thing so huge flying through the air? There is a story that goes like this:

Illustration: Uncle Oscar was apprehensive about his first airplane ride. His friends, eager to hear how it went, asked if he enjoyed the flight. “Well,” commented Uncle Oscar, “it wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be, but I’ll tell you this. I never did put all my weight down!”

Many Christians can relate to Uncle Oscar in their relationship with God. They are apprehensive when they first get on. They see that it works just fine, but they never put their full trust in Him. That creates a real dilemma. First, how can you ever come to the place of complete trust unless you make a conscious decision to do so? Second, if you haven’t placed all your trust in Him is it really trust?

Illustration:

In the greatest difficulties, in the heaviest trials, in the deepest poverty and necessities, God has never failed me:  the financial balance for the entire Inland China Mission yesterday was twenty five cents.  Praise the Lord!  Twenty-five cents…plus all the promises of God!

If we are taking hold of the promises of God, then we must realize that in order to survive our wilderness experience or receive a miracle from God one of the steps we must take is to trust this promises completely and without doubting.

In the life of the great missionary J. Hudson Taylor, he once said, “How many folks estimate difficulties in the light of their own resources and then attempt little and often fail in the little they attempt.  All God’s giants have been weak men and women who did great things for God because they counted on His faithfulness.”

God is the only one that has ALWAYS kept his promises. Man will fail in his words, even if he is the most sincere and honest and upright person, because he is finite. We may forget to do something that we promise, but God cannot forget. God never forgets! The only thing that God forgets is our sins!! He has thrown them into the deepest sea! But man is a liar. Man is unfaithful. How many here today have NEVER lied, please raise your hand? We have all lied; we have all been unfaithful, but NOT God!

CONCLUSION:

If you find yourself in “God’s School of the Desert” don’t despair. God has a purpose for you being there. God does not do anything without a purpose. God has some things that He wants you to learn. Could it be like Moses that you need to learn to deal with some memories of past failures, you need to learn to put them in the past? Perhaps you have received the forgiveness of God and of others but you have not forgiven yourself. You keep beating up yourself for past mistakes and shortcomings. It is time to put it in the past.

Remember that there are no short cuts through the wilderness time, it time to stop running from one dead end to another and wait until God moves you. It is here that you will learn things that you will not learn anywhere else.

3 thoughts on “LESSONS IN THE WILDERNESS

  1. maria felisa m delacruz

    pastor jhun,
    thankz po sa mga preaching nio…… actually po iam forwarding it to my husband and his anwering me its a big help for him. thanks din po kc its a big help for us specially in our relastionship ( long distance ) iam a full time housewife my husband (seaman).

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