Return to the Wilderness

Luke 4:1-14

Pause with me for a minute and picture the biblical Wilderness.

Now clear that image and picture the biblical Promised Land.

When I picture the Promised Land, I envision Canaan – modern Israel – the Land of Milk and Honey. When I picture the Wilderness, I envision parched landscape, the desert hills east of the Holy Land.

How quickly I forget my Biblical Geography (Jack Beck would be disappointed in me). Yes, the Israelites exited Egypt destined for Mount Sinai – almost due east of Egypt. They then wandered “in the Wilderness.” This is the Paran Wilderness and the Zin Wilderness in the Sinai Peninsula, both well south of what I consider the Promised Land. They then headed north through Edom and Moab east of the Jordan River arriving at Mount Nebo. Some consider this area to also be outside the Promised Land, but other definitions would include the northern regions as within the Promised Land.

This, however, completely disregards the Judean Wilderness which lies east of Jerusalem, but west of the Dead Sea, Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee. This region is smack in the Promised Land by anyone’s definition. When King David fled Absalom’s pursuit, he fled into the Judean Wilderness. When Jesus was tempted by the devil in the Wilderness, it was most likely in the Judean Wilderness. When he agonizingly prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, the Judean Wilderness beckoned just down the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives.

“So what?” you ask. “What is the relevance?”

I am suddenly struck that in Biblical Geography, wilderness exists within the Promised Land. When standing inside the walls of Jerusalem, wilderness lies (quite literally) just over the next hill. I want to live in a land of milk and honey where flowers bloom and grapes ripen; void of weeds or rocks or wilderness. But when God delivered his Chosen People to their Promised Land, there was still wilderness, wilderness with a purpose. Wilderness within the Land of Promise, interwoven. When I find myself in times of travail, I need only remember that although I am confronted with these wilderness experiences, I have not left the land of God’s promises.

I know that wherever I travel, be it wilderness or plenty, God will go with me and I pray the fruit of the Spirit will bloom.

Strength for the journey,