Saturday, May 26, 2018

The Significance of 'Wilderness' in the Bible

Today, we see the wilderness as a challenge; a part of the great outdoors in which families can vacation or test themselves against untamed creation. The Scriptures, however, paint a vastly different picture. In both the Hebrew and Greek translations, the wilderness is a desert, a ruin, a place of desolation or abandonment. In the Gospel of Luke, the term figured prominently in Luke with reference to John the Baptist and Jesus (1:80; 3:4; 4:1; 4:42). While primarily describing a geographical place, it is also used metaphorically. Some of these ways include the following:
  • It is a place of testing: there the Israelites wandered and were exiled; there Jesus was tested by Satan.
  • It is a place of judgment for disobedience, as in the stories of Adam and Eve, Hagar, the Israelite wanderings, and the harlot in Revelation.
  • It is a dangerous place in an unprofitable wasteland. There the shepherd finds the lost lamb, the demoniac wanders, and dangers abound for both body and soul. Satan roams there as a hungry lion devouring the unsuspecting and weak. Confusion and destruction fit the image of the barren land where evil and the curse prevail.
  • It is a place of revelation where the divine Name is disclosed to Moses at the burning bush and at the giving of the law. It is there that Paul received instruction in Arabia.
  • It is a place of humbling, as with Israel in her wanderings.
  • It is a place of refuge to which Elijah and David fled and Jesus retreated for solace.
  • It is a place of solitude for prayer. Jesus knew it as a place where nothing separated Him from the Father, where He found quiet from the demands of His ministry.
  • It is a place to receive God’s providential blessings, as in manna, the pillar of cloud, the crossing of the Red Sea, Elijah’s feeding by the raven, and angels ministering to Jesus. It is where dependence upon God is heightened, and He displays His readiness to act on behalf of His people.
  • It is most importantly, the place from which salvation comes. From the wilderness, Israel enters the Promised Land; from exile the Israelites return again to Jerusalem; and as the forerunner of Christ, John the Baptist, calls Israel to cross over the Jordan to be baptized and return again to Israel—a symbol of repentance and restoration. There the wilderness represents new beginnings in the ongoing work of salvation.