“They are not just idle words (dâbâr ) for you—they are your life. By them you will live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess.” (Deut. 32:47)
I grew up mainly near Seattle where the landscape is green and lush (it is as wet there as they say it is). Our ministry began there but twelve years later, ministry moved us to beautiful Coeur d’Alene in North Idaho where we were surrounded by rugged, snow-capped mountains, endless forests of fir trees, and the clear-blue Coeur d’Alene lake. (Our home became the favorite vacation spot for family and friends!)
Then, unexpectedly, ministry moved us on…and we moved to the desert of Eastern Washington. People thought we were crazy. Most people are surprised that Washington has a desert area. In fact, we get less rainfall than in Phoenix, AZ. It’s hot and barren (except for the trees artificially planted here), and without the Columbia River, life here would be almost unsustainable.
Lent has been equated with the spiritual geography of the wilderness. In fact, Lent was patterned after Jesus’ experience in the barren wilderness, where Jesus was driven by the Spirit after his baptism in the Jordan River. The 40 days of Lent originate from the 40 days Jesus spent there in the wilderness.
No one likes or chooses the wilderness. It’s often described as a desert place where we feel abandoned, fearful, desperate, and, sometimes, where we think we are going to die. When we surprisingly find ourselves in the wilderness, our only thought is to just get through it as quickly as possible. No one wants to stay in the wilderness.
When we surprisingly find ourselves in the wilderness, our only thought is to just get through it as quickly as possible.
In the wilderness, our resources quickly dry up; there can be no end in sight; and hope dissipates more quickly than we think it should. Stay long enough, however, soon we will discover all we have is God. But come to find out, that is all you need.
The Old Testament Hebrew word for wilderness is “midair,” which has as its root word dâbâr. Significantly, dâbâr occurs 1,428 times in the Old Testament! Dâbâr, is most often translated “word” or “commandment.” It means, “to bring into order; to act, to lead, to guide, to rule.” This means God’s words and His commandments are not meant to be impersonal, burdensome, or bound to lifeless obligatory obedience.
More than simply a spoken or impersonal word, dâbâr reflects the relational, enlivening, and creative nature of God Himself. So, when God speaks, it is always a life-giving, personal, creative word or commandment; it is a guiding word that brings order to our lives!
“After this, the word (dâbâr ) of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward” (Gen. 15:1). Notice God’s personal word to Abraham. God brought assurance of His presence and a fulfillment of His promises. How much it must have enlivened and gladdened his soul!
“By the word (dâbâr ) of the LORD the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth” (Psm. 33:6). Just as God brought (acted) the heavens into a dynamic, creative order, he does so in our lives. In the wilderness, God thoughtfully orchestrates our lives beyond whatever we could imagine.
Thus, the desolate wilderness, in which we often find ourselves, could be literally described as a place where God restores and nourishes us and where we are made whole. This means our best resource in the wilderness is to listen to this personal, creative, and enlivening word. This kind of listening may be likened to turning toward someone in order to hear him or her better. It includes intentional, focused attention, and personal responsiveness to what we hear; responsiveness in acts of surrender, openness, and trust. In other words, when we listen and respond to God’s relational Word, it brings proper order to our lives and aligns us with God’s redemptive intent and purposes.
I guess I never thought of the wilderness as a place beaming with life; it was simply a place where I didn’t want to be. Come to find out, it’s the land of the speaking and where God is often most restoratively at work. (Or, perhaps, where we are most attentive.)
Come to find out, it’s the land of the speaking and where God is often most restoratively at work.
Just before the Israelites were to enter the Promised Land, Moses delivered to them a charge and a song from God (Deut. 31 and 32). Moses ends these words crafted by God in Deut. 32:47: “They are not just idle words (dâbâr ) for you—they are your life. By them you will live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess.”
The wilderness always requires a journey perhaps because pilgrimage is the point. It most assuredly is the place where you will hear words that help you find your way home.
The funny thing is…I love living in the desert. I have lived here for 26 years. Come to find out, the wilderness has a beauty all its own.
Are you in a wilderness place today? What does your wilderness feel like? What is your typical reaction to the wilderness?
What do you resonate with the most from today’s reading?
“This means our best resource in the wilderness is to listen to this personal, creative, and enlivening word.” Have you ever thought to yourself, “I just want to know what I am supposed to do! I wish someone would tell me what is most important!” Listening is a good place to start. Learning to listen, however, takes practice and intentionality. What can you do today to cultivate a listening heart?