The Role of the Wilderness .... Bob Moore

A wilderness is a place separate from civilization. Sparsely populated, it requires those living there to survive without much aid from others. Uncultivated, it produces little food. Sometimes it contains almost no water. Even when resources are abundant, life there is harsh, lonely and painful.

When Jesus entered the wilderness, the devil tempted him. Three times Satan invited the Master to subvert his appointed mission. He asked our Lord to appease his hunger, worship his antagonist, and endanger his life. In like manner, the Hebrews were tempted while they sojourned in the wilderness. David described their migration by saying, "in the day of temptation in the wilderness" (Psalms 95:8). In that desolate place the Israelites complained about the food they had to eat, demanding better, fashioned idols to worship, and refused to enter the promised land.

When God created Adam and Eve, He placed them in a garden, which supplied all their needs. After their transgression God cast them out into a hostile land full of thorns and thistles. Alone there, they endured the temptations of the devil and suffered the consequences of their sin. This made the world God created, which had been a place of delight, a place of hardship. It became a wilderness, withholding the living waters of salvation and yielding little spiritual nourishment.

Lucifer changed the world into a desolate place. Isaiah said of him: "That made the world a wilderness" (Isaiah 14:17). Its physical isolation and hardships underscore its spiritual separation and difficulties. Those born into the world are separated from God, the source of their eternal life and joy. During their journey through it, they must endure the hardships temptations bring without all the Paradisiacal blessings available from the garden of the Lord. The wandering of the Hebrews in the wilderness for forty years, the Biblical length for a generation, and their physical death before their nation entered the promised land, foreshadows the wandering of each person through this life and their death before entering the life to come.

The hardships of the wilderness corrected the Israelites. Moses said, "God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee" (Deuteronomy 8:2). Life's difficulties foster discipline, while physical abundance naturally leads to laziness and perversion. Without disciple mankind could not survive. With it he fashions shelter and gathers provisions to sustain him and his loved ones during future storms and trials. Such necessities promote self-control, sacrifice, patience, compassion, and love. Hardships make people better.

Hardships without success defeat people instead of reforming them. Wanderers in a desert die when they find no food or water. In order for the wilderness of mortality to correct sinners, it must yield sufficient benefits that invite continued repentance. For this reason, God sprinkles this life with celestial blessings that gladden one's journey through it. Just as He gave the wandering Israelites manna, he sends the bread of heaven to those willing to follow His lead. While not as fulfilling as the blessings remaining in eternal glory, they sustain those partaking of them and foster humility and repentance. This makes them more godly, better equipped to serve others in this life and their Creator in the life to come. Paul, when converted, sought the deserts of Arabia, to perfect his testimony of the Savior before preaching the gospel among the Gentiles.

When Israel, the northern kingdom, worshiped false gods, God punished them by casting them out into the wilderness. He said, "Therefore will I cast you out into a land that ye know not, neither ye nor your fathers; and there shall ye serve other gods day and night; where I will not shew you favour" (Jeremiah 16:13). Like Adam and Eve, like their ancestors, Israel was unworthy of the promised land and was exiled to a wilderness. Assyria placed the Israelite nation on the frontier by the Caspian Sea, where they endured its hardships. The purpose of that confinement was to reform those who would one day be invited back to the promise land.

Just as God continued to serve the Hebrews led by Moses after they rebelled, He ministered to the Israelites after they were dispersed to Scythia. He wanted to sustain them during their exile in rebellion and temptation, so that they could learn the value of repentance and obedience. Hosea predicted God's blessings upon their nation by saying, "I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably unto her" (Hosea 2:14). Ezekiel prophesied that she would live safely in her exiled state. He said, "I will make with them a covenant of peace, and they shall dwell safely in the wilderness" (Ezekiel 34:25). Later he says that they will dwell safely in a land that has "neither bars nor gates" and is rich in "cattle and goods" (Ezekiel 38:11-12). These temporal blessings that made the wilderness to which the dispersed of Israel would be driven blossom, were not only given to preserve them when they were destitute. They were given to sustain the poor and needy of the earth. Isaiah said, "When the poor and the needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the Lord will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of valleys: I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water" (Isaiah 41:18-19).

Some dispersed of Israel were driven to Northwestern Europe. John Bull, or the British Empire, took them to the isles of the sea, America included. There they have prospered, living safely and comfortably, inviting the poor and needy of the earth to rest under their banners. They have advance economics, agriculture, technology, education and Christianity, until the entire world has benefited from the provisions God has showered on a remnant of the sons of Jacob.

The divine blessings bestowed to descendants of Israel through Britain and America have not only been temporal. Jeremiah prophesied that Israel would find grace in the wilderness. He said, "Thus saith the Lord, The people which were left of the sword found grace in the wilderness; even Israel, when I went to cause him to rest" (Jeremiah 31:2). The grace of God manifest in Jesus Christ blessed the dispersion when they rested in the islands. God had said they would renew their strength in the isles (Isaiah 41:1). In Britain and Northwestern Europe the gospel changed the hearts of its inhabitants so that they embraced and furthered the Reformation. There they sought to worship God in righteousness, fulfilling the prophesy of David, who said, "They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him" (Psalms 72:9). For this reason, the church, when persecuted by the devil, fled into the wilderness (Revelations 12:14). There under the eagle's wings, the symbol of America, it has been nourished, so that it could rejuvenate scattered Israel and gather the faithful.

At the end of his earthly ministry Jesus promised to declare the Father's name to his brethren (John 17:26). David indicated he would do that with "the horns of unicorns" (Psalms 22: 21-22). The word "unicorn" is the translation of the Hebrew word meaning "wild bull." Moses associated the descendants of Joseph with the bull and said that the horns of unicorns were the descendants of Ephraim and Manasseh (Deuteronomy 33:17). Britain and America have spread the gospel of Jesus Christ, with its fountain of everlasting living water, throughout the earth, inviting scattered Israel and the poor of the world to partake of all its benefits. Not only have people gathered into the prosperous nations Britain established, but they have basked in the light of the gospel taught by the church. When the purpose of the wilderness has sufficiently reformed scattered Israel, they will be gathered to their promised land where they can enjoy the personal reign of their Redeemer, Jesus Christ.