By Sue Towne
I recently heard a message from a believer who has spent a lot of time living and traveling in Israel. This man has literally studied the Land in order to draw from the geography and history of Israel living truth from God. I’ve heard it said (though not by this gentleman) that the land of Israel itself is like a text from God–that there are many lessons from the heart of God to be learned there.
In the message I am referring to, the speaker focused on the experience of being in the desert, both literally and figuratively. For the literal sense he was drawing on his personal experiences in the desert regions of Israel. If we looked at the geography of Israel as a parable for the life with God in this earth, we might find something that would startle or even dishearten us at first glance. About seventy percent of Israel is considered to be desert–dry, hot, dusty, rocky–a difficult environment in which to survive, let alone thrive.
Those of us who have spent time in any desert probably remember at least two things about it. First, the heat is unrelenting. It can be as hot as a furnace, and there’s no relief from it, except possibly when the sun goes down. Walking through a desert is unforgettable. The heat is draining, pulling energy and water out of your body even when you’re standing still. If you’re not prepared for it and the walk goes on a long time, you might begin to think you just can’t make it to the place of shelter. You get thirsty and you quickly tire, especially if you have to climb rocks or travel over footpaths where the stones lie in wait to trip you up. Confusion can hit you.
Most of us can only too easily see this as an analogy for life on earth, even the life of a believer in Yeshua–yes, even the life of an intercessor or a prayer warrior. We see that life on earth seem to consist of one trial after another–or worse, of multiple trials happening simultaneously. Where is the relief, Lord? Where are the green pastures that Your Word promises? How about a stream of living water right here? I’m getting so tired of this desert.
God does not see the desert this way. In Hosea 2:14, speaking of Israel as if the nation were His unfaithful wife, He says, “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, bring her into the wilderness, and speak kindly to her. Then I will give her her vineyards from there, and the valley of Achor as a door of hope. And she will sing there as in the days of her youth, as in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt.” The desert has been, and will continue to be, a place where God can effectively cut us off from our dependence on this physical world and develop deeper, loving trust in Him. It’s a preparation for better things, a place of intimacy with Him.
The desert is a time of testing, yes, but it is also a wonderful opportunity to trust God, to walk in a greater presence of Him in the midst of difficulty. How can He trust us with the greater riches of His kingdom when we are afraid or insecure about the future, because we don’t know Him well enough in the tight, dry places of life?
As I listened to that message on life in the desert, I began to feel so encouraged. First, it was encouraging for me to know that living in a place of trial is normal for believers. I’ve heard it said more than once that every Christian on this earth is either in a trial, coming out of a trial or going into a trial. So the fact that you and I are currently facing trials, even trials bigger than we have ever faced in the past, is not an indictment of our faith-level. Some trials come just because you and I are drawing breath on the earth!
The other encouragement I took from the message on desert living concerned the green pastures. When you think of Psalm 23 and the green pastures of the Good Shepherd, do you think of a lush, green meadow, kind of like a well-kept fairway on a golf course? That’s not what David had in mind when he wrote that psalm. In the desert in Israel, it is very hard to find any pasture for sheep. The wise shepherd knows his geography and his weather facts well enough to find a certain kind of “green pasture” that most of us wouldn’t look at twice.
It turns out that moist breezes blowing in from the Mediterranean deposit dew at night on certain sides of mountains and hills in the desert in Israel. This little bit of moisture encourages small tufts of a certain kind of grass to spring up almost overnight. The wise shepherd takes his sheep over the hill to the side where these small tufts grow. The sheep then graze, moving from tuft to tuft until all the grass is gone. There’s just enough for that day’s grazing.
And left to themselves, the sheep would probably not have found that sustaining grass without the leadership of the wise shepherd. No wonder they follow him! They learn quickly to trust him to find them food and water, and to protect them from marauders and wild beasts.
I came away from this message with the realization that our life in the desert here on earth is a good preparation for our life in eternity. The trials we walk through with the Lord at our side prequalify us for the responsibilities and level of authority that we will have in His Kingdom for ages to come. We have the opportunity to grow in love with Him, to learn deep trust, in a way we could never do in Heaven, where we have no enemy and where we see the Lord face to face. Here we only see through a glass darkly. Here we have to exercise faith like a muscle we are training. Here we have to trust the Shepherd will find us grass or will show us how to escape what looks like a box canyon with no exits.
Years ago a woman I know had a vision, in which she was standing somewhere in Israel. She looked off to her left and saw a beautiful alabaster city by the sapphire blue waters of the sea, looking like the picture of a resort condo. Obviously it was a city full of riches and easy living–not ungodly, but definitely a comfortable lifestyle.
Yet she noticed that Yeshua was not in the alabaster city. He was standing off to her right–in the desert! Clearly He was telling her she had a choice. Without hesitation she turned and walked out to Him in the desert.
And that has made all the difference.