Into the Wilderness

The Israelites are to set up their tents by divisions, each of them in their own camp under their standard.
Numbers 1:52 (NIV)

Today we begin a sojourn through the book of Numbers. It’s one of the most ancient of texts in God’s Message and the fourth of five books known by many names such as the Torah, the Law, the Books of Moses, or the Law of Moses. It picks up the story of the Hebrew people’s  “exodus” from slavery in Egypt. Having escaped from Egypt into the Arabian desert (as told in Exodus), they camped at Mt. Sinai where Moses was given the commandments and the law (as laid out in Leviticus).

Every sizable journey begins with preparation. In today’s opening chapter we pick up the story as Moses carries out a muster of the twelve tribes and a census of men capable of fighting. They are preparing for a march, and the tribe of Levi is given the role of the set-up, take-down, and transportation of a giant tent called the Tabernacle, which served as a traveling temple for the nation. The destination of the wandering nation is “the promised land,” but first they have to traverse the wilderness.

We’re heading into the wilderness, which is a crucial, prescribed path for every spiritual journey. Moses had his years of exile in Midian. Elijah had his flight through the wilderness to Mount Horeb. Jesus went “into the wilderness” for 40 days to fast and to be tested. Fascinating to connect that at Jesus’ transfiguration it was both wilderness wanderer’s, Elijah and Moses, who appeared on the mount with Him.

The hero’s journey of every great epic includes a journey into a wilderness of unknown territory. Bilbo had his mountain and Mirkwood. Luke Skywalker had his Dagoba, Harry, Ron, and Hermione spent almost an entire book alone in the wilderness seeking the Hallows. The wilderness is where we find ourselves (the good, the bad, and the ugly). The wilderness is where we are tried and prepared for the purpose. Without the wilderness, we will never be prepared for the ordeal through which we reach the reward and begin the road back.

This morning I’m looking back at my own life journey. There have been various stretches of wilderness wanderings spiritually relationally, artistically, and vocationally. I’m quite sure there are more to come before the journey’s end. Wilderness is a part of the process and, as we’ll find in our sojourn with the Hebrews, the longer I refuse to embrace the process and learn the lessons I need to learn, I will continue to wander.

Time to lace up the hiking boots. Here we go.

4 thoughts on “Into the Wilderness”

  1. 54 The People of Israel did everything that God commanded Moses. They did it all.

    Numbers it is. And numbers there are. Lots of numbers. Numbers bring with them order and organization. Numbers allow you to analyze whatever it is you are organizing…even numbers of people. Numbers require discipline and precise use. So, at the end of the chapter, after listing off lots of numbers, there is obedience. It just made sense to me this morning when I read it. I work in a field that has much ambiguity. Neurology includes dealing with a number of diseases that have no cure, only symptom relief. I think often about my customers who treat these diseases. They aren’t balancing a spread sheet. They aren’t reconciling a checkbook or assets and liabilities. They are at all times dealing with the art and science of medicine, a chaotic, non-analytical approach to each and every patient. It is harder to be precise and follow a certain protocol. It can lead to frustration and great challenge. It doesn’t lend itself to obedience, rather feelings of uncertainty and a “I’ll just do my best” attitude. It’s so cool how Scripture, even in the numbers, can speak to the order of our world.

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