Desert Life: what I found I really need through the deserts in Israel

The desert land. 

The promise land.

Beautiful Israel.

Full of mountains and valleys that drink rain from heaven. 

This is the land God cares for and his eyes are continually on it as Deuteronomy 11:11-12 says:

But the land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven.  It is a land the Lord your God cares for; the eyes of the Lord your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end.

When he gives the land to them he tells them it is not fertile like the land of Egypt.  He tells them to be careful to love and serve Him so that he will bring rain on their land.  The country of Israel is desert. The desert teaches us many lessons about life through its terrain. The physical lessons I learned in the desert of Israel parallel the many lessons I have taken away from the desert seasons of my life. He said in Deuteronomy 11:13:

So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today—to love the Lord your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul — then I will send rain on your land

And just like these words he spoke to the Israelites about faithful obedience, loving and serving him with all their heart and soul in their new land, in the desert seasons of life it is important to keep our focus on this command.  When we our focus is on him, our parched throat, physically exhausted body, and attitude of depletion in quenched by the promise of abundant rain he gives daily.  After all he leads us into the desert to teach us what we need to survive!

Recently I had the blessing of revisiting Israel with my family.  As before, a significant part of our trip was spent in the desert.  The first time I went to Israel in 2010 with RVL I learned what the attitude of my heart was in the desert, and let me say it wasn’t pretty.  When I departed the country, some how the desert was my favorite part.  This June I found a different self emerge 8 years later in our time in the desert.  It may be that my intimacy with Jesus has grown and that I currently am living in a desert season.  I traveled this time with my 3 children, my mother, a good friend, 2 fearless yet God fearing leaders (Rod and Libby) and strangers who became good friends.  My husband met us for the Sea of Galilee portion after the desert.  Desert took on a new meaning as I was able to envision what the people of the Bible felt like in the desert.  I not only was trying to survive everyday, but was trying to ensure the safety and survival of my children during this portion of the trip.  Now it was tough spending the day hiking in the desert even knowing there was an air conditioned bus at the the end of each trail.  I worried about finding shade to escape the heat, the paths my children chose, the amount of water and food I hiked with.  My son has allergies and each day I had to pack enough food and appropriate survival measures: medicine, epi-pen, food that had not touched nuts…

I found myself looking for every cleft of the rock that would provide SHADE for my children and I…

I was reminding them constantly to keep an eye and pay attention to where their feet were walking as some of the trails were along aside cliffs…The right PATH FOR MY FEET.

I filled and refilled their WATER so many times I can’t count and reminded them to drink water, and not to waste any…the text says LIVING WATER, that meant something more to me after this trip.

Everyday they needed to bring a snack with them, you never want to be without FOOD in the desert (and with children in general)…

I learned a deeper appreciation for what the text says by experiencing the physical desert.  These verses in the Bible had a entirely new meaning to me:

SHADE

At every point during the day in the desert we were looking for a shady spot to sit and rest.  There was this huge cliff in the Sinai desert that provided shade for our entire group. Just the shade of the rock was something glorious and longed for…When I see the text’s below and think about the Lord as my shade in the desert, I am astounded by the words and the imagery attached to each verse. Literally, the Lord being shade in the desert for me is this: a deep longing for shade, relief, rest, shelter, provision, needed for survival, life-giving, and glorious. So when you see these words, I hope my words and picture provide a small understanding of what this word may have meant to the Israelites. 

Exodus 33:22

When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by.

Psalms 121:5

The Lord watches over you—the Lord is your SHADE at your right hand;

Isaiah 25:4a You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in their distress, a shelter from the storm and a SHADE from the heat. 

Isaiah 4:5-6

Then the Lord will create over all of Mount Zion and over those who assemble there a cloud of smoke by day and a glow of flaming fire by night; over everything the glory will be a canopy. It will be a shelter and SHADE from the heat of the day, and a refuge and hiding place from the storm and rain.

Psalms 91:1-2

Psalm 91

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the SHADOW  of the Almighty.  I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

2 Samuel 22:3

My God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation.  He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior— from violent people you save me.

PATH FOR FEET

I found myself saying I get this, I understand the intentions of Davids’ words ‘Lord you arm me with strength and keep my childrens’ way and my own secure.  You make David, Sabrina, Sophia, and my own feet of a deer and cause me to stand on the heights.  Thank you Lord for providing a broader path for my Childrens and my own ankles so they do not give way.’  It also took Remi, a former Navy seals protection grasping David’s backpack at certain places on the desert trail.  The picture below shows him holding David’s backpack to ensure he wouldn’t jump/fall off the trail as it was very steep…the cliff you see ahead in the photo is what was underneath the path we walked. 

2 Samuel 22:33-34

It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure.  He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he causes me to stand on the heights.

2 Samuel 22:37

You provide a broad path for my feet, so that my ankles do not give way.

WATER

The Need for water in the desert is so great.  We were provided as many bottle as we would like on the bus each morning.  I had to make sure to equip each child and myself with enough water.  I would pack an extra measure just incase someone ran out.  The hottest day was in the Sinai Desert, each drop of water counted.  I would have given anything for water most days, water is precious in the desert.  In my western life, water is taken for granted.  Most every where we go in the USA has clean water.  That is not the case in Israel, water is precious, and water equals life. When the Israelites shout at Moses and Aaron I understand context in Numbers 20:5:

Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no WATER to drink! ”

And then in Numbers 20:11

Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.

I get a feeling for the relief the people must have had when the water gushed out of the rock.  So the verses like:

Revelation 21:6

He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the WATER of life.

and 

Psalms 105:41

He opened the rock, and WATER gushed out; it flowed like a river in the desert. 

Speak to me.  So when the Lord says ‘I am the Living Water,’ I think about the desert, the land of Israel and what water means there. Water equals life. I think of how much we must have spent on water, water without cost means something after being in the desert. Water from the rock without context is just an ancient story without knowing the feeling of life in the desert. Water from the rock is glorious.  We hiked through En Gedi and saw the amazing waterfalls David wrote about…Then we hiked through the desert and out of no where emerged a huge water fall.  The kids, my mother, and I raced to put our entire body under the falls.  We submerged ourselves under the fall as water cleansed and refreshed our weary bodies from the desert. So when Jesus refers to himself as water, I am not only thankful, but have a context for what I imagine the words meant and mean, they have come alive.  Jesus is my abundant water.

Food

Food in the desert.

There is none. 

For the first time I was able to picture the words of the Israelites in Exodus 16:3: 

The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” 

I can see how panic might set in being a mother of three children being led in the desert.  When I don’t have enough food for my children, it sends me into over drive.  In particular with my son David, who can’t just eat anything we find due to a tree nut allergy.  I had ample snacks as we headed out into the desert each day, but even when I was close to running out, I admit I was a bit panicked.  I couldn’t just walk into a store and purchase something tree nut free.  So imagine being a mother with no food options I might become like the people in the text.  They were used to Egypt, I am used to Egypt, and unfortunately Egypt leaves most of us needing God less and relying on ourselves more.  My children and I kept looking for signs of life, or for any food source.  In the Sinai Desert in particular we didn’t see anything living, with exception of bees.  God provided for his people in the desert, and what I love is he provided just enough for the day. The text says in Exodus 16:18-2:

And when they measured it by the omer, the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed. Then Moses said to them, “No one is to keep any of it until morning.” However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. So Moses was angry with them.Each morning everyone gathered as much as they needed, and when the sun grew hot, it melted away.

If they took too much it became rotten, they could not eat yesterday’s bread or save some for the next day.  God provided them enough for the day.  In my desert seasons God has provided me with enough grace, strength, peace, and ability to make decisions for the day.  He feeds you lovingly each day with his supernatural food.  I was spent at the end of each day, but full.  That is what Gods’ supernatural food is like, he doesn’t promise an end to our desert, but he does provide enough food in the midst of it! Leaving you full at the end of each day.  In Deuteronomy 8:3-4 it says he brings us into the desert to teach us what we need to live on:

He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years.

I live on the promises of his word and know he is faithful to his promises.  Jesus enters the picture and calls himself the Bread of Life for a reason.  Just as the Israelites were taught that what they needed to survive was God, Jesus speaks and says to us, that all we need in our life on earth is him.  Jesus says in John 6:48-51 that if we accept him, we will have food that never runs out in him: 

I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

When we come to him we delight in the best food as Isaiah 55:1-3 says: 

“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.

He not only provides us with enough, but with the best. 

Other Food verses:

Looking at his disciples, he said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

Matthew 4:4

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

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