Spirit of Grace Ministries
Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Riches in the Wilderness

Israel in the Wilderness

By Dennis Pollock

We who read the Bible have adopted certain phrases and terms which come from the Scriptures and use them freely in our conversation. Non-Christians sometimes understand their meaning due to the fact that they have been used so often they have migrated into the mainstream of our language and culture. In other cases, some Biblical phrases and terms remain strictly the domain of evangelical Christians. One example of a Biblical phrase which has become universal is referring to our bodies as our “temple.” We believers know that this means that our bodies, as Christ’s sheep, have become temples of the Holy Spirit. But we sometimes hear secular folks use this term, probably having no real clue what it means, but assuming that somehow, some way, their bodies are a temple of something or other.

Another phrase we Christians often use is “wilderness experience.” This comes from the forty years the children of Israel spent with Moses wandering in the wilderness on the other side of the Red Sea from Egypt, waiting for God’s time to enter their promised land. During this time the Israelites were provided for, but there was not much abundance. They wandered from place to place living in tents. While all the other nations stayed in one place, built houses and cities, and lived within the security of fortified borders, Israel did not. There was no “land of Israel” at that time. They had become a nomadic, wandering, needy people with no visible means of support. They had a great invisible source of support, YHWH, the Creator of heaven and earth, but He was providing for their needs and not too many of their wants. It was a time of scarcity and was not exactly fun.

Wilderness Seasons

Christians have looked at this time of wilderness living and coined the terms “wilderness experience” and “wilderness season.” Most of us who have been in Christ very long have had our own personal wildernesses, times when things were not easy, not at all glamorous, and when God seemed only desirous to meet our needs, while ignoring most of our wants. We sensed two things: 1) There is a “promised land” in our future, and 2) the life we are now living is surely not our promised land. And so we wait and pray and sometimes complain (as did the Israelites of old). God bears with us, but we discover that when God has set a time for us to live in the wilderness, no amount of praying or crying or begging or pleading or claiming the promises or affirming positive declarations is going to move Him even the slightest bit. God seems very picky about the timing of our promised lands, and He will not alter His schedule for our lives regardless of how hard and how desperately we call upon Him. He will answer, but He will answer in His own time.

In thinking about Israel, in a sense they experienced two different wildernesses in their early days. That is, there were two distinct times of difficulty, scarcity, hardship, and a strange quietness from God despite their fervent prayers and petitions. One was, as mentioned, their time in the actual wilderness. But there was an even more painful “wilderness” which lasted much longer than their forty years with Moses. This was their time of slavery in Egypt. Their slavery to the Egyptians lasted several hundred years, and here too, they were provided for, but not much more. They were not diminished during this time; on the contrary they multiplied exceedingly. Jacob and his sons came to join Joseph in Egypt as a group of 70 men, women, and children. By the time they departed from Egypt through God’s mighty hand and Moses’ leadership they numbered in the millions. They had been transformed from a tiny clan to a large nation.

As slaves, they had little. They were not rewarded well for their hard labors. Basic clothes, basic food, and basic shelter were about all the Egyptians cared to give them. In other words, give these slaves enough to keep them alive so they can serve us, but not much more. And then one day Moses showed up, knocking at Pharaoh’s door. God slammed Egypt with one terrible judgment after another, and after ten severe calamities Pharaoh had had enough. The Israelites were allowed to leave. But in God’s instructions to Moses about how they were to leave we find an interesting charge. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob told His servant Moses:

So I will stretch out My hand and strike Egypt with all My wonders which I will do in its midst; and after that he will let you go. And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and it shall be, when you go, that you shall not go empty-handed. But every woman shall ask of her neighbor, namely, of her who dwells near her house, articles of silver, articles of gold, and clothing; and you shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians (Exodus 3:20-22).

“I’ll Take This One…”

I find this fascinating to read and fascinating to imagine the scene. Hundreds of thousands of former slave women of Israel would have fanned out in their neighborhoods, going into the houses of the dazed and terrified Egyptians, and telling the ladies of the house, “I would like this and that… I’ll take that silver pitcher, and these two bowls, and oh, yes, this beautifully colored cloth, and…” Of course at the time of the exodus, the Scriptures don’t quite go into those details, but we do read:

Now the children of Israel had done according to the word of Moses, and they had asked from the Egyptians articles of silver, articles of gold, and clothing. And the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they granted them what they requested. Thus they plundered the Egyptians (Exodus 12:35-36).

Egypt was made to pay for their long years of oppressing and enslaving the Israelites. They had “gotten away with it” for a long time, but now it was pay-up time, and Israel triumphantly left Egypt with the wealth of the Egyptians. At the conclusion of their long wilderness season, they had become a wealthy people.

Jacob’s Wilderness

Another example of attaining wealth in the wilderness may be seen in the life of the patriarch Jacob. I nearly laugh when I read of Jacob’s momma telling him to leave their homeland, after learning that Jacob’s brother, Esau was planning to kill him. Rebekah tells Jacob:

Surely your brother Esau comforts himself concerning you by intending to kill you. Now therefore, my son, obey my voice: arise, flee to my brother Laban in Haran. And stay with him a few days, until your brother’s fury turns away, until your brother’s anger turns away from you, and he forgets what you have done to him; then I will send and bring you from there. (Genesis 27:42-45).

So what’s the funny part? It is the length of time that Rebekah estimates that Jacob will be gone: “a few days.” Jacob listened to momma and left, but he was gone a lot longer than a few days. He ended up living with his uncle Laban for twenty years, who was more cunning and deceitful than Jacob had ever been. If Jacob was an amateur in conniving, Laban was world class. He convinced Jacob to work for him but attempted to trick him at every turn. He promised Jacob his pretty younger daughter Rachel in exchange for seven years’ service, but then pulled a switcheroo and substituted plain Leah instead. When Jacob complained, Laban assured his new son-in-law that he could have Rachel as well – but it would cost him another seven years of service. And even after the fourteen years of work for the two women, one of whom he never wanted, Laban convinced Jacob to stay with him for six more years, but constantly changed his wages and cheated him at every turn. These were not exciting and blissful years for poor Jacob.

Time to Leave

Finally, after two long decades of deception  and mistreatment, God speaks to Jacob and tells him to leave Haran and return to the area of his upbringing. Knowing the kind of man his father-in-law is, he takes no chances. Rather than announcing his intentions, he leaves in secret hoping he has seen the last of his miserable father-in-law. But Laban isn’t about to let Jacob go so easily. He gathers a number of his servants and goes in hot pursuit of what he considers his property. When he overtakes Jacob and his company, he angrily confronts him, asking why he left the way he did.

Jacob now releases all his pent-up frustrations, and describes his life with Laban:

In the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night, and my sleep departed from my eyes. Thus I have been in your house twenty years; I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flock, and you have changed my wages ten times. Unless the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had been with me, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed.

But what Jacob does not mention, and what Laban points out, is that during these twenty years of frustration, Jacob has grown incredibly wealthy. In spite of Laban’s tricks and deceit, God had been blessing Jacob immensely. When he left Laban, he not only took along his wives. He took with him a huge accumulation of livestock, slaves, and many possessions. Jacob had come to Laban with only a walking stick, and now he was leaving as one of the wealthiest men in the Middle East. By today’s standards he had gone from a pauper to a millionaire over those twenty years. Jacob’s “wilderness years” were no picnic – but they were tremendously profitable.

All God’s Children…

It is the way of the kingdom. Virtually all of God’s children will be sovereignly directed into wilderness seasons, but those times are never wasted, and are often incredibly profitable. It is not always so in a financial sense, but in one way or another we benefit phenomenally. We may gain skills, knowledge, faith, maturity (almost always maturity) and increased anointing, but in some fashion, if we are compliant with the plans and purposes of God during our own personal wilderness seasons, we will most surely benefit.

When we receive Jesus Christ as our Savior, we are not only born again, we not only receive the gift of eternal life, but we are placed in Christ’s School for Character and Spiritual Development.  Within our education are many and varied courses, but we can be sure that some of the “required courses” will be Wilderness 101, 202, and 303. These courses, or seasons, will never rank as our favorite courses. They usually involve hard work, lengthy assignments, and unpleasant experiences which can appear never ending. But they do end, of course. And at their conclusion we find ourselves with things we did not have before. Somehow, and often without our even realizing it, we have grown wealthy. Our faith is stronger, our patience is less brittle, our concern for others is more evident, and in some senses we have grown up. We are not the spoiled, whining, complaining little brats we were before. We are still imperfect, for sure, but looking back at where we’ve come and where we were at the beginning of the course, we know that we have made some progress. Christ, our Master-Teacher has done fine work – as He always does.

But Jesus is not only our Teacher, He is the subject of our study, and the glorifying of Him in the earth is the purpose of it all. Knowing Him better, manifesting His character, trusting Him more completely, abiding in Him as never before, and presenting Him more effectively to others – these are the true riches; these are the goals and purposes of our wilderness courses and seasons. What we thought was an annoying detour away from our real path, what we assumed was the devil trying to sidetrack us, was in fact the leading of our great and good Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ, leading us in paths of righteousness and enormous spiritual growth for His name’s sake.

Blessed be the name of the Lord!



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