There is a wonderful scene in the book of Exodus. It’s the part of the story where the people are in the wilderness and God is just about to send quails and manna for food. They have been complaining about the lack of food. Moses, via his brother Aaron, tells the assembled people, “Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining”. Then they all look toward the wilderness and “the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud.” (Exodus 16:9-10)
I think its interesting that the story moves from the sighting of God’s glory right to the story of quail and manna. The entire description of turning and seeing God in the wilderness is just one verse. Perhaps there’s nothing else to say. How can one speak of God’s glory? Perhaps all one can do is move on to the tangible, the concerns of the body.
Can you imagine that hungry, restless, frightened crowd? They are worried about how they are going to survive. The wilderness is a dangerous place. No food. No water. Real peril. The crowd isn’t whining that their cable service has been interrupted and they are missing the big game. They are not grumbling because they can’t find the right shoes to go with their dress. No, they are in real danger. In fact, it would be foolish not to worry.
Then these worried people all turn, they all turn as one, and look out into the wilderness. Into an unknown future, an unknown destination.
In Scripture the “wilderness” is a real place but it is also a metaphorical one- all at the same time. The wilderness is outside of the control of kings and pharaohs. It is out of bounds. Outside the rules of polite society. It is an untamed, wild place. Unpredictable and dangerous. It’s where God is.
The people turn and face the wilderness, with all its danger and uncertainty and there God is. In this wild place, God reveals God’s glory.
God calls the people into their future. They are called into uncharted territory. Into the wild. Into the untamed. Into a relationship with a wilderness God.
It’s a scary business. The people are right to be anxious. They would be fools if they weren’t.
You might have noticed I haven’t called these wilderness people by the name “Israelite” even though the text does. I haven’t because they are not yet Israel. Life in the wilderness with God is what makes them “Israel”. They are, of course, people called by God but they are not, yet, what they will become.
This is not the last time the people will see God’s glory. Their story of becoming Israel is just beginning. The wilderness God is just getting started.
There are fewer wild places today, but the wilderness is still with us. The wilderness is still a dangerous place. We don’t know what will happen there. We loose our illusions of control in the wilderness. But the God who revealed his glory to those anxious, frightened people and who beckoned them into their future and traveled with them is still present. Still revealing his glory, still calling us into our future, still traveling with us. Still present, always present.
I’d like to know, what do you think?
2 thoughts on “Wilderness”
What a beautiful piece, Nancy. I am so glad to be reading Exodus with you. It’s one of those Biblical books that requires some expertise, which I don’t have. I appreciate especially the ways that you show its relevance to us. Ruth
Thanks Ruth. I’m glad we’re reading it together too.