Lessons from the Desert

The Jewish peoples' wandering in the desert provides very modern lessons as to what God continually requires of His people in every age.
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The Jewish people spent 400 years in Egypt and lived mainly as shepherds and farmers in that land. When they grew in numbers, the Egyptians enslaved them and put them to hard labor making bricks.

Moses eventually led them out of their bondage and was prepared to bring them to the land promised to their forefathers by God. However because of their rebellion and disobedience they spent 40 long years wandering in the desert.

While they were in the desert the Bible describes how these millions of people lived from day to day - cut off from other civilization and any type of inhabitable land. We read in the books of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers of all the various Laws and rituals that governed the every-day life of the Jew while in the desert.

For example, aside from the time spent eating, sleeping and maintaining their dwellings, the Jew's day was filled with the following duties:

  • They had to maintain animals that were to be brought to the priest for sacrifice.
  • They had to prepare all kinds of animal, food and perfume sacrifices on a regular basis.
  • They had to personally deliver these sacrifices to the priests on a regular basis.
  • There was a different sacrifice for sin, thanks, praise etc.
  • They had to wait in line! That takes time.
  • They had to attend regular assemblies to receive teaching from Moses and Aaron.
  • They had to continually perform cleansing rights if he touched something that was considered unclean (wash clothes, self etc.)
  • Women had to offer sacrifice after every menstrual cycle.
  • Prepare acceptable food (we call it Kosher today).
  • They had to keep the Sabbath and participate in the yearly festivals (7)
  • They had to pay a tax to the priests for himself and children born.
  • They had to continually break camp and re-establish camp as the cloud over the tabernacle lifted and led them to a new location. Pillar of fire provided light at night.

While they were in the desert there was no commerce, no entertainment industry, no schools, no organized military, no government, no mass communication industry.

For 40 years, the Jews had only one task and that was to serve the Lord.

They ate, slept, maintained their dwellings and the rest of their time was devoted to serving God in the various ways I have just described. This total focusing, this total devotion; this total consumption of time and energy invested in serving God produced some badly needed results for the Jewish people.

Results of Total Devotion

The Jews were mainly pagan by the time they lift Egypt. They had some vestige of the faith of the patriarchs but the influence of Egypt laid heavenly upon them. Their being cut off from everything and everyone in the desert to focus only on serving God helped change from a people who believed in the God that Moses spoke of, to become the people of the God who spoke to them through Moses. …From your God to our God.. to my God.

Here's how that transformation took place:

1. This Lifestyle Kept Them Out Of Trouble.

Being alone in the desert kept them from fraternizing with other pagan nations and being influenced by there practices. The laws and rituals they had to continually follow also kept them busy and focused on God so there was less time for division and fighting among themselves. The sacrifices, assemblies, teaching, moving etc kept them busy in the positive practice of religious service.

2. This Lifestyle Reinforced Their Dependence On God.

They never needed new clothes; their sandals never wore out. God provided water in the desert, food in the desert, protection in the desert, direction in the desert. Their entire devotion to Him was meant to emphasize their dependency on Him. Their situation was one of utter helplessness and yet each day God reminded them of His ability to care for all of their needs.

And each day their dependence on Him was reinforced a confirmed through their continued survival.

3. This Lifestyle Provided A Witness.

They didn't mingle with the pagan nations around them but that was not to say that these nations didn't notice them. The pagans could easily see the difference between themselves and this strange nation that wandered in the desert year after year.

They saw something special when they compared:

  • Their continuous worship.
  • Their devotion and total dependence on one single God who provided all.
  • Their dedication to the festivals.
  • Their pure lifestyle.
  • Their total integration of daily living and religious practice.

And when they compared they saw that these people were not only different, they were like no other people they had ever seen before. Their religion was not part of their lives, it was their life and this was a witness unlike any that they had ever seen before. It was truly a light in the dark world in which they inhabited.

Lessons From The Desert

The Mistake we make in Bible study is that we think because the N.T. is the pattern for our lives and service to the Lord, the O.T. has no relevance for our lives. However God is the same today as He was yesterday. He doesn't change in character.

In the same way, what God wanted from His people in the O.T. has not changed in its essence for His people in the N.T. What has changed is that now through Christ, we are actually able to do what the people in the O.T. only hoped to be able to do.

The culture has changed, the geography has changed, the societies and technologies have changed but as far as God's people are concerned, the Lord still requires of us what He demanded of the Jews as they wandered in the desert.

For example:

Romans 12:1-2 - Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

1. He Still Wants us Separate from the World

The Jews were separated from the pagan nations by the desert and their many laws and customs. We are separated from the world by the cross of Jesus Christ. The Jews were pilgrims escaping from Egyptian slavery traveling through the desert on their way to a promised land.

We, as Christians, have escaped slavery to sin and live as pilgrims in this world as we travel to the heavenly Promise Land. God expects us to be His exclusive people separate and apart from the world.

Matthew 6:9-11 - "Pray, then, in this way:
'Our Father who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.10 'Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.11 'Give us this day our daily bread.

2. God Still Wants us to Wholly Depend On Him, One Day at a Time

True He doesn't send manna every morning, He no longer draws water from rocks or clothing that doesn't wear out for 40 years. But He does provide a Job, a home, a vehicle, and everything else that we need. One thing that hasn't changed however is that He provides for physical and emotional needs one day at a time, and those who dedicate themselves to storing up riches or building bigger barns as a substitute for living one day at a time usually forfeit their peace of mind and risk losing their souls.

Our wealth and materialism tends to hide the fact that God is the source of our blessing and good life.

But God still requires His people to depend totally on Him. For everything. Every single day. Forever. And it will always be this way

… A 3rd Way That God Is Still The Same …

2 Corinthians 5:18-20 - Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

3. God Still Wants Us To Be His Ambassadors.

When the Jews were in the desert they embodied the truth and presence of God to that dark world. Isaiah said that these people would provide a "light into the Gentiles" in bringing the Savior into the world (Isa.49: 6)

They were the only way that unbelievers could know God's truth, see God at work in a people - there was no other way, no other place, no other people. If you missed it here, you missed it altogether.

Today this role is given to Christians, to the Church. We are the Ambassadors for Christ to the world.

Our calling card is the gospel, our embassy is the church, our government is the kingdom of God, our credibility and effectiveness is dependent on our holy living in obedience to Christ.

We "look" very different than the Jews did but we are still responsible for delivering the Christ to the world and if the world doesn't see Him in us - it won't see Him anywhere else.


The Old Testament shows that the Jews failed at living as God's people:

  • They broke out of the circle that God had created for them and mingled with the pagan nations to a point where they joined in their sins.
  • They grew to depend on their own wisdom and took kings over themselves and relied on armies and gold and diplomacy which eventually led to their ruin.
  • They stopped being representations for God and began practicing empty ritualism to feed their pride which ultimately led to their rejection of the Savior when He finally came.

Their desert experience was recorded so we can learn some lessons about our own pilgrimage today as God' people. Some of the more obvious and necessary lessons are the following:

1. Let's remained closed to the sinful world. Let's keep out the dirt and disbelief that would break the circle of faith we have with the Lord and His Church.

2. Let's remain the children - totally dependent every day on our heavenly Father for what we need. From jobs to spouses to an idea for what to cook for supper. Let's remain close to Him for every single big or little thing in our lives and live those lives one day at a time.

3. Let's continue being very different.

  • different in the quality of our conduct.
  • different in the purity of our lives
  • different in our dedication to the church and its needs and work and worship (Low attendance is no witness for a resurrected Christ).

So different that even if others disagree or even disdain us, there will be no doubt in their minds as to our absolute devotion to Jesus Christ and His Church. Had the Jews learned these lessons, that generation would have made it to the Promised Land and their history would be much different today.

Every generation of Christians repeats the same pilgrimage originally undertaken by these men and women in the O.T. And each generation succeeds or fails for the very same reasons.

Let us succeed in our generation and arrive at our heavenly home by learning the lessons taught by those who didn't make it.

You can join the Pilgrimage to heaven today by confessing Christ and repenting of your sins and being baptized; or you can re-join it if you've wandered away through unfaithfulness - either way you can guarantee your safe arrival by coming to Christ this morning and taking the lessons from the desert to heart.

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