Israel’s first test in the wilderness gets to the heart of the matter. Yahweh tests them on their most basic and essential need: water. And there is nothing like lack to reveal what is in our hearts. Straight away God has them in a fast, and not just any fast. This is an involuntary fast, something beyond their control. A fast that is entered into by choice is easier than this type of fast. Why? Because we are in control of our starting and finishing time. But here God is in complete control. He is Lord over what they have and what they do not have; he is the one who gives and takes away.
To make matters worse, when they finally discover water, it is undrinkable. Their hopes are lifted, but then suddenly crash down. The water is bitter! Immediately they start to grumble against Moses saying, “What are we to drink!” (Exo. 15:24).
At this point we see what is in their hearts. They are not seeing God; rather they are seeing lack. They are blind to the fact that God is leading them; they think Moses is to blame. Their reaction is: “This man does not know what he is doing!” When we get into similar circumstances who do we blame? Who do we appoint as our scapegoat? Pastors are often the ones we accuse for God’s dealings with us. At times God brings our churches through the desert, but we have a difficult time seeing what God is doing. Consequently, we blame God’s leaders. This is part of the price of being a shepherd, and Moses began to learn it full well.
The desert reveals our blindness and our accusative nature. We blame people and even the devil for our circumstances. We think we are slaves being abused, when in reality God is trying to show us his glory. He is working to reveal the thing that is most central to his nature—the cross. “Then Moses cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood” (Exo. 15:25, italics mine). In our desert—if we cry out to the Lord—he will show us a piece of wood that is able to make all of our bitter waters sweet. This cross redeems all things. Through it, nothing can stop us. All evil is turned to good. “He threw it into the water, and the water became sweet” (Exo. 15:25).
The desert is a place where God seems to be absent.
And yet God is very much present in this barrenness. The wilderness is the place where God wants to reveal himself and his ways to us. It is the place he wants to meet with us. And the first lesson he wants to show us is the restoring power of the cross:
“There the Lord issued a ruling and instruction for them and put them to the test. He said, “If you listen carefully to the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you” (Exo. 15:25-26, TNIV).
The wilderness uncovers our sickness. When there is an abundance of spiritual water in a church, we often do not realize what is in our hearts. These living waters bring joy––a sense of excitement and vision; but from time to time God withholds the flow of his Spirit to show us what is dormant within us. He tests us because we are his children. What are we going to do when we are in a spiritual drought? Will we blame the church, our leaders, friends or family? Or are we going to cry out to God for his living waters. The wilderness uncovers our sickness, but through it God wants to heal us. He wants to show us his resurrecting and restoring power.
Prayer: Father, I thank you for every wilderness time I have walked through. I know that in the wilderness you are not absent. You are present and able to turn the bitter waters sweet. In my wilderness open my eyes to see the cross and turn my bitterness into something life-giving, in Jesus’ name.