6 Gifts God Gives in the Wilderness


Sometimes I imagine a conversation between an Israelite woman and a foreign guest in the Promised Land. The Israelite woman (whom we’ll call Sarah) was among those who spent four decades in the wilderness, and her new companion (we’ll call her Fatima) has recently trekked the same territory. They are eager to swap stories and compare experiences:

Sarah: Remember the sandstorms?

Fatima: Yeah, there’s nothing like being sand-blasted by hot, wind-driven sand. We had some days we couldn’t journey at all until the wind died down.

Sarah: Exactly. We had to watch for when the cloud or the pillar of fire moved from over the tabernacle.

Fatima: What? (She gives a suspicious glance and wonders if Sarah is okay.) We didn’t have a tabernacle. And we definitely didn’t have pillar of fire with us.

Sarah: That’s too bad. I mean, there were days I wanted to go forward when we couldn’t and days I wanted to stay when we had to move, but all in all, I was thankful for God’s presence with us.

Fatima: And you say this…this presence was in a pillar of fire?

Sarah: At night. During the day it was a cloud.

Fatima: (A little uncomfortably) Oh. How about food? How did so many of you find enough to eat? We struggled, and our group was much smaller than yours.

Sarah: You guys didn’t have manna?

Fatima: Manna? What’s that?

Sarah: Exactly—that’s what we called it too. “What is it?” or “Manna.” It appeared every morning with the dew in the wilderness.

Fatima: No, we had no manna. But finding water was the hardest. Sometimes we’d go days before finding an oasis with water.

Sarah: You must have missed the rock.

Fatima: What rock? A landmark near a water source?

Sarah: No, the rock where water comes out.

Fatima: Sarah, I don’t think you journeyed the same wilderness we did. You talk about this pillar of fire and bread on the ground. We had long, hot days. When our food ran out, we were hungry and spent days in search of food. Our feet were sore, and their soles were burnt. We hated the wilderness, but you make it sound like a picnic.

Sarah: No, it was the same place. And that sounds right. Our feet were sore and burnt too. We were also weary of the everlasting sand and tired of the howling wind. The wilderness was terrible. But the manna, the water, the cloud…sometimes I miss them.

I don’t know if a conversation like that ever took place, but I do know that the Israelites’ journey through the wilderness was no picnic. The sun was hot, the landscape boring, the journey taxing. In many ways, they experienced the same difficulties that any other wilderness traveler endured.

Sometimes we forget that Christians are not exempt from the “wilderness.” When we encounter difficult seasons—be they physical, emotional, or relational—we assume we should be able to pass over them with no pain or suffering involved.

But that is not the way life works.

I recently read through the book of Deuteronomy, which is a record of Moses recounting the wilderness journey to the Israelites just before they would enter the Promised Land. I noticed that Moses made no effort to airbrush the landscape they had just passed through.

He twice referred to the wilderness as “great and terrible” (1:19, 8:19) and once as “the waste, howling wilderness” (32:10). He mentioned the “fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water” (8:15). He referenced “many days” they spent there (2:1).

The wilderness was formidable, and the Israelites endured the same difficulties as did any other desert traveler.

The difference? The Israelites knew God. They did not travel the wilderness alone. In fact, every reference of the wilderness’ difficulties above is contrasted with how God provided for His people through it.

You see, God gives gifts in the wilderness.

Perhaps you are in a wilderness right now. You don’t have to pretend that just because you are a Christian it is easy. But I would like to remind you that even in the wilderness, God gives special provision to His people.

And what are these gifts?

God’s Voice—Have you ever noticed that you hear His voice in the wilderness more clearly than in any other place? It’s not that you necessarily hear it constantly, but in the moment of need—for direction, reassurance, courage—the still small voice of God comes to you through His Word.

I remember one “wilderness day” opening my Bible with the thought that God probably wouldn’t speak to me through it. I was weary and hadn’t felt the still calm of His voice for too long. Additionally, my scheduled reading brought me to the book of Numbers—not what you expect to be the most inspirational section of Scripture. And there in the first verse my eyes fell on a phrase that is repeated throughout Numbers and Deuteronomy:

And the Lord spake unto Moses in the wilderness…—Numbers 1:1

Direction—In the wilderness you can’t always see. The sandstorms and unending landscape either obscure your vision or disorientate your sense of direction. That is why God’s guidance is so necessary.

God doesn’t even expect us to understand what He is doing in the wilderness. He simply calls us to trust that He is doing more than we can see through the dust…and to follow.

Who led thee through that great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water; who brought thee forth water out of the rock of flint;—Deuteronomy 8:15

Sustenance—God didn’t leave His people without daily bread, and He doesn’t leave you and me without it in the wilderness either. He sustains us both physically and spiritually.

… and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not…that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live.—Deuteronomy 8:3

I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die.—John 6:48–50

Refreshment—Will you pause for a moment and picture a rock? God literally brought water from a rock. He gave His people the refreshment they needed—and from the most unlikely place. He can do the same for you.

Who led thee through that great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water; who brought thee forth water out of the rock of flint;—Deuteronomy 8:15

Sometimes, He even brings us to places of oasis where we can encamp by springs of refreshment before continuing our journey.

And they came to Elim, where were twelve wells of water, and threescore and ten palm trees: and they encamped there by the waters.—Exodus 15:27

Provision—God not only provided food and water in the wilderness, but He cared for the other physical needs of His people—namely their clothing, including their shoes.

Thy raiment waxed not old upon thee, neither did thy foot swell, these forty years.—Deuteronomy 8:4

Hope—All throughout the Israelite’s wilderness wanderings, God gave and reassured them of His promises to bring them into a good land. They had hope, because they had the ongoing, repeated promises of God.

For the Lord thy God bringeth thee into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills;—Deuteronomy 8:7

Are you in a wilderness? God offers these gifts to you as well. And He gives every one of them primarily through a single source—His written Word.

Through His Word, He speaks, guides, sustains, refreshes, provides, and gives hope.

No one in their right mind chooses the wilderness. But every child of God who finds herself there can enjoy the tender care and miraculous provisions of God through His Word.

Yes, the wilderness is miserable—a waste and howling place filled with serpents and scorpions. But it is also the perfect backdrop for you to see the presence, provision, and power of God.

Are you in a wilderness? You don’t have to pretend it is what it isn’t. But would you open the pages of God’s precious Word and receive His wilderness gifts to you?