³Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.²
Job 13:15 NJKV
The Triumph of Trust
Israel had been encamped in the wilderness for a year, around the foot of Mount Sinai, when Moses gave this grand invitation to his brother-in-law, Hobab:
³We are setting out for the place of which the Lord said, I will give it to you.ı Come with us, and we will treat you well, for the Lord has promised good things to Israel.²
He answered, ³No, I will not go; but I am going back to my own land and my own people.²
But Moses said, ³Please do not leave us. You know where we should camp in the desert, and you can be our eyes. If you come with us, we will share with you whatever good things the Lord gives us² (Numbers 10:29-33).
This is a glorious offer, and when we remember where Moses is when he makes it, we see even better its boldness and grandeur. If rocks could cry out, theyıd have said, ³Everything is against you, Moses! The wilderness, the pitiless heat, the unending glare, the bitter cold nights, the size of your company and their lack of character. These people will break your heart, theyıll provoke God beyond endurance. How will they eat and drink? How will they overcome their enemies? You have no war-trained armies, no influential friends or political clout. Everythingıs against you. Your personal limitations, the vast complex of logistical difficulties involved. As far as the eye can see, all the way to the rim of the worldeverythingıs your enemy. Do you hear? The whole worldıs against you! How can you expect good thingsı?²
Isnıt this what so much of life cries out to usChristian and non-Christian alike? ³Everyone and everything is against you! The powers that be, the insinuating cancer, the arguments, the wrecked marriage, the baby shoes that were never worn, the spindly-legged children with their distended bellies and sunken eyes, the recurring seizures, the stubborn local authorities who defend the wicked status quo, the unanswered questions, the bedlam of the cities, the empty church buildings and dwindling congregationsall against you! Your speech is pathetic, your skills are meager and your opposition is well entrenched.²
In our saner moments, we know all thatıs true. Everyone and everything is against us. When was it any different? When wasnıt the world against us? The people of God who hold out hope for a harassed humanity have never triumphed over evil powers or adversity because they had political clout or a monopoly on wisdom or brilliance. They have triumphed because they had something betterthey had God.
Youıve seen Godıs power in your own life, havenıt you? Donıt you remember when you were in such pain that you were sure youıd never survive? And yet here you are, still with God, still listening for his voice, and still praising his name. Havenıt you been so frustrated by sinıs victories over you that you thought youıd never be free? And now you canıt remember exactly when you overcame that besetting sin, but you rejoice knowing itıs a thing of the past.
And listen, God is good even to those who havenıt yet taken on the name of Christ. Paul reminds us of this when he speaks to pagans about ³the living God who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. In the past, he let the nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy² (Acts 14:15-17).
God is good to us allChristian and non-Christian! And it isnıt just food and clothing he gives to non-Christians; he gives them friends and health, beautiful babies and faithful husband and wives; character-filled parents and wise counselors. God is neither stingy nor sectarianhe loves the entire human race, and if thereıs anything beautiful or wise, heart-lifting or character-transforming in this wild world of ours, itıs the generous gift of God. Israelıs experience is a word to the entire world.
The appropriate response from all of us is a confession of our total dependence on and great indebtedness to God. The appropriate response from all of us is a trusting commitment of ourselves to God for victory over all the forces of evil and for a triumphant march home to glory, even though the way home is through the wilderness.
And of course, Moses had seen Godıs triumphant power in his own life, and this was why he could speak with such warm confidence to the Ishmaelite outsider. Hobab. Moses knew it wasnıt just Canaan that belonged to Godthe wilderness was just as surely Godıs. It wasnıt simply that God was with Israel when they ³found themselves in the desert²Moses knew that God had deliberately and with purpose brought them into the wilderness, and thatıs why he was with them in it.
But for all his genuine confidence in God, Moses had his moments of frustration and despondency. Itıs easy to imagine Satan, the World Hater, sidling up beside Moses when he was in one of those slumps, and whispering:
³How can you be so confident, look where you are!²
Down-hearted or not, Moses would have said, ³Donıt be so smug, weıve been in worse places. We used to be in Egypt!²
³Perhaps, but look whereıs heıs landed you; itıs out of the frying pan and into the fire,² the Cynic might have said.
Moses might end the discussion with: ³Egypt was more dangerous to us than this. If God got us out of there, he can get us out of here. Besides, I think youıve forgotten weıre on his mission and not our own. Stay till the end, and youıll see us crossing Jordan. God is with us.²
Sometimes the wildness of this world leaves us breathless, and we wonder, ³God can create a world, spread out a heaven, throw stars into limitless space the way people throw rice at a marriage, but can he take sinful people out of the wilderness, all the way home? Can he take the wilderness out of people and make them holy, through and through? Can he take us with all our weaknesses, all our entrenched sins and character flaws, with all our ignorance, and bring us to Canaan? Is he willing as well as able? Stars arenıt inclined to disobey him, galaxies donıt rise up in rebellion. Itıs one thing for him to succeed with elements that have no choice, but is that the same as dealing with humans, with our free will and our on-again-off-againı longings? Can he see weak people like us safely home? Can he complete his over-arching purpose through us?² Israelıs wilderness experience is written to tell us, ³Yes! Ten thousand times, Yes!²
Iım one of those who thinks people can say ³No!² to Godıs offer of life and friendship. If we simply will not have it, we can ³beat² God; but the eternal loss is ours. I donıt have people like that in mind here. I have in mind those of us who long for better, but canıt seem to ³get it right.² Iım thinking of those of us who arenıt even sure that we long for fullness of life with God, but who long to long for it. Weıre in a fevered state because we donıt want to miss it, and yet we see nothing in us but one form of God-denial or another. Iım thinking of those of us who donıt believe we have to earn life with God but are always anxious, anxious in case there isnıt in us a recognizable ³response of faith.²
To these people Iım wanting to say: Our assurance that weıll make it home, that on the way weıll be blessed and strengthened even by the wildernessour assurance if there is to be any, doesnıt come from within ourselves. It doesnıt come from our positive goodness or avoidance of evil; it comes because our God knows us completely and still works to bless us. We donıt have to impress him, bribe him, grovel and crawl before him. He blesses us in spite of our sinfulness. If our assurance depended on performance rather than trust, if it depended on our virtue rather than on him, not only would we not have been called to his side, weıd never make it home.
Like Moses we all have our times of weariness and frustration, and we hear the inner doubts and the outer criticisms, ³Yes, yes, fine noble talk, but the stubborn fact is that the barren wilderness within you and around you is set against you!² We donıt need to doubt this, but God is for us! Do you hear? God is for us! And the wilderness is his. The chaos is his. The heat, the glare and the lifelessness around us are all his, and if it suits him to make us hungry and thirstyso be it.
Moses knew of the difficulties facing God if he was to bring Israel home to the Promised Land. Didnıt he rage against his own people when they built the golden calf? Hadnıt he spent forty years roaming around the wilderness, taking care of flocks for Jethro? Hadnıt he seen the challenges of living in the desert? Yes, but heıd seen more; heıd seen what God had done to Egypt and how the mountains had quaked at his very presence. Moses knew that God had used his almighty power on Israelıs behalf because he had made promises to Abrahampromises God swore to keep.
All this enabled Moses to endure, and it explains the confident expectation in his words to Hobab. Moses expected one day to be done with the wilderness, done with barrenness, done with pitiless heat and water shortage, done with trackless desert, biting serpents and choking dust. Done with a rebellious people. He spoke in eager tones about a land flowing with milk and honey, a land of streams and fruit treeshe spoke of home. And in the land of Moab as Moses says farewell to Israel as they were about to enter Canaan, his vibrant hope was justified.
So thoroughly did God tame the Sinai wilderness that centuries later, whenever Israel was in trouble, the prophets described its transformation as a way of calling Israel to look to God and to rejoice in hope of a rosy and assured future. Isaiah 35 is one perfect illustration from among many:
The desert and the parched land will be glad;
The wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like
the crocus, it will burst in bloom; it will rejoice
greatly and shout for joy...Water will gush forth
in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The
burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty
ground bubbling springs ... (35:1,6,7).
With an abiding vision of God in their hearts, the Israelites not only saw beyond their great troubles to a better day, they also looked at their pain and saw glory. They gazed with expectant hearts at their present agony and saw it transformed into beauty. In the place of barrenness they found fruit, and in the place of a hot fevered soul, they discovered an assured, blessed life that was a blessing to others because God made them ³a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth² (Isaiah 49:6). Before their very eyes Israel saw the threat to their life become the way to newer, richer life, and to greater service for God.
Why must we go home through the wilderness? After weıve said all we can say, thereıs no completely satisfying answer; but thereıs still Godıs insistent call for us to trust him to do all things well. Jesus called for this trust in his dealings with loyal John the Baptist.
Not many things test our faith more than God doing all kinds of marvelous things for everyone around us, but leaving us unblessed. Our cancer remains while others.... Our babies die while others Our marriages Our children, our business, our parents, our health, our savings while others ... When John the Baptist heard of the miracles worked by the Messiah, he must have felt neglected and a bit depressed. He sent two of his disciples to say to Christ, ³Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?² (Luke 7:18). I donıt think John doubts Jesusı identity (it was the miracles that provoked the visit); itıs what Jesus isnıt doing that troubles John.
Luke 7:21 says Jesus kept Johnıs messengers waiting while he healed multitudes, and then he sends the messengers back to John with a response. Imagine the messengers with wide eyes telling their master how Jesus freed a blind man from darkness, how he released a leper from his disease, how he liberated a woman from death³The power God has given him to rescue people is beyond description,² they might have said. But thereıs no word about freeing John, not a word about his release from the choking dungeon despite his great faithfulness.
When they told him what Christ said, John, bitterly disappointed, might have asked, ³Yes, yes, but did he say anything about me getting out of here?² And they, assuring him that Jesus said nothing about it would add. ³But he did say, Tell John, blessed is the person who isnıt offended by meı² (Luke 7:23).
Johnıs in a personal wilderness, depressed and longing for better, longing for change, and the word comes, ³Trust me! Iıll take care of it all.² John later got out of prison and went straight to glory, didnıt he?
Trust always triumphs over the wilderness.