Bible Studies from the Original Context
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Desert

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The Journey Home

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When God Leads Along a Desert Way
This is Passover week and so we are considering the original Exodus from Egypt as recorded in Exodus chapter 13. The children of Israel were slaves in Egypt and their life there was bitter. They cried to the Lord (see Exodus 2:23-24) and God raised up Moses to deliver them. God sent nine plagues upon the land of Egypt and still Pharaoh would not let Israel go. God promised Moses that after the tenth plague, the death of the firstborn, then Pharaoh would let them go.

However, when God did lead Israel out of Egypt, He did not lead them via a direct route to Canaan. “And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt. But God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red sea: and the children of Israel went up harnessed out of the land of Egypt.” Exodus 13:17-18 

This Hebrew phrase simply means, “And God circled the people along a desert path.” After all this time of waiting, God did not lead them in a direct route out of Egypt, but rather, He seemingly led them “in circles” into the desert area surrounding the Red Sea. The Hebrew word מִּדְבָּ֖ר (mid-bar), which means ‘desert’, is often translated as ‘wilderness’ in the Authorized Version of the Bible. 

Why did God lead the children of Israel to the desert? Scripture indicates that the desert is God’s top school of learning to trust Him. Remember that God had also sent Moses to the same desert 40 years prior to learn of His ways. When the time was right, God appeared to Moses in the burning bush in this same desert and told him that he would lead the children of Israel out of Egypt and would return and worship God “upon this mountain” (Ex. 3:12). Just as it took Moses 40 years to learn to trust God in the desert, it also took the children of Israel 40 years to learn the same lesson.
Since the desert is a place of limited physical resources, it is God’s choice place to put His children in order to develop a dependence upon Himself and hence to develop their faith in Him as their all sufficient provider. The Bible is full of examples of how God patiently time and again met the needs of the children of Israel in the desert. Due to the limited resources of the desert, it is also a place of great miracles! The parting of the Red Sea is the greatest miracle in the entire T’nakh! If God had lead Israel directly into Canaan, there would be no Red Sea miracle! This great miracle occurred in response to the children of Israel’s inability to fight the Egyptians. They had no weapons. God Himself fought for them! Think of the other miracles that Israel experienced – The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. The manna. God provided miracle after miracle for the children of Israel in the desert. Note also that the desert, the place of limited resources, was also the place of God’s greatest victories! The same Red Sea that became a miraculous path of escape for Israel became a tomb for Egypt! God used a seemingly circuitous delay at the Red Sea to win the greatest victory for Israel!
Today God can (and does!) put His servants into ‘desert situations’ to teach them the same principles of faith that He taught Moses, and the children of Israel. So if we find ourselves in a desert of God’s making, (like maybe a worldwide corona virus pandemic), let us not fret, but rather rejoice that God is wanting to increase our faith and lead us to victory. And watch out for the miracles! They will appear!

Our Fortress in Times of Danger

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No trip to Israel is complete without a trip to Masada! Located on top of a rhomboid shaped mesa on the edge of the Judean desert, Masada towers above the Dead Sea valley at an elevation of 13,000 ft. Isolated from its surroundings by deep gorges on all sides, it is a natural fortification. King Herod recognized what a natural fortress Masada was nad built his fortress on top between 37 and 31 BC. Tormented by constant fear of being deposed from his throne, he was a man consumed with anger and hate – eventually killing his own wife and sons due to fear that they would cost him the kingdom.

Herod was not the first king of Judah to climb the ‘snake path’ to Masada’s top. According to 1 Samuel 22 and Psalm 18, David hid from Saul atop Masada. Masada (מְצָדָה) is a Hebrew word that has been adopted into the English language “as is” without translating. In Psalm 18:2, the phrase, “my fortress” is one Hebrew word: מְצוּדָתִ֗י (m’tzu-dati). According to the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT), it is derived from the word מְצָד (m’tzad) which means “mountain-height”; “summit”; “fortress”; “castle”. 1 Samuel 22 tells the story of David taking his parents from Bethlehem to the land of Moab so they would be safe from Saul. Moab lies in modern day Jordan – just across the Dead Sea from Masada. With his parents safely in Moab, David went to Masada to find protection from Saul.

However, God sent the prophet Gad to David with a warning, “And the prophet Gad said unto David, Abide not in the hold; depart, and get thee into the land of Judah.” 1 Sam. 22:5 The English word “hold” is the Hebrew – מְּצוּדָ֔ה (m’tzuda) which is what we call today Masada. Although Masada is a natural fortress, God did not want David to trust in the fortress of Masada, but in Him! The TWOT says, “Man erects his fortress out of stone to protect himself from external dangers. Nevertheless with great strategy a stronghold may be taken; (e.g. David captured the stronghold of Zion as mentioned in 2 Sam 5:7). God himself was the stronghold in whom David trusted throughout his trials (Ps 18:2; 91:2).”

The actions of King David and King Herod are somewhat indicative of their forefathers. David was the true king of Israel – a son of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Herod was an Idumean from Edom; a descendant of Esau. Remember the ancient choices of Jacob and Esau as recorded in Genesis 25:29-34. Jacob choose the spiritual, while Esau chose the physical. Herod looked at Masada and tried to create a fortress to protect himself from physical harm. David, however, looked at the God who made Masada to protect him!

Masada is an incredible place to visit and I hope if you go to Israel you go there. Remember to take your Bible and while on top, read Psalm 18 out loud and remember – that the God that made Masada is the God that protects us. Truly, a “mighty fortress” is our God!! Amenֵ

Bible Studies from the Original Context

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