When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led the people around by the desert road.
Desert experiences are an inevitable part of our spiritual pilgrimage. As disorienting as they are, maturity eventually teaches us to not only anticipate these times of lostness, but to even welcome them as seasons of grace where God, in a unique way, fashions and strengthens our faith.
The desert is a place of God-breathed confusion, a time of disorientation out of which new truths find their footing. In the desert we lose our bearings. Without the securities that used to mark our path we become more dependant on God as we seek redirection in our lives.
More often than not, the desert is something thrust upon us rather than something we choose for ourselves. Whether we are prepared for it or not, we suddenly face new variables in our lives, ones that are untried and often unspecific. Forced to let go of familiar shores, faith becomes our only guide as we advance towards the mystery that lies ahead of us.
One of the more disconcerting features of the desert is that it often closes the door on the past. Not long after they had set out on their journey, the Israelites pined for the days when they at least knew what defined their lives. But the Lord made certain they had no choice but to move forward. We too must face the fact that we cannot go back to where we once were. To the degree that we fail to come to terms with this we will not be able to fully respond to God’s presence in what lies ahead.
Like Abraham in the desert, we must, at times, leave our homeland in order to go to “to the land I will show you.” And to the degree that we lack peace in trusting God, we will naturally hesitate and try to turn back. The desert however removes from us the option of return. It forces us to accept that we don’t know where we are going, or how long it will take to get there, and that we will have to place our faith solely in the fact that God does.
Remember how the Lord your God has led you in the desert for these forty years, taking away your pride and testing you, because he wanted to know
what was in your heart.