“Here the news that forced him to think of himself as a man somehow related to and responsible to his kind. He had gone to and fro over the trails of the desert, and many adventures had befallen him. He had lived them, with the force the desert seemed to have taught him, and then had gone his way down the lonely trails, absorbed in his secret.”
--Zane Grey (Wanderer of the Wasteland)
"Who led you through that great and terrible wilderness, in which were fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty land where there was no water; who brought water for you out of the flinty rock."
--Deuteronomy 8:15 (NKJV)
"Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness."
--Mark 1:12 (NKJV)
We love to look at the wilderness. Maybe it is to have a grand view of splendor. Perhaps it is the rush of the awesomeness that it can relay to us. A few might look at a view of the wilderness to think about those who first saw it and ventured into its vast unknown. At times, some may venture into it for a day, or week but seldom to live in it. We love to see the view of the wilderness, but do not like the idea of leaving the comforts of civilization for long.
Why does the wilderness intrigue us? Look out over the vista at the Grand Canyon. Wow! What else can be said. Or gaze in wonder at the snow-capped Rockies while you stand on top of Trail Ridge. But even there with the wilderness around you feel safe because you can easily get back in your vehicle, drive back down the road and be in civilization in no time. Look out over the salt bottom at Death Valley, or view the spires that stand in Bryce. Why are you there? To escape? To enjoy? To wonder? To see the hand of God in creation?
Moses spent forty years learning how to live and survive in the wilderness so he could lead a stiff-necked, stubborn, murmuring people into it for another forty years. Imagine living forty years in the wilderness. It is hard for us to imagine that long, but this is what many of our ancestors did. They crossed the wide Missouri and went out into the unknown with trepidation and some fear seeking a new life, a new home, and most definitely a new way of life.
Wilderness is an old English term that means "the place of wild beasts" (Brady). It is important to realize that these beasts are not necessarily common. The wild beasts that we associate with the opening of western America were wolves, grizzlies, and mountain lions. These beasts brought fear, but man had to learn how to cope and conquer. However, when speaking of the wilderness there is often a beast of which we are not aware of--a spiritual beast, a beast of the unknown. Fear, danger, lack of hope, despairing of faith are among those beasts.
The mountain men who came to know the wilderness, to understand it, and to survive in it became the guides for those who were to follow. Moses was the same way, he lived in the wilderness and he was to lead the Israelites through the "great and terrible" elements of the wilderness (Dt. 1:19) John the Baptist was a man acquainted with the wilderness, and Jesus knew the wilderness well. It was in the wilderness that Jesus the man met with His nemesis and defeated him. When He returns from this wilderness He begins to collect His disciples. We know of the three major temptations He faced, but what of other challenges? The hunger, the thirst, the heat, the wild beasts, the struggle to take another step. Then there is the desire to quit. There are many bones that lay bleached in the wilderness of men who simply laid down and died giving up hope.
We cannot begin to read the Bible without seeing the wilderness come up. It is an important experience of God's people, and it always has a purpose. In the wilderness the distractions of the city are vanquished. There is only the sound of the wind, or of a coyote, maybe even the howl of a wolf. The wilderness can be a place of mystery, and it impels us to seek for God and learn of Him. Where were Adam and Eve sent from the Garden? It had to be a wilderness of some sort. It most definitely was not the lush paradise of Eden. That was forever gone. They had to learn to live differently than they did in the Garden. They had to survive in the elements of nature.
It is important to understand that a "wilderness" is not always a place out in the wilds. It may be in a person's mind. It may be the torture of living in an abused home, or the terror of the streets, or simply walking in a darkened path where fear abounds. Whatever the wilderness it should not speak fear, but it should show us that God is with us in the midst of any challenge just as He was with the Israelites and with the Lord Himself. The wilderness, if properly viewed, is a place where man can and should contemplate and have communion with the Holy Spirit regarding eternal values. Listen to the voice of the Spirit if He is driving you to that place where you can completely surrender to Him.