Time and time again throughout Scripture, righteous men of God are led into the desert by the Holy Spirit. The Bible contains countless detailed descriptions of the transformative experiences that awaited them there and how the Lord would use this setting to commune with his chosen ambassadors of faith.
Today, believers and biblical scholars alike symbolically associate the desert with periods of introspection and soul-searching in the midst of tribulation and isolation. Here's a closer look at some desert scenes from the Bible and what you can learn from these powerful encounters between God and his messengers.
Throughout the book of Ezekiel, the prophet details Israel's shifting relationship with God due to their capricious faith, rebellious hearts and frequent wandering. He illustrates their recurring regression into idolatry and immorality by using the allegory of an adulterous wife (Ezekiel 16), lamenting over Israel's spiritual breakdown and looking with hope to one who would mend the rift between God and his people.
In 37:1, Ezekiel says, "The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by his Spirit and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones." As he beheld these bones strewn across the desert floor, Ezekiel was captivated by how dry they were. In verse 3, the Lord asks, "Son of man, can these bones still live?"
This valley of dry bones is yet another image Ezekiel utilizes to symbolize the cleavage between the Lord and his people at this point in Israel's history. In asking this question, God is asking if his relationship with Israel has any hope of restoration or if the damage done by Israel's unfaithfulness has left it beyond repair.
Ezekiel's reply demonstrates his faith in God and what he is capable of: "Lord God, only you know." Believers today can find peace and assurance in the knowledge that the Lord did indeed deliver his people — and continues to — through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. His sacrifice adds even more gravity to this scene in Ezekiel 37. "Can these bones still live?" Yes — but only through Christ's flesh and blood.
Of course, Jesus was also led into the desert by the Holy Spirit to have his faith tested. However, his desert experience was quite a bit different from Ezekiel's; it wasn't God the Father who communed with him there but Satan.
Jesus began his 3-year ministry at the age of 30 after being baptized by his cousin, John the Baptist, who was imprisoned by King Herod shortly thereafter. Leaving his hometown of Nazareth, he headed to Galilee and called upon his first disciples. Before doing so, however, he was led into the desert wilderness by the Holy Spirit to be "tempted by the devil" immediately following his baptism. (Matthew 3:13-4:1, Mark 1:9-12, Luke 3:21-22 & 4:1)
The devil did not approach Jesus right away; ever cunning, he waited until Jesus had fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. Then, when Christ was at his weakest, Satan took his opportunity. He tempted Jesus three times, each one designed to be more appealing to the ego than the last.
"If you are truly the Son of God," he enticed Jesus, "tell these stones to become bread."
Jesus's reply had already been prepared for him in the book of Deuteronomy. "It is written: 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God'" (Deuteronomy 8:3).
Satan would not be deterred that easily. In the blink of an eye, he whisked Jesus away to the temple in Jerusalem and stood him upon its highest pinnacle. Taking a cue from Jesus's use of Scripture to resist temptation, he tried convincing Jesus to throw himself off of the pinnacle by manipulating a passage found in Psalm 91. Unswayed, Jesus once again quoted Deuteronomy in his reply, "It is also written: 'Do not test the Lord your God'" (Deuteronomy 6:16).
Satan then "took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor" (Matthew 4:8). He offered to give Jesus all of it on one condition: "Fall down and worship me" (v. 9).
Jesus answered with Deuteronomy 6:13: "Go away, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'" The devil finally departed and angels came and attended to Jesus. (Matthew 4:11)
Throughout your walk with God, perhaps you've experienced your own deserts. These deserts can manifest in a multitude of different forms — the loss of a loved one, a period of illness or financial difficulty or struggles with depression or anxiety.
It's important to remember that, no matter how far away God may feel in these deserts, he's never abandoned you. He hears you when you cry out to him, and he always has a plan for you, even if you don't quite understand it in the midst of dry bones. Like Ezekiel, you can rest in the knowledge that God is in control, and when the devil uses these moments to strike when you're at your weakest, you can lean upon the wisdom of God's Word. Additionally, the attentive staff at Bethesda Gardens Frisco is always here to support our residents through their own desert days.
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