“Biblical religion, from ancient Israel to the early church, takes shape in a geographical context dominated by desert-mountain topography. Yahweh is a God who repeatedly leads the children of Israel into the desert, toward the mountain. Of the recurring traditions that undergo transformation in Israel’s life the wilderness motif is one of the most significant. At every subsequent period of testing–from Assyrian threat to Babylonian invasion and beyond–the Jews interpret the loss and possibilities of the present in light of their collective memory of the wilderness experience. Having once been taken to the edge, they view all succeeding passages into the wilds of unpredictability in light of that metaphorical paradigm. The god of Sinai is one who thrives on fierce landscapes, seemingly forcing God’s people into wild and wretched climes where trust must be absolute. In the Talmudic tradition of the rabbis, this geographical preference on God’s part came to be discussed in connection with a difficult text in Exodus 13:17. The text affirms, in its most usual English translation, that when Pharoah let the people of Israel go, Yahweh did not lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines, although that would have been closer; they were not taken along the Mediterranean coast and into Palestine, by the easier, more direct route to the north. Instead, they were pointed toward a longer route, further south, more deeply into the desert, toward Mount Sinai. …God’s people are deliberately forced into the desert–taking the harder, more onerous and hazardous route–as an exacting exercise in radical faith. They are shoved down the difficult path so there will be no thought of ever turning back. They cover grueling miles of terrain so tortuous they will never be tempted to recross it in quest of the leeks and onions they remembered in Egypt. Perhaps others can go around the desert on the simpler route toward home, but the way of God’s people is always through it.” Belden Lane
“When Pharaoh finally let the people go,
God did not lead them along the main road that runs through Philistine territory,
even though that was the shortest route to the Promised Land.”
Moving From the Head to the Heart
- Has God led you into a long, onerous, desert place which you would never have chosen?
- In that “exacting exercise in radical faith” do you find yourself being shaped by God?
- If you had it to do over, would you take the “simpler route?”
Abba, meet me in the desert place.
For More: The Solace of Fierce Landscapes by Belden Lane
These “Daily Riches” are for your encouragement as you seek God and God seeks you. I hope you’ll follow/share my blog. I appreciate your interest! Please leave a question or comment. – Bill
P.S. I’ve been working on a book that would be a collection of 365 daily readings–similar to and based on this blog. I’m looking for a publisher for this complicated project. If you have a contact or advice, please contact me.