One time my little brother Charlie and I found ourselves wandering through a wilderness. As youngsters, we got lost trying to find the “end of the woods” at our grandparent’s country home in Anderson, SC. We were explorers walking through undiscovered land. We climbed saplings, rode them to the ground, and turned sticks into swords and spears. After hours of fun, the woods came to an end. We crossed a desolate field, littered with dead corn stalks, and made for a road up ahead. We knew we were moving deeper into unknown territory.
Walking down the old country road, we began to argue over which way to turn. Ahead we saw an old, one-story rambler. Two guys right out of the Dukes of Hazard were working on a truck; their beer-engorged guts smashed against its side. We asked for help, but they only grunted.
Back on the country road, with the sun beating down, we sank into despair. We didn’t call on God but tried to fix the blame. “It was your bright idea to find the end of woods! Now we’re going to die. We’ll never see Grandma again!” But, while we cried our way along, Grandma was back at the house praying, calling the angelic host to come to our rescue. She also called the police for good measure.
We soon saw a police car in the distance. Getting into the cruiser, feeling the cold AC, our sorrow turned to hope. Soon we were home safe in grandma’s arms.
There was a time, long ago, when the children of Israel felt lost in the wilderness. Unlike my brother and I, they were led there by God. Here’s how they got there.
The great saving act of the Old Testament happened at the Red Sea. At God’s command, Moses stretched his staff over the waters. Heavenly winds howled. Giant, aquarium-like sea walls soon stood erect, leaving a dry path between. God’s people walked on firm footing. Pharaoh’s chariot warriors pursued in blind rage. The walls collapsed, like a billion liquid bricks, crushing the Egyptians. After 400 years of slavery, they were free, redeemed to be God’s special people. As this revelation dawned, a celebration erupted on the beach. They sang in Exodus 15:11, “Who among the gods is like you, Lord? Who is like you—majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?”
In a few days, they came to an oasis called Elim. Elim was a wilderness resort equipped with 12 springs and 70 palm trees. The celebration continued as they swam, splashed, drank, and enjoyed God’s grace and freedom for an extended time.
But, Elim was not the final destination. Exodus 16:1 says, “They set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the people of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai…” The dreamy sabbatical ended. With Elim in the rearview mirror, they came into the wilderness.
Remember, God was leading them – an unmistakable cloud in the day and a pillar of fire by night. He was taking them to Sinai, a place of breakthrough, where God would make his covenant, give them the Decalogue, and the plans for a tabernacle of worship where his presence would dwell. Between Elim and Sinai was the wilderness. And between Sinai and the land of promise was more wilderness.