We’ve arrived at Exodus, Chapter 19, and more importantly, we’ve arrived at the foot of Mt. Sinai. We’ve left Raphidim, in the Wilderness of Sin, and are now at the Wilderness of Sinai. Read Day #14 for a reminder of definitions and context, but clearly this is where Yah intended to take His people. We’ve got 14 days, including 2 Shabbats left to go as we count the days on The Way to Shavuot, and although our people will be physically camped here for one full year, we are going to be ambitious and cover several chapters this week. All of Exodus 19 – 23. It would much easier to just cut to the chase and pretend that Shavuot is simply about the giving of the 10 commandments and move on, but that simply is not the case. He has had us in one wilderness or another this whole time, and (spoiler alert) He’ll keep us here for 40 more years, because in our stiff-necked-ness.
He’s taken us out of Egypt, but we haven’t yet gotten the Egypt out of us.
The word “wilderness” is midbar (Strongs H4057) and the book we call “Numbers” is actually called “b’midbar” in Hebrew—“In The Wilderness”. I am going to spend some time this week, on Day #42, deep-diving in the root of this word—“BaR”—spelled with just two letters ‘Bet‘ (a house) and ‘Resh‘ (a person)—but for now I’ll just say that the Hebrew word for 40 and the word for ‘wilderness’ are based on the same root letters (as is the Hebrew word for “word.”) Let it suffice for now that in both Hebrew spelling and Hebrew thought, the wilderness is a pretty good place to spend 40 units of time to embrace the word. By design, here we find ourselves at the base of ‘Horeb’ (Yah’s Mountain Home in the wilderness) waiting to hear the Word with our own ears.
The wilderness is one of Yah’s favorite places:
Messiah’s temptation was in the wilderness—after being baptized, “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness” (Mark 1:13).
The man who baptized him, John, Messiah’s cousin, wasn’t unfamiliar with this place either.
“And the child [John] grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.” (Luke 1:80). Why did John go to the wilderness? Because the prophet Isaiah set this stage, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare The Way of YHWH, make his path’s straight.” (Isaiah 40:3)
We know that John came in the Spirit of Elijah (Mark 9:13) and Elijah wasn’t just familiar with the wilderness—he came to this exact wilderness, “He arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God”. (1 Kings 19:8).
Based on Paul’s midrash in Galatians, it seems like he too came to Mt. Horeb to re-calibrate himself in the Way, after his sight was restored and he REALIZED how his empty religion had trapped him within the traditions of men.
Whichever geographic wilderness we find in scripture, one thing is clear, it’s a place designed for quiet reflection and limited distraction. It’s a place where we are 100% at Yah’s mercy—and therefore where we rediscover how merciful He truly is. When we fast, for example, we are intentionally putting ourselves in a sort of wilderness state. Fasting isn’t just ‘not eating’—it’s a voluntary opportunity to be tested. Speaking personally, I feel the spiritual struggle—I’ve even heard a voice, tempting me to sneak in one small nibble and to break my very limited, and frankly quite simple, vow to Yah.
Humans love distractions, especially during stressful situations when we really should be eliminating as many as distractions as possible in order to press in and seek YHWH. Sweet and fatty food, alcohol, drugs of one sort or another, screens (both large and small), dopamine, dopamine, and more dopamine—and maybe, if this is your thing, a little adrenaline as a chaser.
“The News” is the most common form of distraction, as it’s the easiest to justify as “being informed” and “being a responsible citizen”. We click and swipe, click and scroll, filling our eyes with a mixture of good and evil, telling ourselves that it’s good for food because it’s so delighting to our eyes—because it is desired to make us wise. We are supposed to be like God, right? Knowing good and evil? Right?
Yah would much rather have us in a wilderness, and I think we all know, deep inside, that it would be better for us. But like Lot, when given the choice, even if we physically live in wide-open places, we build a virtual city of distraction around ourselves. Even when Angels have grabbed us by the hand to pull us out, we try to negotiate with them—how about just a smaller city? (Genesis 19:18-20) Noises and notifications, buzzing, beeping, dinging, have turned us into Pavlov’s dogs. Salivating for more and more gossip, hearsay, slander, and conspiracy theories—more and more fruit from the mixed tree.
This is indeed the world we live in, and it is getting more and more difficult to fight each of these constant temptations to take our eyes off the prize. But each of us can still choose to at least limit distractions. We can choose to regularly put ourselves in the wilderness. Sabbath couldn’t be a better time to flip the switch—it’s already set on a fixed schedule, and if combined with the 7 annual feast’s Sabbaths, that’s two whole months per year of intentional time in an wilderness of sorts.
(If the tone of the last few paragraphs sounded preachy, it is because I was preaching it to myself in real time as I typed it.)
Yah has brought his people to the wilderness as an attempt to reset their expectations for literally everything about their lives. How they think, what they eat, how they keep time, who they love and who they hate, who they praise and how they worship—all of their former understanding, especially what they learned as slaves in Egypt, needs to be wiped completely clean so the residue from their past doesn’t adulterate the purity of what has already been taught. Plus, there is a flood of fresh Torah that is about to come.
If you’ve walked with Yah for any amount of time, you’ve certainly realized that His Torah is not too difficult for us (Deuteronomy 30:11). What is difficult is the purging of the endless lies we’ve accepted our whole lives in order to make room for the truth.
This is why Yah is invites us, His bride-to-be, into the wilderness. Since He loves us, He’ll drag us kicking and screaming if He has to.
Psalm 63:1-4 [when David was in the Wilderness], “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So, I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So, I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.”