The Womb in the Wilderness

Recently I was part of a conversation about being in the wilderness, and we were talking about how this last 18 months has certainly seemed like a wilderness experience. COVID has removed many of us from our normal comforts and coping mechanisms – eating out, shopping, concerts and movies, visits with friends, and the like – in our efforts to remain healthy and to protect those we love and care for. Even those unconcerned about COVID have been frustrated with all the externally-imposed limitations it has caused.

The Hebrews and the Wilderness

I imagine that the experience would have been intimately familiar to the Hebrews being uprooted from Egypt. For hundreds of years they had been slaves, but certainly their liberation from the Egyptians was deeply disconcerting. Even in slavery there is the comfort of routine, and more than that, Egypt was known as the “breadbasket of the world” for its rich harvest and fertile soil along the Nile River. Goshen was a plentiful land, a place of crops and grazing. As Genesis 47:11 says, “Now Joseph settled his father and his brothers and gave them property in the land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land of Rameses, as Pharaoh had ordered.

Being cast into the wilderness was therefore a huge compromise – freedom gained, comforts lost. Within a couple years, when encountering the challenges of the Promised Land, and already deeply unhappy with their situation, they petitioned Moses and Aaron to return to Egypt, in Numbers 14:4. Their patience with the wilderness had been exhausted. And yet their experience was only beginning.

We modern, supposedly enlightened Christians find ourselves in a similar situation, on a similar timeline. A couple years into this wilderness, we’re unhappy. Life is more difficult. Our comforts are gone. We want those familiar beds and houses back.

The Womb

Here’s what occurred to me: The wilderness is a womb.

The wilderness, for the Hebrews, was a place of nourishment – God fed the Hebrews for 40 years. It was a place of health – they were not sick. It was a place of provision – their clothes didn’t wear out. It was a place of safety – they were protected from their enemies. It was a place of shelter – God sent them a cloud for shade by day. It was a place of warmth – God provided a pillar of fire by night. It was a place of direction – God led them constantly.

Similarly, a womb is warm, and nurturing, and safe, and sheltered. And it’s a place of growth. In fact, it’s everything needed for life – except it’s not the end goal. A pregnancy is meant to end with a birth. A womb is not a place to linger. And God didn’t let the Hebrews build a permanent temple in the wilderness, and stay there forever.

Instead, the end goal was to enter the Promised Land. It was a place of unimaginable provision. But it was also a place of warfare and conquering and fighting to take hold of everything the Lord promised. The Promised Land wasn’t a place of peace and rest and plenty, until those battles had been won and the enemy driven out.

So the wilderness is not just a place of rest and growth, it’s a place of preparation for battle.

The Painful Parts

And, honestly, the wilderness was also a place of winnowing and sifting.

God kept the Hebrews there in the wilderness while every mature nonbeliever grew old and died, except for Caleb and Joshua, the two faithful men who gave a good report of the Promised Land. All the youth had to grow up and rise into their places as leaders, husbands, wives, priests, and worshipers. They even eventually had to prepare for battle, knowing there were giants to be killed.

What’s especially painful, perhaps, to most modern adults about the wilderness is our lack of control. It’s up to God’s timeline when we will be released. He alone knows when we’re mature enough to be birthed from that womb of preparation.

And the process of growth and maturing is not easy, either. It’s simpler to stay in Egypt and coast along with life, even if it’s slavery and routine. We’re not confronted with the need to change and mature.

And the battle we see looming ahead is scary. There are giants in the land. We feel like grasshoppers in their sight. We have no idea how we will survive the fight.

So, all too often, we cry out to Moses to lead us back to Egypt. It’s familiar, it’s wealthy, and it’s relatively safe.

But that’s not God’s plan for His people.

God’s Plan for the People of God

His goal is to bring about an accurate representation of Himself on the earth. He means to reveal the Son to the world, in all His glory, and that Son is Christ, into whom we’re being joined and fitted together. The fully mature Son – the corporate Christ – will be ready and able to take the mantle of authority from the Father to rule and reign on the earth, and we’re part of that. Revelation 22:5 says we “will reign forever and ever.” 2 Timothy 2:12 says “If we endure, we will also reign with Him.” Revelation 5:10 says He “made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth.” Daniel 7:27 says:
Then the kingdom and dominion,
And the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven,
Shall be given to the people, the saints of the Most High.
His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
And all dominions shall serve and obey Him.

But we’re not yet mature. We need that womb experience to refine us, to grow us, to prepare us for the battles AND the responsibilities to come.

My Response

May I never again complain about being in the wilderness, but instead appreciate what it brings about in me, and look forward to the growth that results. And may I never be one of those who turns back to Egypt, to slavery, to the former routine. May I never be one who the Lord must leave to die in the wilderness, unwilling to forge ahead. Instead, may I be one excited about entering the Promised Land, ready for the fights, and confident in the Lord’s provision and protection against the giants.

So I can rejoice in the wilderness. No, it’s not comfortable. No, it’s not what I was used to. But it’s God’s design to grow me – to grow us – up into maturity, to be fitted into the Body of Christ in all its rich, diverse, manifold glory.

And it’s a lot easier to accept this momentary discomfort in light of that future, our ultimate destiny: to rule and reign with Jesus, as part of the corporate Christ, assembled together out of every tribe and tongue and nation and people.

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