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Week One | What is the Wilderness?

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Wealth of the Wilderness Online Biblical Study
Reading Assignment – Ch. 1 & 2
Hebrew Word of the Week – midbar מִדְבָּר
Listen to the Audio version | Read time 8.5-minutes

If you would have asked me about “the wilderness” back in February 2020, I might have told you about the Israelites and their 40 years spent wandering in the wilderness.  Or I would have shared about the time that Jesus walked, still dripping wet from His baptism in the Jordan River, into the wilderness to face the devil’s temptations.

It’s unlikely that I would have told about my personal struggles of my own wilderness seasons. They’re not something that I would have thought to highlight.

But something so rare happened in 2020. Humanity collectively experienced the wilderness. Together, separately.

“Whatever the context of a wilderness season, one thing is certain: it marks us. It’s as though we define our lives by pre-and post-moment or sequence of moments that led us into a wilderness. Life changes, which often changes us.”

rebekah joy, pg. 7 of “wealth of the wilderness”

My co-workers and I remark on a regular basis how we all now struggle to make sense of time.  What day is it?  Goodness gracious, what month is it?

In some ways, the year 2020 was a blip on the radar, but in other more catastrophic ways, it deeply marked us all.  We now view life pre-Covid and post-Covid.

And for many years to come, we’ll continue to mark time based on the single year that sent the world into a wilderness.

What is the Wilderness?

On the third new moon after the people of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that day they came into the wilderness of Sinai.
Exodus 19:1, ESV

The Israelites had been enslaved for 400 years. And in one night, they escaped the only life they’d ever known, through the Red Sea no less. But instead of walking into the Promised Land, the land that God promised their patriarch, Abraham, and his descendants, they walked straight into the wilderness.

“Wilderness seasons often catch us off guard. Something happens, or doesn’t happen, and we find ourselves thrust into a phase of life that stretches, refines, frightens, and ultimately changes us, depending on how we choose to steward it.”

Rebekah Joy, Pg. 6-7 of “Wealth of the Wilderness”

There were a lot of “somethings” happening and a lot of things not happening in 2020.  At first, we were equally excited for the free time we are never afforded in our day-to-day lives but equally terrified of just how much of our day-to-day lives had vanished.

And in a lot of ways, we’ve all acted a lot like the Israelites in the desert, longingly looking back towards Egypt as they craved the only “normal” they ever knew.

The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! 5We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic. 6But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!”
Numbers 11:4-6, NIV

As Kristi McLelland, author of Jesus & Women, shares in her online course on Israel,

“It has been said that, ‘it took one night to get the Israelites out of Egypt, but it took forty years in the desert to get Egypt out of the Israelites.”

I’m not certain how many years it’s going to take to bring humankind out of the Covid-fog, but it doesn’t seem to be lifting any time soon.

We’re still walking in a very real wilderness.


Midbar is the term used most often for wilderness in the Bible and is an “underlying theme throughout the biblical narrative”.  (Pg. 27)

As a matter of fact, the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Christian Bible (also the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, the Torah) took place in the wilderness.  

Midbar is a desert or wilderness where human habitation is difficult.

Living in the desert, in a tent, longing for “normalcy” and counting down the forty years before the Israelites were permitted to cross the Jordan (the same river that Jesus was later baptized, coincidentally) and enter the Promised Land sounds pretty much a difficult place for human habitation.

Our present season, though not requiring us to dwell in tents, presents its own challenges of safety – physically, but also mentally and emotionally.  The culmination of all of this stress also affects us spiritually.

But God.  He uses these midbar seasons to grow, stretch, and transform us from former slaves (present-day slaves to the glorification of “busy”) into His chosen people.

No matter what your wilderness looks like on this side of 2020, know that God absolutely refuses to leave His people where they are.  He is always working to bring us Home.

1. We’re not a whole lot different than the Israelites in the desert.
2. The wilderness or midbar is a place that is inhabitable by humans.
3. The wilderness or midbar is a place that God works to transform us.
4. God doesn’t leave us alone in the wilderness.

Consider past wilderness seasons you have navigated.  Looking back, where do you see God in the midst of it?

Shop this study

Wealth of the Wilderness | Rebekah Joy

A 6-week study to develop halakha—Hebrew for “a way of walking and living”—that positions us to inherit the unique riches available in and through wilderness seasons. Ten postures form the framework of Wealth of the Wilderness, each with a relevant Hebrew word as its foundation.

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