The Wilderness

Surely the Lord your God has blessed you in all your undertakings; he knows your going through this great wilderness. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you; you have lacked nothing.

-Deuteronomy 2:7

Well, that’s one way of looking at things! These are the words of Moses, reflecting on God’s promises and provision while the Israelites were in the wilderness between Egypt and the Promised Land. After forty years of wandering, it’s quite a statement!

There are, after all, a lot of things to remember going wrong in the wilderness. There wasn’t always enough water to be had—but then God provided water from a rock. The Israelites turned away from God to worship a Golden Calf—but then Moses demolished the idol and the people repented. Their food supplies ran out—but then God provided manna and quail. The Israelites complained that the food was better in Egypt—but Moses reminded them they were slaves in Egypt. The camp was infested by venomous snakes—but God provided healing. The list goes on.

After forty years of trouble, homelessness, and hardship, there’s plenty to complain about. Moses doesn’t, though. He certainly doesn’t forget. The whole ordeal is written about in excruciating detail. The wilderness experience forms the backbone of who the Israelites are as a people.

Somehow, at the end of forty years in the wilderness, Moses looks back and sees that God was present with the Israelites every step of the way. In fairness, God sent a giant pillar of cloud/flame to guide them, so it was probably easier to say that God was present. Even so, Moses could have seen that as mere guidance, not blessing.

I’ve heard quite a few reflections that this pandemic feels a bit like being in the wilderness. We don’t know how long it will last. We long for the way things used to be. We see people who are sick and dying, and we cry out for God to heal them. We know where we want to be but don’t know how or when we’ll get there.

I hope and pray that when we reach the end of the pandemic we’ll be able to see all the ways God was with us. That we’ll be able to say that we lacked nothing, for God provided. That we’ll declare that our God blessed us in all our undertakings.

We’re not there, yet. In the wilderness, well, the complaints were many and the bad days outnumbered the good. It’s okay if it takes us months or even years to reach the point of making a statement like the one Moses offered.

Instead of getting bogged down in the troubles of this pandemic wilderness, we can take the long view. We know that things will not be back to normal this month. They may never return to exactly what they were. We’ll have disappointment and losses, no question. In the moment, we may wonder where God is. The Israelites did.

Our lives are not confined to this moment. When we look back, we can see how God has been faithful to us in the past. Why should we doubt that God is being faithful to us right now? We have received blessings, so why doubt that God’s generosity will continue? Instead, like Moses, we can remind each other that God has been with us every step of the way.

God of past, present, and future, I thank you for being with me wherever I go. In this pandemic wilderness, help me to see how you have blessed me and others. Make me a witness to your presence in the world. Amen.

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