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Great and Terrifying Wilderness

“‘Take care lest you forget the LORD your God […] who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water’” (Deuteronomy 8:11, 15).

The Israelites’ disobedience at the edge of the Promised Land led them to wander in the wilderness for nearly forty year years. When at last they arrived again at the edge of the Promised Land, ready to enter and take over the land, Moses reminded them of all God had done for them. He used these words to encourage the people, but they also served as a warning. God had shown His presence to them in innumerable miraculous ways. They must not forget Him.

The first generation of Israelites failed to enter the land because they didn’t trust God. They had forgotten what He had done in Egypt, how He had devastated the whole land through ten terrible plagues. He had accomplished this by His own power, not needing their help at all. He had promised to drive out the inhabitants of the Promised Land in the same manner, but the people refused to listen. So God sent them into the wilderness, where the unbelieving generation would die—but where their children would experience firsthand God’s provision and power. Without those forty years of depending entirely on God for survival, would this second generation have been any better than their fathers?

A common theme throughout the Bible is God teaching His people to trust Him by deliberately leading them through difficulties where they must depend on Him. This teaches them to trust Him, as they see for themselves how faithful He is. He promises good things, but He first teaches us that our true source of blessing and joy is Himself. The wilderness is terrifying, but that’s where we really learn who God is.

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