Yesterday we spent 3 hours in a dry river bed (a Wadi) walking from the ‘wilderness’ to Jericho. It was hot, dry, and there was very little shade. It was so warm the water in my nalgene bottle actually got hot, but we were so hot it still tasted good.
The Bible has a very interesting view of the wilderness, also called desert in some translations. Many stories that take place there speak of the struggle to survive. Deuteronomy calls it “the great and terrible wilderness.” (1:19) Jeremiah 2:6 says “a land of desert, pits, drought and deep darkness, and no one dwells.” Hosea 2:3- “… I will make her like a desert, turn her into parched land, and slay her with thirst.” It’s an incredibly hard place to live. It will either break you or make you incredibly strong.
The Bible gives one other view of the desert. In Deuteronomy 32:9-14 God says that when Israel was in the desert He (God) took care of him. “The LORD alone led him, no foreign god was with him.” (vs. 12) In the desert there is nothing to hold onto. It’s a lonely, deserted, barren land in many ways. Just Israel and the rocks, and God was their Rock so it was Israel and God in the desert. Israel ‘had nothing but they lacked nothing.’ Interestingly- God purposefully made the desert as part of the Promised Land.
You can also see in Scripture people who want to ‘get back to God’ go to the desert. John the Baptist for instance wandered here, and the men at Qumran (for similar reasons). After Christianity became a main religion of the Roman Empire other men and women began to leave their homes and come here. To physically and spiritually remove themselves from a world that was too easy to be a Christian in, or a world that was too easy on their spiritual walk. Here they would struggle to survive, they would have to depend on God and they would have nothing else. Here, life was hard and Jesus became the most beautiful thing to you bc everything else was so harsh. Not the best thought for those of us who enjoy our comfort zones (myself). Anyway, this hymn was written by one of the men who lived here in this harsh place hundreds of years ago.
Art thou weary, art thou languid,
Art thou sore distressed?
“Come to Me,” saith One, “and coming,
Be at rest.”
If I find Him, if I follow,
What His guerdon here?
Many a sorrow, many a labor,
Many a tear.
If I still hold closely to Him,
What hath He at last?
Sorrow vanquished, labor ended,
Finding, following, keeping, struggling,
Is He sure to bless?
Saints, apostles, prophets, martyrs,
Words:Stephen of Mar Saba (Judea), 8th Century (Κόπον τε καὶ κάματον); translated from Greek to English by John M. Neale in Hymns for the Eastern Church, 1862.