The Wilderness

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Well, guys, we’re going to get a good hands-on lesson today because we’re going to spend some time talking about the wilderness, where David had to wander around. And a lot of the terrain where David wondered is similar to a lot of the terrain in Utah, and so when you turn your Bibles to 1 Samuel 23, I’m going to highlight just a few passages for us in 1 Samuel 23, but we’re going to follow this message today more topically, I’m going to follow a theme today. So if you want to go ahead and find some spots in your Bible, I’m going to go to Hebrews 4 and Matthew 4 to end the sermon. So if you’d like to find those locations before I get there. 1 Samuel 23, Hebrews 4, then Matthew 4, is where we’re going to be today.

And I want to use this as an opportunity, really, to help highlight the significance of this section of scripture from 1 Samuel 23, really to the end of Samuel. When I read this passage of the Bible, this book of the Bible, for me, this is the most exciting part of all of the story that happens within the pages of 1 and 2 Samuel, is the end of 1 Samuel and the beginning of 2 Samuel. It’s such an astounding section of scripture for me, because all that David is willing to endure to honor God. He’s very patient and wanting to see the Lord work things out according to his plan, rather than David take the reins and determine things would happen by his own strength. He really relies on God in a difficult time of his life. And what you find in chapter 21, 1 Samuel, if I give us a little bit of a background, David’s on the run. If you remember, we read this last week, starting 1 Samuel 20 where Jonathan comes and warns David, my dad’s going to kill you.

And David goes on the run and he spends his life on the run for the last year or two, especially as this book of 1 Samuel comes to an end, as you read the end of these stories to conclude 1 Samuel, David is on the run. That’s the last 10 chapters of this book shares with us, the story of David. And he goes to this land of Nob where priest are located and he runs to where the priests are and he asks for food to eat. He asks for a sword to fight, and then he leaves Nob and he goes to Gath. And then he goes to a cave in Adullam, and he’s always on this run. And you see David going after him trying to track him down and even killing people along the way. In fact, a Saul ends up killing the priests in Nob for helping David.

And so there’s this pursuit after King David for his life. Saul’s jealous over him and wants David’s head and he’s running after him. And what we find is David just continues to hide in the wilderness. That’s how verse 14 ended in the section that Pastor Wayne just read to us. David stayed in the wilderness in the strongholds and remained in the hill country in the wilderness of Ziph and Saul sought him every day. But God did not deliver him into his hands. And chapter 26, verse 3, it continues to remind us. David is still wandering in the wilderness and that’s the theme I want to talk to us about today because the wilderness in scripture is rich with biblical imagery. It is important to understand when the Bible talks about the wilderness, how that plays in the Old Testament and how that relates to our lives today.

The wilderness was a place where God used to really shape David. It’s a place where God used to shape many biblical characters. In fact, one of the things that I did this week and just preparation for this message for my own personal life, I just Googled the chronological order of the book of Psalms. And the reason I did that is because David wrote half of the Psalms in the Bible. And there’s a good portion of the Psalms that he writes during these days. And so you can read the Psalms as David goes through the stories that are happening in 1 Samuel chapter 21 and on, you can read the Psalms that David wrote during this time period to see how his heart is thinking after the Lord and how he’s choosing to worship God in adversity. One of my favorite Psalms during this time in this portion of scripture is Psalm 141, where David says in verse 2, “Lord, may my prayers to you be the offering of incense, may I lift my hands in an evening offering before you.”

Such a beautiful description that David is using to think about his spiritual life before God in that passage, because when I think about the way incense was used in Israel for an offering before the Lord, that in the temple, they would burn incense day and night. And it would be seen as the sweet aroma being raised before God. And that became an image of prayer in the Old Testament that our prayers are the same to God, that it was the sweet incense, even to the point when you turn to the book of Revelation in chapter 5, verse 8, and then chapter 8, verses 3, 4, and 5, those portions of scripture, God describes the prayers of the saints as a continual offering his incense before the Lord. And I love to think about not only David praying in that way, but us today when we pray that it always is a sweet aroma before the Lord.

In the end of Revelation, it gives this picture. You ever get to that place in your life where you’re praying in difficult times and you’re in that wilderness and you’re asking God to deliver? And maybe God doesn’t answer the way you want him to. And you’re sort of left with, “Well, does God even hear me?” Well, the book of Revelation when it gets to the end of the Bible and it starts telling the story of this incense of all of God’s people in prayer, chapter 8, verse 3 and 5, it tells us that one day God has collected all the prayers of his saints and he will turn it against this earth and bring his righteous judgment upon this earth for all the things that it’s done against his people. And so you may think your prayers might be hitting the ceiling, but rest assured the Bible tells us as we’re praying before the Lord, God is collecting those prayers and he may, he may answer it today or he may answer it in the future, but God will answer it and God will use it to bring his justice to this earth.

And David’s praying that in Psalm 141 during the difficult days of his life, and God uses this period in the wilderness to shape David. And the truth is God uses the wilderness. If I use it metaphorically as a place to shape us. When I say the word wilderness, when the Bible talks about the word wilderness, I think it’s important to remember, I grew up in the East coast and when I say the word wilderness, I think real woods and forest and the places where that you walk and if you go more than 10 feet into it, people can’t see you anymore. But when the Bible talks about the word wilderness, it doesn’t just mean like a forest wilderness, it’s talking about barren desolate land.

David is wandering in this area of the world, trying to stay away from Saul and I just want to talk about for us as we look at this passage of scripture, we consider David’s life and the theme of wilderness in the Bible. I want us to just reflect on the irony of what the wilderness represents. If you grabbed the notes from our tent today, or you downloaded our app and you have our notes in the first blank that we provided for you this morning, it says this. We think about the irony of the wilderness. The first lesson that we learn is that you can’t survive in the wilderness. That’s kind of an interesting thing that God would allow David to go into the wilderness. Not only to learn the lesson that David you can’t survive in the wilderness, unless you have some outside source assist you to sustain you.

That’s what you find in chapter 23, verse 14, David’s wandering in the wilderness and it reminds us the reason that David isn’t discovered by Saul is because the last phrases of verse 14, God did not deliver him into his hand. That the only reason David sustained during his time period in the wilderness, wasn’t because of the strength found in David, but it was because of the goodness of his God. I think in Utah, we understand something about this desert wilderness, just the description about it. If you’ve ever visited, especially areas in Southern Utah, I remember when I first moved here, I went to Moab and I learned real quick in Moab or the arches, you need to take water and lots of water when you go. Right at the very entrance of Moab, you got a little bit of water in a fountain. If you didn’t bring water with you and that’s all for the day. So the wilderness is a harsh place unless you are prepared, and even if you’re prepared, unless you have some assistance from the outside, it can’t sustain you.

Our family a few months ago, took a few trips to some of the national parks in Utah. And before we went, we decided to look up on YouTube places to go while we’re in the national parks, we wanted to just pick our favorite spots and go visit those areas. Now we started to watch different hikes that we could take. And then all of a sudden, I remember we got enamored by this idea of slot canyons. When we started watching videos on slot canyons on YouTube. And then before I know it a couple of hours later, we’re not just watching videos on slot canyons, but we’re watching videos on floods in slot canyons. Like how to respond if there’s no storm around you, but all of a sudden 20 miles up the slot canyon, there’s some kind of downpour and it just floods the canyons and now you got to get to safety. And we’re just watching people that have done this in Utah.

And you learn something quick about the desert, right? When we went, finally went down and went hiking. We found ourselves oftentimes just hiking in creeks that were completely barren. And you can tell just within moments that something could just rip through there. And that’s typically the way the desert works. It’s kind of a harsh place to experience life where if you don’t have resources, all of a sudden the resources do show up. Water comes. It comes in such a horrific way that it can take your life. And so you need assistance in order to be able to sustain you. And this is what God reminds us of in the story of David in 1 Samuel 23. David’s on the run, but God is always there. In the wilderness, this is where David really learns his dependence on the Lord. That God is there.

When you turn to the book of Hebrews in chapter 3 and chapter 4, it continues to play on this idea of wilderness, but it reminds us of something. It reminds us, look when you’re in the wilderness, your body recognizes it physically, yes. But there’s also a spiritual component to the wilderness. In fact, God leads you in the wilderness, in the physical adversity that you find in order to communicate something to you spiritually. In Hebrews chapter 3 and chapter 4, the author of Hebrews wants us to recognize that, yes, David wandered in the wilderness. This is what they’re going to play on, and even the children of Israel, when they left Egypt as slaves and they, and they’re heading to the Promised Land, they wandered for 40 years in the wilderness, physically they’re in the wilderness.

But God uses that time in order to teach them something spiritually about where they are in their relationship with him and in Hebrews chapter 3, verse 7, listen to this, before I get to chapter 4, it says this. “So as the Holy Spirit says, today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion during the time of your testing, the wilderness, where your ancestors tested and tried me. Though for 40 years, they saw what I did.” So he’s saying to them, look just like the children of Israel went in the wilderness, like you’re going in your life you’re going to go through time periods in the wilderness. And here’s what’s important. Do not harden your hearts.

Sometimes we go through difficult things in life and we respond opposite to how God could speak to us in those moments. We soften our hearts to the circumstance and it hurts us. And then we harden our hearts to God. And what he’s saying is the opposite is, look, you need strength for your circumstances, but spiritually open your life before the Lord. Don’t do what the children of Israel did in the 40 years of their wandering in the wilderness. And chapter 4, he repeats the same idea. He says this. “God again sent a certain day calling it today. This he did when a long time later he spoke through David,” as in the passage already quoted today, “If you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” Verse 11, “Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.”

He’s saying, look, God wants to teach you something in the wilderness that God still speaks to your life. That God still cares. That just as he was with David and just as he’s with the children of Israel, so God is with you during this time period. And so while we think about the desert in a physical way, the author of Hebrews wants us to consider what God teaches us spiritually in those moments, challenging our lives to soften our hearts. So one, we learned this, you can’t survive in the wilderness. You need something outside to help sustain you in those moments.

But the other thing that we learn, the second blank in your notes is this. You can’t survive without the wilderness. Isn’t that ironic to think you can survive in the wilderness and you can’t survive without the wilderness. What does God want us to do? It’s such a bizarre way to look at it, but David needed a hand to protect him. And David needed the wilderness as the place to really learn how God was with him no matter where he went in life. I read one author that talked about the chronological order of the Psalms. And I just want you to know if you Google that, look that up and want to read through the Psalms. No one has it exactly right. It’s just an educated response to what is contained in the Psalms and who the author of the Psalms are. Chronologically if you look up a few different people, you’ll see they have different songs in different places.

But I read one author that said he believes that Psalm 23 was written when David met Jonathan in the field, remember we talked about the passage last week, where David learns that Saul’s against him. And Jonathan goes on warns David in the field that my dad’s going to kill you. You need to run. And someone responded they believe David wrote Psalm 23 while he laid in the field and waited for Jonathan to show up, to tell him whether or not his father was trying to kill him. And you think about that Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want, he makes me lie down and leads me beside still waters.” And think, as David’s just laying in this field and hiding is reflecting on the goodness of God and learning, and he can’t survive in the wilderness, but he can’t survive without the wilderness meaning God is teaching him during this time of how the Lord really upholds him, despite the circumstances and what that means for us is this. The wilderness can look dreadful to us.

The wilderness can look concerning to us, but when you read the Old Testament, what you find is man, God meets everybody in the wilderness. And you think about the story of scripture, where Jacob wrestles with the Lord, that Jacob has two powerful encounters with God. One is when he’s sees the stairway to heaven. Some of you thought that started with Led Zeppelin. No, it did not start with Jacob. He sees a stairway to heaven, and then he wrestles with God. Or Moses and the burning bush or at Mount Sinai’s in the wilderness. And he has this experience with God. Or Elijah when he thinks his life is coming to an end he meets with God in the wilderness or even King David and in these moments, and then the children of Israel wandering for 40 years, or even John the Baptist, when he declared the coming of Jesus, where does John declare the coming of Jesus? You have to go meet John in the wilderness.

God speaks to his people in the wilderness. It’s like it’s finally the place where we settle our souls and look for answers, right? It’s like, we know that there’s a need and we see ourselves as not being able to meet that need. And we start to finally seek God in the wilderness. We can’t live in the wilderness and we can’t live without it. It’s interesting when that concept of wilderness first starts to get taught to God’s people that God takes Israel as slaves in Egypt, God takes the slaves out of Egypt. What happens? They immediately start to complain. God wants to use this wilderness experience to teach them. In fact, it says in Deuteronomy 8:2, “Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness, these 40 years to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.”

Deuteronomy 8’s the story of why Moses tell Israel why God took them out as slaves and what they were supposed to do in the wilderness. And he’s saying, God is testing you in order to teach you and they complain. They just started complaining. And God took the slaves out of Egypt, but he couldn’t get this slavery out of them. And God used that wilderness moment to refine them, to test them.

Now, when we think about testing, there’s a few ways you can view testing. God talks about testing us, James chapter 1 talks about testing us. A few ways the Bible describes testing for God’s people. When we consider testing in our culture today, there’s a couple of ways to look at testing. One, when you view testing, you see testing as trying to demonstrate that you either are success or a failure, right? You take different tests in life in order to separate you from the crowd that’s able to achieve or not able to achieve. And you find yourself in one of those positions. You got to take your driver’s test. It’s a pass/fail. You’re either good enough. Or you’re not good enough, right?

Sometimes you might take a test for a job promotion. That’s a pass/fail, same thing. Either you’re good enough and they’ll work with the people that are quote unquote, good enough. And then the others are labeled failure and have to figure out where to what to do from there. But there’s another way to view testing. And this was what I think God was doing with the children of Israel.

It’s more like a test that a parent will give to a child. It’s not to label a child a failure, but rather it’s to assess. As a parent, you want to see your kids to succeed and one of the ways you learn how to help them succeed is to look where they need to grow in life, to mature as individuals. And so you provide for them some sort of way to assess that or test them. And that’s what God is doing with the children of Israel in the wilderness. It’s not about God hurting you there so you can fail or God wanting you to fall on your face and just point out what a disaster. God cares about where you are. God’s got grace, love, and is concerned for your maturity as an individual. And so then when the Lord talks about that for Israel, he wants them to see where they need to grow in their dependency on him. And so we can’t live in the desert without someone coming in to help us sustain. And we can’t live without it.

Some of you might say when I think about my own life, I wouldn’t pick some of the things that I’ve gone through. I wouldn’t have identified that as what I would want to do, but having gone through it, one thing I do know, the Lord met me there. That’s where I came to know him or that’s where my relationship with him really began to take root. It was during that season that God grew me. When you look at this idea of wilderness and scripture, that’s what you find in these passages.

So let me just draw some concluding thoughts as it relates to the wilderness. I’m going to start with an obvious one for us. Okay. This is a blank in your notes too. The obvious one is this, there is a struggle in the wilderness, right? When we talk about the wilderness, I’m not saying, go make your life difficult. But what I am saying is when we recognize in our spiritual journey, as pursuers of God, there is a struggle in the wilderness. When you stand up and you say, you know what, I’m going to follow the Lord with my life. We should know in that sort of decision, that there are challenges that come along with that. But one of the things that makes me marvel about David and this section of scripture is that any moment he could have killed Saul. There are several opportunities that he had to take Saul’s life.

If David had done that, David could have just gone home. He could have taken the easy road, but David chose to take the hard road in order to honor God. And the same thing’s true with us. Because you followed Jesus doesn’t make life easier. In fact, in some ways that can make it more challenging. There is a struggle in the wilderness, a passage of scripture to think about it as it relates to this, listen to this. This is Paul talking about leading for the Lord. And in 2 Corinthians 6:10, listen to what Paul says. This passage makes me feel normal when I do things for Jesus in my own life, he says this, Paul says, “As sorrowful,” talking about serving for the Lord, “As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. As poor yet, making many rich. As having nothing, yet possessing all things.” That’s like the Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde verse, isn’t it”

What’s it like to do things for Jesus? It’s not saying sometimes you’re on the mountain tops and other times you’re on the valley. What he’s saying is all the time as you live for the Lord, you’ve got hard things and great things always going on, but in everything God is with you, God is with us. So there is struggle in the wilderness, but here’s the promise, guys. And this is what’s important for us to hold onto. As we consider this passage this morning. God will meet you in the wilderness. God meets you in the wilderness. If I were just to go back to Hebrews 4, for just a moment to consider, Hebrews 4:7, he said, “Don’t harden your hearts.” Don’t harden your hearts, right? But if you keep reading on from there in verse 9, he says this, “There remains then a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works. Just as God did from his. Let us therefore make every effort to enter the rest so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.”

There remains then a Sabbath rest for God’s people, right? That’s what verse 9 is. In the desert, are you saying this metaphorically to us thinking about just as the children of Israel walked around physically in the desert, we today continue to find ourselves in the wilderness and there is a rest. There is a Sabbath rest. Now what’s important here is, some people read that and immediately think, “Yeah, it’s Sunday. We got to go to on Sunday, Sabbath rest.” But that’s not what this passage is saying. I know we’re used to calling Sunday Sabbath, but this passage is saying to us, look, the Sabbath isn’t Sunday. The Sabbath is Jesus.

There is a rest for your soul in the wilderness. And that rest is found in Jesus. What he’s saying to us is this look, Isaiah 35 says this, one day, God will make the desert bloom again. One day, God will make the desert bloom. But until that day, God can make you bloom in the desert. God will meet you in the wilderness. God cares about where you are and God still wants to do incredible things in your life. And God can do incredible things in your life no matter where you find yourself.

So let’s ask the question then how do you know that’s true? How do I really know that God will meet me in the wilderness? You look at King David and that’s King David, man. I’m not King David. How do I know God meets us in the wilderness? Let me give you a passage of scripture that reassures us how we know that. If you look at the end of Matthew chapter 3, Matthew chapter 3 is the baptism of Jesus. Some of you are probably familiar with the story, right? Matthew chapter 3 is a beautiful section of scripture. This is Jesus’s anointed into the inauguration of his ministry. After this Jesus’s ministry starts. And when Jesus is baptized, it tells us beautiful story that the spirit of God descends upon Jesus and the father speaks. And when the father speaks Matthew chapter 3 in verse 17, what does he say? “This is my beloved son in whom I am well-pleased.”

That’s how chapter 3 ends, with that statement, right? “This is my beloved son in whom I am well-pleased.” The God the father gives this beautiful, incredible statement about Jesus and his inauguration in his ministry in this world. And the declaration from John the Baptist as the world comes to see the promised Messiah and all of scripture fulfilled. The goodness of Christ made known, everything that we’ve waited for coming true in Christ, the rescuer of my soul. Here he is. And then in chapter 4, verse 1, what’s the next thing that happens? Jesus, immediately, he immediately goes into the wilderness. You see that in the passage. Here we have Christ and the greatest declaration made by the father speaking, the spirit descending, “This is my son in whom I’m well-pleased.” And what’s the next thing that happens to Christ? He’s sent into the wilderness. It says, “Then Jesus was led by the spirit and not the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, and after he had fasted 40 days and 40 nights, he then became hungry.”

Why did Jesus go there? Why right after that beautiful declaration of his identity, does he go to the wilderness? Maybe you’ve asked that question, right? Like, here I am trusting in God and it feels so great. And then soon as that happened, something difficult you faced and you maybe ask the question, God, was that real? God, where were you? Why did this happen? Why am I experiencing this adversity? God, do you care? God, are you around? What is all this difficulty going on? And then you look at the story of Jesus. Let me just tell you this. When you read the gospels, this is very important. When you just encounter the things happening about Christ in scripture, it’s important for you to know that the New Testament writers, aren’t just going, “Look, this happened. And this happened, then this happened. I’m just telling you the stories.”

That’s not the reason they wrote the stories about Jesus in the gospels. They’re not just reading, they’re not writing to you that the 20 best stories about Jesus. That’s not their point or they’re not writing to the only the 20 stories they know about Jesus. That’s not their point. In fact, the end of John, John tells you, look, if I told you every story that happened in the life of Jesus, there’s not enough books to contain the stories that we can tell you about Jesus. When you read the gospels, they’re telling you certain stories in order that your mind can gather the significance of who Christ is. Every story is attached to the previous story. That’s what you see in the life of Jesus, the greatest and glory of who he is. Then all of a sudden he enters the wilderness. And let me tell you, Jesus did not have to go to the wilderness. There was no reason Jesus in himself needed the wilderness. Why did Jesus go to the wilderness? The only reason Jesus went to the wilderness guys, look, it was for you.

The reason that that story is here, is for you. What Jesus has relating to in this passage of scripture is you. That’s why Hebrews chapter 3 and Hebrews chapter 4 is tying this grand theme of, of the wilderness together for us. It’s saying to us, look, Jesus walked our path. So we could see the sufficiency of who he is that we can meet him in our wilderness. That Jesus is more than enough that Jesus went through this and stood true because you know what Jesus did while he was in the wilderness? Do you want Jesus come to in the wilderness? The word of God. When Satan tempted Jesus, you know what Jesus said? “Man does not live by bread alone. But by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” That even in the wilderness, everything that’s said about God is still true for my life. And even the wilderness God is with me. And the reason I know that is because Jesus went through the wilderness, not for himself, but for me.

This wilderness for us becomes a place to clean to the Lord. The reason I know God meets us in the wilderness is because this story in the gospel is told for us to understand Jesus walked through the wilderness for you. Now, if I’m just being honest, as I considered this passage, the story of David and these last chapters of going through the wilderness. When I read the stories, there is a piece of me that looks at David and just says, “Man, David, just tap out. You had plenty of opportunities to kill Saul. We would completely understand. He’s trying to hunt your life. You’re justified. Just tap out. Just give in. David, just go home.”When I read the story of David, it’s a hard circumstance. And even in that moment with him, you can’t help. But imagine we just don’t see the full picture and David rather is choosing to trust and how God’s hand would work rather than trust in his own.

And I would say this for us, guys, look, same for you. On this side of eternity. I can’t tell you every reason why difficult things happen in your life. On this side of eternity, I don’t think we know all of those answers. And I don’t want to pretend to know. In fact, I think sometimes trying to give you an answer might not be very sympathetic to the trials that we go through as people. But I do know what the answer can’t be and the answer isn’t because God doesn’t care about you. And the Answer isn’t because Jesus has abandoned you. And the answer isn’t because God’s not strong enough to see you through, even though he was strong enough to see other people through. And the reason we know that is because over and over throughout the Bible, God does not stop talking about the wilderness and how he meets his people there. Even to the point that Jesus endured the wilderness for you so that you can find freedom in him.

Just as David says in Psalm 141:2, “God, in the midst of this wilderness, let my prayers be this sweet incense before you. God let my offering, evening offering of prayer, be pleasing to you.” Can I encourage you. Wherever you are in life, as you think about your circumstance and God, to consider the way that this story has played out throughout scripture and the goodness of who God is despite the circumstances of life around us. And just as Revelation 8:3 says, God is just, God will win. Stay faithful.

If you’re here today, and maybe this is the first time at ABC, maybe you’re even wondering in your life. Do I even know that God? Guys, can I tell you if that is you, Jesus came and he went to the wilderness to show the sufficiency of who he was, but he didn’t stop there. He didn’t stop there for your life. He took it all the way to the cross and he died so that in his death you could find life. So then the wilderness, you could die to yourself. But in that death find new life in him to the one who gives you life and sustains your life.

He’s the perfecter in us, not our strength. And the Bible encourages all of us. All of us, whether believer or not, every day of your life is lived this way, that your journey with Jesus starts like this. Lord, I am a sinner in this wilderness wandering, and maybe I’m the reason I am here, but the Lord right now, I trust in you as my sustainer, forgive me of my sins, Lord, make me new in you. Every day, waking up in our lives to depend on him, that we may find the goodness of who Jesus is, trusting in him in the wilderness. That’s what this life is that we may find new life in him.