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The wilderness and the mountain

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Exodus 19:5 If you will listen obediently to what I say and keep my covenant, out of all peoples you’ll be my special treasure. The whole Earth is mine to choose from, but you’re special: a kingdom of priests, a holy nation.’ “This is what I want you to tell the People of Israel.”

When the Israelites were called out of Egypt after over 400 years of slavery and oppression, the people were ecstatic.

We all know what happened. On the day of their liberation, they saw the power of God like never before. Moses said to the people, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” (Exodus 14:14) The mighty Red Sea parted before their eyes. All the men, women, children were able to walk on dry ground. All their enemies died while pursuing them.

But three months after the Great Sea parted before their very eyes, we see the Israelites in a totally different situation: they were in the middle of the vast wilderness of Sinai.

We could only imagine the frustration. They were promised by Moses to go to the land flowing with milk and honey, but certainly not the dry and torturing heat of the wilderness. The Israelites felt cheated. Their quiet lives had been disrupted. Their children were displaced. They found themselves living so uncomfortably in a God- forsaken place where there was not much food and water. And worse, they were stuck with a leader who did not seem to know where to go and what to do.

This is wilderness life. It is a life of scarcity, frustration, and great disappointment. It is also a life of confusion, betrayal, and pain.

Interestingly, the God of Israel, in all his glory and wisdom, saw it necessary that the Israelites pass through the wilderness of Sinai instead of transporting them directly to the Promise Land.

Obviously, there was more in God’s mind than milk and honey for his precious people. He had in mind the shaping of their character, the strengthening of their faith, and the transformation of their hearts towards the Lord and towards one another.

And so, not knowing what to do and where to proceed, Moses, their leader, decided to go up to a nearby mountain to have a much-needed meeting with God.

In the Old Testament times until today, mountains are believed to be sacred places where God’s presence richly dwells. As Moses was still making his way up, God spoke and gave two powerful reminders to his people.

Purpose

Philosophy professor Dr. Huge Moorheadonce wrote to 250 of the best-known philosophers, scientists, writers, and intellectuals in the world asking them, “What is the meaning of life?” He published their responses in a book. Some offered their best guesses, while some admittedly said they did not really know.

It is often in the wilderness of our lives that we get a closer and more serious look at our goals and motivations in life. It is in the wilderness that we realize how pointless life really is without the Lord. It is in the wilderness that we discover that our greatest wealth, our most powerful allies, and even our best efforts and intentions do not mean anything if our lives are not aligned with the Lord.

What about us? Are we in the wilderness, too? Is it a health problem? Is it difficult financial situation? Is your family going through a trial? Are you becoming weary because of the cruelty and judgment of those around you?

Let us take heart. Let us allow God to take our eyes farther than what we see. Let God use this time to remind us of where our true security comes from.

And so when God led Moses to mountain, Moses was reminded of God’s purpose for his people. God wanted to raise a people who would bear his Name. God wanted to set apart a people–a chosen nation– through whom he can display to the world his glory, his wisdom and his purposes. “If you will listen obediently to what I say and keep my covenant, out of all peoples you’ll be my special treasure.”

Perseverance

Perseverance is all about staying power. As you know, the wilderness life also brought out the worse of the Israelites – their faithlessness, their complaining spirit, their lack of reverence and respect to God and to God’s chosen leader.

In the mountain, God sought for the people’s complete trust and full cooperation. “If you listen…. If you obey…. If you keep my covenant….you’ll be my special treasure.”

In the mountain, God made the people realize that things cannot be handed to them on a silver platter. God led them to realize that all the milk and all the honey will be useless if their hearts were not truly turned to the Lord, and their allegiance was still to the idols that they had built in their hearts.

Only the children and the children’s children of those who originally went out of Egypt entered the Promise Land led by Joshua and Caleb. It is a bittersweet reminder to us that despite the patience and graciousness of God, many hearts remained uncooperative and hardened — unwilling to trust God all the way.

But there were those who made it to the Promise Land. They took to heart their purpose, and they certainly persevered all the way.

How about us? When we find ourselves in the wilderness, will we give up, or will climb the mountain of the Lord? Will we insist on our own plans, or will we fully yield to God’s agenda? Will we be intimidated by the heat and pressures of the wilderness, or will we stick it out in full confidence that if we listen, if we obey, and take to heart our covenant with the Lord, he will lead us out of the wilderness and usher us into our glorious future?

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