Feast and wilderness. These two words create an antithesis. Two words that create confusion in our minds through their dissonance. A wilderness is “an uncultivated, uninhabited, and inhospitable region.” A feast is “something that gives unusual or abundant enjoyment.” We only think about them simultaneously when we are longing for a feast to take away the wilderness of hunger in our lives. Maybe spiritual hunger. Maybe emotional hunger. Maybe physical hunger.
Feast and wilderness. They are seemingly irreconcilable. Or are they?
When the children of Israel left Egypt, they left all they had known and followed God into a wilderness. They experienced times without the basics of life, like food and water. Immediately after they saw God miraculously move the Red Sea, “they went into the wilderness of Shur” (Exodus 15:22, ESV). They grumbled because they did not have drinkable water. Moses cried out to God, and the Lord made the waters of Marah sweet. And then He led them to Elim, where twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees fulfilled their needs. He daily provided manna for them, sustaining them throughout the decades spent wandering in the desert.
Multiple times, the Lord promised to the children of Israel that if they followed Him and kept His law, He would bless them and provide for them. But this opportunity to be blessed by the Lord, to feast on him, came when they left their slavery. The children of Israel were in a wilderness of slavery in Egypt. But God called them out of slavery so that they could be free to feast on Him in the wilderness when they were learning to depend on Him alone, not on their strength and not on their resources.
The Israelites had to leave their slavery first. As believers in Yahweh standing on this side of Jesus’ death and resurrection, our slavery is our sin. It is what holds us back, crippling us, hindering us from being able to fully feast in the wilderness of life.
The children of Israel were being led to a wilderness, where we know they wandered for forty years. We too experience different wildernesses in our lives that may stretch on indefinitely. I am currently exhausted from balancing two full-time responsibilities: college and work. I want to be able to focus on ministry without worrying about my school assignments or work schedule. This sometimes feels like a wilderness.
What is your wilderness? Maybe you have longed for acceptance, for children, for fulfillment, for marriage. Maybe you have longed for a successful ministry or a period of rest when ministry becomes overwhelming. Maybe you have been in the wilderness in the past. Maybe it’s right now or perhaps it will be in the future.
Why do we experience times in the wilderness? Why were the children of Israel being led into the wilderness? To hold a feast to God. And the God of the Israelites is the same abundant God we serve today.
From Scripture, we know He is a tender God, a shepherd who leads us. It means that He provides for us, cares for us, oversees our daily lives. He is our Comforter, our Savior, our sovereign Lord. He is a good Father, a loving Lord, a wise God. In His wisdom, He knows that sometimes being in the wilderness is the best thing for us. But even when we do not understand what is happening, He is watching over us like a father watches and cares for his children.
Like the Israelites, He wants us to be able to hold a feast to Him in the Sinai Peninsula as well as in the Promised Land. He wants us to worship Him in the good and the bad, the empty and the full, in poverty and abundance. He wants us to feast in the wilderness.
Our wildernesses are different. But our God is still the same. Look for the promises that speak into your wilderness. In your quiet time, write them down, then regularly review them. He wants us to lean into Him, to worship and adore Him even when we scream there is nothing around us and nothing inside us. And when we believe in His truth and daily rely on Him, we will be able to drink from wells of living water and eat the bread of life.
This sin-soaked world is a wilderness we will wander in for many years. But as believers, we trust that we can still worship and feast in these times because we keep our eyes fixed on the promised land. Fixed on the moment when we shall enter heaven and experience the overflowing, satisfying marriage feast of the Lamb. It is then that we will no longer wander in the wilderness because we will be holding a feast to our abundant God.