With the Sierras to the west and the White Mountain range on our east, Bishop is enveloped in beauty, grandeur, and a rain shadow. Our mountain ranges block the passage of many weather systems which have the potential of rain, leaving Bishop in the dust of a high desert. The Eastern Sierras are a gorgeous but harsh environment. God has led His people, Israel, through many desert and wilderness experiences and consequently, Scripture has much to say about His purposes and what man’s response should be in them.
Moses presents a song in the presence of all Israel (who were acutely aware of desert living) prior to his own death. He says, “God found him in a desert land and in the howling waste of a wilderness; He encircled him, He cared for him, He guarded him as the pupil of His eye.” And later in the passage it reads, “See now that I, I am He, and there is no god besides Me.” 1 Corinthians 10 explains that Israel was laid low in the wilderness. I believe that is to say God used Israel’s physical afflictions (brought about by the desert) to guide them into knowledge of their total dependence upon Him.
The apostle Paul also shares with us some reasoning why God allowed Israel to be laid low – so they would not crave evil things – specifically idolatry, immorality, distrust of God, and grumbling. When man finds himself afflicted, needy, and parched, God will answer and not forsake him. This is for the purpose that the man will see and recognize who the Lord is and what He has done. The desert teaches us God is provider. This means that God will provide how and when He deems appropriate, for His purpose. Until we have gained insight of our complete dependence upon Him, we have not finished learning what the desert has to teach us.
The LORD speaks through Jeremiah regarding the cursed and blessed man by likening them to two types of trees. He says, “Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength…for he will be like a bush in the desert.” And then, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD and whose trust is the LORD. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes…[and] will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit.”
In the original language there is a play on words between “cursed” (arur) and “bush” (arar). The Arar bush (or tree) in this passage is a cruel farce. It is an extremely green and lush looking desert tree which produces fruit. Yet if a desert traveler comes across an Arar and picks its fruit, he will find it to be lacking. It is hollow, filled with webs and dust.
The blessed man (who some may recognize also from Psalm 1) is one whose trust isn’t only in the LORD but is the LORD. This man is likened to a tree that will experience heat and drought but yet is planted by water. Similarly, acacia trees grow in wadis, desert valleys which are dry except in rainy seasons. They are productive, dense, and strong trees, providing shade, firewood, salve, and more. When the LORD provides water for them, they make the most of it within their desert environments.
I am sure you have walked more than one desert experience in your life. In some ways, I would suggest that life is a desert. If that journey is travelled in your own ephemeral and empty strength it is like the fruit of the Arar – seemingly good but a mockery of what fruit from a truly productive tree looks like. The LORD wants you to recognize your need for Him as provider because that is what He is. Every man and woman is born spiritually dead, separated from God by his very nature. Any apparently good fruit we produce out of this position is a mockery, filled with webs and dust. God has provided the solution, His Son. Trust in the LORD Jesus Christ today; your life now and eternally depends on it.
For those who have taken this first step, the journey has not ended. There will be times in the desert when the heat and thirst will feel overwhelming. Yet, “no temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13).” In the desert, God is provider.