9 Words for Wilderness (Part 4)

Well, helloooo there! Long time, no see! I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted, and I want to apologize for being so lax when it comes to that. But I’m back now, and that’s all that matters, right? 😉

Because I left the whole 9-words-for-wilderness thing hanging mid-series, I figured that would be a good place to pick up from. So let’s just dive right in to the fun stuff!

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In an effort to make up for lost time, I have 2 words that I want to introduce you to this week: Meet tsiyyiy and erets. Both come to us from Hebrew. Both are translated as “wilderness” in most versions of the Old Testament. But if we look closely we can see that both words have very different meanings.

“Let desert dwellers bow before him, and his enemies lick the dust” (Ps. 72:9, TLV).

Tsiyyiy (pronounced “tSEE-ee”) essentially refers to a person or wild animal that makes his (or her) home in the desert. Most of the time, desert-dwelling shepherds and nomads fall into this category. But the writers of the Old Testament also used this word to refer to desert animals as well, such as donkeys, camels, and jackals.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1, TLV).

Erets (pronounced “AIR-rets”), on the other hand, literally refers to land. Blue Letter Bible suggests that this word is likely derived from an unused word meaning “to be firm.” So it essentially means solid ground but is also used to refer to territory held by a tribe or nation. Both of these words are used throughout the Old Testament, although erets is far more common at more than 2,500 uses in each book of the Old Testament and tsiyyiy far less so at a mere 6 uses in the books of Psalms, Isaiah, and Jeremiah.

So with such a wealth of options to choose from to dive into for this study, I used the classic open-and-point technique to choose where to start. And lo and behold! I found myself in the middle of the classic wilderness Bible story: Moses and the Israelites wandering through the desert.

“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel. From each tribe of their fathers you shall send a man, every one a chief among them.’ So Moses sent them from the wilderness of Paran, according to the command of the Lord, all of them men who were heads of the people of Israel” (Num. 13:1-3, ESV).

Up until this point, the Israelites have been on one long and eventful road trip through the desert. Just a bunch of tsiyyiy wandering around the erets waiting to get to the Promised Land. But when they finally get there, things go south pretty quickly. God has Moses send one chief from each tribe (12 guys in all) to scout out the land, its people, and its resources for 40 days to see exactly what they would be up against and what they could expect when they moved in to take over (Num. 13:17-20). Two of these guys, Joshua and Caleb, are super optimistic when they get back and want to go back in and take the land.

But what about the other guys? Well, they aren’t exactly eager to go back and actually end up inspiring a rebellion that would have had the children of Israel hiking back to Egypt (Num. 14:4). (Which, if you’ll remember, isn’t the nicest place to be if you’re an ancient Israelite.) As it happens, the people of Canaan are freakishly strong (and by most accounts literally giants) and their cities are heavily fortified. So the rest of the scouts are convinced that the Israelites are doomed if they stick to the original Promised Land take-over plan (Num. 13:31).

Freaking out and refusing to go in might seem like a logical reaction to most. I mean, I’ve never actually seen a giant, but I can understand how an army of freakishly large men might come across as a little intimating.

But God is not pleased by their lack of faith. As the writer of Hebrews would later explain, it is impossible to please the Lord without faith (Heb. 11:6). These guys have absolutely no faith in the Lord’s ability to fight for them, so an entire generation loses the opportunity to see God’s promise fulfilled in their lifetime. It’s heart-breaking!

“None of the people who saw My glory and My miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness—yet tested Me these ten times and did not obey My Voice—not one of them will see the land I promised to their forefathers. None of those who treated Me with contempt will see it” (Num. 14:22-23, TLV).

Of the Israelites who make it to this point in the journey, we see that Joshua and Caleb (as well as Moses and Aaron—that is, until the events of Numbers 20) are the only ones allowed to enter into Canaan. Why? Well, they are the only ones who trust that the One who got them out of Egypt (Ex. 12-13), through the Red Sea (Ex. 14), fed them and gave them water to drink (Ex. 15:25; 1617:6), and led them to the threshold of the land He promised their forefather Abraham almost 500 years before (Gen. 12:1; Ex. 13:17; Deut. 1:8) is powerful enough to take them from “tsiyyiy life” to Promised Land life. In short, their trust is counted to them as obedience and thus as righteousness.

“And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest? Was it not to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were not able to enter in because of lack of trust” (Heb. 3:18-19, TLV).

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When I was young, my father told me a story about a man and his son. Whether or not this story is true, I can’t say. But it illustrates the relationship between trust and obedience beautifully, so I want to share it with you.

One day a little boy was playing under a tree in his front yard, when his father ran out onto the porch and yelled at him to stop what he was doing and run over to him. The boy could have easily pretended he didn’t hear his father or ignore him outright and his and continued to play. But he didn’t and quickly raced over to his father. His father then pointed back at the tree, and hanging from the lowest branch was a snake, ready to drop on and kill the unsuspecting child. Had the boy not trusted his father, he wouldn’t have obeyed him, and the story probably would have taken a turn for the worst.

So how does trust and the obedience it inspires lead us to rest? Well, when you and I trust and obey the Lord, we are essentially surrendering our own will for our lives to take on His will for us. Laying down our work to take on His.

“For the one who has entered God’s rest has also ceased from his own work, just as God did from His” (Heb. 4:10, TLV).

If I don’t trust someone, then I’m certainly not going to obey that person. And I’m certainly not going to feel comfortable enough around them to 1) let my guard down or 2) let that person call the shots in my life, because I can’t trust whether or not they have my best interests in mind. (It just wouldn’t be natural!)

In the same way, entering into the Lord’s rest requires trust.

Joshua and Caleb weren’t blind. They saw the same mighty men and fortified cities that the other scouts had seen. But they trusted the Lord. They understood that it would be His strength and not their own that would lead them to the place of promise. Because they trusted that the Lord was able (to lead, defend, and sustain them), submission to His will was a natural response.

The same remains true of us: We submit to (and thus obey) what or whom we place our trust in. And we are enslaved to whatever it is that we obey (Rom. 6:16). When we trust in the Lord—that He is faithful like He says He is (Ex. 34:6) and that His plans for us are good like He says they are (Jer. 29:11)—we will obey Him. We then become, as Romans 6:18 says, “slaves of righteousness.” Essentially, Joshua and Caleb surrendered their roles as stars in the process of promise-fulfillment and were more than willing to let the Lord take center stage. The promise was, after all, His to fulfill.

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Much in the same way as the children of Israel, the Lord is leading us out of the wilderness and into the land He has prepared for and promised to us, but we must first yield to His authority as our Provider. He is the One who is singularly responsible for leading us from where we are now to where He is leading us and sustaining us in the meantime.

Resting doesn’t mean sitting back and taking in a beautiful mountain view or curling up with a good book on a rainy Saturday afternoon. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good book and a beautiful view, but those are things I can enjoy as I rest. Rest is a way of life. It is a way of living in total surrender. Rest is how you and I say, “I can’t provide my every need, but I will put my trust in the One who can.”

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1, ESV).

A Dance Invitation

To be honest, I have no idea how to begin this whole blogging thing or if anyone other than my mother is ever going to read anything I post. (Hi Mom!) But for the past few months I’ve had this desire to write about life’s rough patches—i.e., wilderness experiences, dry seasons, valleys, or whatever the church kids are calling them these days. Personally, I prefer the term dances in the desert.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t enjoy going through these experiences any more than the next girl (or guy), but there is a lot to be said about walking through a difficult season in life and the growth that often results. Especially when you walk through that season leaning on the strength of Jesus Christ. So I hope you’ll join me on this journey, as I take a closer look at this beautiful place that is the wilderness and the source of joy and hope that traveling through this place can bring.

He found him in a desert land, and in the howling waste of the wilderness; he encircled him, he cared for him, he kept him as the apple of his eye.” –Deuteronomy 32:10