We had a very happy experience in the Arizona desert this summer. We always had water available, were dressed with protective, comfortable clothing, our cameras ready to snap pictures of tall amazing cacti, and we were never far from our wheels, be it our own vehicle or the Hummvee we all climbed in for the ride of our lives. And the chance to interact with our grandchildren was priceless. But one could not keep from imagining how it would be if one were stranded out there. How beautiful then would the desert be?
As I was remembering that fun ride, I thought about some other desert scenes that were quite different.
While in the Holy Land we saw the steep stony mountain our guide said was the place of Jesus’ temptation. After forty days and nights, when Jesus the man must have been wildly hungry, so hungry he could “eat a mountain.” Satan tempted him to turn the stones into bread, even just a small one of those stones would have made a good meal. But Jesus resisted, using scripture to send Satan on his way. Satan tempted Him twice more before angels came and fed Him.
Remember Hagar trying to survive desert life with her son Ishmael after jealous Sarah sent them away? It came to the critical point when there was no more water, they could not squeeze one more half drop of water from the skin Abraham had given them. We have never been as thirsty as they were that day. The blistering sun was beaming down. They were both at the very end of their resources, but she was a mother, desperate to save her son. They would have drunk water full of wiggle tails if they’d had it, or licked moisture off a spiny leaf, or gotten down on their knees with the camels in the mud to lap up dirty water. But of course there were no camels and no water. But then Hagar began to sob and her boy started crying and Abraham’s God heard them both. He opened her eyes so she could see a well nearby.
And there was the time the Israelites complained bitterly that they had never been so thirsty in Egypt as they were on the trek to the Promised Land. As always, God provided their needs, this time water from a rock. Moses got into serious trouble over that miracle because he struck the rock instead of waiting for God to bring it forth His way. But the water did gush forth.
As we drove along a Texas highway on another trip many years ago we–my husband, his mother, our two children, and I–were surrounded by miles and miles of barren looking land. Tumble weeds, something I’d only heard about in a song by “Sons of Pioneers,” blew pell-mell in the hot desert wind. Elizabeth, Charles’ Mom, was pretty sick and wanted some chicken noodle soup. Not only was there no restaurant in sight, there were no gas stations, no houses, just mile after mile of Texas. When we spotted the structure ahead we knew we would stop, no matter what it was. It was a combination gas station and restaurant. With great relief, we began to avail ourselves of all the comforts offered. This stop along a Texas highway has become a favorite family story. It wasn’t just the very stiff waitress who would not converse with my very lugubrious husband; it wasn’t just that they had no chicken noodle soup even though Elizabeth went back to the kitchen herself to look; and it really wasn’t just that the hamburger William ordered was so big it was hanging off the edges of his plate. I think our experience was so bonding and so unforgettable because “we saw the desert and then we saw beyond it.”
The relief after any desert experience is so sweet.
That ride on the Hummvee? It was really wild and wonderful; we saw the desert up close; and bumped so hard over rocks and gullies and holes that I’m very surprised we didn’t lose anyone, even though we were well strapped in. And oh my! We were so glad to put our feet to pavement after that! Lunch in a Sedona restaurant, even with snake sausage on the menu, was so refreshing.
I think the food the angels fed our Lord after he triumphed over Satan must have been the best in the world and heaven too!
The assuaging of the thirst of Hagar, and the Israelites, in their separate desert times had to be sweet beyond measure.
Whether a literal desert with hot sand and not a trickle of water, or a desert in life experiences, such as financial loss, a medical crisis, a devastating divorce, or the sudden death of someone very dear–in any case, one experiences hopelessness, pain, fear. It’s okay to cry like Hagar. God has prepared a well of fresh water for you, and strengthening food. Look past the sand, beyond the desert.