October 8, 2020

Ten Lessons From the Back of the Desert

“Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian. And he led the flock to the back of the desert, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God” (Exod. 3:1, NKJV).

As I reflect on this season of Coronavirus COVID-19, the wildfires in California, hurricanes off the Gulf Coast, the killing of unarmed Black people at the hands of police, poverty and homelessness, illiteracy, mass incarceration, femicide, and so much global unrest, I recognize that many people perceive themselves to be living in a wilderness. And truthfully, many afflicted by the turmoil of this world find themselves not just in the wilderness, not just in the desert, but in the back of the desert wondering where God is. But the beauty is that the mountain of God resides in the back of the desert. What you need to know is that there are at least 10 lessons for you to learn in the back of the desert. Understand that when you find yourself in the back of your desert, God will get your attention, require of you the process of sanctification, call you to mission, share with you His introduction, give you your recitation, promise you reparations, show you confirmation, speak over you affirmation, and provide you collaboration. The only thing left will be your commitment to dedication. Let’s take a deeper look at each lesson in Exodus, chapters 3 and 4.

Lesson #1: God Will Get Your Attention

In Exodus 3:2 the Bible says, “The Angel of the Lord appeared to [Moses] in a flame of fire from the midst of the bush. So, he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, but was not consumed.”* As you read this I’m certain that you know what it feels like to be in the desert, a place where there’s little sign of life. The environment feels unbearable, and God feels absent. But the end of verse 1 tells us that the mountain of God is in the back of the desert. So, no matter how much you believe you’re alone, the truth is that at the back of your desert, there is God. And whenever you find yourself in the back of the desert, know that God will get your attention. Right now, as you are in the back of your desert, how is God trying to get your attention? What in your life is on fire, but not being consumed?

Lesson #2: God Will Require Your Sanctification

The moment God has your attention He begins for you a process of sanctification. Verse 5 says, “Then [God] said, ‘Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.’” This is a critical command. We often want to be in the presence of God but don’t consider the reverence requirements necessary to enter. God tells Moses that he has to take his shoes off because the ground is holy. In your wilderness, where is the holiness of God? What has God asked you to do, to stop, to take off in reverence at His presence? We’ve got to understand that in the wilderness, God is going to do whatever is necessary to get our attention, and then He initiates within you the miracle of sanctification.

Lesson #3: God Will Call You to a Mission

Once God got Moses’ attention and Moses could discern that it was, in fact, God speaking, he then surrendered to God, allowing God’s program of holiness to proceed. Then God shares with Moses the mission He was calling him to. In Exodus 3:7-10 we see that the Creator God is not a far-off, disengaged Being, but instead He’s one who is intimately acquainted with and concerned about the unjust treatment of humanity. So much so that God declares that He has come down Himself to use His own hand to deliver the Israelites. The only caveat is that He desires to accomplish His will in partnership with Moses. 

This is such a powerful truth because it’s in the wilderness. In the back of our deserts God shares His heart with us. In the wilderness God crosses space and time and inserts Himself onto the Earth, seeking to partner with humanity for the liberation of people. The question is, Have you stopped to give Him your attention? Have you allowed yourself to surrender to His holiness? Have you heard the heart of God and received the call on your life?

Lesson #4: God Will Read His Own Introduction

It’s when we hear the heart of God that we come to know the character of God. But when Moses asks God what His name is, God says, “I AM WHO I AM.” This is so powerful to me, because Moses has heard the heart of God, learned what is burdening Him, and now He has learned His name. And when God says, “I AM WHO I AM,” He’s saying, I am the origin of all families, the seed of all heritage, the spark of all culture, the Father of every living thing. By me exist all things, and without me nothing was made that was made. So that in God at all times is whatever you need. And we see that God manifests this truth throughout the Exodus story. In the back of your desert have you allowed God to introduce Himself to you?

Lesson #5: God Will Declare Your Recitation

In Exodus 3:16, 17, God tells Moses to “gather the elders of Israel together, and say to them, ‘The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, appeared to me, saying, “I have surely visited you and seen what is done to you in Egypt; and I have said I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites . . . .”’” God gave Moses the script. Not only did He share with Moses his mission, but He also told him exactly what to say. So many times we worry and shrink back from what God has called us to do because we don’t believe we know how to do it. But in the life of Moses we see that God won’t just call you to a mission; He will also equip you for it. What has God told you to do? And how did He tell you to do it?

Lesson #6: God’s Liberation Promises Reparations

The title of this lesson alone may have caused you to tense up, but I want you to look with me in Exodus 3:21. The Bible says, “And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and it shall be, when you go, that you shall not go empty-handed.” Here we see that God desires not just to use us to free people; He also desires that we do it in such a way that they are economically, socially, and physically repaired from the oppression they lived through. Ellen White begins the potent article, “Am I My Brother’s Keeper?” by saying, “The American nation owes a debt of love to the colored race, and God has ordained that they should make restitution for the wrong they have done them in the past. Those who have taken no active part in enforcing slavery upon the colored people are not relieved from the responsibility of making special efforts to remove, as far as possible, the sure result of their enslavement (The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, 1896).” Often enough, approaches to serving and saving oppressed people fails to do this. Who do think are the people in our contemporary period in need of freedom? What does it look like for them to leave their oppressors emancipated and not empty-handed?

Lesson #7: God Will Show You Confirmation

The wilderness is a difficult place to be. And the back of the desert seems even more overwhelming. This is why whatever God shares with you in the back of the desert, He confirms with you in the back of the desert. In Exodus 4:1-9, God shows Moses a variety of signs and wonders to prove His power. He turns the rod into a snake, inflicts Moses’ hand with leprosy, and declares that Moses will turn water into blood. In other words, God will confirm your calling and seal within your heart and mind His power, so that you will know w
ithout a shadow of a doubt that this is what He’s called you to do.

Lesson #8: God Will Give You Affirmation

Even after the confirmation of our calling and the confirmation of God’s power, we sometimes still doubt; we remain insecure. We feel like what God is asking of us is far too much for us to take on. Immediately, we join in with Moses and begin sharing with God all of our shortcomings, inadequacies, and deficiencies, along with every reason why He should have picked someone else. But I love how in our moments of insecurity God declares His confidence in Himself! This reiterates that we are not doing anything we’ve been called to by God in our own strength. He says, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the Lord? Now therefore, go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say” (Exod. 4:11, 12). Here God is saying that your weaknesses, your inadequacies, your deficits are no match for His power! God is not looking for qualified people. He’s looking for willing people. Any willing heart can become qualified, particularly when they have the power of God flowing through them.

Lesson #9: God Will Provide Collaboration

Technically, God’s confirmation and affirmation should be enough for us to accept the call and walk in obedience. But some of us are like Moses and require a little bit more. And according to Scripture, our lack of faith does frustrate God. But even in that anger He’s gracious enough to give us individuals whom we can collaborate with who have strengths where we have weaknesses. In Exodus 4:14, God encourages Moses to partner with his brother, Aaron. And this is important because it’s critical for you to understand that God has people in mind who will come alongside you to aid you in fulfilling His purpose for your life. The question I want you to wrestle with is: Whom has God encouraged you to collaborate with?

Lesson #10: God Expects Dedication

After all that, the only thing left for us to do is obey. Once we allow ourselves to go through this entire process, God is then looking for us to be dedicated to completing the mission. My prayer is that you receive this truth: that while you may be in the back of your desert, God has everything you need in the back of the desert to prepare you to come out equipped and empowered to accomplish His will on the earth. Take some time to consider these lessons, ask yourself these questions, and allow God to speak to you.

Claudia M. Allen is a teacher, preacher, and writer on culture, religion, justice, and truth.

*All Bible texts are from the New King James Version. Copyright ã 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.