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  • Writer's pictureRob

The Hundred-Thirtieth (Wilderness)

Have you ever gone camping? I mean real camping, not what they call "glamping" these days with the decked out RVs that are practically as big as a mobile home, and a mansion compared to the recently popular "tiny homes." Personally, I've had the opportunity to go "real" camping while I was in our school's outdoor club. We did a trip going hiking and camping overnight on the Appalachian Trail in Maine.

Even though it was physically challenging, it was a very relaxing and refreshing experience. We were out in the woods, away from towns and cities, taking in the beautiful creation of YHWH. It was very peaceful, and even a rewarding experience since we were not even out of high school yet and our group was so small that there was only one or two teachers (can't remember because it's been so long!) with us so we felt like we were able to do it all ourselves! (nevermind that we didn't really have to plan it or get ourselves to or from our starting location!)

While that is what I would consider wilderness, that experience is not always what scripture describes when using the term "wilderness." Sometimes, it means testing, trial, and tribulation. In other words, the purification by fire symbolism described by Yeshua and Peter (Revelation 3:18, 1 Peter 1:7)

When looking at the usage of the term "wilderness" in scripture, we find that many words from the Hebrew and Greek languages were translated to this term. However, not all of those words are similar in terms of their definition and usage as you might expect when the same English word is used for the translation. In fact, in Greek there are two words, and one is an adjective while the other is a noun. In contrast, all the seven Hebrew words are nouns, even if some are masculine nouns and some are feminine.

It seems that regardless of being a noun or adjective the Greek and Hebrew words either indicate a specific place, a general term for a type of location, or a state of being/state of mind. When in reference to a specific place, it's usually, "in the wilderness" (e.g. Matthew 15:33, Mark 8:4, 2 Corinthians 11:26, etc.). When in reference to a general type of location, it's usually, "a wilderness [or solitary] place" (e.g. Matthew 14:13, Mark 1:35, 6:31-32, etc.). When in reference to a state of being or state of mind, it's usually phrases like, "left desolate" (Matthew 23:38) and "a wilderness" (Jeremiah 50:2).

Have you ever heard of what's called a "wilderness experience?" From what I can tell, it's used to describe a time of testing or trial that someone experiences through tough times physically, spiritually, or both. Scripturally, it looks like you could associate this with two very different events: the Israelites' wandering in the wilderness and Yeshua's temptation in the wilderness. To be clear, these types of "tough times" are not the only "wilderness experiences" described in scripture. Yeshua and His disciples went to "a wilderness [or solitary] place" multiple times. Sometimes to pray, sometimes just to get away from the crowds for a minute (Mark 1:35, 6:31-32, Luke 4:42, 5:16, 9:10).

But looking at the challenging wilderness experiences, we see in one case it was a judgment passed on a people that were disobedient, and in another case it was almost a proving of sorts. It ended up being a proof of the superiority of the Son of YHWH over Satan and His ability to resist giving in to temptation. In the other case, the Israelites disobeyed YHWH and did not enter the promised land He provided them because they were afraid of the people there. The consequence of this disobedience was that they had to wander the wilderness for 40 years, until the current generation had passed away.

Once baptized, Yeshua was led into the wilderness and fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. While in the wilderness, he was tempted and succeeded at proving Satan was no match for Him. He resisted temptations that would have caused others to stumble, and certainly caused some to stumble in the past. Causing stones to turn into bread (Matthew 4:3); Esau gave his birthright for a bowl of lentil stew and some bread (Genesis 25:34). Being tempted with power (Matthew 4:9); Herod ordered the murders of hundreds of babies for fear of losing his power to the King of the Jews (Matthew 2:2-3,16).

If you notice, these two events have a bit of a pattern. They both involve the number 40. You'll actually find this number all over scripture, and if you look at where it's used you'll see those events also have a pattern. They don't all involve the wilderness, but they do all involve growth/learning or consequence.

Moses spent 40 years growing up in Pharaoh's house learning from the Egyptians (Acts 7:22-23). At the end of this, thinking he was doing the right thing, he tried to defend his Israelite brothers and even free them, but he still had some learning to do so he ended up in the land of Midian for 40 years before YHWH spoke to him from a burning bush (Acts 7:30). Moses wasn't done with the number 40 yet though. He spent 40 days and 40 nights on Mount Sinai where he received instruction directly from YHWH...twice (Exodus 24:18, 34:28).

Clearly, these events were focused on instruction. In some cases, instruction to Moses himself and in others instruction he was to bring for all the Israelites. When they reached the promised land, he sent the spies to investigate it for 40 days as well (Numbers 13:25). We know this ended up in getting the Israelites assigned to the wilderness for 40 years (Numbers 14:34), so the 40 days of spying was a time for growth of the Israelites. They had the opportunity to grow their faith in YHWH by trusting in His promise to give them the land despite their fear of the inhabitants. But despite their deliverance from Egypt by the hand of YHWH, they instead were afraid to enter it and wanted to return to their bondage.

Another opportunity for growth was in Nineveh. They were given 40 days to repent or they would be destroyed (Jonah 3:4). They ended up succeeding in their growth and avoided destruction (Jonah 3:10). Elijah also succeeded in growth following his killing of the prophets of Baal. He became very depressed, and had to be tended to by messengers of YHWH (1 Kings 19:4-7). He was able to overcome his depression with this help for long enough, 40 days and 40 nights, to make it to Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19:8) and make a full recovery, speaking with YHWH Himself when he got there (1 Kings 19:12).

As far as consequence, we also see that YHWH caused rain for 40 days and 40 nights as a judgment for all of man becoming so wicked (with the exception of Noah and his family, of course) (Genesis 7:12). Interestingly, He also decided man's days would be 120 years in Noah's time (Genesis 6:3), which is three periods of 40 years. Additionally, as a consequence of Judah's sin, Ezekiel spent 40 days on his right side (Ezekiel 4:6).

While not written in scripture, the Jews were also given 40 years to repent for crucifying Yeshua and to follow Him. Yeshua was crucified around 30 AD, and while some Jews were converted and started following Him, the majority did not. As a result, they continued with their temple sacrifices and failed to repent. This resulted in not only the destruction of the temple, but horrendous conditions as Jerusalem was sieged, to include resorting to cannibalism due to lack of food. Ultimately, the destruction occurred in 70 AD, 40 years from Yeshua's death.

So as we can see, while the wilderness doesn't always mean the same thing the number 40 does. It's a number of growth and learning, but also consequence if that growth and learning does not occur. The period of 40 is really what the "wilderness experience" is all about. YHWH uses this time period to provide an opportunity to slough off the "dross" in our lives, similar to the process of refining metals by removing the impurities.

We need to create our own "wilderness experience" once in awhile. And what I mean by that is the solitary times Yeshua and the disciples used to pray and to get an opportunity to break from the crowds. But we also need to welcome the "40s" that YHWH provides us to be purified and to grow in our faith and in our relationship with Him. While you may not have experienced a whole 40 per se, look back on your life experiences and try to identify what "40s" you've already gone through and what growth you achieved through them. If you identify a pattern on how YHWH gives them to you, you'll likely be able to better identify when you're in one and try to find out what growth He intends for you in it.

Shabbat shalom and God bless you!

-Rob and Sara Gene

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