THEME: This devotion explores the root meaning of “Ba’Midbar”—in the wilderness— and correlates it to the spiritual aspect of the Christian’s wilderness experience.
The Book of Numbers is actually the Book of the Wilderness. During that 40 year walk of Israel through the Sinai Desert there was a census registered in the first chapters, from which the title “Numbers” was derived. But the majority of the Book has to do with Israel’s experiences in the Wilderness.
The Wilderness is a major part of the Christian life in a mystical sense. We will begin this devotion by a brief examination of the etymology of the Hebrew word “Ba’Midbar”—in the wilderness.
“Midbar” is built on the root DABEYR, to speak. Interesting. In modern Hebrew, the expression “M’da’beyr” means “speak (conversationally).” To ask, “Atah m’da’beyr ivrit?” means “Do you speak Hebrew?”
The meaning of speech as it then transitions to “wilderness” comes from the idea of “to order, to arrange” as when words are put in a certain order to convey meaning. In terms of “Mid’bar”—wilderness, desert—the idea of ordering has to do with driving sheep or cattle into an open area to graze. This becomes extended in meaning to indicate a wilderness or a desert. Interestingly, the next chapters after the census in Numbers concern the ordering of the camp of Israel as they journeyed through the desert—like the ordering of a flock or a herd to graze.
In effect, God took his people from Egypt and had them “graze” on his word and on his miraculous power for forty years before they entered the land of promise where they dwelt permanently. The first order of business when Israel entered the promised land was to possess it and then to divide it into tribal allotments—just like the “ordering” of the camp in the wilderness. They were thereafter to graze on God’s word and fulfill his commandments so that they could dwell in the land forever.
In the New Testament, a first encounter with the Wilderness was when Jesus was driven by the Holy Spirit into the desert to be tested by the devil (Luke 4). It was a time of Speech! The testing came in the form of questions and allegations that the devil uttered to Jesus, against which Jesus defended himself with the written word of God (from Deuteronomy 6 and 8).
In our Christian experience we discover that the Wilderness—the lonely place—is where we wage our greatest battles with the wicked one. In the lonely place, where there is no distraction, we resist him steadfast in the faith (1 Peter 5:9). When we overcome evil there—in the lonely place—we come out in power to travel through the world with strength for any situation.
May your lonely place be filled with the potency of the LORD’S Word in your heart, the ordering of your steps each day, and his triumph on your lips.