The Desert of Lovers

When we speak of a desert we generally think of a dry, tough unpleasant place. When people refer to a spiritual experience as "going through a desert," they usually mean that their spiritual life is running dry and that their relationship with G-d has lost its former vitality and intimacy.

As I was reading the book of Hosea, I found a very different picture of the desert experience. In chapter two several verses spoke very personally to me. "Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. There she will sing as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt."

"In that day," declares the LORD, "you will call me 'my husband;' you will no longer call me 'my master.'" (Hosea 2:14-16)

We are led into the desert for many reasons. In the desert, the Lord wants to intimately share His love with us; to bring us back to our first love; to give us our inheritance; to cleanse us and bring us fresh hope. What a contrast to the traditional picture of a barren and hopeless place! Being in the desert is not an easy thing. The way in which we respond to the difficulties and the trials of the desert will reveal the true condition of our heart. The key to our desert experience is found in Deuteronomy 8:2-5. "Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep His commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you."

G-d leads us to the desert because only there will we see what is actually in our heart. When our circumstances are easy we can control ourselves. We can hide what is in our heart by acting in a culturally acceptable way. However, when faced with difficulties our true attitude comes to the surface.

Let me illustrate with a personal story. About two years ago I was doing reserve duty in the IDF. One night I was on duty for six hours and during that time had to carry about 45 pounds of equipment. When I came off duty all I wanted to do was sleep. Then my commanding officer came and said that he needed me for something else. My reaction was neither spiritual nor polite. This showed that there were areas in my life in need of repentance and healing. Difficulty brought them to my attention. G-d used this circumstance to expose these needs because he wanted to heal and restore me. He wanted to pour His love into my woundedness. Through this healing, He wanted to enable me to enter into my inheritance in a deeper way. He desires the same for you.

The ultimate question is will we grumble because of the hardships of the desert or will we see them as an opportunity to meet G-d in a new, fresh and liberating way? Our reaction will determine our course. Will we travel round and round in circles or will we travel through the desert to our inheritance and into a deeper intimacy with G-d?

Making aliyah (immigrating to Israel) is a good example of a desert experience. We have left our familiar culture and language behind. We are uprooted and as a result unstable in a new and unfamiliar country. The culture is foreign. We don't know how to handle things and where to turn. Every day brings new surprises and shocks. The pressure of Israeli life is an additional stress.

Circumstances like these create a desert experience in which things hidden in the heart will surface - ugly and ungodly things that one was not aware of. Then and there G-d wants to come in and speak tenderly to us, to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. He wants to change the desert valley into a door of hope. He gives us back the vineyards - our inheritance in the Messiah. He brings us back to an intimate relationship with Him so that we may sing to him as in the day of our youth.

Wherever you live, G-d is preparing a special desert experience for you. He wants to lead you to the desert of lovers. Respond to Him with the love of your youth.

By Gamliel Asher