“If my people would but listen to me, if Israel would follow my ways...with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.” (from Psalm 81) Psalm 81 recounts the wilderness experience of God's people before they entered the Promised Land. The wilderness is a very important theme in the bible. God decrees the Hebrew people to make an annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem to remember their wanderings in the desert in an event called the Feast of Tabernacles. Why? Because he wants his people to have the storyline of ‘wandering in the wilderness’ in their hearts and mind as the paradigm from which to understand their lives, from which to understand their existence and the things that happen. Keep in mind that when Near Eastern culture talks about a wilderness it is referring to the desert - a desolate place that cannot sustain human life. The only reason why the Israelites did not die was because of the miraculous intervention of God.
We too have been rescued out of slavery, like the Hebrews, and are wandering in the wilderness, still wandering in the desert, on the way to the promised land. And just as the physical desert cannot support human life, this world (in the condition that we see it) could never support, sustain or fulfill our deepest longing, our deepest needs, our deepest desires. The world will never satisfy. Never give us what we need. As Marie Antoinette (Queen of France) would say, “Nothing tastes.”
But there is a rock in the wilderness, meaning what? It's often in the wilderness we bump into God. it's in the wilderness where our abstract beliefs of God often become an existential face-to-face reality. And in that rock is not just water to sustain us, but honey to sweeten our lives, meaning what? It is possible for the wilderness to turn us into sweet people - but only if we pass the test of listening and submitting. What hope is there for us to pass such a test? What will keep us from becoming sour? from discouragement? from burnout? from the fear of being swallowed up in the wilderness?
That brings us to our final point: Jesus is the rock. In shocking surprise, when God told Moses to get the rod, instead of coming down on Israel's rebellion (as he did with Egypt), God provides for their need - despite their rebellion. What happened? Did God compromise on his character? Was justice compromised? No. It was diverted to a future time where he would 'pay' it Himself in Christ Jesus. Is God made him sin, who knew no sin, that we might become the righteousness of God in him. In other words the rod came down on him - the rod that I deserved, the rod that you deserved.
Moreover, Jesus not only took the rod of justice, but passed in 40 days what Israel failed to do in 40 years. And he passed the 'test of obedience' not as our example (though he is an example to follow), but as our substitute. What that means is that when I believe in Jesus, that he died for me (took the rod), when I say, ‘Father accept me because of what Jesus has done' (passing the test), God treats Jesus as if he’d failed in the wilderness, and he treats me as if I passed.
And what that means now is that I no longer have to be afraid of the wilderness. He doesn’t punish me in my failures. He gives me water. He gives me honey. He’s leading me to the land of promise. He’s taking me to the place where there will be no sorrows. He’s going to get me there - faster or slower depending on how much I obey him, but regardless.