Deuteronomy 2-5; Psalm 32; Acts 26-27

Week Number

“Then we turned around and set out across the wilderness…” (Deut. 2:1).

The wilderness in this verse is a place that is lonely, inhospitable, confusing, and even life-threatening to those trapped in it. It represents a place of separation from the goodness of God. The words of this verse are profoundly sad, for they indicate a conscious decision to stop moving forward toward something good, an intentional turning away from the original direction, and movement toward something not good.

Why would anyone going in a direction leading toward a refuge deliberately turn around and head out to a wilderness that was isolating and harmful? Why would anyone in relationship with God turn away from that relationship?

The stories of both the Israelites and David give several explanations for their turning from the Lord, including disobedience to and mistrust of God. The Israelites turned around and set out across the wilderness when they wouldn’t obey God and didn’t trust Him to fulfill His promises. David turned around when he decided to deliberately disobey God by committing adultery and then arranging a murder to try to conceal the adultery.

Disobedience to and mistrust of God were two reasons why these people headed toward the wilderness, but there is probably at least one more; they did not know the reality of life in the wilderness. They were accustomed to the joys that came from God. They had no comprehension of what their daily existence would be like with the things they wanted, yet without the peace and comfort of God’s presence. They were probably astounded at how bleak their lives became after rejecting God’s good guidance, how devastating the wilderness was, and how harmful their actions were to themselves and others.

We still purposefully turn around and head in the wrong direction and for the same reasons as the Israelites and David. This verse has profound personal meaning to me. I’ve been there. Why did I turn away from God? It was because I decided I wanted something God said was wrong for me to have more than I wanted to keep living a life of obedience to Him. I can clearly remember the moment when I said to myself, “I want this more than I want to obey You, God.”

At that moment, I turned away from God and set out across my own personal wilderness. Of course at the time, I didn’t believe I was headed for the wilderness; I believed I was headed toward happiness. Looking back on it now, I wonder what ever made me believe that I was wiser than God about what would bring me happiness. Like others before me, I soon found out the misery of turning from God.

So, like the Israelites I wandered in the wilderness for many years—seven to be exact; not quite believing that God could forgive my willful disobedience. And, like David, I was weighed down by my guilt, overcome by the consequences of my wrong decisions, and ashamed for the damage my behavior had brought to the reputation of Jesus Christ (Ps. 32:3-4,10).

But like David, “finally I confessed all my sins” to God “and stopped trying to hide them” (Ps. 32:5). And with David, I can say that I know the joy of forgiveness of my sins. I know the delight of returning to the Lord and setting out again on the path that God desires for me. With David, I say, “Oh, what joy for those whose rebellion is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight! Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of sin, whose lives are lived in complete honesty!” (Ps. 32:1-2).

The answer how to turn back was and is always available to those who have wandered in the wilderness, broken by sin’s burdens. The answer is the same for us as it was when Moses told the people, “And if you search for him [God] with all your heart and soul, you will find him” (Deut. 4:29). Our search for God begins as soon as we turn back toward Him and away from the wilderness. God wants to be found, and He wants to restore any who have turned away.

These verses are deeply meaningful to those who have experienced the sorrow of separation from God caused by our disobedience and the joy of forgiveness that comes through heartfelt repentance. There is true elation in being able once again to live in complete honesty, no longer weighed down by guilt, facing each day with nothing to hide and nothing of which to be ashamed.

Thank God for His mercy, forgiveness, and restoration.


© 2010 Arlina Yates

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