The Backside of the Desert Part 1

The Lord has deigned to open up some Scriptures to me that I hope will be of as much assistance to you as they have me. He knows that if I have understanding of a situation, especially if it is during a time of trial and testing, it is so much easier to surrender to it and to Him. In fact, God encourages our asking Him why all these trials and sufferings are happening. All of us are familiar with the first four verses of James 1:

James 1: 2-5 (New International Version 

Trials and Temptations 

2Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.

But how many of us are aware of verse five? He wants us to understand the place of trials and suffering in our lives. He wants us to count these trials and sufferings as “pure joy.” The only way we can do that is to know their purpose. In addition, He promises that He will not be angry if we ask Him “why Lord?”

5 If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. (NLT)

The Lord in His mercy will provide us with a place of quiet in order to hear Him. In His Word He tells us of such a place where He takes Moses from the hustle and bustle of Pharaoh’s court to a place called  “the back of the desert” (Exodus 3:1). Now that sounds like it should be a dry, dusty place, as if God was putting Moses in exile. However, the word “desert” has a distinct meaning; it means “to speak clearly.” Hence we know that God puts Moses there because He has these precious truths He wants to share with Moses and He wants Moses to be quiet enough and have time enough to hear them. Even though  the “back of the desert” sounds like a very unpleasant place, according to the Keil and Delitzsch Commentary, this area of the desert was the

place of such fertile valleys that fruit trees grew there and the Bedouins thought of it as a resort.”

A resort!  A place where fruit trees (like in the fruits of the Spirit) grew! This isn’t a place where we will wither and die. Instead it is a  verdant place of lush grass, sparking waters, abundant and juicy fruit. Doesn’t all this turn your thinking about trials and suffering completely around and give you a new perspective?! So when God puts us on the “back of a desert” to “speak” with us, we are to look at it the right way. The right way is that this place will produce great fruit in our lives and it can be, instead of a dry and dusty place, a place of such richness and intimacy with the Lord that it will be like going to a resort to get rest and refreshment.

In his daily devotional for July 18, 2009, Charles Spurgeon remarked:

Wilderness Communion

I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably unto her. (Hosea 2:14)

The goodness of God sees us allured by distractions or sin and it resolves to try upon us the more powerful allurements of love. Do we not remember when the Lover of our souls first cast a spell upon us and charmed us away from the fascinations of the world! He will do this again and again whenever He sees us likely to be ensnared by evil.

He promises to draw us apart, for there He can best deal with us, and this separated place is not to be a paradise, but a wilderness, since in such a place there will be nothing to take of our attention from our God. In the deserts of affliction the presence of the Lord becomes everything to us, and we prize His company beyond any value which we set upon it when we sat under our own vine and fig tree in the society of our fellows. Solitude and affliction bring more to themselves and to their heavenly Father than any other means.

When thus allured and secluded the Lord has choice things to say to us for our comfort. He “speaks to our heart,” as the original has it. Oh, that at this we may have this promise explained in our experience! Allured by love, separated by trial, and comforted by the Spirit of truth, may we know the Lord and sing for joy!

James 1:4 in TLB speaks of  “when your patience is in full bloom.” That is a phrase that suggests ripe fruit. Galatians 5:22 states that when the Holy Spirit is in control of our lives, He will produce the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Look at someone who has surrendered to the Lord in times of suffering and what do you see:

Romans 5:3-5 (New International Version)

3..but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. 

Surrendered people have character:

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and            suffering can the soul be strengthened.” ~ Helen Keller

They are dependent on Jesus and have a deep love for Him. The joy of the Lord is their strength. They have the peace that passes understanding. They have a sensitivity to others’ pain and a desire to minister comfort to those in need. All of these fruits are not produced quickly nor are they produced during “mountain-top” experiences. They are produced in the valleys, on the back of the desert – the lonely, quiet, broken places where we have nothing but time to be still and allow the Lord to do His work within us.

Blessed Be Your Name
In the land that is plentiful
Where Your streams of abundance flow
Blessed be Your name

Blessed Be Your name
When I’m found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed Be Your name

Every blessing You pour out
I’ll turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name

[Verse 2]
Blessed be Your name
When the sun’s shining down on me
When the world’s ‘all as it should be’
Blessed be Your name


There is another significant fact about this place called “the back of the desert.” That may be its title at the beginning of the book of  Exodus when Moses first began his talks with the Lord but its title will change because this place was in actuality called Mount Horeb, the Mountain of God or, more familiarly, Mount Sinai. Yes, Mount Sinai – the place where the Ten Commandments were given. Interesting isn’t it how the place that begins as simply one where we have small, simple conversations with the Lord leads to occurrences that change our lives and so many around us. You begin with this small tug in your heart to talk with the Lord. Then you find that as you talk with Him a burden grows that becomes bigger and bigger. You hear from Him directions on what He wants prayed. Then you find yourself becoming more and more deeply involved not just in praying but in the burdens of His heart so that they become the burdens of your heart. Eventually you discover yourself so involved that whatever instructions He gives you in connection with those burdens, you are willing to obey. Wonderfully, in the end you have His joy – which is now your joy – of seeing people freed from their sins and the lives of many changed. All because you took the time to go to that place called “the backside of the desert” which was really the Mountain of God.

Moses spent his academic life under the tutelage of some of the greatest minds in Pharaoh’s court so that he could become a ruler over Egypt. Then everything changed. He was placed on the backside of the desert by the Lord. It was a lonely existence: yet it was to learn something he could not learn in any other school. His instructor was God. And what did he do with this unique learning? He became the leader of over a million people, God’s people, and created a new nation, the nation of God. Those years in the desert were vital to his education. Egyptians mocked shepherds; Moses was now a shepherd for Jethro, his father-in-law. Moses had to leave Egypt because he arrogantly took the law in his own hands and murdered a man; now Moses was afraid to appear before Pharaoh. Moses had learned humility and self-distrust in the desert of Mt. Horeb.

Look at another great man of faith – Joseph. When we first meet Joseph, he is the recipient of a glorious coat of many colors from his father – a gift which undoubtedly makes his brothers jealous and Joseph proud. Mix this in with a dream where Joseph’s brothers are bowing down before him and the situation worsens. However, God in His best “Potter-forming-the-clay” manner steps in and changes everything. The clay is put into the fire: sold by his brothers into slavery; falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife and imprisoned; forgotten by men he had helped. Yet all those adverse circumstances molded the man who would eventually become prime minister of Egypt and save not just his own people but the surrounding nations, including the Israelites.

To become mighty men of God both these men first had to become “small.” Everything grand and glorious had to be taken away from them before God could truly use them for His ultimate purposes. Beautifully, lovingly the Lord can only do His precious craftsmanship like this in the quiet places where there are no distractions, where He has our full attention. Thank you Lord for allowing us to truly see the preciousness of what we once thought was a lonely, dry desert but now see is a place of living streams of abundance. Thank you for your loving care over us.

Work cited:

  1. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, volume 1, Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC; Peabody, Massachusetts 01961