THE BACKSIDE OF THE DESERT
Biblical Text: Exodus 3:1
“Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb.”
We enjoy the comfort that comes from repetition and replication. I can prove it. Try to change something in the church and what is the first thing you hear? “Pastor, we’ve never done it that way before.” Repetition and replication allow us to move ahead with no aforethought, no concentration…no pre-planning. We are too often quick to reject the idea that good things can come from change.
For this reason, change often has to wait for an opportunity to sneak up on us or catch us unaware. It has to wait for us to find ourselves flailing in uncertainty and bereft for answers. That was Moses’ state of mind when he fled from Egypt. This man who had spent his academic life under the tutelage of some of the greatest minds in Pharaoh’s court, groomed to become a ruler over Egypt, now found himself in a strange land.
Forced to leave Egypt because he arrogantly took the law into his own hands and murdered an Egyptian, Moses…once the favorite of Pharaoh… was now an ostracized wanderer...cast out…beyond Egypt’s borders. From this point, his journey would be God-ordained. Clearly, there was something Moses needed to learn that would never have been found in books written by Egyptian scribes and teachers. Moses would have a new instructor…the God of the Hebrews... Yahweh.
Everything changed. Moses now had a wife…Zipporah. He had a new job…sheep herder. The man once dressed in finery and slated to be the next Pharaoh of Egypt, now had a new career tending sheep and goats…and smelling like them too.
• Moses went from the throne room to the desert’s gloom.
• He went from owning slaves to being a descendant of slaves.
• He went from having all the answers, to having none of the answers.
If you haven’t read the scriptures, you’ve at least seen the movie. Moses finds himself in the desert…placed there by the Lord. It was an isolated existence, tending sheep for the priest of Midian. It was a far cry from being Pharaoh’s favorite son.
But how many of you know that our best lessons often come through unique learning experiences.
• Getting laid off can lead to a new and better career.
• Being forced to downsize can teach you the importance of saving.
• Tragedy can force you to lean on the Lord.
Egyptians revered Pharaohs, but they mocked shepherds. And Moses was now a shepherd for Jethro, his father-in-law. What did Moses do with this change in his direction?
• He eventually became the leader of more than a million people…Hebrew people.
• He led his people out of slavery.
• He created a new nation, a nation of God’s Chosen people.
The years that preceded his quest…those years in the desert…would turn out to be vital preparation for his future. And scripture says that his training took place on the backside of the desert. What does the scriptural account mean by the “backside of the desert”? Moses was in the desert plains, 500 miles beyond the fertile delta that embodied Egypt. This desert, parched by infrequent rain and little grass, was all around him. But the bible says that Moses went to the backside of the desert…far from the Midian’s usual grazing area. That journey took him to a mountain called Horeb, which means “glowing”.
And this is where God’s training of Moses began…on the backside of the desert. Why the backside? Why not near the Midian well? Why not nearer to base camp where Moses could enjoy a good meal and the company of his family each evening? What is it about the backside of the desert that drew Moses away from home?
First, the Backside of the Desert is where we are drawn to God. God dispatched an angel to the backside of the desert, and the bible says that the angel “appeared unto [Moses] in a flame of fire” coming from a bush that was not being consumed. Some say curiosity drew him, but that was God’s plan. He had to draw Moses away from the safety of familiar surroundings so He could get the sheep herder’s full attention. When God called out to him from the bush, Moses heard God.
That’s why God takes us to the backside of our desert existence. It’s the only place where God can get our undivided attention. God speaks loudest when we turn toward Him and away from life’s clutter. To become a mighty force for God, you must first become “small”. Everything grand and glorious has to be taken away before God can use you for His ultimate purpose. Like a carpenter refinishing an old piece of furniture, the Lord’s first display of His craftsmanship is in the “stripping”. Beautifully and lovingly, God scrapes away the layers of worldliness, in a quiet place where there are no distractions.
Some of you know just what I mean. God took you to the backside of your existence so you could see the preciousness of what you once thought was a lonely, dry desert. And everything changed. Now you live in a place of living streams of abundance. Go ahead and shout!
Why did Moses take his father-in-law’s flock to the backside of the desert? Was he in search of greener pastures? Did he just want to get out of the blistering sun? No. Moses was searching for answers…and the angel of the Lord led him to the only place where he could find them...the backside of the desert. The backside of the desert drew Moses to God.
Second, the Backside of the Desert is where we receive God’s instruction. For Moses, it was teaching time. In the cleft of a mountain, Moses found God. Mountains were thought to contain divine inspiration. They were the focus of pilgrimages in search of spiritual elevation. In ancient times, mountains were a universal symbol of the nearness of God. And so, God spoke to Moses from the mountain of Horeb.
God’s first instruction to Moses was “remove your shoes”. The Hebrew word for remove is ‘shal’. It means to slip off, or drop off. Similar instructions were given to Joshua (Joshua 5:15). In this context, shoes represent all that is worldly. God wanted Moses to separate himself from anything that kept him from direct contact with God’s holy ground.
We let a lot of stuff keep us from God’s holy ground. Not just our designer shoes that prevent us from tithing…say ouch if you feel the pinch…but all the other stuff that separates us from God: football games, hair appointments, the Mall, club meetings on prayer meeting night, happy hour on Bible Study night…anything that takes precedent over our relationship with the Lord. We let the ‘noise’ of our lives become so deafening that God can’t get a word in edgewise.
When spiritual communication becomes critical, God has to take us to the backside of the desert, away from the cacophony or disharmony of the world, so we can hear Him. Moses had to be taught that “The Great I AM” was and is God the Father; the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And when God finally got through… Moses hid his face in fear. It was a sure enough ouch moment! God finally had Moses’ full attention as He began to instruct His chosen leader about the critical mission that lay ahead. Moses would deliver the children of Israel from Pharaoh’s grip.
Think of how much great work is never accomplished for the Lord because we never make a trip to the backside of our desert! We never fully withdraw from the world to find God’s holy ground where He can speak to our hearts and give us His heavenly instruction! There are churches that have never been built, mission outreach that has never been accomplished and souls that have never been saved because someone closed his or her ears to God’s instructions. Showers of blessings are missed because we don’t allow ourselves to be drawn to the mountaintop (Ezekiel 34:26). Too many who WOULD BE CALLED are lost in carnal activities, worldly attitudes, selfish motives, lustful desires, and unholy lifestyles. If the backside of the desert is starting to sound good to you, say AMEN!
Finally, the Backside of the Desert is where God reveals His Power. God assured Moses of the task that lay before him, saying “Certainly I will be with thee” (3:12) and “I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt” (3:17).
We aren’t always as ready to receive God’s power as you would think. Moses had reservations about his eloquence, because he was “slow of speech and of a slow tongue” (4:10). In other words, he stuttered. It angered God that Moses still did not trust His power, so He told Aaron to accompany Moses for moral support (4:14-15). God also knew that Moses was afraid of the Egyptians who might still be searching to kill him, so God told him, “All the men are dead which sought thy life” (4:19).
The early Christian church had the same problem Moses had. They had reservations about God’s power. They were afraid to exercise God’s power among the people for fear of failure. Paul had to tell the Church at Corinth, “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” (Corinthians 3:16).
Our God is a confidence builder. He does not send us into a den of lions without armor. He empowers us, not with OUR might, but with HIS might. He takes away our fears and, by His Spirit, He replaces them with His power.
He gives us:
• His air for our spiritual lungs.
• His strength for our spiritual weakness.
• His assurance for our spiritual anxieties.
• And His inspiration for our spiritual exhaustion.
On the backside of the desert, God teaches us that we are never alone. Jesus said, “…Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:20).
So if your desert life is giving you trouble, go to the backside of the desert and “draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you” (James 4:8). Withdraw to the backside of the desert where…
Burdens are lifted and needs are met.
Lives are changed and bodies are healed.
Sins are confessed and sorrows are removed.
Nerves are settled and differences are dissolved.
Hearts are touched and blessings are released.
Demons are overthrown and frustrations are eradicated.
Problems are solved and hopes are restored.
Doubts are destroyed and fears are banished.
Confusions are cleared and questions are answered.
Emotions are stirred and ministries are inspired.
Minds are enlightened and temptations are overcome.
Souls are encouraged, and the Saints of God are enriched and empowered!
Go to the backside of the desert and commune with the Lord!