The whole congregation journeyed by stages
Don’t make too much of the fact that this wilderness has a name. In Exodus 17, Sin is capitalized. It’s a place (in Hebrew). The wilderness of Sin describes geography. It is not meant to direct our theology.
Wilderness is not inherently sinful. [Though I suppose one can certainly sin as hard there as anywhere.] Wilderness is an experience. Some folks describe it as tough. Others speak of it as transformative. It can be painful. It may involve solitude. It definitely includes an element of risk. In the wild, ever-present is the possibility of loss, injury, or failure.
When Bible-readers point out that it is God who leads people into the wilderness, we sometimes fail to follow that up with important qualifiers: (1) Sometimes wilderness is a result of our own action. (2) There is more than one kind.
The prophet Elijah had a wilderness experience, as did Paul, Job, Jesus, and presumably John the Baptist. That is to say nothing of people in the Bible whose experiences did not make it into the canon of Scripture or whose wilderness played out in the country of the heart.
Here’s the thing: For some of our spiritual ancestors, their lives were mostly wilderness. That could cause us to feel sorry for them. Or, it could cause us to look at wilderness differently.
The problem with saying that wilderness is a problem is that it diminishes the faithful contributions of others, namely this generation (v.1). You could tell Moses, Miriam, Aaron: It’s a shame how the wilderness took up so much of your life. God should have made you successful.
You could say that. I’m not sure I want to hear how that goes!
Recently, I was listening to some storytelling out of San Quentin State Prison. While an inmate articulated how perspective was everything for guys on the inside, my mind wandered to how crucial it is for all of us (in varying degrees). If we knew that wilderness is what we have, possibly all we have, would it dawn on us, the grace?
Word has it: You hear a whole lot from God there. Real community happens. In spite of or perhaps because of the drama, the law of God, which is to say the love of God, is made plain and plenty sufficient. So, dear friends, once more unto the wild~