Psalm eighty-four speaks of the “blessed man.” Let us change the word man and say “person,” although sometimes I think that word a poor substitute for the words, man and woman. Maybe we should write “the blessed man and woman” and rejoice in what is written in the psalm. It concludes with, “blessed is the man that trusts in Thee”(Psalm 84:12). Before that the poet says, “Blessed are they that dwell in Your house, they will be still praising You” (Psalm 84:4) and follows that up by saying “Blessed is the man whose strength is in You, in whose heart are the highways of Zion. Who passing through the valley of Weeping make it a spring and the early rain covers it with blessings” (Psalm 84:5-6). “The Lord God is a sun and shield, The Lord will give grace and glory” (Psalm 84:11). “The Lord will give grace and glory”! What a statement that is, whether dwelling in the Lord’s house in peace and tranquility, or walking through wilderness times of weeping, He will give grace and glory.
All of us would honestly affirm that peaceful times are our preference. Yet how many times in the Bible narrative we find that God seems to do His greatest works and disclose Himself most wonderfully in the times of trial, of wilderness and weeping. One of the wonderful prophetic chapters in the book of the ‘weeping’ prophet Jeremiah begins with the words “the people who were left of the sword found grace in the wilderness” (Jeremiah 21:2). Grace in the wilderness, yes, says the Lord, “I have loved you with an everlasting love, therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn you” (Jeremiah 31:3). He continues by saying, “Again I will build you and you shall be built, O virgin of Israel” (Jeremiah 31:4). I often check various translations when I am reading my Bible and I noted that James Moffatt puts it this way, “Those who survive the sword shall find grace in the dungeon.” What a graphic way to put it, but whether wilderness or dungeon we get the picture and should encourage our hearts.
Most of those reading this musing will know that through the mercy of God they have escaped the sword of His eternal judgment through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, however, there are times when we walk through difficult times as we continue on in the pathway of faith. It is not always halcyon days but the darkness of a dungeon and the dryness of a wilderness. For those who pass through, looking to the Lord, there shall be water in the wilderness and the unfolding of God’s heart not found any other way. How easily we endeavor to embrace the soft option, remain in our comfort zones if we can and yet, because God is faithful, we pass through fires. But before we go any further, what is grace? A simply answer could be, grace is God in action, grace is concrete, it is God working, grace is not abstract, something distinct from God and His self disclosures.
If we have eyes to see, grace is God showing His nature and character. Remember Hagar; twice she found grace in the wilderness. In some ways she was a misfit. A servant girl who became a central figure embroiled in a family feud, she abused and was in turn abused herself. When she found herself pregnant to Abraham her master at the express request of her mistress she mocked Sarah and her barrenness. The result was wilderness and there she found grace. Grace for the misfit! Sarah dealt hard with her and Hagar fled but, “the angel of the Lord found her by a fountain of water in the wilderness” (Genesis 16:7). The Lord found her and she found grace there! The conversation between the rejected woman and the Lord’s angel was filled with instruction and promise. She is told to return and submit to the difficult circumstances back in the household of Abraham and Sarah and there she will be fruitful and have a son.
She names the place Beerlahairoi, meaning, “the well of the Living One Who sees me,’ and rejoices in amazement, “You are the God that sees me.” Take heart, all who find themselves in difficult times in dry places, perhaps rejected and alone, if you need to, return and submit to the Lord in the place from which you have been running and there too, you will find grace. Maybe ten or so years later, maybe more, Hagar passed through a similar experience. By now the promised Isaac had been born to the aged Sarah, a miracle indeed, and there was war in the household, Sarah and Hagar embittered with each other and jealousy was rife. Sarah demanded that Hagar and her son should be cast out and with reluctance Abraham complied and sent the mother and son into the wilderness to survive if they could.
So, again, there was abuse, again rejection and again partly bought on by each of them disrespecting Sarah and her child. And again, she found grace in the wilderness! Yes, sometimes our wilderness experiences are partly of our own making but even there shall the Lord make Himself known. He is greater than our hearts and knows what He is doing. Her resources at an end, the water in the bottle all gone she puts her son, weak and weary, under a bush and waits for the end. It seems that all hope is gone and she lifted up her voice and wept. There in her extremity God makes Himself known, again by an angel, “God heard the voice of the lad” (Genesis 21:17). Not her voice this time, but that of her son, fathered by Abraham and precious in God’s sight. We know that he too was a misfit, would become a ‘wild man’ but who, along with his offspring, has a place in God’s purposes.
How very much we need to learn this, even those things that do not seem to ‘fit’ have a place. In Gods’ highway not everything is smooth running. “God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water, and she went and filled the bottle with water and gave the lad drink” (Genesis 21:19). “God opened her eyes,” the well had been there all the time, it had not moved, there is always water in the wilderness but grief and sorrow, disappointment and disillusionment can prevent us from seeing that the God of grace is ever present and ready to sustain His own. “God was with the lad, and He grew and dwelt in the wilderness” (Genesis 21:20). God was with the lad and he grew there, in the midst of a place of comparative barrenness, he became strong and a warrior with bow and arrow. If we find ourselves in dungeon days, seemingly locked up and alone, the Lord is there and sees and shall give sustenance to our famished soul. He will teach us to use the weapons of our warfare and so extract from dry places food that shall strengthen us further. There are many types of dungeons. Remember that. We see God’s tenderness to the woman Hagar and to her son.
We also see that He promised grace in the wilderness to the ‘virgin’ Israel (Jeremiah 31:4). He seems to delight in being gracious to the woman, who, among other things should be loved and protected and is such a picture of what we all should be, people dependent and receptive toward God. Just enjoy the picture of four ladies, they are found in Acts 21:9. It is a delightful picture because, hidden there are four persons who lived with Philip their father. He was the evangelist, one of those mentioned earlier in the Acts. These ladies had not allowed themselves to be locked up in their single-hood. They were spinsters, an old fashioned word, I know, but for some, growing old and remaining single must be a place a bit like a dungeon of loneliness that gradually embitters the heart. Instead, these women found grace and in the restricted space of their single life, they prophesied! They were fruitful in the word of God’s grace, and were channels of blessing, their hearts and mouths pouring out good things rather than the subtle and bitter complaining that so often comes out of those whose circumstances limit their possibilities. What an example these four should be to us all.
We ought, at this point to really honor the multitudes of the women of the world who have not allowed their dungeon to be a prison but have turned it into a place of fruitfulness and have blessed the world with all they have conceived and brought forth to the glory of God! What potential we all have if only we let the Lord find us with His grace and so are watered souls in barren places. Pondering on this theme makes me feel a bit like the writer to the Hebrews must have felt when he mentioned so many men and women of faith and patience in his book. “And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me”(Hebrews 11:32). The theme of our musing is everywhere in the pages of the Bible! Just think of our Lord Jesus, He went into a forty days dungeon and was tempted of the devil. Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit and was led by that same Spirit into the wilderness place (Luke 4:1). The wilderness time did not break Him, in ways we could say that it made Him, for, “He returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee” (Luke 4:14). He was made the stronger by the trials, testing and restrictions of that necessary season.
Yet, for Jesus, Calvary was the ultimate place of exile, of wilderness and dungeon darkness. He went where no human being had gone and whilst there shouted, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me,” (Mark15: 34). A cry of dereliction that not one of us has ever had to say and none need ever say either. Jesus remained faithful to His God and Father in the unfathomable extremities that not one of us can understand and by His faith are we saved. The Father received His spirit and raised Him on the third day, grace was there, the river was opened in the wilderness and the place of weeping was made into place of the spring of water whose waters fail not, of which we may all drink as we make walk through in the life of faith. Just to conclude our meditations, remember that when we find grace in the wilderness we also find freedom, for grace is freeing.
The place of limitation turns out to be the place of liberation. Liberty from the earth bound view that dogs so many of us is ours as we see the Lord high and lifted up indeed, not only over all, but working through all. Something that had not registered so strongly to me before concerns those three men thrown into the furnace. We all know the story. They would not kowtow to the massive image of gold in Babylon, their love and faithfulness to God triumphed over the pressures of the world of their day and its demand for worship and because of their stand they were bound and thrown into a fiery furnace. Perhaps we know their bold answer to King Nebuchadnezzar. He had threatened them with being burned to death and arrogantly said to them, “and who is that God that shall delivery you out of my hands” (Daniel 3:15)? They replied, “we are not careful to answer you in this matter. If it be so, our God Whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of your hand O king. But if not, be it known to you O king, that we will not serve your gods, nor worship the golden image that you have set up”(Daniel 3:17-18).
It seems that they were free before they were cast into the furnace but they were even more liberated when they came out! Not only so, the testimony of the Lord seen in their lives caused the king to issue a decree that no one should speak against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (Daniel 3:29). They were thrown in bound, the Lord met them in the fire and walked with them there, the onlookers were astonished, for they walked unbound, the flames sent to destroy simply loosed their bonds, they found grace in the fire! The place fashioned to work and destroy maliciously only served to bring about the triumph of faith that liberated even more. The smell of the fire was not even on them, instead, they were wrapped in greater glory. Let the people of God take note of the testimony of the scriptures and the multitudes who have walked with God in fires most terrible on every continent of this earth. They speak with one voice telling us that the place of frustration that appears to limit us with its bondage and dungeon ways can become a place of new understanding and of quickening, both for those incarcerated and for those who look on and behold the grace that the heart surrendered to God discovers.