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  • Parker Samelson

The Wanderer


The Wanderer by Caspar David Friedrich

“Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian. And he sat down by a well” (Exodus 2:15).


“The Israelites had moved about in the wilderness forty years” (Joshua 5:6).


“And David remained in the strongholds in the wilderness, in the hill country of the wilderness of Ziph” (1 Samuel 23:14).


“But when God…was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles…I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia…” (Galatians 1:15-17).


“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry” (Matthew 4:1-2).


What do all of these verses have in common? The motif is clear: God commonly sends his chosen people into the wilderness to prepare them for their ministry.


The Hebrew word for wilderness in the Old Testament is מִדְבָּר (mid.bar).

In the New Testament, the Greek word for wilderness is “ἔρημος” which is defined as “deserted, remote, solitary; as a noun, desert, uninhabited wilderness, implying in some contexts to be a forsaken, desolate place.”


You may notice that the idea of “desert” is almost synonymous with the concept of wilderness in the Bible. This is because in Israel, the setting for almost all of the Bible is basically surrounded by desert wilderness.


I visited the desert wilderness of Israel on a study abroad trip in the summer of 2016. I was shocked at how wild and deserted this wilderness really is. Having grown up in Colorado, I was undaunted by palm trees and cacti depicted in Veggie Tales. To my chagrin, I was stricken with a violent heat stroke, and I vomited all the way back to Jerusalem. Ever since this experience, I have a profound respect for the wilderness of Israel.


So why does God send his chosen people into the wilderness before they begin their ministry?


Let’s begin by listing some characteristics of the wilderness: quiet, desolate, empty, challenging, intimidating, unsettling.


It appears that in a world of unceasing distraction, the wilderness is the setting that God uses to speak loud and clear. Again, and again, the Lord pulls his chosen people away from what is comfortable and familiar. For yet another example, let’s turn to Elijah in (1 Kings 19:12), “after the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.”


The world yells. The Lord whispers.


In the 21st century, it seems like the world could not yell louder. Many Americans spend their entire within arm’s reach of their smartphone. I will admit that, personally, taking a shower is the only respite that I receive from the constant onslaught of push notifications. Social media has been shown to be linked to the rise in depression and anxiety in American teens and young adults. Instagram appeared to be the worst as scrolling the feed was shown to “contribute to high levels of anxiety and depression, body image issues, and FOMO – the fear of missing out.”[1]


It is all the more difficult to escape this constant activity when 80% of Americans live in urban environments. The graph below from Gallup shows the difference between where Americans want to live to where they actually live:


I believe that this graph indicates that mankind has a subconscious draw to live in a quiet, serene, and calm environment. In spite of this, most Americans still live in big cities where it is easier to keep up with the ever-accelerating pace of life.


More than ever, we need to meet God in the wilderness. Kingdom Expeditions seeks to offer young adults an opportunity to hear God speak in the same way he spoke to Moses, David, Jesus, and Paul in the wilderness.


The painting featured in this post is The Wanderer by Caspar David Friedrich. This oil-on-canvas is renowned as one of the masterpieces of Romanticism. The work of art is commonly depicted to represent the Romantic movement (~1800-1850) as a whole because of the way that it represents many of the ideas underlying the spirit of the age. It is clear that the landscape painting communicates the Romantic fascination with encountering nature (the wilderness) in a dramatic and powerful way. This period of time saw an impressive increase in enthusiasm for the great outdoors. Many Europeans of this time sought sublime experiences in nature. Although the wanderer is unable to see through the thick fog, it appears as though he is having a spectacular introspective adventure.


I believe that this painting merely reflects an eternal reality that the Lord has created us for his creation. At crucial life junctures, the Lord brought Jacob, Moses, Elijah, David, Jesus, and Paul into the wilderness to encounter Him. Jacob literally wrestled with God in the wilderness. Will you wrestle with God in the wilderness? Will you wander into the unknown to allow the Lord to speak without distraction?


[1] Royal Society for Public Health

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