Paul Miller, in his great book on prayer, A Praying Life, talks about the gap between hope and reality in terms of a desert. It is a hard place to live. He suggests that our instincts are to do what we can to close the gap between hope and reality.
Moses spent a large proportion of his life in a literal desert: his life’s work consisted of guiding the fledgling Hebrew nation around a desert for 40 years. But before that he had experienced time in the obscurity of the Midianite wilderness. He had not planned on it, but had gone there as a fugitive from Egypt.
A comparison of Moses at 40 (when he went into exile) and Moses at 80 (when God called him to his life’s work) throws light on some of the things that happen to people in wilderness/desert-type phases of life.
The desert is a place where people lose their dreams. Moses had had a dream of being a freedom fighter. He reckoned that the Hebrews would recognise this and welcome him as their leader and deliverer. Far from it. Who did he think he was? Who had made him a ruler over them? By the time God called him at 80, his dream of revolution had gone, replaced by a quiet life in an obscure place.
The desert strips people of their self-confidence. At 40, Moses was ready to tackle the Egyptians. At 80 he asked God, ‘Who am I to confront Pharaoh?’ At 80 he thought no one would listen to him. And he couldn’t even speak properly. But a person who realises their own limitations is in a place to trust God for his strength.
The desert can be a place to meet God – eventually. At times God does not seem to be there and the desert is a dry place. But in Moses’ story, the emptiness and obscurity of the desert did not have the final word. God was there and Moses found him. God’s children are not invisible to him, even in the desert. So it was that the desert became a place of commissioning, launching Moses on a mission to change history.