Remember the days of old;
consider the generations long past.
Ask your father and he will tell you,
your elders, and they will explain to you.
When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance,
when he divided all mankind,
he set up boundaries for the peoples
according to the number of the sons of Israel.
For the Lord’s portion is his people,
Jacob his allotted inheritance.
In a desert land he found him,
in a barren and howling waste.
He shielded him and cared for him;
he guarded him as the apple of his eye,
like an eagle that stirs up its nest
and hovers over its young,
that spreads its wings to catch them
and carries them aloft.
The Lord alone led him;
no foreign god was with him.
The Lord shielded him and cared for him, guarded him like a mother eagle, the Lord alone…sounds great, right?
We tend to focus on what the Lord does for the Israelites in this passage, because that’s the reassuring “God loves us and takes care of us” part, and the Most High hits the “we’re number one, our God rocks!” part. But the line prior to the shielding and guarding part is what interests me.
In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste.
Nice description. No punches pulled, no softening or spoonful of sugar to help it go down. Israel was wandering in the desert with scarce water and even less protection from the sun or wind. They were a people without a land of their own, struggling to survive in brutal temperature differences traversing the range between deadly heat during the day and deadly cold at night, battered by wind-blown sand. The desert is, by definition, an inhospitable place, an unwelcoming place.
That’s where the Lord found them. Not at the oasis, not on a beach by the Mediterranean, not in green pastures filled with milk and honey. In a barren and howling waste, perhaps literally true for the Israelites, and metaphoric for me.
Where did the Lord find you? I was wandering my own particular version of a barren wasteland, a place I stumbled into following the other gods implied by the use of the “Most High”. In my case, those gods included family expectations, and a fairly extensive variety of status symbols (because if one doesn’t work, try another one. You know. Like you do.) And the deeper you get into that wasteland, the harder it is to find your way out.
The Most High God finds you in places where even your loved ones can’t seem to find you, a barren and howling waste…like depression. Or abuse of anything ranging from drugs to alcohol to video games to food. Perhaps even in the mindless disconnectedness that makes modern, suburban life feel like a “howling waste” (or maybe that’s just me), and once that God has found you, that God shields and guards you.
To be shielded and guarded, you have to be found, and to be found you sometimes have to admit you’re lost, that your other gods failed you, led you astray. That’s the cry for help that orients the Lord to the sound of your voice. Nothing worked, Lord! I’ve made big mistakes! I’m lost! The real question, in my opinion, to be taken up in a different post, is what do I owe in return for being found?