Friday, 30 March 2012

Why did John preach ‘in the wilderness’?


Matthew  3.1    In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea,
     
The answer is in 4 points:

Point 1.
John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness  in order to fulfill the prophecy in Isaiah 40.3-5:

The voice of one crying in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill brought low; the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places smooth; the Glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken."

These verses are the beginning of the great Messianic prophecies of Isaiah chapters 40 to 66, all of which are written in Hebrew poetry.  One of the characteristics of Hebrew poetry is that it is written in Parallelisms. Parallelisms are most commonly found in the book of Psalms and Proverbs, but they are found throughout the whole of the Bible.
A Parallelism is the expression of one idea in two or more different ways. For example in Psalm 119.105 we read:
Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path 
This is an example of a simple Parallelism and can be written:
Your Word is;
a   a lamp to my feet
b  a light for my path

The words ‘lamp’ and ‘light’ are paralleled as well as the words ‘my feet’ and ‘my path’. 
The thought in the first line (a) of the couplet is repeated in the following line (b).

Most English Bible translations print the parallelism in Isaiah 40.3 with the inverted commas in the wrong place, as I have done above: The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the Way of the LORD..

The verse is a Parallelism, and should read:
The voice of one crying, ‘In the wilderness prepare the Way of the LORD;…

The beautiful Parallelisms of verses 3 to 5 are set out as follows:

A The voice of one crying.

a  In the wilderness prepare the Way of the LORD;
b  Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

a  Every valley shall be exalted
b  and every mountain and hill brought low;

a  The crooked places shall be made straight
b  and the rough places smooth;

a  The Glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
b  and all flesh shall see it together;

B  For the Mouth of the LORD has spoken.’


Point 2.
The Hebrew word that is translated ‘wilderness’ does not mean the barren and desolate place that we imagine. The following Hebrew words are derived from the Hebrew root dbr, and all have a meaning of ‘order’:

Dabar      Word: An arrangement or placement of something creating
                           order.
                 Speak:   A careful arrangement of words or commands.
                 Speech:  An arrangement of words.
Dabir        Sanctuary:  A place of order. 
Deborah   Bee:  A colony of ordered insects. 
Midbar      Wilderness: A place of order, a sanctuary. 

Therefore, the ‘wilderness’ is ‘a place of order’.   God led the Children of Israel through the wilderness in order for them to ‘order’ their relationship with Him, to learn about Him, and how to relate to Him:
Deuteronomy 29:5  I have led you forty years in the wilderness (a place of order in which to ‘order’ your relationship with God) Your clothes have not worn out, nor your sandals

The wilderness, a place of order, is very different from the ‘waste’ place  and the ‘desolate’ place described by Jeremiah:
Jeremiah 44:6  ‘My fury and My anger were poured out in the cities of Judah and in Jerusalem; they are wasted (chorbah)  and desolate (shamem)

‘wasted’, chorbah,  means a dry wasteland, also a place that has been laid waste and made desolate.
‘desolate’, shamem, means desolate, as when a wind blows over the land and pulls the moisture out of the ground drying it up, making it a place of ruin or desert.

Point 3.  
When Jesus was led by the Spirit (not the devil) into the wilderness (a place of order), God’s purpose was for Him to  ‘order’ His relationship with God the Father.
When we read the Temptation of Jesus in Luke 4, it is easy to assume that the devil tempted Jesus in the wilderness.   The text reveals that the devil tempted Jesus three times, in three different places:
1    ‘If You are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.’
2   Taking Him up on a high mountain
He brought Him to Jerusalem, set Him on the pinnacle of the Temple
       The location of ‘the pinnacle of the Temple’  is clear

Where might be the locations of the other two temptations?  Since the ‘wilderness’ was a place of order, in contrast to Jerusalem, the place of confusion, with all the noise, people, animals, commerce, and activity, where better for the devil to tempt Him:

1   ‘If You are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.’
Where was ‘this stone’? ‘This stone’ that the devil suggested that Jesus should command ‘to become bread’ might have been one of the stones used to build the Temple in Jerusalem

2   Taking Him up on a high mountain
Where was the ‘high mountain’? The ‘high mountain’ might have been the Mount of Olives which is 210 feet, 70 metres, higher than the Temple Mount.

So, perhaps the text reveals that the Temptation of Jesus was not ‘in the wilderness’, the place of order, but in Jerusalem, the place of confusion.

Point 4.
Why did John preach ‘in the wilderness’ and not in Jerusalem where the crowds were? 
Because he was fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy…and giving those who listened to him the opportunity to ‘order’ their relationship with God before the imminent appearance of Jesus, Messiah, and God made manifest.

At the conclusion of our study there might be a lesson for us:
When the LORD leads us into the ‘wilderness’, we should not be disappointed, frustrated, or depressed.
Rather, we should welcome the opportunity to ‘order’ our relationship with Him in a place of ‘order’, set apart from the place of confusion.  
Then, when He leads us out of the ‘wilderness’, we are better prepared to resist temptation, and to walk as He wants us to walk.

3 comments:

  1. Hi Mr. Barnett, thank you so much for your expository! Today is July 5, 2013 and I was reading and I wondered, "Why was John preaching in the wilderness?" and that is what led me to your page. I just have a few questions, See I have a strong's concordance, (even though it is like 18 years old)that gave the hebrew and the greek word for wilderness. The hebrew was Midbar but I didn't seem to get the word "order" out of what it said. Not saying you are wrong, it sounds right! But the greek word for wilderness in Matthew 3:1 is eremos, meaning lonesome, desolate, solitary so how does this tie into that?

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  2. The Hebrew language works on a root basis. Every Hebrew word has a 3 letter root and all words derived from the root must be related to the basic meaning of the root. The root of 'midbar' is dbr, dabar, which means 'speech'. 'Speech' is an ordered arrangement of words. Other Hebrew words derived from dbr include 'deborah' which means 'a bee'. Bees are a very ordered society. 'debiyr' , 'sanctuary', is also derived from dbr. A 'sanctuary' is a place of order. Hebrew uses several different words that are translated 'wilderness' or 'desert' in the Bible. 'arabah' means a dry desert or wasteland, 'yeshimon' means a desolate place and 'midbar', as we have seen, means 'a place of order'.The Greek only uses a single word 'eremos'. For further study of the meaning of Hebrew words I highly recommend Jeff Benner's website www.ancient-hebrew.org.

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  3. This is such an illuminating and refreshing article.
    Thank you very much for a fantastic read.
    May God Bless you

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