In my previous post titled, “A Desolate Place,” I focused on the importance that our Lord placed upon having a time and a place set aside for solitude. Jesus lived this way as depicted in several places throughout the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark & Luke). I zeroed in on the fact that our Lord invited the apostles to join him into experiencing a desolate place. Somehow Jesus uses desolate places to restore and rejuvenate his people. It’s an illustration of the Lord’s power at work in our lives. The very thing that could bring about death actually multiplies life.
One of the key lessons from Mark 6:30-32 had to do with the Lord being with the apostles in the desolate place. He nurtured and sustained the apostles in that place for rest. Another way to say this is that Christ himself is the apostles’ rest. The desolate place remained desolate, but Jesus enables his people to transcend their circumstances. There’s a passage in the Old Testament, which provides the other side of the coin to finding rest in desolate places. Here it is: “He found him in a desert land, and in the howling waste of the wilderness; he encircled him, he cared for him, he kept him as the apple of his eye” (Deut. 32:10, ESV). The speaker of this verse is Moses, and he’s giving one last hurrah to the Israelites.
What we have in this verse is the stark depiction of God’s choosing Jacob and protecting him in the desert land or howling waste. One thing that must be made clear is that Moses’s depiction of the howling waste carries the same weight as the desolate place in Mark 6:30-32. In fact, the Greek word desolate pertains to the desert land or waste land. Deuteronomy 32:10 is a beautiful depiction of God’s sovereign grace at work in the life of Jacob and his posterity. For whatever the reason, God chose Jacob out from the midst of harsh conditions. There wasn’t anything in Jacob that persuaded the Lord to choose him. Moses uses clear language to convey that God found Jacob in the harsh conditions, in the howling waste.
I think it’s safe to conclude that the Lord had compassion on Jacob. After all, Jacob’s name means either he grasps at the heel or he cheats. The Lord does not turn a blind eye to Jacob’s ways, but eventually, the Lord changes Jacob’s name to Israel. This act punctuates the transformation taking place within him. The point to all of this is that Jacob didn’t have anything special for the Lord to say yes to him. In fact, Genesis 25 verse 23 depicts God’s sovereign choice of Jacob over Esau when the two were still in Rebekah’s womb. God’s sovereign choice of Jacob sets him apart for protection and care. This is the exact context of the Deuteronomy passage, and it’s Moses’s main point to the people of Israel.
At this point in Moses’s life, he is on way out as the leader of Israel. Joshua has been appointed his successor, and the time has come to pass the baton. Deuteronomy 32:10 occurs within a larger section where Moses gives his last words. There are warnings, blessings, and exhortations interspersed throughout as one would expect from a leader’s last words. When Moses reminds the people of Israel about God protecting and caring for Jacob in a howling waste, those words echo God’s provision of them through the forty years of wandering in the desert. This is Moses’s way of saying, “God found your forefather Jacob in a howling waste and protected and cared for him. He did the same thing for you by delivering you from Pharaoh’s hand and by preserving a remnant out of the wilderness.”
Make no mistake, God’s choice to save and redeem his elect marks them for his protection. No matter how many times Laban tried to harm Jacob, the Lord made sure that Jacob came out ahead in the end. Moses saw firsthand the mighty works of God in delivering the Israelites from bondage to slavery. He saw God’s mighty hand in preserving a remnant from the wandering in the wilderness. The remnant is a picture of God’s elect by divine grace. They are the apple of his eye. The same is true of Christ followers in the New Covenant age. We are the apple of his eye…a remnant chosen by grace. He encircles and cares for us with his presence by the person and work of the Holy Spirit. The modern world may be likened to a spiritual, howling waste, but the Lord preserves his people through it. This was Jesus’s prayer request in John 17:15, which the Father answers until Christ returns.