After several centuries of slavery in Egypt, God heard His people’s cries and sent His prophet Moses to save them from Pharaoh’s hand and guide them to the promised land. They wandered the desert for forty years on their way, and succumbed to every single temptation. Each failure was a betrayal of their God that had saved them.
From the beginning, God revealed Himself as the almighty Whose strength surpasses that of the great Pharaoh and his gods. He sent ten plagues, judgments against the ten Egyptian deities, showing that He is the only and true God until the brutal ruler was taken by fear and released the enslaved (Ex 7-12). Then, revealing His providence, “He went in front of them (His people) in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light” (Ex 13:21). He revealed His goodness and graciousness, providing bread from heaven (Ex 16), and brought water out of the rock for them (Ex 17:1-7; Nb 20:1-13).
Nevertheless, His people betrayed Him by surrendering to temptations. While He promised to give them their daily bread, as much as each of them needed, they wanted to preserve some of the food for the next day, not trusting in His providence. They complained incessantly, wishing they could go back to Egypt, preferring slavery over freedom, not trusting in His leadership nor His promise of better land. When they were alone, they felt hopeless and started to worship a golden calf they made using their jewelry (Ex 32).
However, God remained loyal and did not leave them. He guided them to the promised land. They kept on betraying Him, even after they entered the promised land, but He never turned away from them. His fidelity is everlasting.
Because He is the loyal one, when the right time came, He sent His only-begotten Son to save His people once for all. After being baptized, His Son, Jesus Christ, was driven by the Holy Spirit into the same desert where His ancestors wandered for forty years (Mk 1:12-13; Mt 4:1-11; Lk 4:1-13). There, He spent forty days alone, praying, fasting, and being tempted by Satan. He was tried with the exact same temptations that made the chosen people succumb centuries ago and betray their God.
He was tempted not to trust His Father’s goodness and to give Himself earthly food by turning stones into loaves of bread (Mt 4:3-4). He was dared to jump from the pinnacle of the Temple and put His Father’s providence to test (Mt 4:5-7). He was tempted to bow before Satan and worship him, like the ancients worshipped the golden calf, and turn against His Father (Mt 4:8-10).
He was tried with the same temptations of the people, but He did not succumb. He entered the desert and came back victorious after forty days. With His victory, He undid His people’s failure, and with His obedience canceled their betrayal and rebellion. He then came back to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, saying: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, believe in the good news” (Mk 1:14).
His victory in the desert was a preparation for His final and ultimate triumph. After baptizing His Church on the cross with His own blood, He went down and entered the cruelest desert of all. He descended to the Sheol, home of the dead, where He fought His final battle, won over Satan, destroyed death, and rose on the third day, giving us the privilege to participate in His triumph and participate in His life. By His resurrection, He inaugurated the Kingdom that He proclaimed and made entry possible for us.
Baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, we have been saved from “Egypt’s slavery”. We have been liberated from Satan’s authority and saved from death’s mercilessness. Throughout our lives, we have witnessed the almightiness of our God, His goodness, and His providence. Wandering in our deserts, we still betray Him and succumb to the many temptations. We worship other gods and hope in them. We worship ideas, possessions, and people. We are also tempted to not trust in His goodness: we focus all our energy on benefiting ourselves by our own strength. We are devoured by our worries about what to eat. We surrender to our flesh’s desires and seek their temporary satisfaction. We are tempted every day, in every choice we make, to not trust in His providence and try to take full control of our lives, preferring our will over His.
How can we be victorious in this desert of temptations? We can’t by ourselves, for we will fail like our ancestors. Only Jesus Christ was victorious. He can and is willing to lead us to a certain triumph. Whenever I struggle or you do, He is here with us. He is in every single desert, willing to convert our failures and betrayals, like He undid our ancestors’, and lead us to His Kingdom. We can choose to fight alone and lose, or accept to trust in Him and let Him triumph.
Embrace your desert and face your struggles. If you try to escape it and turn back to slavery, you will never reach the promised land. If you deny your struggles, they will eat you alive. Turning your back to a beast will not protect you from its ferocity. Face your struggles, and admit that you need Jesus Christ. Admit that He is your only strength, your only hope, your only victory, the only one Who, as man, fought your exact same temptations, and as God triumphed over them. He is the only one Who can guide you through your desert to the Kingdom where He reigns, that you too might reign with Him. He is the only one Who can guide you through death to everlasting life.