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A Wilderness Survival Guide

When Moses neared death, he worried that the children of Israel might end up as sheep without a shepherd (cf. Numbers 27:17).    To make matters direr, they were in the wilderness. Moses’ prayer was answered in the person of Joshua (Ἰησοῦς (Jesus) in the Septuagint).    Because of Joshua, the people of God crossed over the land and were mostly successful in the conquest of Canaan.

When God’s people have godly shepherds, they experience God and His blessings. 

After Joshua dies (cf. Judges 1) we discover without shepherds bad things happen:

  1. Apostasy: “We do what is right in our own eyes.” (cf. Judges 17:6; 21:25).
  2. Slavery:  Substitution for God always end up in slavery (cf. Judges 3:7)
  3. Restoration:  God delivers them using a heroic leader (cf. 6:1-:8-35)

Unfortunately, the time between the wilderness of doing what is right in our own eyes and God’s redemption can be generations.   How many generations were there between Joshua and Kind David?  Matthew 1 lists 14 generations from King David to the birth of the Messiah. 

That’s more than twice the age of the USA.  

In Mark 6, the new Moses and the new wilderness need a meal.   Israel’s shepherd, King Herod, enjoys the good life while his people need supper.  This is nothing new.  Ezekial 34 describes Israel’s shepherds: “You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool; you slaughter the fatlings, but you do not feed the flock.”  But now the people withdraw from the villages and follow the Good Shepherd.”

Mark 6 offers today’s Christian a survival guide in the wilderness.  

Jesus requires faith in His shepherds.

Even though it’s too late and expensive to go to the nearby towns, Jesus asks His disciples to “provide the food yourselves.”  Echoing Moses who asks,  “where shall find enough food for all these people.  Shall all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, to satisfy them? ” (Num. 11:13,22).   If you are a shepherd today, there are not enough resources in the world to feed your flock with your own abilities.   We need the miraculous to survive.

The sheep must be hungry.  

Mark 6:31-33 states: “He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest awhile.” People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat. So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place. People saw them leaving and many came to know about it.”   Because of their hungry hearts, “They hastened there on foot from all the towns and arrived at the place before them.”

A good shepherd teaches God’s flock.

Green grass (cf. Mark 6:39) is symbolic of the teaching of scripture.     Gregory of Nazianzus, Eusebius, and Cyril of Alexandria all suggest the task of a shepherd is offering the “evergreen words of Scripture” to their people.  In the green pasture of God’s word, His people find rest in the wilderness (Psalm 23).

The shepherd is in charge.

Unlike Gandhi who reportedly said, “There go, my people, I must follow them. ”   Like the Good Shepherds in Israel’s history,  Jesus gave orders (cf. Joshua and David).    Mark writes: “He (Jesus) gave orders to have them sit down in groups on the green grass The people took their places in rows by hundreds and by fifties.”    (cf. Lane makes this interesting comment: “The Qumran use these subdivisions to describe true Israel assembled in the desert in the period of the last days. If this concept is presupposed in verse 40, the multitude who have been instructed concerning the Kingdom is characterized as the people of the new exodus who have been summoned to the wilderness to experience messianic grace.”   (cf. Lane, W. L. (1974). The Gospel of Mark (pp. 229–230). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Look to the Past.

In today’s story, the congregation had 2 loaves and 5 fish.  Our gifts may pale in comparison to most but that’s a blessing.  Weakness is always better than strength.    When God blesses anything the impossible happens.  As you pray look to the past.  Mitch writes: “The miracle of the loaves looks both to the past and to the future. (1) It recalls miraculous feedings from the OT, like the heavenly manna God provided for Israel in the wilderness (Ex 16) and the multiplied loaves and leftover baskets provided by Elisha “(2 Kings 4:42–44).

Look at the Present.

Jesus taught the disciples, “give us our daily bread.”   Whether its daily communion or daily scripture, we need God’s bread.    Jesus said, “I will give my flesh (bread) for the life of the world.”   Origen wrote: “And as we say “Our Father,” because He is the Father of those who understand and believe, so also we call it “our bread,” because Christ is the Bread of those who are in union with His Body. And we ask that this Bread be given to us daily, that we who are in Christ and daily receive the Eucharist for the food of salvation may not, by the interposition of some heinous sin, be prevented from receiving Communion and from partaking of the heavenly Bread and be separated from Christ’s body?

Anticipate being Satisfied.

After the miracle, Mark writes:   “They all ate and were satisfied.”   I like the idea of the whole congregation sharing in the satisfaction. F.F. Bruce writes:  “The state of the righteous in the life to come was pictured by the Jews as a great banquet presided over by their Messiah (cf. Isa. 25:6 ff.; Lk. 13:29; 14:15; 22:16, 30, etc.), and Jesus may perhaps have desired this ‘feast’ to be envisaged as an anticipation of that banquet.”   Bruce, F. F. (1979). New International Bible commentary (p. 1164). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

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