I was intrigued by this verse today: "Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands." (vs 2) As I read, I thought, didn’t God already know what was in the hearts of the Israelites? Of course He did. God knows us intimately and reads our hearts.
The only thing this can mean, then, is that God used the wilderness to reveal what was in the hearts of the Israelites to the Israelites. You see, we don’t know our own hearts. Jeremiah 17:9 says, "The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?" The point is, God knows just how bad it is, and in our spiritual journey with Him, one of the things He will do is reveal to us just how bad it is. Until we have the diagnosis, we can’t understand or accept the treatment.
It was very easy for the Israelites to say, "We will do everything the Lord has commanded." (Ex 24:3) But then, they turned around and did just about everything He had commanded them not to do. Things haven’t changed very much since then. It is very easy to say one thing but do another. Our talk is cheap, and until we are in the wilderness, we don’t really know whether or not we will do what God has said.
The wilderness is simply preparation for the Promised Land. There, God will reveal to us the condition of our hearts and speak kindly to us about treatment. He will remind us that He provides for all our needs (vs 4) and that it is only in Him that we find true life (vs 3). If we are willing to listen to Him, He is more than able to teach us anything we need to know.