Apply your heart to instruction, And your ears to words of knowledge. Proverbs 23:12
We continue our study of the wilderness in Scripture. We’ve seen it is a place of wandering. But it is also a place of transition. Last week through Jacob’s story we saw that the restoration of relationships can happen in the wilderness. This week we’ll consider the apostle Paul and his time in the wilderness, a time of personal instruction.
Paul was a rising young star among the Pharisees. He had studied with the most respected rabbi of his day, Gamaliel. He was born a Roman citizen, affording him all the political advantages in his society. Of course all of that changed when he met Jesus. We can read about this encounter in Acts chapter 9 (and Paul retells the story in chapters 22 an 26).
From Acts and Galatians 1, we can piece together what happened next. After preaching the gospel for a short time in Damascus, Paul left for the Arabian desert for three years before he returned to Damascus then headed to Jerusalem. Because neither Luke nor Paul gives us details, that opens the door for a lot of speculation. Some have parsed the original words translated “Arabian desert” and determined that they actually referred to the area of Sinai. That leads them to conclude Paul spent the time in prayer, study and meditation reevaluating his understanding of the Law in light of the gospel. From Paul’s writing in Romans and Galatians, it is clear he had a good handle on that, so that’s a possibility.
Others believe Paul spent the time in the same three-year training program the other apostles got, receiving personal instruction from Jesus Christ Himself. In Galatians 1:16, Paul says he did not consult or confer with any man, any “flesh and blood.” They point to 1 Corinthians 15:8 as corroborating evidence. This is also a possibility.
No matter how exactly that wilderness instruction time came together or worked itself out, Paul benefited from it and we are still benefiting from it. Besides the deep theological truths Paul explained for us, we can learn from his example.
We need instruction – If the great apostle needed to learn and grow, how much more do we need it? For Paul, it was urgent and compelling enough that he set everything else aside while he learned. We need to be humble enough to receive instruction
Further instruction equips us for our calling – In Acts 9:15, Jesus tells us that Paul was called specially to carry the gospel to Gentiles and kings. But he didn’t embark on that mission until after his time in the wilderness.
The Holy Spirit makes the best teacher – This is not to say that we can’t learn from brothers and sisters who are farther along in their walk than we are. I mean, there wouldn’t be much point in these posts if that were the case. But the very best teacher is the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised He would explain things, guide us into all the truth (John 16:13). Sometimes, we need to get rid of the distractions in our lives and get away to the wilderness where we can listen.
If Jesus personally instructed Paul in Arabia, it wasn’t His first time in the wilderness. Next week, we’ll look at Jesus’s own wilderness experience.