The Wilderness of Zin— Inspiring Awe but Not Obedience to God

Some of God's blessings come only against impossible odds.

I thought I understood the wilderness wanderings of Israel. Then I traveled through the wilderness. On my summer visits there, I never had to check the forecast. It only fluctuated from blistering to broiling.

Machtesh Ramon at sunrise.

Photo: Machtesh Ramon at sunrise. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands.

After a searing hike through this wilderness, a traveling companion of mine boarded the bus, his shirt sweat-soaked. He collapsed in his seat, and someone asked him if he now understood why the Hebrews grumbled and failed in obedience to God.

He took a long gulp from his canteen and then blurted, “I’m with them!”

After the exodus from Egypt, the Lord led the new nation of Israel to Sinai to receive the Law. Eventually, they made their way to Kadesh Barnea, a place bordering the Wilderness of Paran in the Sinai Peninsula and the Wilderness of Zin in the Negev Highlands (Numbers 13:21, 26).

Because of their lack of faith and obedience to God, the Hebrews would turn an about-face and wander in the wilderness for a total of forty years—one year for every day the explorers surveyed the land (Numbers 14:34).

Seeing Israel’s Super Bowl—the Makhtesh Ramon

The most beautiful parts of the Negev Highlands are the makhteshim—a term Israel contributed to geology. These types of craters exist only in Israel. A makhteshim occurs when erosion from a single waterway creates a valley with sheer cliffs, or anticlines, that enclose the crater on all sides—creating a bowl.

In fact, the term makhtesh means, “mortar,” like a “bowl.” For that reason, some call the Makhtesh Ramon the “Super Bowl” of Israel. I have to agree.

Machtesh Ramon with Mizpe Ramon observatory.

Photo: Machtesh Ramon with Mizpe Ramon observatory. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands.

The largest of three makhteshim in the Negev, the Makhtesh Ramon sits as one of the biggest craters on earth. Twenty-five miles long, five miles wide, and plunging as deep as 1300 feet. How did the massive crater form? Its elongated shape eliminates the possibility of an asteroid collision. Most scientists believe that the crater reveals the erosion of the central Negev mountains, perhaps also including underground earthquakes.

To me, it looked more like God punctured the surface of the land with his finger.  Maybe He did this instead of smashing the Israelites who wandered nearby.

Gypsum, Geology, and the Grand Canyon of Israel

Viewing the Makhtesh Ramon from the Mitzpeh Ramon Observatory on the western rim allows the viewer to see the whole picture. Some call it the “Grand Canyon of Israel.” Every time I’ve stood there, an ibex has meandered into the scene. The Makhtesh effectively offers an open-air museum of volcanic rock, variegated clays, rough hunks of quartzite, and massive blocks, upended and bare—a geologist’s playground.

The area represents the largest national park in Israel. Mere photography fails to do it justice.

(Slideshow courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

The highway that clings to the walls of the great crater transports tourists today. But in antiquity, a road crossed the makhtesh for commercial purposes from the Nabatean city of Petra.

  • Spices—especially the fragrant gum resins, myrrh and frankincense—made the highway a lucrative route.
  • The historian, Pliny, described the road as having sixty-five camel stops between Timna and the Mediterranean Sea.

Today, the mountains of Makhtesh Ramon surrender gypsum to commercial production—thousands of tons annually. In the middle of the crater, a factory works the gypsum into a component suitable for plaster of Paris and cement. Smaller mining efforts cull clay and quartz from Makhtesh Ramon.

Devotional Thought for the Wilderness of Zin

Read Numbers 14:18-35; 20:1-12.

The Wilderness of Zin witnessed the Hebrews’ failure in their obedience to God. Here even the insubordination of Moses occurred. And the result? They didn’t enter the land. The implications of their example linger.

  • Faith is more than a creed—it is a way of life in obedience to God. For the Hebrews who spied out the land, and those who failed to believe God could give them what He promised, they never got to enter the land.
  • For Moses and Aaron who led the people but failed to honor God before them, they never got to enter the land.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that we who love the Lord, but fail in our obedience to God, will not go to heaven. It does mean that—for both those who lead and those who follow—there may be a loss of privilege. Some of the blessings the Lord intends for us to enjoy come only by believing and obeying Him against impossible odds.

Question: What impossible situation has God used to bring blessing in your life? To leave a comment, just click here.

Makhtesh Ramon on the map:

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  • Jane DeWire

    We enjoy reading your blogs, it makes me go back to our wonderful life changing trip. Ther are many things that have made us rely on our savior more each day. In 1990 our house burned down and we lost everything. In 2007 our first born son went to be with the Lord, we have so much to be thankful for, he is our strength and hope.

    • Thank you, Jane. Your examples are hard, to be sure, but your attitude about your trials is inspiring. Thank you for your comment.

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  • ptl2010

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    meetingintheclouds says:September 13, 2012 at 12:04 pmThis does make us feel a little more tolerant of the children of Israel. We tend to picture them as unthankful after such a great deliverance, but I know what MY reaction to such a place would be. I grumble about the heat here and wear no winter clothes even when others are well rugged.

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  • Declan Darcy

    When i admitted my powerlessness over alcohol and came to believe that a power greater than myself could restore me to sanity,my life utterly changed.It seems to me now that God has been given a bad name by many.I ask every day for the help to be given me to stay sober and to try and carry this message to those that still suffer.I truly believe that if i had not been an alcoholic,i would never have come to feel Gods love.That is almost five years ago.I am eternally grateful.Peace.Declan

    • Your courage is inspiring, Declan. Thank you for refusing to give up, to give in, or to give way to the enemy of our souls. I’m confident God takes us to these unwanted places to give us what we could never receive anywhere else—Himself.

      For many of us, we need the essential reminders that we are not under sin’s dominion any longer when we are in Christ—and we need to embrace a lifetime of accountability as a blessing of faithfulness to God. Thanks again.

  • Madge

    My divorce. When my husband left me, I ran into the arms of another lover – my God, my Saviour and Lover of my Soul. After our separation I had awaited death to take me, but instead, LIFE came and claimed me. Jesus the Son of God picked me up, took me in and nursed my wounded soul back to love again in HIM! I’m now redeemed by HIS love, which is better than any other love promised. We have to date been in love for 15 years going strong.

    • Sounds like a match made in heaven, Madge. Congratulations and thanks for sharing.

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  • Pam Goodman

    Dear Wayne, I found your article on the Wilderness of Zin truly inspiring. My husband has had a lifelong struggle against the disease of diabetes which struck him at the young age of only six years old. Throughout our 34 years of marriage it has been an up-and-down ride in many ways, yet never without the  constancy of God’s faithfulness, goodness and grace. The Lord has never failed to give us the strength to keep going. Although my husband has received an organ transplant and is an amputee, he continues to push forward, pastoring our small house church. Although it has often been an uphill road, he has never given up trusting God to meet all of our needs and to preserve and heal him to do the work of the Gospel. I am inspired by your article, in spite of past doubts and disappointments, to believe anew for the hard, or even impossible things. God has truly done the miraculous in our lives. I know He will continue faithful in every circumstance for His Kingdom’s sake. Thank you for the reminder that God honors the act of obedient, relentless trust. Your article was truly a blessing.

    • I’m so glad, Pam, that the Lord used the post to encourage you to keep on keeping on. You’re already a testimony to God’s great grace and strength. Thank you for all you and your husband do to shepherd the flock under your care—and to model His perseverance to those who also need help pressing on. God bless you.