There are several stories in the Bible of the Lord speaking clearly to people who were in the wilderness.
I should point out that people in Biblical times didn’t go to the wilderness for fun adventures like we do today.
In our First World culture, we outdoorsy types love to get out there for its remoteness and its beauty, and to get a break from regular life.
But two or three thousand years ago for these folks, the wilderness was harsh. Some were running for their lives or in exile somehow.
And yet God used those times to speak to them SO clearly.
Watch this video and/or keep reading:
Want a free printable for this Bible study? Click here: Hearing God in Outdoor Adventure
Hagar’s Encounter with “The God Who Sees”
In Genesis chapters 16-21 we read about an unfortunate young woman called Hagar. She was in a tough situation for reasons we won’t get into here—but for sure read her story if you’re not familiar with it.
Hagar has encounters with someone called the Angel of the Lord twice in the wilderness.
The first time she’s run away. In chapter 16 verse 7 it says, “The Angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness…” He proceeds to give her several instructions which she follows. This seems to be a turning point for her as it says in verse 13:
“So she called the Lord who spoke to her: The God Who Sees, for she said, ‘In this place, have I actually seen the One who sees me?’ That is why she named the spring, “A Well of the Living One Who Sees Me.”
That’s pretty cool! She’s in a very low point of her life and realizes God sees her! He calls her by name.
The second time is many years later and this time she’s been sent away. After wandering in the Wilderness of Beer-sheba she runs out of water and her young son is dying.
Chapter 21, starting in verse 16 it says, “Then she went and sat down nearby, about a bowshot away, for she said, ‘I can’t bear to watch the boy die!’ So as she sat nearby, she wept loudly.
“God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, ‘What’s wrong, Hagar? Don’t be afraid, for God has heard the voice of the boy from the place where he is. Get up, help the boy up, and support him, for I will make him a great nation.’ ”
Both times Hagar was desperate. And God met her there in the wilderness, saw her, called her by name and spoke to her—changing the course of her life.
Jacob’s Encounter with the Face of God
Next, let’s look at Jacob. Like Hagar, we learn how he meets the Lord two different times in the wilderness that are several years apart.
The first time, he’s running away too. This story is in Genesis 28. Verses 10-22. I won’t read it all, but here’s the first part:
“Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. He reached a certain place and spent the night there because the sun had set. He took one of the stones from the place, put it there at his head, and lay down in that place.
“And he dreamed: A stairway was set on the ground with its top reaching heaven, and God’s angels were going up and down on it. Yahweh was standing there beside him, saying, “I am Yahweh, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac.”
Yahweh is the Hebrew name for God. It means a specific Person—the God of Abraham and Isaac. The one we know of as God.
God or Yahweh goes on to tell Jacob how He’s with him, how He’s going to bless him and his offspring and give them this same land He promised to Abraham.
His encounter made such an impression on him that he built an altar there and called it Beth-el which means house of God in Hebrew.
Fast forward about 20 years and now Jacob has wives and children. He decides to leave the land he’d been living in and go back to his homeland.
Genesis 32 tells us that the last time he saw his brother Esau, Esau wanted to kill him. So he’s understandably afraid.
By now Jacob was wealthy, with hundreds of head of livestock. He sent it all ahead of him with servants, then sent his wives and children ahead too. He stays by himself in that wilderness area for the night.
Verses 24 through 32 tell us about a man who meets Jacob there in his camp and wrestles with him all night.
Starting at verse 25, it says, “When the man saw that He could not defeat him, He struck Jacob’s hip socket as they wrestled and dislocated his hip. Then He said to Jacob, ‘Let Me go, for it is daybreak.’
“But Jacob said, ‘I will not let You go unless You bless me.’ ‘What is your name?’ the man asked. ‘Jacob,’ he replied. ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob,’ He said. ‘It will be Israel because you have struggled with God and with men and have prevailed.’ ”
Jacob realized it was God Himself in the form of a man he had wrestled with. He called that place Penial which means face of God. So he had two life-changing encounters with the Lord in the wilderness, too.
Elijah Hears God’s Whisper
There are more—Moses and the burning bush, David and his worshiping heart while he cared for his father’s sheep in the hills.
But let’s go to Elijah. This story about him is in 1 Kings 19. Elijah also ran away into the wilderness. (If you don’t know his full story, be sure and read it in 1 Kings.) He’s escaped for his life and it says “he went on a day’s journey into the wilderness.” He was at such a low point that he even prayed he would die!
But an angel meets him there, feeds him and sends him on his way. From that first spot, Elijah walked 40 days and nights to Mount Horeb — and God spoke to him there.
[On a side note: Mount Horeb is thought to be the same mountain where Moses got the 10 Commandments from God a few centuries earlier. It’s a pretty significant place!]
Elijah and the Lord had a conversation there at the mountain. This is where this beautiful passage is:
“At that moment, the Lord passed by. A great and mighty wind was tearing at the mountains and was shattering cliffs before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.
“After the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was a voice, a soft whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.
“Suddenly, a voice came to him…”
God spoke to him in the whisper…in the wilderness. You can read the rest on your own to see what God says to him and what he does next.
Can’t God Speak to Us Anywhere?
So the outdoor adventures these people were on weren’t the same ones we’re used to! They were in a tough place in their lives. But God spoke to them so faithfully when they were out there in the wilderness.
We might ask…
Can’t God speak to us ANYWHERE?
Sure He can. But are we always listening?
I think that’s part of what makes the outdoors valuable to us, and especially the wilderness. It provides a place that’s out of our normal routine. There’s a forced simplicity when we’re out there.
Like Elijah, we still need to pay attention to God’s voice. It’s not a given. But sometimes He’s easier to hear when we’re in places that aren’t so full of distractions and jobs and rushing from here to there all the time.
I want to share a story about my friend Emilie that she shared with me:
Emilie’s Encounter with God in Peru
Back in 2021 Emilie joined a group of friends who backpacked to Machu Picchu in Peru, the Incan ruins there at the top of a mountain.
The trekking part of the trip was a super intense four days, including a 15,000-foot mountain pass. She said it was the hardest thing she’d ever done physically, to that point.
Being in that kind of beauty and knowing the God who created it is awesome. But she felt like she encountered God in a really personal way, too. Here’s what she said about this backpacking trip:
“Being in nature is one of the places where I can most talk to God. So many of the daily expectations of life are stripped away. When I’m hiking I think about God more because I’m seeing so many beautiful things. I’m thanking God for this part of Creation I hadn’t gotten to see yet.
“I came away from this trip feeling more alive. I connected with the people on my team and I connected with the people in the country around me.”
And here’s the big one: “I was reminded that I went to nursing school to be an international nurse. I really enjoyed being in another culture because God reminded me of my dreams of living a life where I’m interacting with other cultures.
“At dinner one night we got to meet a group at the table next to us. They were from (an organization called) Doctors Without Borders. That was the organization that originally inspired me to become a nurse.
“God reminded me of that and challenged me that He wants to be a part of my dreams. Being there helped me realize I had things I wanted to do in my life that I had been shutting down.
“But especially seeing Elizabeth living and thriving in that culture, watching her speak Spanish—I realized it was something I could do. I could learn another language, move to another country and thrive there.”
And it was after that outdoor adventure trip in Peru that Emilie decided to resurrect that dream of hers.
She applied to SIM USA, a cross-cultural missions organization, and in 2022, the next year, she spent two months in Bolivia with a SIM medical team, serving as a nurse in a little mountain village.
So even though hearing from God wasn’t the focus of that trip for her, she opened her heart and mind to God while she was in this intense and amazing outdoor adventure. And He spoke to her so clearly. Wow!
We can encounter the living God in the middle of the natural world He created!
I just love that!
Sometimes it’s on outdoor adventures that are a complete blast and everything’s going great. We’ve just slowed down enough or simplified enough to really take time to meet with Him and hear Him speak.
Other times it’s when things aren’t so good, and maybe even scary. I’ve been on plenty of those trips, too! When we really need to hear God’s voice for wisdom and guidance.
And He’s faithful with that, too.
And the cool thing is that it doesn’t even have to be some grand outdoor adventure far away or in some exotic place.
God can speak to us when we’re walking through our own neighborhood or a local park or watching a sunset over a nearby lake.
Has God spoken to YOU while you were on some kind of outdoor adventure?
[All scriptures use Holman Christian Standard Bible® unless otherwise stated. Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used with permission by Holman Bible Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee. All rights reserved.]