Growing up in Oklahoma, I had very little concept of a desert oasis. All I knew about the desert I learned from Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner cartoons I watched as a kid. In the cartoons, oasis were small and unnecessary . . . mere eye candy in the background of the next gag. After all, when you can have ACME send you anything you need, the desert does not seem so deserted.
After spending some time in Israel, I feel like my understanding of an oasis is more realistic and less animated. The southern wilderness of Israel has virtually no vegetation and very limited water supply. The Judean wilderness looks like a pile of rocks wrapped in sandpaper (except only drier). Against this harsh backdrop, the oasis of Engedi (located on the western shore of the Dead Sea) stands out with life saving clarity.
Engedi is a sliver of paradise in the desert. The natural springs that feed this steep valley resuscitate the desert with spectacular water falls, bubbling streams, vegetation, abundant wildlife, and caves. This combo provides water, food, and shelter for all its refugees. Because of these characteristics, it is not a surprise that King David chose this spot to hide out when Saul was chasing him (as recorded in 1 Samuel 24). The oasis’s resources could sustain his life (at least temporarily) while David awaited the Lord’s timing for coronation and the transition of power.
While David was in Engedi, he wrote Psalm 57. Given the beauty and life that Engedi had, it is striking to me how David clearly saw the Lord as His true refuge (not the oasis). David says:
“Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills His purpose for me. He will send from heaven and save me; He will put to shame him who tramples on me. Selah.
God will send out His steadfast love and His faithfulness! My soul is in the midst of lions; I lie down amid fiery beasts—the children of man, whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!
They set a net for my steps; my soul was bowed down. They dug a pit in my way, but they have fallen into it themselves. Selah.
My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast! I will sing and make melody! Awake, my glory! Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn!
I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations. For your steadfast love is great to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!”
Notice the language of his prayer. Though David’s body was sustained in Engedi, his soul was protected “in the shadow of Your (God’s) wings.” David knew his needs were more than physical, so he turned to the God who could sustain both body AND soul. Heaven and earth provided the oasis, but it was God who gave David his spiritual strength to honor Saul even when Saul wanted to kill him. Remembering this, David concluded his prayer by exalting God ABOVE the heavens and the earth. It was as if David was saying, I am not just thankful for Engedi, I am thankful for the God who created Engedi and gives my soul an oasis as I walk in the wilderness of this fallen world.
The world we live in is harsh and hurtful. At times, it can even put us on the run. God has placed hundreds of “oasis-like” environments on this earth where we can physically recharge and recoup when life is hard. These oasis can be as dramatic as the Rocky Mountains or as common as the red chair and ottoman in my living room where I often seek refuge when I have had a hard day. Make no mistake, God has given us these streams of refreshment to nourish our bodies. Let us not forget, however, that our need is more than physical. We need spiritual nourishment and encouragement as well. If we cry out to Him (as David did) He will send us reminders of His love and faithfulness like a waterfall, enabling us to glorify Him in the desert.