A Starry Night in the Desert–and God Is There

I will never forget that night I stood alone in the desert wilderness, far from any other human being, staring up in the incredible darkness at the starry sky above. The Milky Way stretched out across the blackness, its millions of stars brilliant pinpoints of light, razor sharp. It was pitch black about me because there was no moon; I raised my hand in front of my face to see if it was true–and it was: I could not see my hand in front of my face. But that dense blackness only made the stars above seem to shine all the brighter.

It was not only dark but quiet. Not a sound broke the stillness of the desert night–until I saw one of those “stars” fall from the sky, passing so close that I even heard it pass by. SWOOSH! (Yes, it is possible.) And then all was quiet again. I simply stood there in awe and utter silence, taking it all in.

Then I heard a faint “swish-swish” sound near me on the ground and knew that a snake, probably a rattlesnake, was traversing the sandy ground in the darkness near me, even though I could see nothing in the blackness. I moved to safer ground. Then the sound of a herd of animals clopping across the earth came to me not far away, probably wild desert donkeys; but again I could only hear them, seeing nothing in the complete darkness. Nevertheless, if I stared hard enough at the distant horizon, I could just barely make out the dark outline of the mountains in the distance. Perhaps the faint light of millions of stars was enough at least to indicate their presence to me. Their rising rocky peaks pointed me once again to the majestic stars above. I felt the presence of God strongly but in a quiet and beautiful way. I felt very close to God and he to me. I stood in the presence of God.

We rightly stand in awe of God’s glory in all its grandeur: from the giant galaxies of light stretched across the vast cosmic darkness, to the tiny baby held in our arms. But it is not just the scope of God’s creation that amazes us; it is also that he cares so intimately about it, from that far-away galaxy to that which is closest to our heart, that little child. Nothing in all creation escapes God’s notice or care.

“Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Heb. 4:12 NIV).

But it is one thing simply to know about or notice every detail of something; it is another to care about it. Scripture says of God that “he determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name” (Ps. 147:4 NIV).

When we give a name to something, it is an indication that we care about it. Giving names to all the animals was one of the tasks that God gave to Adam in the Garden of Eden.

“Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field” (Gen. 2:19,20 NIV).

Adam, made in the image of God, was like God in that he cared for what God had created. “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (Gen. 2:15 NIV).

Now, Adam may have had a task of large dimensions, having to name all the animals (at least their species names, some scholars maintain), but just as God is far greater than the man he created, so too is the range of his undertaking far greater: He names every one of the billions upon billions of stars which he has created.

“He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name” (Ps. 147:4 NIV).

In so doing, God shows his love and care for all that he has created. Another way he shows his concern and love for that creation is by forming laws of physics by which those created things must continut to exist and which they must obey. In this way, order is maintained and man can live in a world he can trust to be stable enough for life. God is the one who:

“. . . shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, . . . when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, . . . I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt'” (Job 38:8-11 NIV).

“As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease” (Gen. 8:22 NIV).

The stability of the physical world is a sign of God’s care for what he has created. And he bestows this blessing of stable physical laws upon all. “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Mt. 5:45 NIV).

But there is more to life than simply existence. Man was created by God with a soul and a desire in that soul to seek God and his nature and ways. Beyond laws of the physical realm that man’s physical body must obey, then, there are laws of the spiritual realm that speak to his soul:

“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple” (Ps. 19:7 NIV).

I deeply experienced the truth of these words of the psalmist that night in the desert, looking up at the starry sky and hearing the animals of the desert wilderness. My soul was indeed revived as I marveled at the beauty and grand scope of God’s creation, from starry heavens above to animals below those heavens.

Now hear another Scripture speak of this grand scope of God’s creation:

“This is the word of the Lord . . .the Lord, who stretches out the heavens, who lays the foundation of the earth, and who forms the spirit of man within him” (Zech. 12:1 NIV).

As grand and glorious as the physical world is as a witness to the glory of God, it is only a dwelling place for something even grander: the human beings God creates to live in that great and grand habitat. That is the progression of the verse above, from the vast stretches of space and the heavens, down to a single planet in those vast reaches, down to a man, and then, finally, down to the spirit of that man within him.

“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you” (Ps. 139:7-12 NIV).

God indicates his greatness by the incredibly huge size of the universe. He shows his love and concern for us who dwell in that universe by being concerned with the smallest details of that universe.

“Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young–a place near your altar, O Lord Almighty, my King and my God (Ps 84:3 NIV).

Jesus told us that we are not to be afraid that God has forgotten us or does not love us or anything else of that nature. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Mt. 10:29-31 NIV).

I have written this as a memorial to the God who created our beautiful dwelling place, this creation, and as a meditation for all who take pleasure in what he has created for us to enjoy.

“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Ps. 19:14 NIV).

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