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Sample ImageTherefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. (Hosea 2:14)

An ancient Arabian fable tells of three merchants who crossed the desert. In the daytime,  they would pitch tents for shelter from the desert sun. When the stars came out, they  would ride their camels in the cool of the night. At one point, the merchants crossed a dry riverbed under the stars.

“Halt!” said a voice from the darkness. All three men jumped down from their camels and huddled in fear.

“Who’s there?” one of them said. “Don’t be afraid,” said the voice in the dark. “I won’t harm you if you do as I say. See those pebbles at your feet?”

By the dim starlight, the merchants saw thousands of pebbles in the riverbed.

“Each of you – pick up a pebble and put it in your pocket.”

The three merchants obeyed. Each took a pebble from the riverbed.

“Now leave this place,” the voice said, “and don’t stop until daybreak.”

The merchants mounted up. One said, “What’s this all about?”

“I will only say this,” the voice replied. “In the morning, you will be happy – and sad.

Now, go!”

Baffled, the three merchants proceeded on their way. As they traveled, they wondered what the voice meant by saying that they would be both happy and sad.

When morning came, the merchants Stopped. Each man pulled the single pebble from his own pocket and saw that it sparked in the morning sunlight. The “pebbles” were precious gems. One man had a ruby, another and emerald, and the third a sapphire.

“Jewels!” one merchant said, his face shining with joy.

“Oh no!” wailed the second. “There were thousands of jewels all over the riverbed! Each of us took only one! Why didn’t we grab handfuls?”

“Look!” shouted the third, pointing behind them. “A desert wind had whipped up, erasing their tracks. “We can never find our way back!”

The voice in the desert had spoken truly. The merchants were happy and sad. They had found wealth in the desert – but they could have taken more!

The parable reminds us of the desert places that we will all go through on our way to finding God’s will for our lives. God leads us out into the wilderness and invites us to fill our pockets with the riches of His wisdom and grace. Tragically, we pick up only a pebble or two. A day will come when we look back and feel happy for the riches we have found and sad that we didn’t gather more.

With thanks to Nikki Gebhardt