Is Camping in the Bible?
By Bill Richoux
Camping is one of the many tools God uses in the lives of His people. He uses wilderness type experiences to mold us, to build character, and teach life lessons to those of us He has called to serve Him. There is just something about this setting that God has been pleased to use over and over again. He used it all throughout Biblical times and He continues to use it today. I know this because I have served in Christian Camping for over 40 years. During that time I have observed countless lives being transformed. Most importantly, I know this because He has used this setting to change my life.
In Deuteronomy 8, God is preparing His people to enter the Promised Land. (Read Deuteronomy 8:1-10.) According to verse two, God brought His people through the wilderness to humble them. If you have ever been on a primitive camping trip, you certainly have experienced that. God says the extended camping season of their lives was to test them, to refine them. You see, not only was God preparing a place for them in Canaan, He was preparing them for that place. As we will soon see in some case studies, God delights in using a camping type experience to prepare His people to serve Him. We will see examples of that in the lives of men like Moses, David, and Elijah. But first, let us consider what specific lessons He wanted to build into the lives of His people there in the wilderness.
According to Deuteronomy 8:3-4, He wanted His people to concern themselves with walking with the Lord. As they put Him first in their lives, He would take care of their needs. Notice two of the basic necessities He calls their attention to are food and clothing. It is no accident that these two things are mentioned. Sometimes we get our priorities all mixed up. Instead of focusing on our relationship with the Lord, we get all wrapped up on what we eat and what we wear. As you know, this is not an isolated problem. Jesus dealt with some of these same issues as He spoke to the multitudes in Matthew 6:25-34. Even though thousands of years later, the people were still concerned about what they would wear and their next meal. Jesus’ response to their worries was that, if God provides for the sparrows and wildflowers, how much more will he care for you? Jesus went on to say in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things [what things? …the needs of your life] will be taken care of as well.” (brackets added) The same lessons God had for His people on their camping trip were the same lessons Jesus’ audience needed as well. Surely we have become a more spiritual crowd than that, right? Well, maybe not. If you have been out shopping lately, chances are you saw places that were dominated by clothing stores and restaurants.
God’s prescription for the Hebrews on their camping trip was to get their priorities in order. (Deuteronomy 8:6) Walk with the Lord, obey Him and He will provide for you every step of the way. Earlier in the chapter, God had reminded them how He abundantly provided for them those forty years. They had manna from heaven. Even though they were in the wilderness for forty years, their clothes did not wear out. How long do you wear something before you have to get something new? Whatever foot covering they had must have been comfortable. They walked in them for forty years with no blisters, calluses, or ankle sprains. God used this extended camping adventure to demonstrate how much He cared for them. If God brings you into a wilderness type experience, remember that you have His promises to claim. Promises like Psalm 84:11, “…no good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly.” Work on your priorities and God will abundantly provide for you as well.
One of the many lessons God has for His people when He takes them on camping trips is how inadequate they are and how adequate He is. We certainly see that in the life of Moses. From the moment Moses was born, the people around him saw that God had a special purpose for him. As he was growing up, he realized the awful conditions God’s people were in. And not only were they God’s people, they were his people, the Hebrews. Moses sensed that God planned to use him to be the deliverer of his people. However, instead of waiting on God’s timing, Moses thought he was adequate for the job in his own strength. When that blew up in his face and he had to leave Egypt for fear of his life, God took him on a camping trip. And, for the next forty years, God used that wilderness setting to prepare Moses to be a camp director. Our staff training lasts for a week but God’s timetable is not like ours. Perhaps Moses got tired of waiting. As the years slipped by, he came to the conclusion that he must have missed God’s calling on his life.
He became content with the role of a humble shepherd. But the things God wanted to build into Moses’ life could not come from the palace or the professors of Egypt. No, God sent him to the wilderness, on a camping trip where he would learn a lot of lessons from a bunch of dumb, hard-headed sheep.
Then, when He was ready, God got Moses’ attention by speaking to him from the burning bush. Moses, as you recall, argued with God that he was not adequate for the task God was calling him to do. He could not do the job in his own strength. And God said, “That’s the whole point. You are not adequate, but ‘I Am’ and I will give you what you need to accomplish My purposes.” God still teaches us those same lessons at camp. Chances are, you have been in situations where you had to come to an end of yourself, realizing, “I can’t do this, but God can.” Once Moses learned that lesson, God used Him as a great leader but it took an extended camping trip to get him to that point.
David was another one God took on many camping trips in order to prepare him to be a man after God’s own heart. In that wilderness setting, God taught David many lessons that would equip him to be the leader and king of God’s people. One of those lessons was that he could trust God and lean on His promises. When I was first presented with the option of going into Christian camping full-time, I was hesitant because I had so much on my plate. I was nearing graduation from college with upcoming papers and major tests. I did not think I could handle one more thing. So, when the National Director of CBM handed me an application and asked me to consider applying, my response was, “I’ll pray about it.” Deep down my intention was to put it off indefinitely and concentrate on the upcoming deadlines. That afternoon, back in my dorm room, I looked at my personal study of the life of David. “It just so happened” that I was in 1 Samuel 23 where David is on the run from King Saul when he gets word of an enemy attack on a nearby village. David inquires of the Lord, the Lord says to go and that He will give David victory. When David speaks to his men about it, they are hesitant because they already have so much on their plate in keeping one step ahead of King Saul. So, David goes back to the Lord and, once again, God assures him of victory. I realized that afternoon that I was acting just like David’s men. I thought I had too much on my plate to consider full-time ministry in camping. God showed me, through David’s camping trip, that if I just follow what the Lord is leading me to do, He will take care of all those other things.
My favorite camper in the Bible is Elijah. Before Elijah was ready for his moment in the spotlight on the top of Mount Carmel, there was a camping trip God sent Elijah on in order to prepare Him to be a leader. In 1 Kings 17, God sent Elijah to camp at the Brook Cherith. Elijah found protection from King Ahab but also learned to trust God and wait on His perfect timing. Elijah drank water from a brook that was shrinking because of the drought. There Elijah received food every day, twice a day, from ravens who, according to several Bible passages, do not even feed their own babies. And yet, on that camping trip God was preparing Elijah so he could trust God to meet all his needs and that God would always be on time. At Mount Carmel, Elijah called on God to send fire down from heaven in order to turn the people’s hearts back to God.
All those lessons and so many more God teaches His people as he sends them on camping trips. Why that setting? One thing I have learned is that I believe God loves camping because He is a camper Himself. In Psalm 34:7, we read, “The Angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him.” Whenever you feel like you are in the wilderness, waiting on what is next in your journey, God comes and sets up a tent next to yours saying, “I got this.” You may say, “But that is from the Old Testament. How does that affect me today and what I am going through?” According to John 1:14, Jesus came and dwelt among us. The word “dwelt” literally means He pitched a tent among us. God still camps among His people today and that is not all. One day in heaven, according to Revelation 21:3-4, God will pitch His tent (“tabernacle”) with us again for all eternity. He will wipe away all tears and there will be no more sorrow, pain or death. God was a camper with His people in the Old Testament, God came and camped with us in the Person of Jesus Christ and God will come and set up a tent next to yours and mine in heaven one day.
Until then, God gives us the privilege of seeing how He continues to use camping to make an eternal impact on the lives of kids and families.
Written by Bill Richoux, serving as Area Director of Camp Victory in Samson, AL. To learn more Camp Victory and their ministry click https://www.campvictoryal.org