A Lesson from the Desert
I’ve mentioned recently in a daily devotion video that my wife, Jess has decided to read the entire bible and is doing so using the help of Bible Project videos in the ReadScripture app and a podcast called The Bible Recap.
If you have always wanted to read the bible in its entirety but the task seemed daunting, perhaps these resources could help you too. She has plowed through Genesis and Exodus at break neck pace and I am currently standing in awe as she not only reads but enjoys… did you hear that?.. enjoys Leviticus! She is headed into Numbers where the Israelites will fail to take the Promised land and then wander in the desert for forty years. And to think that four weeks of quarantine are about to kill me. The Bible makes me feel like a wimp sometimes!
I so easily identify with the knuckle-headed Israelites, who have just been rescued from hundreds of years of slavery and oppression and are now tasked with living under the new title “people of the living God.”
This portion of the Bible always intrigues me, and I’ll tell you why. I so easily identify with the knuckle-headed Israelites, who have just been rescued from hundreds of years of slavery and oppression and are now tasked with living under the new title “people of the living God.” I constantly sympathize with them as they wrestle with God and his ways. Their faith wavers, they are confused, hurt, and angry. They make irrational claims like “Egypt was far better… the food was so yummy… let’s go back there.” They despair and make numerous threats, none more prevalent than “let’s get rid of Moses” (you know, the one who performed signs and wonders which God used mightily to free the Israelites from tyranny and oppression). As they behave in erratic ways, I can’t help but think, I get it. When God’s ways do not seem to fit our understanding, it’s often hard to quiet our hearts and simply trust him. God’s people struggled to trust God back then and I must confess I often struggle now.
Here is something I’ve been pondering recently. Why would God save a bunch of people who existed as slaves under the burdens of the taskmaster Egyptians, only to bring them out into the desert where they had no food and water? Why would he lead his children to a place of want and even desperation? Why would he withhold good things from his people whom he went to such great lengths to rescue? To make it real for us today, why would he ever hold back any good blessing from those he has saved including you and I? In this season, there seems to be a lot of withholding going on. God has withheld employment and financial flourishing from so many. He has taken health from others. He has stripped his people of many comforts and denied all of us the community and human interactions that we have become so accustomed to enjoying. Why?
So how do we reconcile a loving God with actions that seem so unkind?
At best it seems inconsiderate and at worst it appears to be plain ole mean. But God is neither inconsiderate nor mean. As he revealed to Moses, he is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (Exodus 34:6). So how do we reconcile a loving God with actions that seem so unkind? Thankfully, we don’t have to wonder what God was doing in the lives of the recently rescued Israelites. Psalm 81 lets us in on the motives of God as he led his people to a place of tremendous thirst at Meribah (Exodus 17). And as we come to understand his motives then, perhaps we can better grasp what God may be up to in this time where he seems to be once again withholding many things from his rescued people.
Aside from air to breathe there is no greater fundamental need than water, so by withholding water from his people, God was forcing his people into instant desperation with a particular purpose in mind. The Lord says, “I tested you at the waters of Meribah” (Psalm 81:7). What was the ultimate goal in God’s testing of his people? It’s not as if God needed to know what was in their hearts. After all, the Lord searches our hearts and already knows them to be desperately sick (Jeremiah 17:9-10). It seems evident that the Lord wanted to reveal to his people what was in their hearts. Their grumbling reveals hearts that are reluctant to trust God. How about you and I? In this season where the Lord is surely withholding some or many basic comforts and pleasures do you find yourself grumbling or even angry with God? Again, in Psalm 81:10, The Lord speaks “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.”
Do you see what God is doing in these verses and for that matter what he was constantly doing for his people throughout their time of wandering in the wilderness? Before he calls them to trust him… to open their mouths and depend on him alone to fill them, He reminds Israel of the powerful saving act he performed on their behalf. The mightiest nation in the known world with all of its wealth and power was in the Israelites’ rear-view and the sight was something to behold. Dead crops and cattle, plague ridden people, and a mighty battalion with its chariots and horses washed up against the shore of the Red Sea. By evoking the Israelite’s memory of the Exodus he is declaring two things: He cares immensely for them and he will act on their behalf. Before he commands them to rely wholly upon him for provision, he calls them to remember who he has been for them. This is our challenge as well. As Christians, we have experienced the salvation of God. Christ has been crucified and he has risen! Our oppressive enemies, sin, death, the devil and the flesh lie in ruin in the rear-view and now our daily task is to believe that the one who defeated our enemies will continue to love us and act on our behalf.
Perhaps, in our luxuries and comforts we have found it easy to delight in God, but will we still trust wholeheartedly in him as he tests us to expose our truest hearts?
I imagine it wasn’t all that hard to sing praise to the Lord and declare trust in God on the far shore of the Red sea. With a miraculous salvation fresh in mind and Egyptian wealth jingling in their pockets, the Israelites had it made. It wasn’t until the testing at Meribah that their true hearts were exposed. They still had quite a ways to go in surrendering to God and living lives of utter dependence and faith. Perhaps, in our luxuries and comforts we have found it easy to delight in God, but will we still trust wholeheartedly in him as he tests us to expose our truest hearts? My prayer is that this grumbler and others like me would cry out and find once again that his provision is more than abundant. Join me in heeding this final plea and promise from our God:
Oh, that my people would listen to me,that Israel would walk in my ways! But I would feed you with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you. (Psalm 81:13;16)