And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to His riches in glory.
I must confess: I have spent my whole life judging the Hebrews during their wilderness sojourn. It is difficult for me to watch them murmur against the God who continually, faithfully provides for them. They witness the ten plagues against Egypt, including the smiting of every firstborn male in Egypt. They leave Egypt weighted down by their captors’ treasures after 430 years of bondage, led by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. And yet, when Pharoah gives chase, they cry to Moses, Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert! Number 14:11-12.
When Yahweh again saved them by extraordinary means–parting the Red Sea, providing dry ground for them to walk across the sea floor, and drowning the Egyptians who chased them–and led them into the desert, they continued to grumble when they couldn’t find drinkable water at Mara. He provided water, but then they got hungry. He provided abundant honey-like food, but they wanted meat. He gave them quail to eat, and when Moses was gone just a bit too long talking to Yahweh on their behalf? Bam! They created a golden calf and worshiped it.
It is so easy for me to judge them. Ingrates! But, really, as I think of them throwing their fits every time their basic needs for survival beg to be met, I wonder how many times I have thrown the same tantrum about something much less significant than food, water, and safety . . . Yuck.
Having gone down the pathetic “poor me” path more than my fair share, I am beginning to realize that it never helps me be a better person. Now, I’m not saying that feelings are not completely valid, or that we shouldn’t grieve a loss (of many kinds). We should take time to rest after struggles, and Yahweh even built Sabbath in for us so that we’d have a rest in this wilderness. But, what I am saying is that we need to be darn careful not to cross the line from frustration and grief and exhaustion into grumbling.
Harper Collins (I refer to this Biblical Commentary like I would a friend because I sincerely love this big, buxom book!) points out that there are positive and negative motifs working in the wilderness account. God’s continuous, miraculous provision for his people as a positive motif juxtaposes the Hebrews’ repeated murmurings against Him. They resent the hunger, danger, thirst. But I think it goes deeper than that with them and with me: I think we resent the awareness of our absolute dependence on God. We’d rather think we have some control over our lives.
In Egypt, they were slaves: beaten, raped, starved, thrown out like garbage. And yet, there was a comfort in the familiar that they would rather return to, and a danger in the unknown they kept trying to flee. In the wilderness, the only comfort, the only stability lies in trusting God. And that is hard: ego crushing, dream shattering, dangerous hard. I don’t want to be hungry all the time, and I don’t want to have to live a life where every morning I wake up and ask God just get me through this day, please. But that level of dependence, that level of necessity, is where God does miracles.
I can write a volume about the miracles God has performed throughout my life, starting with all the mornings, time after time, when I opened my Bible or devotional to find exactly the words I needed to brave another day, feeling God so close on the couch, snuggled up with me and my cup of coffee. Isn’t that a miracle? I can write about the miracle of my marriage, thriving and real and growing, a shelter for both Jack and I in the midst of desert. I can write about Christmas mornings with presents under the tree, dinner parties with friends, camping trips, date nights, birthday parties, snuggling warm babies on the couch every morning . . . but this doesn’t sound like a barren wilderness, does it? It sounds like a life: a beautiful one. This beautiful life continuously crops up in the midst of defining hardships.
So I think we need to decide: are we a people who define ourselves on bondage, Pharoah’s armies chasing us, need, and loss? Or are we a people—a Miracle people—who define our lives by Liberation, the parting of the Red Sea, Providence, and Redemption? For every need God’s people experienced, for every cry they uttered in the wilderness, God heard and provided. And while we would all rather never have to know an empty belly or checking account, the need for a pediatric heart surgeon, a priest, or the strength just to get out of bed, our need hollows out in each of our hearts a place for God to move.
Oh geez. I don’t like this. I find myself feeling more and more empathy for those Hebrews all the time.
Let’s pray for Miracle eyes, embedded deep in our hearts, to seek out a God who fills every belly and quenches every thirst.
God bless you,