Lessons in Faith From the Israelites
Slavery in the Desert
We’re all very familiar with the Israelite’s exodus. Enslaved in Egypt for generations, God had finally intervened, and through a series of miraculous and astounding events, He set them free to journey to the Promised Land. Surely, in this land flowing with milk and honey, all their problems and tsuris would finally be over. Imagine you’re an ancient Hebrew, born into slavery, making bricks from the desert sand, toiling in the midday heat. No accrued vacation days, no bonus pay, or overtime wages for your labor, not even a paycheck for your work. Hopes and dreams: forget about them. Retirement? No way. You’re going to toil until death brings you sweet release.
Then one day, a man comes along and claims that God sent him to save you. You’re vaguely aware of this man. He was raised in the palace and disappeared one day. The gossip around the well was that he killed some Egyptian taskmaster. You pay the stranger no mind, there’s no way he’s going to liberate you, such a thing is impossible. But still; you can dream. You keep half an eye on this stranger, they say his name is Moses, and you notice that he’s recruited his brother, Aaron, to help him appeal to the Pharaoh. Of course, the Pharaoh’s not having it. It’s impossible that he would release the economic powerhouse of his entire country. Instead he accuses the Israelite’s of laziness and increases their quota. “Gee thanks, Moses.” You grumble. He didn’t save you, he only made things more difficult. In fact, every time he meets with Pharaoh, your get burdened with a greater workload. It gets to the point that you wish he would just shut up.
You feel safe because with God on your side, you can survive everything. After all, He already brought you out of Egypt
Eyewitness to Multiple Miracles
But he doesn’t shut up, he promises that a day of reckoning will come and that God’s wrath will be poured out over all of Egypt. That sounds vaguely terrifying, but you don’t pay it too much mind, after all, those guys haven’t been so impressive so far. That Moses character isn’t even that great a speaker; he talks kind of slow, and inelegantly, and he’s not authoritarian with the Israelite’s or the Egyptians. Sure, he’s done some pretty neat little magic tricks for the Pharaoh; I mean, after all, he did turn his staff into a snake, that’s pretty cool. But then, so did the Pharaoh’s magicians. How hard can it be?
Pretty soon, though, things began to get interesting. The Nile turned to blood, all the fish and river- dwelling animals died, causing an enormous stench all over the land. That was only the beginning: then came the frogs, the lice, the flies, the Egyptians livestock became diseased, the Egyptians suffered terrible boils, hail rained down and ruined, just everything. Then came the locusts, darkness, and lastly, tragically, the firstborn sons of all the Egyptians were killed. Finally, blessedly, the Pharaoh said “Go.” There were no battles between Israelite armies and the Egyptians. There was no grand last stand. In the middle of the night a broken Pharaoh told them to leave and asked for their blessing.
You’ve just witnessed strange, supernatural events like you’ve never seen before, and you were spared all the suffering of the Egyptians. Now you’re free at last, leaving in the desert in the middle of the night, surely, nothing but blue skies and sunshine from here on out. The dark, stormy, physically painful and emotionally crippling days of slavery are behind you. You’ve witnessed the phenomenal miracles of the Almighty God. Your captors were punished before your very eyes, and now you’re wandering the cold desert in the middle of the night and you don’t really know where you’re going. You’re not scared though, God has provided an angel to guard you, and a pillar of fire to guide you through the night, and in the daylight it turns into a cloud. This is yet another miraculous sign of God’s physical presence. You feel safe because with God on your side, you can survive everything. After all, He already brought you out of Egypt!
You’re crossing the desert and feeling pretty confident. God led the group the long way, towards the Red Sea, keeping you all from war-torn Philistine. What providence! All of a sudden, you hear a commotion, you look behind you and see the Egyptian army chasing after you. Your heart sinks. Freedom was so close you could taste it. Now you’re about to return to your former position; a lowly slave. And surely things will be worse; they’re bound to mistreat you after all this. The cut that hurts the most though, was that you’ve tasted freedom. You almost had it, only to have it snatched away. How could God be so cruel?
You see this and you know that God is on your side. You decide then to trust in Him and in His spokesman, Moses.
Turns out old Pharaoh had some pretty serious doubts about releasing the driving force of his entire economy. A good leader can’t just free hundreds of thousands of workers without replacing them, his whole country would be ruined! What was he thinking? So he tried to get them back. It shouldn’t be too hard, they’re nothing but a ragtag bunch of slaves. They’ve had no education, no military training, they’re unarmed and unorganized. It’ll be no trouble to just go round them back up. After all, the Egyptian army is one of the mightiest armies in the entire world. The Hebrews are out manned, outgunned and outmaneuvered, they don’t stand a chance. If he can bring them back and restore order; he won’t face a suddenly crippled workforce, inevitable depression, and an angry populace. Releasing them was a mistake, but it shouldn’t be too difficult to rectify it and things will get back to normal.
Meanwhile, in the desert, the Egyptian army is closing in on the the Israelites. Things are looking grim. One of the mightiest armies in the whole world is behind them and the Red Sea is in front. You’re trapped! But God still provides. The angel moves between the Israelites and the Egyptians and the pillar of cloud envelops the Egyptians in darkness. Moses then stretches his hand over the sea and you watch in amazement as a fierce wind sweeps over the waters. They get driven back and this allows you to cross as if on dry land. You’re quickly followed by the Egyptians, but from that same pillar of fire and cloud, God causes mass confusion and terror. The Egyptians try to flee, but at that moment Moses stretches his hand back over the water and the Egyptian army is washed away. Their dead bodies wash upon the shore, there was not a single survivor. You see this and you know that God is on your side. You decide then to trust in Him and in his spokesman, Moses.
They face hardship, but they have an enduring faith, and everlasting knowledge that they are the chosen children of God.
In the Desert
However, it’s a long and arduous journey through the desert. It’s too hot in the daytime and too cold at night. You wander around for three days, with no water when suddenly, oh joy! You find water! You rush towards it only to find it too bitter to drink. Moses cries out to the Lord who instructs him to throw a piece of wood in the water, this makes it sweet and safe to drink. You continue to wander, and after sixteen days of endless walking, slavery in Egypt begins to look pretty good. At least there you were well fed. Life in the desert is rough and your belly is empty. Your body burns an awful lot of calories walking 10 hours a day, and hunger can lead to short tempers and bad decisions. Your fellow Israelites cry out to God “why didn’t you just let us die in Egypt?” And you join in their chorus. The miracles seem far away, your current discomfort lies heavily on your mind.
Moses gathers you all together and promises that you will see yet another miracle. That evening the Lord had provided you all with quail to eat. The next morning white wafers, as sweet as honey, fell from the sky. Everybody got as much as they needed; no more, no less. It’s a nice, daily reminder that the God of all creation provides for your needs. You have all the food you can eat, and without the hassle of cooking or prep work. And when you reach places where water is scarce, you see that God provides that as well, and often from unlikely sources.
After three months of walking, you reach the Sinai Desert. Moses goes up the mountain to talk to God, who will ultimately lay down the laws, including the Ten Commandments, that He expects His people to follow. At first it seems like no big deal, there’s nothing so unusual about God speaking to His prophet. But after awhile, you start to get antsy. Moses has been gone awhile. He’s coming back, right? The days turn into weeks, after six weeks, you really start to worry; did Moses die? Is he hurt, did he run away? What happened? For all appearances Moses left and took God with him. Some of your fellow Israelites turn to Aaron, they say they don’t know what happened to his brother, Moses. It’s been over a month, what are we supposed to do?
They ask Aaron to make them new gods out of gold, and Aaron agrees. He makes a calf out of gold and it stands just a couple of inches tall, then he builds it an altar and tells you that the next day will be a festival with burnt offerings. The following day is a great party, with feasting and drinking, music and dancing. It’s great fun. But it doesn’t last long, Moses finally shows up and he is furious. He has these huge stone tablets in his hands, and he throws them down, smashing them. You vaguely wonder what they were. But Moses isn’t finished; he burns your new idol in a fire, grounds it into a powder and pours it into the drinking water. Aaron pleads with him, trying to calm him down, but in the process he throws you and everybody else under the bus. “Gee, thanks Aaron.” You think, bitterly. Moses returns up the mountain to bargain with God on behalf of all of you. You hear that while he was gone God gave him a bunch of rules to follow, one of them said that we can’t have any god but God. Whoops.
As a result of the sin, God strikes everybody with a plague and threatens to leave you all and send an angel in His place to lead you all out of the desert. But Moses begs Him to stick around, and He does. Moses atones for your sin and God sends new stone tablets like the first as a written reminder of the rules. You and your fellow Hebrews set off once again for the Promised Land, thoroughly humbled and chastised. Unfortunately, you will never reach the land flowing with milk and honey. You and all your family and friends will eventually die in the desert, but your offspring will inhabit the new country. You can be take comfort of that. Your children will become a long and lasting nation, out -surviving many of the other nations of your time. They face hardship, but they have an enduring faith, and everlasting knowledge that they are the chosen children of God. And it is through them, that one day, God will bring salvation to all nations. Not a bad little consolation prize.
Lessons in Faith
As a child, I was very familiar with the Israelite’s exodus. I always wondered why they struggled so much with faith when God provided miracles for them daily. He liberated them! They saw the ten miracles in Egypt, they crossed dry land from a parted sea, they drank water from rocks and ate manna from heaven, how could they doubt? There were no atheists among the Israelites, that’s for sure, but nonetheless they rebelled.
Atheists often say that if God would show himself, if He would perform a miracle or a sign, then they would believe. They bible shows us that this is a lie. The Israelites struggled with faith at the first hint of discomfort. Seeing is not always believing. Hindsight is always 20/20, it’s easy for us to look at the struggles of the ancient Hebrews and marvel at their lack of faith. As a child, it always baffled me. As an adult, I understand. How many of us have seen the goodness of God yet still falter on our walk with Him? How often and how quickly do we lose faith? We see His mercies every day. Yet, when the going gets tough, rather than turn to God as we know we should, we tend to blame Him, “why did you do this to me?” we cry. Surely we don’t deserve such punishment. When times are hard, we become like the Israelites, crying out to what we perceive as an unfair God and turning to idols of our own making.
Yet despite the complaining Israelites lack of faith, God never abandoned them. God is infinitely patient and stands by us, even when we desert Him. He remains faithful despite our sins and the quickness with which we forsake Him. We can learn a lot from the Israelites; they're a lesson in human fraility, and the limitations our own nature places on us in our walk with God. Yes, we can learn much from the Israelites, but faithfulness we can only learn from God.
© 2017 Anna Watson