|God’s provision in the wilderness – Exodus 16:1-18
This week’s session is shorter than usual and deals with only one idea. It is because of the scope of the idea and the amount of thought and reflection and conversation that this generates that the session is deliberately short. There ought to be plenty of time allowed for conversation and prayer.
The Israelites had a gift. Something that they really excelled at. Infact, something which had it been an Olympic sport, they would have certainly claimed a gold for. What was this essential life skill possessed by Gods people? In what deeply holy gifting did they excel? The answer: Moaning and complaining.
Having been quite literally ‘plucked’ from a 430 year period of slavery in Egypt, having seen God demonstrate his mighty power time and again, having miraculously crossed the Red Sea on dry land, very quickly the shouts of praise and acclamation turn to grumblings of complaint.
Now, to be fair to the desert wanderers, their needs were fairly pressing. Earlier on in chapter 15 we read that they’d been walking in the desert heat for 3 days and their water supplies were exhausted. They needed water. The only water they’d come across was bitter, and they complained to Moses. In reality of course the complaint was less against Moses and more against Yahweh. So, Moses speaks to God, and as another sign of God’s utter power over creation, and his concern for his people the water is turned sweet and the people can drink.
We see a similar thing happening in our reading today. This time it’s not a lack of water, but a lack of food, but the result is the same. The Israelites complain and lament their hardship, on the surface complaining about and to Moses, but in reality complaining about and to God.
So what’s going on here?
Some 6 weeks has gone by since Israel left Egypt. The newness of freedom has perhaps worn off, and their hopes for a quick move to the promised land are wearing thin. The reality of daily life as a wandering community on the way towards a land of “milk and honey” was beginning to strike home, and it wasn’t as much fun as had been hoped for. The promised land still seemed a long way off, the challenges and difficulties were becoming ever greater, and many in the community were questioning the wisdom of ever leaving Egypt. In the face of an uncertain future, the past, however terrible, began to look attractive.
There is a parallel here. Life as a Christian often bears the very same hallmarks. We are members of a community freed from slavery (to sin and death), we have been plucked from the hand of our oppressor (Satan), we have been promised a land of blessing and plenty (eternal life in the renewed creation), and we have a journey to undertake before we arrive (life).
Often, when we set out on that journey, when the memory of our former life is still vivid, a sense of excitement and eagerness pushes us forward. But, over time, as the challenges mount and the difficulties increase, we too perhaps begin to grow weary and even ask whether we did the right thing in joining this pilgrim community.
We, like the Hebrews, are pilgrims. Walking through the wilderness on the way to the promised land.
We, like the Hebrews, sometimes feel that the journey should be quick and easy. That it should present few challenges and dangers, and that it should not cause us too much hardship.
We, like the Hebrews, know that this is seldom the case.
Instead of the journey to the promised land being easy, fun, and straightforward, the journey to the promised land is one fraught with danger, threats, difficulties and hardship. It’s not to say it’s hard all the time, or that it is without joy and happiness and adventure, but it is to say that the difficulties are very real.
For the Hebrew people and the other people who left Egypt with them, the danger presented itself in very obvious forms. A lack of water. Too little food. Threat from other people groups. Internal bickering, and so on.
We may not face such immediate physical threats, but all the same, challenges and difficulties remain for us as a pilgrim community.
This session is about 1 idea, and 2 questions.
The 1 idea is simply this: That God is with us and revealing his presence to us in the wilderness.
The two questions are these:
1 – What does our response to the difficulties and hardships of wilderness wandering look like?
2 – How have we been, and how are we, aware of God with us in the wilderness times?
So let’s think about the first question:
What does our response to the difficulties and hardships of wilderness wandering look like?
Do we come to the conclusion that God is a long way off, or do we look for him drawing close?
Do we grumble and complain about the difficulties as the Hebrews did, or do we expectantly wait for his provision?
Do we doubt that we’re on the right track, look backwards, and wish we were somewhere else, or do we hold fast to the call to the promised land and keep moving forward?
Let’s look at the one central idea:
It is fashionable in some theologies and traditions to claim that the Christian life is one victory after another, and that time spent in the wilderness ought to be as short as possible as the wilderness is the place where God is not. But this is clearly unscriptural not least because the orthodox and traditional Christian parallel is that all of earthly life equates to wilderness wandering. As we look at the wilderness wanderings of the Hebrews the point is made time and time again that God is with them in the wilderness. That his presence, saving power, and his divine provision sustain the people in their wilderness time, so that they might know that “I am the Lord your God”.
Here’s a question: How do we know that Yahweh is “the Lord our God”?
The answer: Because in our lowest and most difficult times, when we’re in the most hostile of places, the Lord is present with us. He revealed this powerfully to the Hebrews in various ways, and he reveals this most fully in the incarnation of Christ. God is so present in our wilderness wandering that he became man and walked it with us.
God is with us in the wilderness, his is revealing his presence to us, and in doing so he desires that we would come to discover on a deep level an experiential knowledge that YHWH is God, and that God is with us.
So let’s now look at the second question:
How have we been, and how are we, aware of God with us in the wilderness times?
We all live ‘in the wilderness’ in the sense that we are yet to reach our ‘promised land’, and at some times more than others we experience a very profound sense of wilderness in our lives.
How have you been aware of God’s presence with you?
How did God reveal his presence?
How did you respond?
It’s worth taking some time to remember because as we explored last week remembering Gods words, work, and presence is vital in the Christian life; bringing peace in the present and hope for the future.