God does something counterintuitive when leading the people out of Egypt: God picks the long way when the Israelites depart Egypt. They’re on the run from their slaveholders, but God chooses to send them on a longer trip so they won’t wind up in confrontation with the Philistines while they’re still settling the Egyptian score. The Israelites are headed straight for the Red Sea, like going on a bear hunt: “can’t go over it, can’t go under it, can’t go around it.” And they immediately, get cold feet (possibly, expecting their wet feet…)
If you’re just joining us, this is the seventh in a series – my response to reading secular writers “reading through the Bible in a year.” So I decided to tackle the impossible: read through and comment on the Bible, because shouldn’t a Christian be able to explore it, too? A chapter at a time, or maybe a whole book at a time, I’ve set out to read through and see what I see. Care to join me?
The Israelites have been enslaved to the Egyptians for nearly 430 years. They’ve been free for a few hours or a few days, but fearing the Egyptians more than the God who enacted ten plagues, they say, “Was it because there weren’t enough graves in Egypt that you brought us to die in the desert? Didn’t we tell you that we’d rather stay slaves (Ex. 14:11-12)?” It’s human nature, isn’t it? We get what we think we want or even better what we actually need and we face some adversity… and bail. Rather than being brought together as a community or knit more tightly to God, they revert to their old fears and old expectations.
And God just tells Moses to raise his staff, stretch out his hand, and divide the water to let the people go across on dry land. Simple. Just like that.
God doesn’t say God will part the waters: God tells Moses to do it. Matter of fact.
God, who had worked to free the Israelites, whose angel was traveling with them non-stop as a pillar of cloud (day) or pillar of fire (night), who had covenanted with their ancestors, didn’t obliterate them for their less-than-thankful hearts or apparent lack of faith. God hung in with the people who’d been called, even when they didn’t believe, even when they were pretty spineless. Even when they displayed magnificent Stockholm syndrome.
God hung in. [Any parallels to Jesus ‘hanging in’ on the cross are completely coincidental…]
But after the water receded from its divided walls over the Pharaoh and his army, it says “the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant” (Ex. 14:31). For all of about five minutes.
The Israelites arrived in Marah and grumbled because the water was “bitter” (Ex. 15:24). So God provided them with a ‘cure’ for the water.
The Israelites came to the Desert of Sin and grumbled because they were hungry, wishing they had died in Egypt (Ex. 16:2-3). So God provided them with manna and quail, with the only caveat being that they not save any, but only take what they need (Ex. 16:16-19). But, of course, some of them disobeyed God and Moses and it became full of maggots. God told them there would be twice as much before the Sabbath, so that they should not gather on the Sabbath, and the people still (some of them anyway) didn’t listen (Ex. 16:26-28).
The Israelites made it to Rephidim, and grumbled, quarreled at Moses, because there was no water (Ex. 17:1-3). Again, they talk as if they’d have been better in Egypt, as slaves, with their offspring killed and their lives in jeopardy.
Of course, people have been grumbling at God for years, but seriously, you’re free!
Billy Joel sang, in “A Matter of Trust,”
“Some love is just a lie of the heart
The cold remains of what began with a passionate start
And they may not want it to end
But it will it’s just a question of when
I’ve lived long enough to have learned
The closer you get to the fire the more you get burned
But that won’t happen to us
Because it’s always been a matter of trust.”
This is just another chapter in the love song God has been singing to people since the Garden of Eden. “I love you, I want you, I want what’s best for you,” God sings. And yet, over and over, even seconds after having been liberated or granted something we desperately need, we reject God. When things aren’t bad, we figure that we know better… than God. Seriously, what are we thinking?
But Joel is right: relationships are a matter of trust. Whether it’s been a husband and wife, or two friends, or the people of God with God, trust matters. When the people of God turn to God absolutely and completely, they rise; when they attempt to struggle through on their own way, and doubt the plan God has, they fall. It seems so obvious but we’ve been falling into the same pattern for millennia.
And yet, it’s not my greatest takeaway from the Exodus. Instead, I see God’s abundant grace and patience reigning here. No matter how many times the people act like petty children, God, like a gracious father, takes them back and loves them completely. God’s love doesn’t have stopping points or ends, but washes over us again and again.