Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Faithful God, Untrusting People

Today I read from Exodus chapters 13-15. The Israelites had seen the plagues God sent upon Egypt, and the last one should have been fresh in their minds – how all of the firstborn of Egypt (human and animal) were killed except for Israel’s children, simply through blood on the thresholds of their doorways and the Lord’s protection.

They saw how Pharaoh had relented and let them go, how the Egyptians gave them clothing and gold, so that they left slavery with more than they actually owned. All of this occurred through God’s mighty power – after 430 years in Egypt, He heard their prayers and freed them from slavery in a huge, memorable way.

Yet a few short days (weeks? Hours?) later, we find them terrified as they see the Egyptian army chasing them. Granted, the approach of 600 chariots would strike fear into our hearts too. But hadn’t they just seen God’s mighty hand at work? Did they truly believe He had abandoned them now? Or did they think He was sleeping or somehow unable to defeat this mighty army?

“What is this you have done? We would rather be Egyptian slaves than die in the desert!” they cried.

What weak hearts.  What nonexistent faith. The proof of God's presence was right before their eyes – the pillar of cloud by day, the pillar of fire by night. Yet they either forgot Him or felt He would no longer protect them or that He was somehow inadequate against the Egyptian army.

It’s a good thing Moses, their leader, believed God. He encouraged the people in spite of their grumbling. And all of them saw – once again – the Lord’s deliverance in that situation. How could they not see it?

The wind divided the sea and the Israelites walked through on dry sandy soil, with a wall of water to their left and to their right. And after they had all passed through, as the Egyptians pursued them, the Lord closed the sea and not a single Egyptian survived.

Then all of Israel rejoiced and praised God. For a few minutes, anyway. Until they became thirsty and hungry and the grumbling started again.

I find the Israelites' faith so weak, so easy to criticize - and yet somehow familiar.  Were I in their shoes, I would praise God and trust Him to take care of me. Or would I?

The bitter South Dakota winters bring out the worst in me. Though I grumble throughout the year, in this season I become a chronic whiner. I lash out verbally against the wind, the snow, the cold, to anyone who will listen. (And many who won’t. My daughters tire of hearing it.)

I told my husband yesterday that if he were to die, it would take me only ten minutes to move to a state with better weather. He laughed. “I guess I’d best keep our assets easy to sell, since you'll need cash.”

But, whether I like it or not, complaining is sinful. The Israelites’ complaints and my gripes are all in the same category. When I rail against the weather, or the large disasters or small inconveniences of my day, I seek my immediate comfort.  I forget His past goodness, His continued presence, and His future promises.

It’s as if I’m saying, “Lord, I don’t like where You’ve placed me. I don’t trust You to work this to my good. I don’t want to learn the lessons You want to teach me here.”

In the process of becoming Christlike, I have so many miles yet to go.

Father, Help me to learn from the Israelites. Help me to stop fighting You and to relax, trusting that You will work all things for my good as part of Your kingdom. Let me focus on all that You have done for me and trust in Your loving plan for my future.  Forgive my sinful, complaining spirit, and help my words to be fruitful and sweet.  Amen.

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