I would bet that even in the middle of the night, when the Israelites embark on their exodus, they were celebrating.
Loud, long shouts of joy. The incredulous belief that they are free–a belief that finds it place among the line of surreality and reality.
But as humans, we tend to find ways to chain ourselves even when God has delivered us. And the Israelites are no different.
God just released ten plagues on Egypt. And the Israelites have seen each one. Yet, just as when Pharaoh increased their workload after Moses first demanded of him on the behalf of God to let the Israelites go, the Israelites don’t cry out to God. They don’t look to Him for the answers.
Instead, they grumble.
There are four specific instances in which Israel will grumble instead of simply trusting in God.
OBSTACLE #1: The Red Sea Crossing
The Red Sea is one of the first things we picture when we think of Exodus. We see Moses with his staff lifted. We see the Red Sea split into two powerful walls of water. We see the Israelites crossing dry land, the Egyptians coming up over the hill behind them, trailing.
But as with everything in the Bible and in life, there is always more to the story.
At the beginning of Exodus 14, God has been leading the Israelites through what is only the beginning of their wilderness journey. He stands at the front, either showing His presence in a pillar of cloud by day or a pillar of fire by night, and when He moves, they move. When He stops, they stop.
Let me digress here for a minute. The idea that God physically led Israel–that they could actually see God as the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire–sounds amazing! Wouldn’t it be awesome in those tough decisions of life to just call out to God and say, “Hey, God, I just need You to lead me in the way You want me to go” and He replies, ” ‘Aight, just follow Me.” Then He appears before you in a pillar of cloud or a pillar of fire and you just follow Him until He has arrived at the place He wants you to be.
Idyllic, mesmerizing, simple. The sad thing is that this really can be that easy, and God wouldn’t even have to physically present Himself to us. We should just be able to hear His voice, know it’s Him speaking, and follow Him. Just like the disciples experienced with Jesus.
But we are like the Israelites–making the simple things complicated.
So, back to Exodus 14. Pharaoh has decided that he messed up by letting the Israelites go (because who is going to build all those bricks now? Himself?) and decides to chase after them with 600 of his best chariots plus the rest of the mediocre ones. Each chariot has an officer.
So, they go trekking through the wilderness, paralleling the Israelites in their journey except for their intention to destroy. And as Pharaoh and his army roll closer and closer to where the Israelites are camped in Pi-hahiroth right by the sea, the Israelites see their former masters coming.
And the trauma they endured for years suddenly retches, and they cry out to God for help. Yet in the next breath, they said to Moses:
The Israelites would rather be enslaved to a cruel people then freed by an Almighty God.
You sit there and you judge that statement, because the answer seems so simple and obvious: of course they should want to serve God, who saves them and frees them.
But don’t forget that you choose the Egyptians sometimes, too.
What’s that secret sin of yours? What’s that hidden temptation, that dark desire, that recurring thought that constantly makes you fear it being known by someone? Because once somebody knows who you really are and what you really think, then you believe that they will leave you. And the only thing you will have is that enslavement to that one thing.
Freedom really is harder to choose sometimes. We get so used to our chains that we tend to like the freedom from responsibility and independence it gives us, ironically.
But listen to what Moses says to the Israelites:
Choosing enslavement is easy. It seems like the better choice sometimes.
But choosing to serve God means never having to worry again. It means having no grounds to be afraid and having all the strength to stand firm when a stampede of your former enslavers is rolling at you at a fast pace. It means knowing that your God can get rid of these Egyptians–somehow, someway.
And God always has a way!
He literally wants to fight for you. But instead of crying out and instead of grumbling . . .
. . . you must be quiet. Be still and know that He is God.
You must be quiet and trust Him while He raises up the waters before you and gives you dry ground to cross. You must be quiet as you see the dust of dry ground puff up with each step that brings you closer to the other shore. You must be quiet as you finish crossing and look back, watching as your God slams the waters He lifted for you onto the Egyptians, your former enslavers.
And suddenly they aren’t a problem anymore. You’re free. You’re safe. You’re loved.
You’re a child of God. What is there for you to worry about?
Not even two chapters later, apparently there’s a lot to worry about.
OBSTACLE #2: No Water in a Dry Land
It’s the most basic of human needs, right?
So, it’s understandable why the Israelites grumbled about a lack of water . . .
. . . right after they literally crossed the Red Sea that only God could miraculously bring about.
. . . right after they just worshiped this same God for this very feat. They sang a song onto God, praising Him.
In the very next breath, they said to Moses:
“What are we going to drink?” (Exodus 15:24)
You can almost hear the underlying question: “How come you brought us out here and didn’t plan to give us water, the thing we need most?”
Yet again, the Israelites have failed to realize that their most pressing, basic necessity is not water–it’s the God who provides them with water.
You see, the Israelites encountered a body of water named Marah, which means bitter water. They couldn’t drink this. So God shows Moses a nearby tree, and Moses throws it into the water–and the water suddenly becomes drinkable.
God used a tree to make bitter waters not bitter.
It’s kind of a strange concept, but it only cements the fact that God is a powerful and almighty God! If He can split the Red Sea into two separate entities, then why can’t He use a tree to make some bitter water not bitter?
I think it’s important, too, to note that this occurred only three days into the Israelites’ journey into the Wilderness of Shur. It had only been three days since they crossed the Red Sea, and yet they grumble so soon.
And while humans can go only three to four days without water–which means the Israelites were at their weakest and most vulnerable and most frustrated–they didn’t choose to automatically trust in the God who just lifted the Red Sea for them.
Instead, they chose to grumble.
How often have we been at our weakest, our most vulnerable, and our most frustrated? And instead of choosing to trust God despite the desperate thirst and despite the twisting pain, we choose to grumble? To blame? To distrust?
Just wait. I know the waiting hurts just as much as the thirst, but just wait.
God will deliver you. Just as He did with the Red Sea. And just as He did with the waters turned good by a tree.
Just as He will with the next two obstacles we will review next week.
Trusting in the God of the Red Sea and the tree,