Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. And all the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron; the whole congregation said to them,“Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the LORD bringing us into this land to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become booty; would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” So they said to one another, “Let us choose a captain, and go back to Egypt.” Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the Israelites. And Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes and said to all the congregation of the Israelites, “The land that we went through as spies is an exceedingly good land. If the LORD is pleased with us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only, do not rebel against the LORD; and do not fear the people of the land, for they are no more than bread for us; their protection is removed from them, and the LORD is with us; do not fear them.” But the whole congregation threatened to stone them.
What a contrast! One moment the Israelites are praising God on the shores of the Red Sea, and the next moment wanting to appoint a captain to lead them back into bondage! Perhaps you, like me, can praise God one day for His goodness and grace and start complaining the next. We get our eyes off God and onto our problems.
But here is a profound and holy lesson. As we journey with the Israelites on the Exodus we must keep in mind the Apostle Paul’s application of their story to us: “These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us…” (I Corinthians 10:11). We can see in the Israelites what can often become repeated themes in our own Exodus stories:
- First theme – Fear and reluctance in moving ahead with God into a better future.
“Why is the LORD bringing us into this land to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become booty…”
- Second theme – Wanting to regress, to go back into bondage and ‘unfreedom’.
“Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt… Let us choose us a captain, and go back to Egypt.”
These two themes turn up again and again in people’s Exodus stories. In the Wilderness we are often left feeling betwixt-and-between. We feel stuck: afraid to go forward and longing to go back, even when it means dysfunction and bondage. Yet the Wilderness land between Egypt and Canaan can become the place for our transformation. The Wilderness is a crucible preparing God’s people for the Promised Land. That is why Scripture devotes so much space to the Wilderness. We are in tension. We know we have left something behind, but are not yet ready for the new. So we wait, wait for God.
Perhaps you are in the Wilderness. Perhaps you have left a harmful relationship, and are afraid of moving ahead. Perhaps you are wanting to go backwards. Perhaps your last child has left home, and you can’t imagine what the future looks like, dreaming of the past. Perhaps you have become unemployed, fearful of every first of the month bill, wishing for what used to be. Pastor Jeff Manion writes knowingly of the Wilderness, calling it “The Land Between”:
The Land Between can be profoundly disorienting. It also provides the space for God to do some of his deepest work in our lives. Many seasoned spiritual advisors propose that this is the only space in which radical, transformational growth occurs. God intends for us to emerge from this land radically reshaped. But the process of transformational growth will not occur automatically. Our response to God while in the Land Between will determine whether our journey through this desert will result in deep, positive growth or spiritual decline (The Land Between: Finding God in Difficult Transitions).
Once in a Wilderness time I copied the following words of Andrew Murray into my journal. Perhaps these words will also give you hope as you journey onward:
First, God brought me here, it is by His will that I am in this strait place: in that fact I will rest. Next, He will keep me here in His love, and give me grace to behave as His child. Then, He will make the trial a blessing, teaching me the lessons He intends me to learn, and working in me the grace He means to bestow. Last, in His good time He can bring me out again – how and when He knows. Let me say I am here, by God’s appointment, in His keeping, under His training, for His time.
Yes, there is a time for everything under heaven, even the Wilderness.
- Is there some area of your life where you are fearful of moving ahead? If so, how? Talk freely with God about it.
- Is there some area where you are being tempted today to go back? If so, how? Talk freely with God about it.