God’s Timing: Life in the Desert – Exodus 17

Freedom did not come easily for the Israelites.  The Lord freed them after years of slavery in Egypt under the hand of the Pharaoh. He protected them during the ten plagues he used against their captors to finally force them out.  The final plague, the death of the first born during the Passover, finally convinced the Pharaoh to let the Israelites go.  Yet, once freed, it seemed that everything that could go wrong, did go wrong for the Israelites.   The Lord permitted a “perfect storm” of challenges for them to test their faith in Him, the one true God.

As their first challenge, Pharaoh changed his mind about letting the Israelites go, and pursued them with an army of chariots.  He caught up to them and had them trapped against the Red Sea.  The Lord came through, and delivered them from Pharaoh’s hand, drowning Pharaoh’s army.  Then, the Israelites ran out of food and water in the desert.  The Lord delivered them again, providing for all of their needs for sustenance throughout their entire forty years in the desert.  Finally, another group, the Amalekites, attacked the Israelites and was about to defeat them until the Lord intervened, bringing victory as Moses held his staff high with the aid of his assistants.  These accounts can be found in Exodus 14-17.

Each one of these crises felt overwhelming at the time, and as a result, the people grumbled and wondered if God was there.

“Is the Lord among us or not?” Exodus 17:7 ESV

Many times, I have been in a situation where something needed to happen, and I prayed deep in my spirit for God’s help.  As each crisis was coming down to the wire, with no solution in sight, it was easy for me to wonder, “Is the Lord among us or not?”  Then, suddenly, everything would come together and be resolved, often just before a deadline.  (As someone has said half-jokingly, the Lord is never too late when we need Him, but rarely early.)

When deliverance comes, faith follows.  After the crisis is over, it is easy to say with all one’s heart, “Praise the Lord!”

I believe the reason God allows these difficult times to come is that he wants us to learn to trust Him, to say, “Praise the Lord!” while the crisis still surrounds us.  Recall what happened when Jesus was asleep in the back of his disciples’ fishing boat when a life-threatening storm came up.  The boat pitched and rocked on the waves to the point of foundering, and the disciples woke Jesus up and pleaded with Him for help because they were afraid and thought they were about to die.  Jesus awoke, calmed the storm, and turned to them, saying:

40 “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”  Mark 4:40 ESV

This is basically what happened to the Israelites in the desert.  The necessities of life (food and water) were in dwindling supply, and it looked like they were going to die.  At least the disciples in the fishing boat did turn to Jesus.  The people in the desert chose instead to grumble and complain about Moses rather than take their plea to God. By grumbling to Moses, they were grumbling about God, who had permitted them to be immersed in this crisis.

In the end, the Lord always comes through to meet all of their needs, whether they grumbled or not.  The people were provided for throughout their forty years in the desert, right up until their children entered the Promised Land of Israel.  But God did choose to test their faith with times of stress and trial.  They had to face the question, would He answer our prayers this time and come through to meet our needs?  He did, every single time.  Through each crisis, each challenge that life brought them, He showed that He was there, that He cared for them, and that He was intimately involved in the smallest detail of their lives.  There were, and are, no gaps in God’s provision for us.

35 The people of Israel ate the manna forty years, till they came to a habitable land.  Exodus 16:35 ESV

This is the path of faith and trust in God.  He teaches us to trust in Him during every crisis and every bump in the road along our life’s journey.  Over time, we learn to trust Him more, though we never do seem to achieve a perfect faith.  It is spiritual progress, not spiritual perfection.

What can we do, then, while faithfully waiting for answers to our prayers when we are in need?  One thing we can do is to pray the Serenity prayer.  The short form of the prayer goes like this, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

After turning our needs over to Him in prayer, we can take a step forward in faith, seeking to do the right things that we believe God wants us to do. This often includes helping others, and giving love, support and comfort to those in need that God has put in our path.

At any given time, we will be surrounded by events, situations or conditions that disturb us, causing anxiety and fear.  It is at these times that we can surrender to God to lean on His care to see us through.  Grumbling, complaining, acting out or any other sinful behavior will not resolve anything, it will only create additional problems.  It is by faithfully turning to God and resting in Him and His loving presence that we can begin to experience something like true comfort and peace, even in the midst of trials and trouble.

Reflection:

What situations challenge you at this moment?  How can you use these as an opportunity to exercise and grow your faith?

Exercise is not always fun.  Faith exercise can be a real stressor.  But the Lord wants to help us through our trials and to have more faith in Him.  Sometimes the harder the trial, the stronger our faith will grow as we get through it.

We do not choose trials, although some might be the consequence of poor choices we all have made.  We do have a merciful God, who will comfort us in every way as we go through these trials and provide relief to us as we serve Him by serving others.  We can experience peace, serenity and a sense of divine accomplishment as he works through us.  Like the Israelites in the desert, He will see us through our hardships and will bring us to a habitable land.

As we grow in our trust in Him, God will bear much fruit in our lives through both seasons of difficult drought and seasons of joyous plenty.

12 The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.  13 They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God.  14 They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, 15 to declare that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.  Psalm 92:12-15 ESV

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