Wandering in the Desert – Exodus 16

Have you ever felt like you were wandering around in a desert, without direction and not sure which way to turn?  All followers of God have days like that.

After the Israelites were miraculously freed from slavery in Egypt by a loving God, He wanted to have a daily relationship with them.  He wanted them to lean on Him for their daily needs, and to no longer rely on the false gods that surrounded them in Egypt.  But when Pharaoh changed his mind after they left and began to chase the Israelites down again, they did not know which way to turn.  They were trapped by the Red Sea on one side, and by Pharaoh’s advancing chariots on the other.  They were in a position of powerlessness.

God used this moment to again prove his love for them and his power in their daily life.  He moved from ahead of Israelites, leading them forward, to behind, taking a position of defense.

13 And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”  Exodus 14:13-14 ESV

God parted the Red Sea and brought the Israelites across it.  Then he drowned Pharaoh’s pursuing chariots riders under a deluge of water after all the Israelites had safely crossed.

Deliverance and freedom are wonderful gifts from God.  As we experience them today, they are exhilarating and fill us with an overpowering gratitude and joy. But as the extraordinary fades into history, we become more aware of the ongoing essential needs of our daily lives.  As is sometimes said, “What have you done for me lately?”  We ultimately have to come down from the spiritual splendor of the mountain top to re-enter the mundane demands of the valley.  Fortunately, God is a God of both the grandest and the smallest needs and cares in our day-to-day lives.   

As the Israelite people advanced into the desert under the direction of the Lord through Moses, they began to focus on their daily needs and the dwindling supplies of food and water.  As each new crisis presented itself, the people of God began to grumble.

10 And as soon as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. 11 And the Lord said to Moses, 12 “I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel. Say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’”  Exodus 16:10-11 ESV

The Lord has said that he will never leave us nor forsake us, and that he will provide for us if we have faith in him.  He does this even when we grumble, although grumbling is not the preferred way to treat one another in a love relationship.

Years ago, I accompanied our church youth group on a summer mission trip to southern Illinois.  I remember the first day we arrived. While taking a few moments of quiet meditation after a couple long days of driving, there was a gigantic thunderhead cloud moving across the sky.  This is a common sight in summer in the Midwest US.  But there was something different about this particular cloud to me.  As I watched it boil and rumble, migrating slowly across the sky, I had the sense that God Himself was present inside the cloud.  It almost seemed to be alive, physically and spiritually.  In my mind, it was as if the Glory of the Lord Himself was in the heart of that gigantic thunder cloud.

I don’t know whether that was true or not, but it seemed to me that the Lord saying, “Fear not.  I am with you”.  It gave me faith and confidence that, whatever challenges lied in the days ahead (which included stinging wasps, poison ivy and midnight vandalism), the Lord seemed to be saying, “Thank you for serving Me, I will see you through all of this.”  And I still remember some of the powerful spiritual experiences that the youth and us leaders had during that week.  It was a major positive milestone in my Christian walk.

Similarly, the Israelites view of the Lord’s glory in the cloud must have also had a calming effect upon the them, wandering in the desert all those many years ago.  God is unchanging.  He provides for our needs today just as He provided for the needs of the starving and wandering Israelites.  For them, He did this by raining bread from heaven, a dew-like manna that formed on the ground each morning for them to gather and to bake for their daily bread.  God also brought them fresh water to drink, in one case as bitter water was turned fresh and clean, and in another when pure drinking water began to flow from a cleft in a rock.

God kept his people alive in the desert for forty years.  If he did this for them, He will surely do the same for us, his Church today.  In God, we have protection, shelter and loving support.  He has said in Hebrews 13:5, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Reflection:

When have you felt like you were wandering around in a desert, without direction or purpose?  Have you been stressed by dwindling provisions or overwhelming needs?  God loves you and wants to bring you through the valleys of trouble and fear into a place of rest, peace, serenity and provision. 

As Jesus said,

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  Matthew 6:25-26 ESV

God loves us deeply and will give us whatever we need as we turn to Him in prayer.  This message a is rock solid truth throughout the entire Bible:

10 fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10 ESV

5 The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand.  Psalm 121:5 ESV

…cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7 ESV

What do you need from God today?  Food, drink, shelter, peace, love, healing, forgiveness, companionship, finances, sobriety, direction, or a new start? Whatever needs you have, lay them all in front of Him and ask Him for his help today.  His gracious and loving hand will lift you up and show you the way to go.

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