Lessons from Israel: No.26 : Short Memories
Ex 16:1-3 The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt. In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”
Chapter 16 is all the more sad because it follows chapter 15! In chapter 15 you will find the song of Israel about Pharaoh’s defeat (Ex 15:1-18), and then Miriam leading the women in singing and dancing to rejoice before the Lord over His triumph over Pharaoh (Ex 15:19-21), then a miraculous cleansing of some water (Ex 15:22-22), then the Lord promising them that they would never suffer the diseases of Egypt but would always know the His healing (Ex 15:22-26), and finally arriving at a wonderful oasis with plenty of water (Ex 15:27). Chapter 15 has been all about rejoicing and of provision.
But then within a few days of travelling we find ‘the whole community’ grumbling against Moses and Aaron because they now seem in a desert place with no provisions. The most obvious thing we should observe here, surely, is the short memory being revealed in this people. It is exactly one month since they have been delivered from Pharaoh. Just a month ago they had witnessed the last of the plagues and then followed (probably some days later) the complete destruction of Pharaoh. Just a month ago they had seen the mighty works of God. Just recently they have seen Moses cleansing the water and God promising a life of health for them. If God promises health, is He going to allow them to die off from lack of food?????
Before we think too badly about Israel, can I ask you if you ever suffer the same sort of experience? Here is the person who goes to a Bible Week and comes back full of the wonder of God and then, after a few days of crisis back in the office, they are wondering if God even exists! (Well you know what I mean!) Even more simply, you go to church on a Sunday morning and it just seems like heaven comes down. It is a wonderful morning and the Lord seems so close and so powerful. Again a couple of days later you go down with a cold, life seems difficult and God seems a million miles away! What is going on?
The reality is that the Lord allows us to go through ‘dry times’ or through trials and tests because He wants us to learn the reality of our faith and the reality of the truth that He has said He will never leave us or forsake us. The apostle James wrote, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” (Jas 1:2,3). He understood that trials were tests of our faith – to prove our faith and to develop perseverance in us.
Once the apostle Paul had occasion to write: “We sent Timothy, who is our brother and God’s fellow worker in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. You know quite well that we were destined for them. In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter might have tempted you and our efforts might have been useless.” (1 Thess 3:2-5). He knew that trials sometimes come in the form of persecution, again to prove our faith, and the trial will include temptation to give up, which we are to learn to stand against.
The apostle Peter similarly knew this: “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Pet 1:6,7). Similarly he knew that trials were to prove to us that our faith is genuine and that as a result of our standing firm, the Lord Jesus will be praised and honoured. Do we get the message? The Christian life isn’t always easy; sometimes it is difficult, sometimes it does seem dry and sometimes the Lord does seem miles away, but this is all to allow you to persevere and overcome and triumph.
Our difficulty, and it is important that we face our human frailty, is that ‘today’ always seems the most critical and when today is not going well, it is easy to forget yesterday’s glory, but that is the one thing, in this context, that we have got to learn to do. Isaiah challenged the people of his day, when they were questioning, “To the law and to the testimony!” i.e. look to what God has said (the Law) and what He has done (the testimony). We are to be encouraged in the present by what the Lord has said and done in the past. We must not have short memories!
(We will be taking a rest from this series for a while, while we consider what we can learn from the Law of God. We have been looking at the ‘testimony’ in this series, so in the next series we’ll consider the Law. We will return to what we can learn from the life of Israel at a later date.)