I am working my way through a read through of the entire bible this year (again – because it is good for the soul), and i have reached Numbers 14. The first words we hear are that of the people of Israel crying, whaling, murmuring, complaining. They have witnessed amazing sights – have been set free from 400 years of bondage in Egypt, watched as the red sea divided so they could cross on dry land. And they watched as the pursuing Egyptians were drowned by the torrent of the red sea closing in on them. They saw as manna, a food from heaven, came down from heaven for them to collect and eat, and as they had quail, as much as they could handle. Yet they wept, cried, whaled and complained, and even worse, they wanted to return to Egypt. Egypt was
Interesting that the word murmur (hebrew is לוּן luwn) has the meaning of to grumble, or complain in a repetitious way but comes from the same word that means to dwell, or lodge. I was struck by how contrasting this is to the John 16 passage where we are to “abide” or “remain” on the vine, in his love. Abiding and remaining are somewhat similar, however these two situations are in direct opposition to each other. Remaining as in dwelling or lodging is so definite – an action, intentionally to stay. Grumbling can be a place where we get stuck, making a choice to continue with a pattern or way, and choose to stay there . Abide is more of a cognitive thing – we make a decision to continue, to follow, to choose to live honoring God, but the ability to abide is even a gift from God. Abiding is 99% God, and 1% determined obedience.
My first reaction whenever I read Numbers 14 is to wonder how a group of people could see the mighty hand of God in such powerful ways, and yet return to a stinking thinking, reducing the works of God to meaninglessness and grumbling for what they dont have. But then i realize that it is much more human nature to forget the goodness of God, forget the mercies he has given, and the many times that God has interviened in our very lives. How often in scripture do we see where someone received an amazing miracle, and yet few returned to thank him. Are we so shallow that we cannot focus and remember the goodness of our God, and trust him when the path seems to make no sense, or the answer is not humanly possible?
Our Egypt – our place of struggle and bondage may be alcohol, or dependence on a person, a way of life, or a behavior. Perhaps it was that job with the prestige and big income. Perhaps it is a relationship that was not good but has gotten worse. Egypt is that hard place where without God’s help we are stuck – addiction, financial decline, health decline, sin scarred, emotionally defeated and struggling for very life. It is a captivity – being held there without the capacity to change your situation. Shacked to a place that is beyond challenging.. impossible. Know that we all have an Egypt to be rescued from, and know that God wants us to seek him for that rescue. He will free us.
When we are freed from that captivity our life seems different… it should. We should run from what shackled us, never to look back there except to encourage others out of that dark place and to remember from where we came. Our Egypt was a place of pain, of suffering, of struggle, loss, discouragement, oppression and it was not nearly the glorious and glamourized place we want to paint it now. That is what the Israelites were doing in the dessert – painting their memories of Egypt with rose colors, remembering sweet moments, and blocking out the harsh bondage. Our Egypt was a place that pressed us, challenged us, limited our capabilities and all but crushed our soul. But Egypt also was a crucible for melting our metal, and removing the dross, the debris, the unwanted particles of our character. If we allowed our Egypt to be a tool God used to transform us the response would not be to grumble in the dessert, but to trust, wait, ask, pray.
At some point in each of our lives God called us from that Egypt as he hears the prayers and cry for help. Egypt served a purpose – and now the purpose is new – discovering the dependence on God alone to see us through strange new places, and a journey to a new life.
The chapter continues with more whining, whaling and complaining that results in God asking Moses “How long are they going to act like this and when will they start believing in me?” Can you imagine the God of all creation trying to make sense of such crazy unbelief. Can you believe that Almighty God did not strike them all dead right there for their unbelief? There was a remnant of believers – Moses, Joshua, Caleb…..who wept and mourned for the sin of their unbelieving people.
It is a cautionary tale for each of us – Remember the goodness of the Lord. Remember what he has brought you through, and what he has taken you from. Remember the miracles, the signs, the many ways God reached into your life and changed it. Remember that this is God’s character, that his plan for you is for a future and it is filled with hope. Remember that Egypt was but a season, and the promised land is on your adventure map. Remember that wherever God calls you to, he will provide.
This morning all i could think about is that my thoughts need to be on God, and not on situations, or complaints, or murmuring, or remembering a life before our financial collapse. Those days are gone, and God has shown himself strong to deliver us from the path of destruction, and put our feet on solid ground. God provides our needs, blessing us with shelter, food, clothing, transportation and a lot of good people on this side of heaven. He wakes us up each day, gives us enough for the day. And he is our companion, going with us, never leaving us. Today i determined again to not be one of the whining, moaning, murmuring masses, but instead to be one who trusts God for his character is good.
My prayer is that all of the days of my life i will make the determination to not grumble, but to trust, and follow.