I love the Exodus story. It has mystery, adventure, heroism, defiance, miracles, and the struggle of real people in a world swirling with volatility and danger. So often, I, and perhaps you, read the Bible like it’s a sterile textbook, instead of as God’s redemptive activity on planet earth with people in the midst of real life, struggling with faith and doubt.
As I read Exodus, I get frustrated with the children of Israel. I think, “Are you kidding? The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob kicked Pharaoh’s butt! He performed ten miracles of epic proportions to set you free from the yoke of slavery. God even parted the Red Sea and drowned the Egyptians as they pursued you. How can you turn your back on him?”
But in the midst of my frustration, I remember that I have a little Egypt in me, too. Exodus 16:1–3 says,
They set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the people of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
When I say that I have a little Egypt in me, too, this is what I mean: Before Jesus set me free, or redeemed me through his sinless life, death, resurrection, and ascension from the Egypt called sin, death, and evil, I had ways of thinking and acting that allowed me superficially to get my needs met through sinning. The Bible calls this walking in the flesh (See Gal. 5:16–24). Just as the children of Israel longed for Egyptian meat pots and bread, we will long for the former things of life in Egypt when the heat of the desert sunburns our hearts with fears and doubts.
Why did the children of Israel complain?
1. They forgot God’s covenant promise to Abraham.
Just like you and me, the children of Israel forgot that their redemption was not just for them; it was a part of a bigger story. God preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham by making a covenant with him to bless all the families of the earth through him (Gen. 12:1–3; Gal. 3:8–9). Israel’s freedom was not about its comfort, but its character development to be God’s missionary people to the Gentiles living in darkness (See Ex. 19:5-6).
Just like you and me, the children of Israel forgot that their redemption was not just for them; it was a part of a bigger story.
2. They forgot the reason why God set them free.
They forgot that God set them free so they could worship him: “Let my son go, so he may worship me" (Ex. 4:23, NIV). God set Israel free from slavery so the people could worship him, and he sets us free from slavery to sin, death, and evil so we can worship him, too. It is by this worship that we are transformed into the image of Christ.
3. They forgot to trust God in the midst of difficult circumstances.
In the desert heat, the children of Israel’s faith wilted, just as hard circumstances can wilt our faith. They longed for the meat and bread of the Egyptians. In the midst of life’s trials, we, too, can long for the familiar even though it keeps us in bondage. In the midst of their unbelief and rebellion, God said to Moses, “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God’” (Ex. 16:12).
We all have a little Egypt in us. Let’s thank God that he has an infinite amount of grace to lavish on us.
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