And as Pharaoh drew near, the sons of Israel looked, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they became very frightened; so the sons of Israel cried out to the Lord. Then they said to Moses, “Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you dealt with us in this way, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the word that we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.”
While God’s strategy was working perfectly, the Hebrews weren’t too sure they liked the implications. As they saw Pharaoh and his vast army of chariots getting closer to its human prey, the Israelites became very frightened. A natural reaction no matter how strong a faith someone has. But you have to love the way the next phrase is written, at least in the NASB. It says, “ . . . so (they) cried out to the Lord.” As if to say, that’s the time we call out to the Lord. And that’s absolutely true – as long – as long as it is not the only time you cry out to the Lord. Sometimes God wants us to cry to Him on behalf of the injustice that befalls others, not just ourselves. And most often, He desires our cries of joy in praise to Him. But, our human natures, makes us most likely to remember God more often and more readily when we are frightened. For the Hebrews this would not be the first time they cried out to God while they were in the wilderness after their fleeing from Egypt.
And I suppose if that were their only action, it would not be too bad, and certainly understandable. But it was not. The Hebrews went on to behave like many of us do which I am sure was a disappointment to both God and to those that were doing His bidding. First they became sarcastic. Their statement to Moses with respect to available graves in Egypt was pure sarcasm. As Christians we need to watch our sarcasm. While it may sound that it is only a matter of the ‘mouth’ since it comes in ‘oral form’, the truth is that it is often a matter of the ‘heart’. It reflects what we are really feeling in the situation. Secondly, it disappoints God who loves us and protects us through the storm before us. Thirdly, it impacts others, both believers and non-believers, who hear us – sometimes hurting them, sometimes helping convince non-believers that they can well do without our kind of faith.
But the grumbling of the Hebrews did not stop at sarcasm. They took it one step further. They blamed Moses, God’s agent and their appointed leader. “Why did you bring us here to die?” Those who follow someone else’s dream not having adopted it as their own have often repeated that question time and time again through the ages. I imagine family-members of pioneers said it. I imagine pilgrims said it. I imagine soldiers dying overseas have said it. And so on. I think it is important that we know what plans and futures we are following. Do they belong to men or to God? And have we made them ours? If not, you are not ready to go because undoubtedly if the future is worth it, there will be challenges ahead and sacrifices will need to be made – sometimes some very costly ones. But once you make God’s plans for you your very own – then only total obedience and complete trust will see you through safely to the end. That is the only way to maximize on what God has in store for us.
The Hebrews seem to have forgotten that God, through Moses, was leading them out of their “slavery”. How soon we forget the horrible circumstances we were in when our passage out gets tough? I think of individuals who are living with abusive partners. They decide to leave and make an effort to do so. But then when things get difficult, they wish they had stayed with the devil they knew. If we feel that way about our past – about our sins – then I believe we are just not ready to leave them behind.
In fact, the children of Israel told Moses that they had begged him to leave them alone so that they could go one serving the Egyptians in slavery. Never mind all the feasts they had before leaving. They were forgotten. Can you imagine how Moses must have felt when he heard them complaining? Can you imagine how a father doing his best to move to a new frontier for the betterment of his family would feel in such circumstances when his wife and children begin to curse him for doing so? Can you imagine how a missionary being obedient to God in going to the mission would feel if his/her parents, siblings, spouse, or children kept expressing their disappointment and/or disgust? Can you imagine how God Who wants you out of your sin feels when you prefer to stay there?
And then the clincher: “It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die here.” No hope. Just despair. No faith. No trust. No God in the equation.
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