Numbers 21:4-5 “They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!’”
Is it hard for us to understand the Israelites’ reaction? Moses tells us they grew impatient. Put yourselves in their place. They had been wandering for almost forty years now. They were getting tired of it. I like camping, but a week or two is all I need. Imagine forty years in a tent, in all kinds of weather, in a campground with a population in the millions! Besides that, your neighbor didn’t just bring his dog along. He has a couple of dozen sheep. Now news came of another detour ahead. They faced another delay on the way to the Promised Land. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
So the people complained. “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert?” The nation faced no immediate threat of death. That was an exaggeration. But why had the Lord led them out of Egypt? That wasn’t hard to answer. After centuries of slavery, Israel had begged God to get them out. Then the Lord answered their prayers. For Israel, Egypt had hardly been the garden spot of the world. Pharaoh attempted to work them to death, literally. When they became stronger instead, he commanded that all their sons be murdered at birth. Life in the desert was a blessing by comparison.
Israel’s reaction shouldn’t strike us as strange. We still pray for things, then complain after we receive them. We see our children do it. Perhaps you know children who have begged to have a pet. “Not unless you take care of it,” mom and dad insisted. But after more pleas and promises, mom and dad finally give in. Not much later, Junior is complaining, “Why do I have to take care of this stupid dog?” Well, it was an answer to his prayers, of course.
Adults do it, too. Someone has trouble making ends meet, or doesn’t get along where they work. They pray and pray for a promotion or a new job. Soon, that’s exactly what happens. But along with the extra income come extra hours and more stress. “Why did this job have to happen to me?” the disgruntled employee moans. Wasn’t it simply an answer to prayers? Things weren’t perfect in the old situation, either.
Israel’s complaints continued: “There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” The Sinai Peninsula was very dry, and it provided very little water naturally, but these people had never actually had to do without. Rather, the situation led to their witnessing miracles as God provided water by his almighty power on more than one occasion.
And no bread? Again, the manna came by way of miracle. It’s not hard for us to understand how 40 years of boiled manna, baked manna, and fried manna; manna for breakfast, manna for lunch, manna for supper; got old. But they didn’t have to plow, or plant, or cultivate to get it. Harvesting was as easy as stepping out of your tent and picking it up off the ground. Did they really have a reason to complain?
Do we? So many of our problems exist mainly because of our point of view. So many of our problems are a failure to see or appreciate God’s providence. Is the house or apartment really too small? Is the car really too old? Are the children actually too rebellious, the friends too unsympathetic, the spouse too inattentive? Are our health problems as unbearable as we make them out to be? Do we have a right to be so impatient and irritable because of a year and a half of changes COVID 19 has made to our lifestyles?
Or, when we look at how our parents and grandparents lived, when we look at how people in most of the rest of the world live, has God really taken quite miraculous care of us living in 21st Century America? We still enjoy the highest standard of living in history, the least poverty, the best medicine, the fairest government, and a list of further advantages that could go on for pages.
On top of all this, our Lord has remained our loving Savior, our faithful deliverer all along. He forgives no less sins than he forgave a hundred or a thousand years ago. He has not changed the terms of our redemption. It still is his free gift. Our own Promised Land still waits at the end of our own earthly journey. God never said that the trip to the Promised Land would be easy, quick, or pleasant. He doesn’t want us to mistake the wilderness for home. But he also does much to make the journey bearable. Don’t miss the many examples of his grace along the way.