Imagine being enslaved for 80 years by an oppressive regime, forced to build a kingdom you would never enjoy. Imagine the last year of that reign being the worst, in which your quota was increased and your raw materials were no longer provided. Just try to imagine the hopelessness you would experience in this environment, working your tail off just so you and your family can survive the day without being verbally or physically harassed. I don’t know about you, but I can’t. I can’t even imagine any of this.
Then, imagine what it must have felt like to be saved from this life of slavery through the epic works of God Almighty (which you can read about in the book of Exodus, chapters 7-14). You see with your own eyes these weird plagues in which locusts and frogs and gnats and hail and death completely take over and ruin your oppressor & his people, causing him to eventually let you go. As you and your family are packing your bags, his people start giving you all of their finest and most valuable items in the fear of the God who is on your side. (Now that would be pretty cool. I’ll take that Mercedes…thank you!)
Then, as you finally feel safe away from the misery of that life, this dictator changes his mind and comes after you with the full strength of his powerful military. It’s in this moment that fear grips you tighter than it ever has, as you nor anyone around you has a weapon to fight back. No one in your midst has any training in combat, and you are trapped at the edge of a large body of water as the charging soldiers close in. You’ve come all this way only to see it end in tragedy.
And then, God Almighty performs His greatest act in your lifetime, even better than the plagues and the exodus from Egypt. This time He holds back the charging army with a pillar of fire, and then He opens up the sea behind you so that a clear, dry path of land appears before you, and you walk through the sea to safety on the other side. Then, as all of your people make it safely across the strip of dry land in the middle of the sea, and the army is now on your tail seeking to enslave you once again or kill you, God closes up the sea and destroys the entire army. Are you capturing the magnitude of these events? I mean, this had to be a really big deal; a memory you would never forget, right? An experience that would maintain your belief in God for the rest of your life, right?
Well, that’s what I would have thought for the Israelites who experienced this incredible journey out of being enslaved by the Pharaohs in Egypt, but I would be wrong. You see, the Israelites had this incredible ability to forget about what God had done, and to do so quickly. And you know what, we are the same way. We’d like to think we would have been wiser, that we would have remembered God better than they did, but as I read in chapters 16 & 17, I unfortunately see myself in these wanderers in the desert. Maybe you do too! Here’s what happened.
As Moses is leading the Israelites through the wilderness, they get hungry, and they start complaining to Moses and Aaron about it, telling them that they would have been better off back in Egypt as slaves than being hungry (and FREE) out in the wilderness. Can you imagine ever saying that? “I’d rather be back in slavery than where I am right now.” Pretty crazy thought.
So God, in His love and compassion for His people, comes through with bread that falls from the sky, and He instructs the Israelites to only pick up what they needed for that day because whatever was left over would spoil. Well, of course, there were some non-rule followers among them who believed they knew better. That totally would have been me. (You know who I’m talking about: the kind of people that walk right into places they aren’t supposed to be, and they make everyone around them uncomfortable.) These rule-breakers decided they were going to pick up more than they needed so that they had the next day covered. They were smarter than God, and, of course, they were wrong. The leftover bread spoiled with worms and a foul odor. Lesson learned, right?
God also tells them to pick up twice as much bread as the need on the sixth day of the week because the seventh day is the Sabbath, a day of rest, and there would be no bread to pick up on that day. He promises the bread won’t spoil being held overnight- no worms, no stank, but some of the Israelites, I’m assuming some of these same rule-breakers, didn’t listen…again. When they went out to gather bread on the Sabbath, there was no bread on the ground to pick up, just as God had said. And those that had picked up twice as much, their bread didn’t spoil overnight, just as God had said.
I have often commented to my wife that I’m happy to follow instructions…when they make sense. Anyone else said something like that? Sounds good to us, but that’s not always how God works. Sometimes He tells us to do things that don’t make any sense in the moment, but it’s always in our best interest to obey, and often, the understanding comes later as we see the result of our obedience. But sometimes we never understand why God tells us to do something, but that’s not the point. God is God, and we are not. Just as God sustained the Israelites in their obedience to His commands, He does the same for us today as we obey Him, whether we understand or not.
And, unfortunately for those of us who struggle following instructions, it starts in the little things, like following the speed limit and not using our mobile devices while we’re driving, or being honest when we’ve made mistakes and apologizing for it. Dear Jesus, please teach us to be faithful in the little things so that we will be faithful in the bigger things You have for us (Luke 16:10).