God had just delivered his people, the Israelites, from the hands of the Egyptians. The Israelites had been living in Egypt for over four hundred years, and God had promised that he would lead them out. But the waiting had been long and hard. Over time, the Israelites became slaves of Egypt. They worked hard, but the work was for the benefit of Egypt. Not for the Israelites. Oh sure. During the long period of years they were in Egypt, they prospered. They grew from seventy people to a nation of millions. There was an abundance of food to go around, so their tables were always full. But the work was backbreaking. Their job was to build the cities of Pithom and Rameses, the supply centers for Pharaoh. And they weren’t free people. They couldn’t just walk away.
Then there’s Moses. He had a checkered past with Israel and Egypt. He was born to an Israelite couple, but he was raised in Pharaoh’s palace. By Pharaoh’s daughter, none the less. Because before Moses was born, Pharoah became very concerned when he realized the Israelites outnumbered the Egyptians. He was afraid that if war broke out, the Israelites might side with his enemies and fight against him. That’s when he made them his slaves. Then he ordered the midwives to kill all the Hebrew baby boys upon their birth. The midwives rebelled and said no. So the Israelite camp continued to grow. It was during that time when Moses was born. When he was a very young infant, his mother put him in a basket and set it adrift in the Nile River. Pharaoh’s daughter found the baby boy in the basket and raised him as her own.
Now, here we are. Moses is eighty years old and has returned from Midian to free the Israelites from Egypt. And through a series of plagues and broken promises by Pharaoh, the Israelites are once again a free nation. They are homeward bound. It’s Canaan or bust.
Oh. I’m sure the Israelites were excited about the prospect of leaving their prison land behind. After all, their ancestors arrived in Egypt as free people. But little did they know that throughout the years, they would become forced labor for the Pharoah’s pet projects. And now God was redeeming them from slavery and moving them back home to Canaan. How exciting for them to know that they would be returning to the place of their ancestors. There must have been some fear of the unknown, though. After all. None of these people had lived anywhere except for Egypt. They had no idea what to expect on their journey or in their new homeland. They just knew they were following Moses as he received direction from God.
The distance from Egypt to Canaan was roughly a week’s journey. On foot. Some of their forefathers had made the trip more than once and survived without mishap. But this group was much larger and more demanding. It would be the trip of a lifetime. To put it mildly.
Early on, the Israelites began to complain when they heard the foreigners traveling with them do the same. It didn’t take long for them to miss the good food Egypt had to offer. Now they were eating manna three times a day. Manna was a miracle food that God provided for them every morning, but they soon tired of it. They missed the variety of foods that were readily available in Egypt. Didn’t they realize the trip from Egypt to Canaan wasn’t really that long? They wouldn’t be eating manna forever. They weren’t trusting God. They were thinking only of themselves. They had lost sight of the promise God had given to liberate them from their Egyptian slave drivers and give them a new home. They forgot the price they might have to pay in order to arrive in Canaan. Freedom isn’t always free.
Complaining never pays.
With your unfailing love you lead the people you have redeemed. In your might, you guide them to your sacred home. Exodus 15:13
Then the foreign rabble who were traveling with the Israelites began to crave the good things of Egypt. And the people of Israel also began to complain. “Oh, for some meat!” they exclaimed. “We remember the fish we used to eat for free in Egypt. And we had all the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic we wanted. But now our appetites are gone. All we ever see is this manna!” Numbers 11:4-6
The Israelites took their eye off the prize. A bit of suffering, sacrifice, and perseverance to get to the goal is worth it in the end. They forgot that. Oh. They had heard the stories of their ancestors making the trip from Canaan to Egypt. They heard all the details. The packing. The walking. The herds of livestock. And they heard how they finally arrived in Egypt and settled in. But that was then. It’s one thing to hear the heroic stories of your ancestors. And it’s a completely different story to actually live it yourself.
So. Why were they so disgruntled? Why did this one week journey turn into a 40-year trip? It was so unnecessary. Or. Was it? Sometimes, we only learn the lesson of dependence on God through the long obedience. Our stubborn hearts and insistence on doing things our own way spells trouble. But we’re too selfish to see it. And God took them through a longer route, because he knew they had wayward hearts. He knew that if he took them through enemy territory that they would become distracted and want to return to Egypt. He knew they might become weak from fear when facing their enemies. He couldn’t have that. He needed their entire attention and devotion pointing straight toward him. Oh. It was a long lesson for his people to learn. But he led them through the wilderness in spite of their complaints and idol worship. He never reneged on the covenant he had made with his chosen people.
Did these people, the chosen nation of God, waste forty years of their lives? It was a death sentence for those aged twenty and above. They would never see the promised land. And those under twenty and born later must wait to receive the promise. For forty years, they ate manna every day while the abundance and variety of fresh food was just across the river. All because of disobedience to God. Their fathers and uncles and brothers didn’t trust God to take care of them, when he had promised that he would. They didn’t trust that he was giving them the land of promise. He said he would deliver the land to them, but they would have to clear it of their enemies. The land was plentiful and spacious. But lack of faith cost a generation the fulfillment of God’s promise.
So many times when we’re in the middle of a wilderness journey, we want to take the shortcut to peace and prosperity. Or whatever it is we’re hoping for. But the long road of obedience is where the pruning and the shaping and the growing occurs. We’re a stubborn people set upon our own ways. In order for God to bend our wills to his, he allows the long path of life to lead us to him. If we’re bendable. If we’re willing to learn from hard lessons that life isn’t fair or easy. Life isn’t quick and perfect. Faith and perseverance grow as we journey through life. It’s a sanctifying process each day we walk the journey. But the eternal end is worthwhile if we stay the path that leads to the Promised Land.
We don’t have to eat manna for forty years. We can believe God’s promises are true and will be fulfilled in his time. We know God is faithful. Our job is to hold the enemy at bay and fight for our God. Full surrender to God’s will and guidance will lead us to the land of plenty. We must remain faithful.