I love the Old Testament. The stories are wonderful, and the reason I enjoy them so much is because I don't see history being reported in them; I see the present. I don't see them as stories about the Israelites or the Egyptians or the Babylonians; I see them as being stories about us. I see in them our obstinacy. I see our disobedience. I see our rebellion. And, as the story that follows will show, I see our doubt. Read it carefully. It's about you.
For many years, under the powerful protection of Joseph, the Israelites enjoyed great prosperity in Egypt. But soon after Joseph—and the Pharaoh he served under—died, things began to turn bad. A new Pharaoh ascended to the throne, and fearing that the Israelites would become greater than the Egyptians, he brought them all into bondage. Afflicted and tyrannized, the Israelites cried out for deliverance until, one day, God decided the time had come to answer their prayers.
He sent Moses to Pharaoh with the message to let the Israelites go or face the consequences. Pharaoh wasn't impressed and sent Moses packing. Forced to play hard ball, God unleashed a string of plagues on the Egyptians. The stubborn ruler refused to budge until—ten plagues, and much misery, later—God struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, including Pharaoh's own son. Pharaoh and the terror stricken Egyptians now couldn't wait to see the backs of the Israelites and threw them out en masse.
Thus began the Exodus, as the delighted Israelites put together their belongings and left the city towards their freedom. A few days later, however, God hardened Pharaoh's heart yet again [see I Will Harden Pharaoh's Heart]. The ruler amassed his troops and raced after the Israelites, intending to inflict severe punishment upon them. They caught up with them at the Red Sea.
As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” (Exodus 14:10-12)
Moses told the grumbling people not to worry. “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still” (Exodus 14:13).
Psalm 106 gives a Reader's Digest type condensed version of the events that followed:
He rebuked the Red Sea, and it became dry; he led them through the deep as through a desert. So he saved them from the hand of the foe, and delivered them from the hand of the enemy. The waters covered their adversaries; not one of them was left. Then they believed his words; they sang his praise. (Psalm 106: 9-12)
What an amazing miracle! God parted the waters and led the Israelites through dry land. Then, to ensure that the Egyptians never troubled them again, he destroyed all of them. The Israelites were right to sing his praise. But they made one mistake: they sang his praise on the wrong side of the river!
It is easy to praise God when victory has been won. It is easy to praise Him when you finally got a job after giving up all hope. It is easy to praise Him when you have recovered from an illness that doctors told you there was no cure for. It is easy to praise Him when all the debts that threatened to land you in prison have been cleared. But we are required to praise Him before victory has been achieved, because we should have the faith that He will grant us the victory.
God does not expect us to put our faith in him "blindly", any more than he expected the Israelites to. God had given them plenty of reason to put their trust in him. Through ten of the most awful plagues imaginable, he had kept the Israelites safe from harm. He got Pharaoh, the most powerful man in the world at the time (quite possibly of all time), to throw open the city gates and grant them their freedom. He had given them supernatural indications of His presence on their exodus in "a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night. 22 Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people"(Exodus 13:21-22).
Yet, they doubted! And even as we shame them for doubting, we shame ourselves. God has given us plenty of reason to trust Him too. The very fact that you are reading this is reason enough. You could be in war-torn Baghdad wondering if you're going to be blown up in the next blast. You could be a beggar in a Bombay slum not knowing where your next meal is going to come from. You could be lying in a hospital with AIDS counting your last hours on the planet. Instead, you are here, reading about the Israelites faith—or lack of it.
There are a million other signs that God gives us, but we don't even see them as coming from God because we take all of it for granted. Did you have a bath today? Doesn't strike you as miraculous, does it? But if you pause a moment to realize that some folks don't have water to drink, an ordinary act that you never gave a second thought to might take on an entirely new perspective. Ditto for just about every other thing that happens in your life.
But we don't see the signs and we doubt just like the Israelites did. Consequently, in moments of trial when all we need to do is be still and let God take care of the situation for us, we run about like chickens with their heads lopped off trying to "do something". If we don't, we believe we will perish. Consider what might have happened to the Israelites if they had tried to fix the problem at the Red Sea themselves. They would have junked all their belongings and jumped into the sea, trying to swim to safety. How far do you think any of them would have got?
We do the same, trying to swim across vast seas instead of just putting our faith in God, who will part the seas for us and let us walk through without getting so much as a toe wet! God wants to perform miracles in our lives today, but He won't when we doubt. Even Jesus refused to perform any miracles in his own hometown because the people lacked faith (Mt. 13:58).
Not that miracles stop people doubting. Read what the very next line in Psalm 106 says: "But they soon forgot his works" (Psalm 106:13).
Can you believe it? God had performed one of the greatest miracles He had ever performed in sight of man, parting the waters of a huge sea to let an entire nation cross over and be saved from what looked like certain death. Almost immediately, however, they forgot what He had done! How could they? Especially when God was still doing supernatural things for them at the time! When they were hungry, he rained manna down from heaven. When they were thirsty he had Moses smite a rock with his staff and had water gushing forth. Their clothes didn't tear; their shoes didn't wear out; they had all the stamina they needed! But they forgot everything that God had done for them and began doubting Him again.
Eventually, their continued doubting made the Israelites lose their role as messengers of salvation to the world. It is a role that has now come upon us to fulfill. Let us not make the same mistakes the Israelites made and fail too. Let us not doubt God, a sin He abhors. Let us put our trust in him. And when the occasion requires it, let us be still.
May the Spirit be with you.