October 28, 2014.
“All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?”
If you have been keeping up with my recent posts, I guess you can tell which part of the bible I have been spending some time in recently. For some reason it seems I always forget how interesting these stories at the beginning of Scripture truly. I tend to think that I’m going to have a hard time getting started at the beginning again, but I prove myself wrong. There are so many lessons to be learned and the revelation of the character of God is simply amazing. However, today I am not addressing a characteristic of God that is brought out in this story as well as some others, but a characteristic of man- a characteristic that we should be aware of and work hard to not let it interfere with our relationship with God.
When we pick up with the story that is referenced above, the children of Israel have just been led out of Egyptian bondage by way of mighty and overwhelming signs. By a strong hand had God reveled Himself to both the Egyptians and the Israelites, sending waves of plagues on the land of Egyptian until finally Pharaoh agreed to let the people go. But even when he released them, the Egyptians changed their minds about releasing the people and a great army pursued. In yet another spectacular show of His power, God had Moses part the Red Sea so that they might pass by on dry ground, and then He covered the sea over the Egyptians who pursued the children of Israel. If this wasn’t enough, God was with the children of Israel in a physical manifestation as a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. If there was ever a time in history where you could be undoubtedly sure through physical observation that God was and omnipotent, this was it, and there was a clear, specific indication of who was on the Lord’s side.
But then we come across the passage above, which is not alone in showing just how quickly the people lost faith in the Lord that He would protect them and give them the things they need. They had just seen the Red Sea parted, walked on the dry ground between two walls of water… but as soon as they got to a place where there was no water, they started grumbling and complaining against Moses, saying that he should have left them in Egypt. This is not the first time that the children of Israel automatically default back to their lives as slaves when danger presents itself. It is almost unfathomable to me how they could not see that the powerful hand of God was with them and that He could do anything to protect them, as He had already shown. But with a simple lack of water, they were distressed.
In the chapter immediately preceding this one, we see that a similar thing happens when the people run out of food.
“They set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the people of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
Even after the plagues, even after the parting of the Red Sea, even with the physical manifestation of God, they assumed that Moses had just brought them out into the wilderness to die. Where was their faith? Could not God do something so simple as to provide food and water for them? And He did! He provided manna and quail, but they still thought they were going to die when they couldn’t find anything to drink (even though earlier God had made bitter water good to drink). It baffles me how the people could think in such a way.
But then I think, do we not do the same thing? It is truly amazing how much influence our physical needs have over our actions. Things like food, water, shelter, love, ect. They control nearly everything we do and can even blind us to things as spectacular as the miraculous signs that God did in Egypt or that Christ did when he walked the earth. Jesus makes an interesting statement after he feeds the five thousand and they come looking for Him again.
“When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”
Jesus had done this great sign of feeding thousands of people with just a few loaves and fishes, but that’s not why they came looking for Him- they came because He gave them food. Their physical drive to eat was more motivation to seek Jesus than any sign that He did. Christ points this out and then tells them “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life…” This is a concept that we need to keep in mind when we are seeking Christ. Why are we seeking Him? Is it because of the love we have for Him and our calling to spread the gospel, or is it because we are looking to get something out of it? Maybe we have a big interview coming up, so we think it would be best to be on good terms with the Almighty so as to get the Job. Or maybe you have a test coming up, so you try to be extra spiritual in the week prior. I’ll admit that I have thought this way in the past, especially when I was very anxious about something. But that is not how the love of God works. Now, I’m not saying that we should then just go out and do whatever we want (that’s not how it works either). We should not sin so that grace may abound, as Paul would put it (cf. Rom. 6:1-4).
So often do our physical needs and drives take over our motives and actions even without our conscious knowledge. Personally, I have to be very conscious of when I get hungry as I tend to get quite irritable when I’m hungry. Usually I don’t even realize that I’m acting in this way until someone points it out to me. Thus I must take a step back from harshly judging the Israelites (though it still somewhat baffles me) and think that much of their motivation to complain and grumble came from the physical needs that weren’t being met at the time (though they would certainly be met given some time though the hand of God). Unfortunately, I think this is a characteristic that is common to the human race. When our needs aren’t met, we are not happy, and we will typically do whatever needs to be done to meet those needs, often through complaining and grumbling.
One of the reasons why I think we are instructed to love our neighbor and care for mankind is due to this basic principle. Even though Jesus makes the statement we looked at earlier about the reason the crowd was following Him, it still stands that He did in fact meet the physical need that the people had at the time. He fed them. He instructed His disciples to do the same. In one of the parables of the kingdom, he describes the righteous as such:
“And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”
We are to meet the needs of other people because that is love. That is doing what you would have others do unto you. That is the way we show the love of Christ. We can’t stop there, as we must also meet the spiritual needs of the people. Though the spiritual needs are indeed far more reaching and impactful in eternity, the world is not going to listen to the spiritual aspects of life until their physical needs are met. Would we? We must care for our fellow man, that we might express to him the greatest gift offered.
So, do our physical needs overtake our spiritual lives at times today? Does the fact that we are not wandering in the wilderness looking for food and water allow us to not think in this carnal way? I think our physical needs predominate more than we think they do. Why? Let’s look at a very well known passage once again.
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
Well, do you ever worry? O you of little faith. Do you ever complain about not having food, water or shelter? O you of little faith. Do you ever worry about money? O you of little faith. Obviously, I’m not actually rebuking here, as I too worry about these things from time to time. But what does the passage say? O you of little faith. That sounds harsh, does it not? But these are the words of Christ. He will supple our ever need if we seek His kingdom. Guaranteed. Period. Signed God. (Not our every want, but our every need)
We need to be conscious when our physical needs overtake our spirituality and work to counteract this effect. The Lord is on our side, whom shall we fear? Yet we still do, and probably will continue to do. But if we are ever reaching towards perfection, then we will achieve even though we fail, via the hand of God and the blood of Christ which makes us whole.
Suggested Daily Reading: Exodus 10, 16, 17, Romans 8.
Grace and peace.