I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m pretty tired of hearing the phrase “in these uncertain times.” Even without the reminders from television commercials and email advertisements, I think we’re all very aware of exactly how uncertain these times are. Just last week, I had to spend my morning drive praying through some feelings of anxiousness about not knowing what tomorrow may hold. As I was praying, the story of the people of Israel wandering in the wilderness popped into my mind.
After living in Egypt for over 400 years, most of those years in slavery, the Lord used Moses to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt and into freedom. I would imagine this was a very exciting time; walking out of the place where you’ve been a captive all your life, only to find that Pharaoh’s army is in pursuit, crossing the Red Sea on dry ground, then looking back to see Pharaoh’s army drowned in the water you just walked through safely. It is no wonder that Moses and the people sang and danced and rejoiced after this adventure the Lord carried them through!
But after things settled down, the uncertainty set in. As the people wandered in the wilderness, they began to doubt. They found themselves wondering, “Wasn’t it better for us before, back in Egypt?” They wondered if God really had a plan for them, if they’d ever arrive in the land he promised, and if he actually loved them at all. Inevitably, their unbelief led them to disobey, to turn from God, even to the point of making their own gods out of gold. Yikes.
We might scoff at Israel’s lack of endurance and belief. After all, the Lord had more than proven himself as faithful to them. Not only did he rescue them out of slavery in Egypt and destroy Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea, but he also provided for them continually in the wilderness. Every morning, the Lord rained down bread from heaven, and every evening he covered the ground with quail, providing bread and meat for the people to eat. When the people thirsted, the Lord commanded Moses to strike a rock with his staff and caused water to come out of it, allowing all the people to drink.
Not only did the Lord meet their physical needs, but he was also present with them. “And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people (Exodus 13:21-22).” At all times, the presence of God was with the people of Israel in the form of the pillars of cloud and fire. What more could they want?
Now, the people of Israel wandering in the wilderness for 40 years isn’t a perfect analogy for 2020, but I think we can relate to them when they cry out, “We want to go back! It was better before!” Like the Israelites, we may doubt, we may be tempted to disobey or not believe God. But like the Israelites, we also have assurance from God.
Just like the Lord gave the Israelites bread from heaven, he has given us “the true bread from heaven (John 6:32).” Unlike the bread that the Israelites ate in the wilderness, this bread gives us eternal life. Jesus himself tells us in John 6:51, “I am the living bread that comes down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Rather than manna or quail meat from heaven, God has given us his very Son, who has offered himself up to us as the Bread of Life.
Moses knocking on a rock and making water flow out of it had to be an incredible sight, but this water doesn’t begin to compare to the living water the Lord offers us. Jesus says in John 4 that he offers living water, and that “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again (John 4:14).” Not only does this water satisfy thirst, but it also becomes in the drinker “a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Jesus promises to satisfy our thirst.
Jesus gives his very self, the Bread of Life, the Living Water, to us. He also gives us the presence of God. We don’t have to watch the horizon for pillars of cloud or fire; he has given us the Holy Spirit, God himself, as our comforter, the guarantee of our inheritance. Before Jesus was arrested, he assured his disciples that the coming of the Spirit would be to their benefit: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you (John 14:26).” Jesus has not left us to wander through this world alone; he gives us the presence of God, the Holy Spirit in us.
We might look down on the Israelites, marveling at their disobedience when the Lord had proven his faithfulness and nearness to them over and over, all the while despairing over “these uncertain times” and wishing we could go back to 2019. The same God who brought the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt has brought us out of slavery to sin. He has given us Jesus, the Bread of Life and Living Water, and the Holy Spirit, his very presence in us. The Lord who rescued the people of Israel is the same God who is with us, and he has not changed. What he said of himself in Exodus 34:6-7 is still true, and our response should be the same as Moses’: “‘The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.’ And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped.”