Is the LORD Among Us or Not?

One of the things to look for as you read the bible are patterns: patterns of literature, patterns of speech, and in narratives such as Exodus, patterns of repeated behavior (see Genesis 1 where God creates and repeats five times “And God saw that it was good” or how Abraham kept lying that Sarah was his sister to protect himself). Have you noticed how often, already, the Israelites have gone to Moses complaining about something? At least four times they’ve gone grumbling to Moses (see 14:11-12; 15:23-24; 16:2-3 {my favorite}; 17:3). “We were better off in Egypt!” “Remember the good old days, we had protection. We had meat in our pots. We had water to drink.”

Their whining is all the more remarkable when you consider they’ve had a front row seat for a whole series of amazing miracles wrought by God to deliver and preserve them... the plagues on Egypt and then the Red Sea crossing to name just a couple! Israel grumbled about wanting water only three days after God swallowed up Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea, three days! 

Israel’s heart is summed up by their question in 17:7 “Is the Lord among us or not?” In other words, if the Lord is really with us we won’t ever be uncomfortable, hungry, thirsty, or threatened.

I think Exodus is so interesting because Israel has no idea why God has led them out of Egypt. They have no idea what God means when he says “I will take you to be my people and I will be your God.” The people of Israel are so completely focused on the physical they can’t possibly understand that God is focused on their spiritual life as he leads them through the wilderness. For example, did you catch how when God supplied manna to quiet their demand for food he used their grumbling as an opportunity to teach them about the Sabbath (Exodus 16)?

It is into this mess of mundane human squabble and self-centeredness - complaining about the food and water and lining up for hours to have Moses settle their arguments - that God delivers the Ten Commandments. Not only does he give them ten, he begins in chapter 20 to give them a whole series of rules about how to relate to each other and how to relate to him.

It is evident from the very beginning of God’s relationship with Israel that if anything good is going to come of it, it is going to require God to be continually faithful to the covenant he made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (see Moses’s plea to God in 32:13) and it is going to require God’s continual grace. 

God sacrificed the first born of Israel’s lambs and the first born of all Egypt to free Israel from bondage and slavery. Yet Israel can only think the bondage they’ve been freed from is a physical one. But God is moving in history to create a people who are different than any other people in history, not because they have wealth and power, but because of Who they worship.

You can see it coming. The pattern of the people is at odds with the purpose and plan of God. So even as Moses stands on the mountain with God receiving the Ten Commandments, the people below are doing what people do, seeking joy in the physical and forging gods they think will give them what they want. In Exodus 25-31 even as God is teaching Moses about the provision he has made for a sinful people to worship their Holy God, the people are running back to the gods of the Egyptians. 

Don’t let it be lost on you. The narrative of Israel is our narrative. Their tendency to worship their comfort is our tendency. But their faithful God is our faithful God, too. He has made ultimate provision for us in Jesus. May God give us eyes to see his miraculous provision even as we wander through the wilderness.