Written by Mark C. Pederson, Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church
Change is sometimes painful. We tend to change our ways when the pain we are experiencing causes us to reflect on our lives and consider new ways. This story is filled with people who forget. Pharaoh forgets all the pain that has been inflicted on him and the people of Egypt because of their harsh treatment of God’s people. When he looks back, all he can see is the slave labor he allowed to walk away into the wilderness. The people of Israel forget all that God has done for them, all the miraculous signs, and are filled with fear. They are also filled with longing for “the good old days” when they were slaves and forced to work without pay or dignity. In other words this story is filled with human beings who find change difficult.
But God does not change. God is faithful (if a bit miffed at the people’s unbelief!) God has set a trap for the war machine of the mighty empire. In a way you could view this whole episode as a practice in passive resistance. The people have been oppressed and God has delivered them. They are again terrorized by the power of Egypt, and God shows them a way out. Notice that might does not make right in this story. God has lined up with the poor, the oppressed, the homeless, the wanderers.
Resisting the powers of this world is scary stuff. It is much easier just to go along and get along. The wilderness is a scary place. It is filled with nothing. There is nothing to eat, nothing to drink. It is hot during the day and cold a night. It is a place of evil and suffering. It is also where so many spiritual leaders have gone to find direction and purpose. Jesus starts his public ministry after spending 40 days in the wilderness. Most of the prophets of the Old Testament also spend time there. Dan Erlander says that the people of Israel are heading off into the wilderness school where God will teach them important life lessons.
And then there is the whining! God has done all this amazingly powerful work for the people and they want to go back to slavery, to what is known. They are filled with fear and think they are going into the wilderness to die. God orders the people to do a few things. #1 is to keep their mouths shut–stop complaining and whining! #2 Get moving! God is going to perform another dramatic saving action for the people. Of course that is not going to stop their whining.
We like to think of ourselves (especially in the western US) as rugged individualists. As we age, we make sure that we have adequate savings and long term care insurance because we don’t want to be a burden on our children. The truth is that as a society we are totally dependent on other people. There are not a whole lot of items I can make for myself. If you doubt that, try making a $15 toaster from scratch. Everything, every breath we take, every ounce of water we drink, is a gift from God. The people of Israel are going to experience this first hand. They won’t know where the next meal is coming from, or where they are going to find water.
Perhaps we need to experience wilderness occasionally, need to experience hunger, or a place without comforts to remind us of all we have. I’m beginning to see that our identity as consumers is a major problem with our spiritual growth. We can’t spend our way closer to God, but our resources could bring God closer to those who are suffering. It’s scary at first, to let go, but God is waiting to show us dramatic changes in our lives. Luckily, God is VERY patient!
Quotes for the Week
“To be vital, faith must be accompanied by self sacrifice and unselfish, constructive action.”
“First of all, we had to quit playing God. It didn’t work.” Alcoholics Anonymous
“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” George Bernard Shaw
“The more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you, in proportion to your fear of being hurt. The one who does most to avoid suffering is, in the end, the one who suffers most.” Thomas Merton
“Do not depend on the hope of results. You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. You gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.” Ibid
“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit.” Edward Abbey
1st Lesson Exodus 14:10-14 & 21-29 (The Message)
0-12 As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up and saw them—Egyptians! Coming at them!
They were totally afraid. They cried out in terror to God. They told Moses, “Weren’t the cemeteries large enough in Egypt so that you had to take us out here in the wilderness to die? What have you done to us, taking us out of Egypt? Back in Egypt didn’t we tell you this would happen? Didn’t we tell you, ‘Leave us alone here in Egypt—we’re better off as slaves in Egypt than as corpses in the wilderness.’”
13 Moses spoke to the people: “Don’t be afraid. Stand firm and watch God do the work of salvation for you today. Take a good look at the Egyptians today for you’re never going to see them again.
14 God will fight the battle for you.
And you? You keep your mouths shut!”
21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea and God, with a terrific east wind all night long, made the sea go back. He made the sea dry ground. The seawaters split.
22-25 The Israelites walked through the sea on dry ground with the waters a wall to the right and to the left. The Egyptians came after them in full pursuit, every horse and chariot and driver of Pharaoh racing into the middle of the sea. It was now the morning watch. God looked down from the Pillar of Fire and Cloud on the Egyptian army and threw them into a panic. He clogged the wheels of their chariots; they were stuck in the mud.
The Egyptians said, “Run from Israel! God is fighting on their side and against Egypt!”
26 God said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea and the waters will come back over the Egyptians, over their chariots, over their horsemen.”
27-28 Moses stretched his hand out over the sea: As the day broke and the Egyptians were running, the sea returned to its place as before. God dumped the Egyptians in the middle of the sea. The waters returned, drowning the chariots and riders of Pharaoh’s army that had chased after Israel into the sea. Not one of them survived.
29-31 But the Israelites walked right through the middle of the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall to the right and to the left. God delivered Israel that day from the oppression of the Egyptians.
Questions for the Week
Have you ever spent time in a wilderness? What were your experiences there?
How do you stand up to oppression, suffering and abuse?
Have you ever felt as though you were trapped in your life with no way out? What was that like?