The whole congregation of the Israelites set out from Elim; and 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. The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
Can you imagine: the Israelites are only 45 days out of Egypt, only 45 days from God’s miraculous victory at the Red Sea. And they are complaining! Wanting to go back to the bondage of Egypt! Long forgotten is their song of praise on the shores of the Red Sea: “The LORD is my strength and my might, and he has become my salvation” (Exodus 15:2). Just 45 days into the Wilderness and the Israelites’ memory of enslaved life is better than life really was. Slaves in Egypt didn’t normally sit by their fleshpots and eat their fill of bread.
The Apostle Paul reminds that “these things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us” (I Corinthians 10:11). There is so much here to instruct anyone on an Exodus journey! They are not held up to us as a model, but as a mirror. I look at them and can often see myself.
Just like the Israelites we can react to the difficulties of the Wilderness by idealizing the past. We remember a relationship as better than it was. Or a job, a city, a house, is remembered, as they never were. We can find it difficult to let go the past even when we know it was dysfunctional and destructive to us. In the Wilderness we are tempted to go backwards, to regress, rather than trust God to lead us forward to the Promised Land.
When I was a chaplain at a juvenile prison I sometimes saw a young man deliberately get into trouble on the day of his release. Having become used to three meals a day and the predictability of prison life, he was afraid to go free. Similarly, in the Wilderness we can long for the bondage of ‘Egypt’. But God commands: “Follow me!”
- Have you ever found it difficult to let go of something, someone, or a past that you knew was keeping you from journeying forward?
- Is there something dysfunctional and destructive that God is calling you to leave behind on your Exodus journey? If there is, talk with God about it now. You might also talk about it with a trusted friend, counselor, or pastor.
- Talk with God about any fears you have about moving forward.