Israel’s Question

The texts for the Narrative Lectionary this week are Exodus 14:5-7, 10-14, 21-29 (just say Exodus 14, it’s just annoying for them to leave snippets out! Ok, got that out of my system) and the Gospel text is Matthew 2:13-15. The very familiar story of the Exodus is one of the overarching themes of the Bible. So much is happening in this text.  Dr. Cory Driver notes the many movements of the text: 

The Israelite experience of freedom was deeply confusing: 
The Israelites were freed with gifts of gold and silver. 
And then they were pursued by an army. 
And then Moses told them to be still and see what God would do. 
And then God told them to stop standing still and move forward.
And then the pillar that had been leading them moved behind them.
And then they walked through the depths of a sea on dry land.
And then the army pursued them.
And then the army was drowned.

The question that the children of Israel ask has always stood out to me. 

Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us out into the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? – Exodus 14:11

I could probably read too much of myself into this text. I’m the king of second-guessers. I can feel so sure about something one minute, then wonder if it’s the right path the next. The children of Israel were rich with the gold of the Egyptians. They were free. They were following a leader who demonstrated that God was with him through ten plagues. After 400 years of oppression, people who had only known themselves as slaves marched victoriously out of the hands of their heavy-handed master. 

But with a sea before them and an aggressive army behind them, they began to second guess this decision. 

Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert! – Exodus 14:12

I am wondering what Moses was thinking at this point. He flounders a little. What do we do? we just stay put and trust that God will deliver us. But God doesn’t intend for them to stay put. He wants them to move forward. And when his providential pathway opens up, they do.

I’ve been there, haven’t you?

When tragedy strikes we can wonder, “God, is this the best you can do?”

When we are victimized by others we can think, “Lord, I’m doing what I can on this end… but there’s so much pain to deal with and it seems like you’re just busy somewhere else.”

When our lives have fallen apart we can ponder, “Maybe I should just give up on God and live however I want. It can’t get any worse.”

God, are you there? No path forward? Going backward seems … somehow safer? More comfortable? I wonder if God is going to do anything? 

I’m sure there was that moment when the children of Israel bathed in their doubts, but then God came through when He knew it was the best time to do so. This did not stop the children of Israel from ever doubting again … by a longshot. But it did give them a clear picture. 

And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant. – Exodus 14:31

Israel’s question was answered. Moses didn’t bring them out into the desert to die, but to live. 

If you study/preach with the Narrative Lectionary you are invited to my Facebook group called Narrative Lectionarians where I’ll share resources each week.  JD