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Exodus 15:2226; 16:24, 3135 comment (0)

July 20, 2006

By Carol Ann Vaughn, Ph.D.

Related Scripture: Exodus 15:2226; 16:24, 3135

Family Bible Study
Director, Christian Women’s Leadership Center, Samford University

I Will Remain Loyal to God’s Work in My Life
Exodus 15:22–26; 16:2–4, 31–35

In their journey from slavery to freedom, the Israelites went through stages of what we might see as a “Pilgrim’s Progress:” they escaped bondage, survived ordeals in the wilderness, fought their way into paradise and learned to cultivate the garden of graces they received during their testing.

Long before the Israelites arrived in the promised land, they stumbled through a wilderness, where God provided sustenance for their needs: springs of water, shade trees, manna and quail. Throughout the Bible, “the wilderness” is a place of both testing and God’s provision (Isa. 40:3–5; Hos. 2:14–15; Matt. 4:1; Rev. 12:6). Sometimes the tests involve suffering.

Human suffering, shared by Jesus, often defies simple explanations. Some suffering results from consequences of our own actions. Other suffering, such as natural disasters, is beyond our control. The lesson of suffering in the Bible is in our response to it. We can allow it to mature our faith, or we can miss its miracles and meaning. 

The Israelites asked the usual questions: If God is all-powerful and good, why does He allow us to suffer? Like the Israelites, we hunger for assurance that God is committed to our well-being, even if we cannot understand complete answers to our questions. 

Even after experiencing the miracles at the Red Sea and Marah, the Israelites lost heart. When it seemed that God had provided relief, the relief was bitter. Fearful, they imagined that God had malevolent intentions toward them.
Unsurprisingly they blamed Moses. They preferred the “good old days” of slavery to their present struggles. Yet, in spite of their short memories and unbelief, God gave them miracles, reminders that they were still in God’s care. In the wilderness, the Israelites learned — again and again — the meaning of complete dependence on God. 

How many of us stop climbing God’s ladder when the going gets tough? How do you respond when you feel God is “testing” you?

The word “tested” may be translated “proved.”

Test-taking can be a revelation, both in school and in life. Tests demonstrate to us and to others what we know and what we have yet to learn about what God is doing in our life. The Israelites’ tests revealed that God is Healer, Sustainer and Provider. God says, “I AM the LORD, who heals you.” 

Although the Israelites often failed their tests of faith, God always cared for them as they journeyed toward the promised land. The Exodus story shows us repeatedly that people cried out for help, God heard them and answered. We also try, are tried, fail and receive grace from God (See 1 Cor. 10:11–13). We can respond to trying circumstances as opportunities to grow in faith and dependence on God.

In spite of the people’s ingratitude and faint hearts, God rained miracles on them. All they had to do was accept the blessing, acknowledge its source and follow God’s directions. This meant preparing and working with God’s intentions for Sabbath (rest).

In their toil as slaves in Egypt, the Israelites observed Sabbath as a vital respite for their bodies. Now that they were free of forced labor and able to use their time as they chose, it would have been easy to forgo regular Sabbath-keeping. But they were reminded that regular Sabbath is the way of God and it is a blessing that does not occur by accident. Preparation is required. Sabbath allows us to turn away from distracting, self-centered stresses and focus our attention on God’s intentions for us. It is restorative and healing. When we face new tests, we can recall previous ways in which God sustained us. To do this, we need time and space for reflection. This is what observing Sabbath is about:  listening to God’s voice, remembering our blessings, expressing our gratitude and celebrating God’s unconditional love and care. 

As they continued their journey in the desert, the Israelites preserved some manna to remind them that God miraculously sustained them. What reminds you of God’s blessings in your life?

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