The Israelites Who Forget, The God Who Does Not

Guest post by Jasmine Gilcrease

My last day of work was March 31st. That day I became part of the staggering unemployment statistic of COVID-19. The night prior to me being informed of the organization's decision to downsize was the last night of our women’s study of Genesis-Ruth. For 10 weeks we bathed in scripture reading anywhere from nine to twenty-five chapters a week. Yes it was intense, but I can think of no better way to prepare for the season that we find ourselves in now.

From the time this all began I haven't stopped thinking about the newly formed nation of Israel in the wilderness and the powerful God that led them. The most notable characteristic of this people, chosen by the One True God, is their forgetfulness and faithlessness. The most notable characteristic of the God that chose them is utter and complete faithfulness to follow through on His word.

The Faithfulness of God

To bring you up to speed, at the beginning of the book of Exodus we find the Israelites in bondage to Pharaoh, who ruthlessly oppressed them with forced labor (see Exodus 1). The LORD heard their cry (Ex 2:24-25) and raised up Moses, through whom the LORD will speak and judge the nation of Egypt to make Pharaoh let His people go. But God hardened Pharaoh's heart, which caused the situation to seem so hopeless that when the Israelites are eventually driven out by Pharaoh, they would know it was only by the Mighty Hand of God (Ex 7:3-5). The ten plagues the LORD sent upon Pharaoh were each uniquely created to display God's authority over all creation, especially over the gods of the Egyptians. Through these signs the Israelites would know that their God is God over all things; He is mighty to save; and He will go to great lengths to display His glory and fulfill His covenant.

You see, He promised Abraham that all this would happen. When God made His covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15, He explained that his descendants would be enslaved and oppressed for 400 hundred years. But God would rescue them and bring them into the land He promised them. It couldn't happen sooner, for the nations inhabiting the land that would become Israel needed to become so evil, that the Lord would commission the Israelites to administer His justice by destroying them and taking possession of the land.

As we continue to read through Exodus, after the LORD fulfills the first part of this promise to Abraham, we think that surely it would be obvious to the Israelites that He would not leave them after bringing them out of Egypt. He would continue to fulfill His word by bringing them into the land He promised their forefathers, and drive out the inhabitants of the land before them. When they thirst, He provides water for them (Ex 15:23-25, 17:1-6, Num 20:2-11), even by bringing water out of a rock in the dessert (twice!); when they hunger, He rains down Manna and Quail from Heaven (Ex 16); He even descends upon Mount Sinai so they could see His glory and hear His terrible and mighty voice, and fear Him (Ex 19-20). Read this terrifying account and imagine being an Israelite witnessing this scene:

"On the third day, when morning came, there was thunder and lightning, a thick cloud on the mountain, and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people in the camp shuddered. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was completely enveloped in smoke because the Lord came down on it in fire. Its smoke went up like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain shook violently.  As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him in the thunder."
Exodus 19:16-19

The Forgetfulness of the Israelites

But despite this amazing display of power, we see a nation who, time and again, accuses God of bringing them into the wilderness only to leave them to die (Ex 16:3, 17:3, Num 11:1, Num 14:2-3, Num 20:2-5); who makes for themselves an idol to worship instead of worshipping the Lord (Ex 32:1-25); who prostitute themselves to the gods of other nations (Num 25:1-2). Rather than making the hard journey into a land flowing with milk and honey, where they would eat the harvest of crops they did not plant, and live in cities they did not build (Deut 6:10-11) - rather than enjoying a beautiful and fruitful land filled with the abundance of every good thing - Israel longs to return to Egypt and captivity (Ex 16:3, 17:3, Num 11:4-6). Instead of rejoicing in their freedom, they romanticize their slavery. Israel even refuses to take the land when the LORD hands it over to them (Num 13:1-14:10).

A People Who Remember

The full significance of this story is felt when we remember that the history of God redeeming the Israelites is the history of God redeeming us. When God acts on behalf of the Israelites in the many mighty and wondrous ways throughout the Old Testament, He is acting on our behalf. Everything that the Lord did in the Old Testament was making way for the coming Christ, so that we might be saved and grafted into His Holy Nation. Through the person and work of Christ, our greatest need is met, and we are given hope which allows us to look forward to the new creation (Rev 21-22) - a land that surpasses the Promised Land as it’s ultimate fulfillment.

The New Jerusalem is what the Promised Land was always pointing towards, where God will dwell with His people again, where the Nations will find healing, where we will reign together with Christ. God is working everything together now for the final redemption of the world, when this New Creation will be realized.

It is so easy to fall into anxiety and panic as we face all of the "what-ifs" surrounding this virus. But as we face the many uncertainties, let us safeguard ourselves from responding as the Israelites did in the wilderness, who asked, "Why have you brought us out of Egypt only to leave us to die!" Let us not unconsciously take our eyes off of God and how He has brought us this far. Let our gaze not get fixed on the current circumstances that seem so impossible for us to overcome, and forget that He is bringing us into something so wonderful that will make this world feel like slavery and oppression.

As we face this "wilderness" of COVID-19, let us remember the LORD we serve, who has acted on our behalf for all of history; who has not changed since the Exodus of the Israelites; and who has authority over all of creation. Remember Him who is working all things, even this, together to prepare the world for the return of His Son, and to bring us, His Chosen People, into the New Creation where all things will be redeemed, all to the glory of His name!
In the meantime, brothers and sisters, rest in this truth:

“This saying is trustworthy:
For if we died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he will also deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.”

2 Timothy 2:11-13

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