When I picture the Israelites who fled Egypt with Moses, they remind me of children in the back of a car during a long road trip. Just unbelievably obnoxious. It doesn’t matter how many times they’re told something, they still complain. Basically Israelites in a nutshell.
If you’re unfamiliar with their story, let’s recap. Moses, a Hebrew boy who floated down the Nile to royalty, returned to Egypt to set his people free after God told him to via a burning bush. Pretty rad so far. Pharaoh said no so God sent a series of escalating plagues like frogs, locusts, blood water, and then killing first-born sons.
Finally Pharaoh says ‘fine, go’ and they leave, but then he changes his mind and pursues them. God then parts the Red Sea and His people walked across on dry ground. As soon as they had safely crossed, he collapsed the water walls and all the Egyptians drowned.
Once they were free, they began approaching the Promised Land, but then got scared of the current inhabitants and were doomed to wander the wilderness for 40 years. They followed a cloud around what I believe is about an 11-mile distance during that time and were just constantly awful.
That’s like three books of the Bible and a lot of laws and lineages condensed into three paragraphs, so my apologies to the scholars out there.
The foundation of following Jesus is faith and believing in the miraculous. I’ve seen some incredible, life-changing things in my life, but I’ve never seen God part a body of water. He’s never sent me a cloud that helped me know where I needed to go. The Israelites witnessed these miracles. And within days they complained. About everything.
So here we have these Israelites traversing the wilderness with God and Moses in the front seat. Several times God was literally ready to destroy them all for their lack of faith and obedience, but Moses would intercede and convince Him to calm down. This analogy basically writes itself.
Within one chapter of their Exodus from Egypt, the Israelites are complaining. They want to know what they will drink, so God provides. They want to know what they will eat, so God provides. Every time something went wrong, they immediately starting remembering their slavery fondly. Yep, you read that right. Despite being provided everything they needed, they still wished they were slaves when they “had it made.”
Like Moses and God, I’m so annoyed by the Israelites. They have so little faith in a situation where they’ve been rescued time and time again. How could they be so foolish? They were never satisfied as a people, always searching for something better and believing the grass was greener before being freed. They constantly sought new idols despite worshiping the living God.
I’m so annoyed because I’m just like them.
Sure, God’s never let food rain down from Heaven for me, but I’ve never been hungry. I might not always eat exactly like I want, but there’s always food in my kitchen. I can’t afford a new wardrobe every year so maybe my fashion is lacking, but I have clothes and usually look like a presentable human. But my thoughts are always filled with how much I want and how much I lack when in reality, I lack nothing.
It’s easy for wanting and lacking to seemingly overlap. We can let what we want overpower our better sense and seem more like a necessity than it actually is. The desire for more in any area of our life is common, especially in a world full of Instagram aesthetics and unobtainable Pinterest boards.
We’re told how much we lack every day. I don’t just want a boyfriend, social media shows me how much I’m missing out on because I’m single. I don’t just wish I had a nicer bedroom design, social media tells me what I should have to make my room cool and modern. Ads tell me I should cook more and buy this latest style of shoe.
No matter where you look, it’s clear you don’t have enough to reach your peak in this world. You’ve never quite attained enough to achieve the perfect aesthetic we all want. That’s all our lives become is wanting.
Generations after the Israelites settled in what would become Israel and Judah, they were exiled because they still hadn’t learn to trust God. After 70 years, they returned and rebuilt the wall under the leadership of Nehemiah. Once the work was done, they praised God and said
“For forty years, you sustained them in the wilderness, and they lacked nothing.” Nehemiah 9:21
What was once a source of annoyance for the Israelites became a point of praise in recognizing how God had never left them. Hindsight, am I right?
In reality, most of our wants don’t matter. When I die, I’m not going to care about whether I had the right throw pillows or the most current style of booties to wear in the fall. We get so caught up on these things of right now that in 20 years we probably won’t even remember we wanted. We’re only going to remember what we had and how we were sustained.
I’m not writing this as someone who has mastered understanding wanting vs. lacking. I usually view the two as equal which is why I’ll be paying a hefty monthly fee for the next four years to pay off a consolidation loan I received for my credit card debt. When I think about everything I purchased with my credit cards, like makeup, clothes, and cheap Ikea furniture I threw away after a year, I’m so frustrated. I remember certain things I had to have, but not $30,000 worth of things. Because yes, that is where my wants got me.
Fortunately, I am better than I used to be. But I have a long way to go. I want Nehemiah’s words to remind me that even when it seems like I don’t have enough, I don’t actually lack anything. My God will sustain me and I’m learning to be content with what I have, not wanting more.
The moral of this story? Don’t be like the whiny Israelite children in the backseat complaining about what you don’t have. Graduate to the middle row with mature, teenage Nehemiah and remember how God will get you through.
And thank God that He sent Jesus to intercede for us just like the Israelites had Moses.