Israel suffered horribly under the oppressive leadership of Egypt. All manner of personal liberties were taken away. They were not free to live, work, relocate, procreate, disciple and worship as they deemed best. Every day the cries of Hebrew men could be heard following the crack of Egyptian whips. The cries of Hebrew women filled the night as one mother after another mourned over the fact that their male babies had been discovered, snatched, and drown in the Nile River.
What a glorious night it was when God rescued his children from the clutches of the evil dictator. While they ate, God went to war on their behalf. In the morning, Pharaoh was resolved to set them free. Pharaoh’s women were content to give them gold, silver, and all manner of jewelry. For four hundred years, Israel had lived in bondage. In one magnificent night they were set free.
It took one night to get Israel out of Egypt. It would take much longer to get Egypt out of Israel. Almost immediately following their exodus, Israel began disbelieving, lusting, grumbling, scheming, tempting, and seriously angering the Lord. Several examples have been listed below:*
- Exodus 14:11-12 Israel complained that God was killing them. It would be better for them to be in Egypt.
- Exodus 15:23-26 Israel complained of no water. At least they had plenty of water in Egypt.
- Exodus 16:1-18 Israel complained of no food. The remembered no such struggles in Egypt.
- Exodus 16:19-22 Israel was told not to hoard, but only collect enough manna for the day. Israel disobeyed God’s simple manna collection rules.
- Exodus 17:1-7 Israel complained again of water and lusted for the land of Egypt.
- Exodus 32:7-8 Israel disobeyed God’s Second Commandment. They heard God’s voice, but in God’s absence they manufactured a golden calf.
- Numbers 11:1-3 Israel complained about something that is not specifically mentioned.
- Numbers 11:4-35 Israel complained as they lusted for the fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic they once enjoyed in Egypt.
- Numbers 13:1-25 Israel complained that God was not powerful enough to win Canaan and not interested enough in their children.
- Numbers 14 Israel complained about Moses, Aaron, Caleb and Joshua, and they lusted for new captain to return them to land of bondage.
God did not discipline them immediately, but neither did he take their sin lightly. His anger began as a slow glow, but in time it erupted in a raging fire. When bitter water and rotten quail did not result in lasting repentance, God sent forth holy fire from his Holy of Holies and consumed many. Apart from the intercession of the mediator, hundreds of thousands would have perished. And later, when Israel finally turned their backs on God and his mediator, God inflicted the harshest punishment to date. All who were twenty and older were destined to die in the wilderness; they would not see the Promised Land. His punishment did not stop there. All children under the age of twenty, they were forced to wander in the wilderness for forty years suffering for the transgressions of their parents.
So what ought we to learn from this?
First, we must realize that God saved Israel due to his own good favor and not their merit. The Israel just presented was the Israel privileged to see God’s signs and hear God’s voice. If they are this rebellious following God’s favor, imagine their condition prior to Moses, Aaron and the Law. God chooses to save people according to his sovereign, mysterious, and gracious will. Therefore, be grateful and humble.
Second, we must realize saved people have an ever-present tendency to loathe the will of God and return to that from which they have been saved? The alcoholic often returns to his whisky like the dog returns to his vomit. The lustful man returns to his pornography. The one who worked hard to lose weight and regain his health returns to the buffet. Women further damage themselves by trading sex for a “not-so-real” relationship, or running back to some former sinful relationship. Bankrupt individuals, who have been forgiven so much debt, find themselves owing creditors again. It appears that Christians often suffer from SMD — Selective Memory Disorder. They remember the good times, but forget the miserable costs required.
Third, Justification is a divine blessing that is accompanied by a divine expectation — sanctification. God takes the holiness of his people very seriously. He expects his redeemed church to think and walk differently, and he will use whatever disciplinary means necessary to accomplish his redemptive purpose.
Therefore, let us learn from this Hebrew tragedy. Let us not disbelieve God’s goodness. Let us not lust after Satan’s delights. Let us not complain and grumble. Let us not engage in mutiny. Let us cease tempting the Lord before his long-suffering patience comes to an end. He loves his glory and our good too much to let us return to Egypt. It is for these same reasons that he will not allow Egypt to remain in us.
* Keil & Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament: Pentateuch, 714