Tuesday, February 9, 2016

10 Signs You Might be a "Desert Israelite"

            I have probably learned more about my own humanness through the Israelites in Exodus and Numbers than through anything else.  I used to think that they were somehow “more fallen” than I was.  That I could never be that faithless and disobedient and grumbley.  But as I have grown in my relationship with the Lord, I have come to realize that I am not that much different from them.  I struggle with the same things they do.  I am weak.  I falter in my faith easily.  And I complain way more than I wish I did.  Many times, I am just like an Israelite in the desert.
            Are you, too, like the Israelites in the desert?  If you aren’t sure, here are 10 signs that you might be one.  See if any fit.  And then read Exodus and Numbers (from chapter 10 and on) to see how God responds to them.  It is scary, humbling, and faith-changing.  (These are some of my favorite books in the whole Bible, along with Genesis, Deuteronomy, Joshua, and Judges.)  So here we go . . .  

You might be a “Desert Israelite” if:

            1.  You freak out when a new problem comes, acting like God can’t or won’t handle it.
            Exodus 14: 10-11: “As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them.  They were terrified and cried out to the Lord.  They said to Moses, ‘Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?” 
            [This is so me!  All the time!]

            2.  You forget what God has done for you in the past and you base your view of God on your current circumstances and feelings.  You praise Him when times are good, but you complain and doubt Him when times are hard.
            After the Israelites crossed the Red Sea: 
            “And when the Israelites saw the great power of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and . . . sang this song to the Lord: ‘I will sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted . . . The Lord is my strength and my song . . . He is my God, and I will praise him.’”  (Exodus 14:31-15:2)
            But just a short while later:
            “Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur.  For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water.  When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water because it was bitter. . . . So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, ‘What are we to drink?”  (Exodus 15:22-24)
            [Grumbling to others is actually grumbling about God’s care.  “You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord!”  (Exodus 16:8)  My goodness, how guilty I am of this!  Constantly!]

            3.  You gripe to yourself or to others and you demand your way, instead of praying to God and humbling asking for His help. 
            ‘Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?”  (Exodus 14:11)
            “So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, ‘What are we to drink?’”  (Exodus 15:24)
            When they couldn’t find food or meat: “In the desert, the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron.”  (Exodus 16:2)
            “They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink.  So they quarreled with Moses and said, ‘Give us water to drink.”  (Exodus 17:1-2) 
            “Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the Lord, and when he heard them his anger was aroused.  Then fire from the Lord burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp.”  (Numbers 11:1)
            “The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, ‘If only we had meat to eat!”  (Numbers 11:4)
            Near the end of their stay in the desert:  “Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron.  They quarreled with Moses and said, ‘If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the Lord!  Why did you bring the Lord’s community into this desert, that we and our livestock should die here?  Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place?  It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates.  And there is no water to drink!”  (Numbers 20:2-5)
            [Wow!  They never learn to just humbly ask God to meet their needs.  And they never seem to remember how He has met their needs in the past!]

            4.  You look at your problems only through human eyes, not through spiritual eyes.  And you always assume the worst about God and His motives.
            “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Tell the Israelites to turn back and encamp near Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, directly opposite Baal Zephron.  Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.’  And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them.  But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.’”  (Exodus 14:1-4)
            But the Israelites only see the Red Sea behind them and Pharaoh’s army in front of them, and they freak out and assume the worst about God and His guidance and providence.  “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?  What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?  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 14:11)

            5.  You fail to learn contenment and thankfulness.  In your mind, the grass is always greener somewhere else.  And you always get the dry, brown, yucky grass, right!?!  (If you think hard enough, you can always make your grass browner and the grass everywhere else greener.)  In fact, you never count the blessings of the moment but only look at all that you lost, all that you don’t have, and all the things that others have that you want.  
            “In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron.  The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt!  There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.’”  (Exodus 16:2-3)
            [They seem to forget that they were slaves in Egypt.  That now they were free and could make their own choices and do what they wanted.  That God had big plans for them and was guiding them.  That He had provided for them in ways they didn’t even notice, such as keeping their clothes and sandals from wearing out (Deut. 29:5).  (It’s hard to remember to be thankful for the bad things that never happened.)  Instead, all they can think about is how much they miss the meat they got to eat in Egypt.  So sad!]

            6.  You turn back when the trials get too hard or the future looks too dark and unclear.  You take the easy way out because you can’t trust God to walk through the trials with you or to make anything good out of them.
            After the spies reported back to the Israelites about Canaan:  “That night all the people of the community raised their voices and wept aloud.  All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, ‘If only we had died in Egypt!  Or in this desert!  Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword?  Our wives and children will be taken as plunder.  Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?’  And they said to each other, ‘We should choose a leader for us to go back to Egypt.’”  (Numbers 14:1-4)
            [Once again here, they assume the worst about God’s providence and guidance and care.  And they fail to pray for help.  All they do is complain and assume the worst. 
            And even though God told them that He was giving Canaan to them, even though they saw the mighty ways that He works, they wouldn’t take steps forward in faith when the future was dark and fuzzy.  They wouldn’t go forward unless they could see the future and how it would all work out.  While everyone else was wailing and complaining about the impossibility of taking Canaan, only Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and Caleb believed God when He said that they would be able to do.  They trusted Him, even if they couldn’t see the whole picture yet.
            “Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, ‘We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.’
            But the men who had gone up with him said, ‘We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.’  And they spread among the Israelites a bad report . . . That night all the people of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. . . .
            Then Moses and Aaron fell facedown in front of the whole Israelite assembly gathered there.  Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh . . . tore their clothes and said to the entire assembly, ‘The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good.  If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us.  Only do not rebel against the Lord.  And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up.  Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us.  Do not be afraid of them.’”  (Numbers 13:30-32, 14:1,5-9)
            The people only saw through physical eyes.  And they needed to see the whole picture before they would follow God.  They needed to know how it would all work out.  And when the future was dark and scary, they rebelled.
            But Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and Caleb saw through eyes of faith.  They didn’t need to see the whole picture because they knew that God did.  Even if they didn’t know how things would work out, they knew that it would work out. Just because God said it would.  And that was good enough for them.  They didn’t need a plan and a guarantee because they had the Lord.
            On a different note, let us never envy Moses’ special relationship with God or the special call that God gave him.  I would never have wanted to lead that group of people around the desert for forty years.  God bless Moses for putting up with that and for living the rest of his life serving those rebellious, ungrateful whiners!  My simple role seems pretty blessed and sweet in comparison.  Goodness gracious!  
            They never get it, do they?  They never get that they brought most of their problems on themselves by their grumbling, rebelling, and distrust of the Lord.  Instead, all they do is grumble, rebel, and distrust even more.  They complain that they had it better as slaves in Egypt.  They complain that it would have been better to die in Egypt than in the desert.  They complain that it would have been better to die in the desert than in Canaan.  They complain that it would have been better to die along with their brothers who were put to death by God than to die of thirst.  In their mind, it’s always better somewhere else than wherever God has them now.
            May I never forget how easy it is to become a grumbler who forgets God’s goodness and power and who fails to seek Him in prayer!  I have been there so many times.  It’s humbling and sobering to realize just how human I am!  How easy it is to become a “Desert Israelite.”]

            7.  Likewise, you care more about your nice, comfortable, little life than about obeying God and following Him and trusting His plans for you.  You expect God to do His part, but you don’t want to do yours.  And you listen to those who will discourage you from following God’s plan instead of listening to God.
            “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites.’ . . . But the men who had gone up with [Caleb] said, ‘We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.’ . . . That night all the people of the community raised their voices and wept aloud.  All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron . . . ‘Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?’”  (Numbers 13:1-2, 31, 14:1-3)

            8.  You always demand more.  And you grow bitter about being blessed with just your “daily bread.”  After all, no one should have to eat manna for forty years or have to thank God for providing something that bland for all those years.  Right!?! 
            “The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, ‘If only we had meat to eat!  We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost – also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic.  But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!’”  (Numbers 11:4-6)
            [If you stopped to think about how much you would miss that “daily bread” if it were taken away or about how God could have given you manna that tasted like frogs instead of honey, you might suddenly find yourself thankful for the manna that God did provide and thankful that your problems weren't worse.  You might find yourself griping less and less, growing more and more content.  But griping is so much more fun, delicious, and satisfying, isn’t it?  I mean, that’s why we do it so much, right!?!]

            9.  You don’t trust God.  You rely on yourself instead and disobey if you feel like it.  It’s always understandable and excusable, right?
            “Then Moses said to them, ‘No one is to keep any of [the manna] until morning.’  However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell.  So Moses was angry with them. . . .
            ‘Six days you are to gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any.’  Nevertheless, some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather it, but they found none.  Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘How long will you refuse to keep my commands and my instructions?”  (Exodus 16:19-20, 26-28)
            [If we don’t care for us, who will?  Can God really be trusted to take care of our physical and financial needs if we rest on the Sabbath instead of working?  If we give away some of our money as tithe?  Don’t we have to work as hard as we can to care for ourselves?  Because it’s all up to us?]

            10.  When God takes too long, seems too silent, or lets you down, you just go out and get another god.
            “When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain [when he was getting the 10 commandments], they gathered around Aaron and said, ‘Come, make us gods who will go before us.  As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him?’”  (Exodus 32:1)
            Do you know how long Moses had been gone before they decided to turn their backs on God and make one of their own?  This was after the plagues in Egypt, after the guiding pillars of cloud and fire, after the Red Sea, after the manna and quail and water from the rock, after the people trembled at the foot of Mount Sinai as it billowed with smoke and fire.  Can you guess how long Moses was gone before they turned their backs on God, made a golden calf that they praised for “bringing them out of Egypt,” and indulged in revelry? 
            “Then Moses entered the cloud as he went up the mountain [to receive the 10 commandments].  And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights.”  (Exodus 24:18)
            Forty days!  Unbelievable!  After all they had seen God do, their faith in Him lasted only forty days without Moses. 
            [That is so sobering to me because I haven’t seen God’s wonders like they did.  And if they saw all that they did and still lost faith after forty days, how much easier it is for me to falter in my faith when things don’t go my way!  How easy it is to turn my eyes from the unseen to something I can see, touch, count, and control!  Sobering and humbling!
            Of course, we don’t turn to golden calves.  But we do have our heart idols.  Those things that we rely on, that we use to make us feel better about ourselves and to fulfill us.  We put our faith and value in our possessions, our successes, our money, our relationships, our popularity, our jobs, other people’s opinions, our Facebook page, etc.  And when God lets us down or takes too long, we turn to other people, to drugs, to our own wisdom and plans, to temporary pleasures, etc. 
            We can see those things.  We can control those things.  And that feels a lot better than trusting in and leaning on a God that we can’t see, can’t control, and Who doesn’t make sense most of the time.  We trade our faith in the unseen God for the things we can see, control, and measure.  And that is sad! 
            We need to be on the lookout for those heart idols!  And we need to get rid of them!  To remember that God alone in on the throne and to fall down before Him in humble faith!  There is no other god!
            The thing is, just because we are in a desert doesn’t mean He is not with us. 
            Even if there were hardships and disappointments, God was with the Israelites the whole time that they were in the desert.  He was caring for them and leading them and watching over them and dealing very patiently with them. 
            But no matter how much He proved Himself, they still didn’t trust.  Because things were not the way they wanted them to be.  They let their desires for more and for better and for “easier” cloud their view of God and their trust in Him. 
            And it all came to a breaking point when they were at the brink of entering the Promised Land.  They had sent spies to see what the land and the inhabitants were like.  And these spies (except for Caleb and Joshua) spread a bad report around to all the people about how impossible it would be to take Canaan.  They made the people freak out, doubt God, and want to turn back. 
            And this time, God had had enough.  And He decreed that they would remain in the desert for 40 more years.  Only this time, He would be against them.
            “The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: ‘How long will this wicked community treat me with contempt?  I have heard the complaints of these grumbling Israelites.  So tell them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Lord, I will do to you the very things I heard you say: In this desert your bodies will fall – every one of you ... who has grumbled against me. . . . For forty years – one year for each of the forty days you explored the land – you will suffer for your sins and know what it is like to have me against you.’”  (Numbers 14:26-34)
            The whole time the Israelites had been wandering the desert so far, the Lord was with them, even if there were hardships and disappointments.  Yet Israel acted like the Lord was not with them, like He wasn’t blessing them or keeping them in His hand. 
            Yet now, they had pushed God too far and grumbled against Him too much.  And now they were going to get what they kept acting like they had – a God who had abandoned them.  A God who was against them. 
            They brought it on themselves because they refused to see that God was with them all along.  They refused to trust His care and His “God-ness.”  And now they would know what it was really like to wander a desert without Him.
            Just because we are in a desert doesn’t mean He is not with us.  It just means we are on the way to “Promised Land” but we are not there yet.  And while the journey might be hard - full of heartache and disappointment and trials - we can trust that He is with us, guiding us, keeping us in His hand, and that we will make it to the “Promised Land” in His time and in His way, if we will just keep our faith in Him and go where He leads. 
            Let’s never “push Him too far” by acting like He has abandoned us or like He doesn’t care when times are hard.  Because if we insist on accusing Him of turning His back on us, we might just get what we asked for. 
            Let’s never “shorten His arm” (Numbers 11:23) or judge His “God-ness” based on our circumstances or feelings.  But let’s trust Him for the good, strong, wise, loving God that we know He is.  And let’s cling to that knowledge when times are tough and when the journey through the desert is long.  Let’s always remember that He is walking through that desert with us and He will lead us out when it is time!
            Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this is easy to do.  The deserts in my life have been long and many.  And I am learning from my mistakes.  But with all the practice I am getting in the desert, I am bound to eventually learn to relax and trust, instead of freaking out so much and doubting.  But trust me, I get it wrong more than I get it right.  Yet, I keep coming back to the Lord because He is the only thing I can firmly plant my feet on when my world is shaking. 
            And I guess I’d rather have a sovereign God who is far above me, even if it means He is mysterious and confusing, than have a god who is easily-controlled and who I can manipulate to do whatever I want him to do.  What kind of a god would that be!?! 
            I guess through all the trials and the deserts, I am learning to trust in God as He really is, instead of just trying to make Him into the God I want Him to be.  It’s a learning process.  A long, slow learning process.  But I know He’s walking through it with me.  Patiently.  Lovingly.  Graciously. 
            Thank You, Lord, for Your patience, providence, and guidance in my life!  Thank You that You are good, even when times are not!  Thank You that You have never left me alone in the deserts, even when it feels like it!  Thank You for being a God I can trust and a God who will work all things for good in the end!  Thank You!]

          Well, I am about 8 (maybe 9) for 10.  How did you do? 
        And can you think of any other indications of a “Desert Israelite”?
        Any other faith-changing, humbling lessons you’ve learned from them or from any other Bible story?