The Israelites have been the “talk about town” these days in my life. Who knew? Their story has been coming up a lot in conversations, in writings, and in sermons. And when I see repetitive themes in conversations like this (that aren’t all related), I have to assume there’s a lesson to be learned. So, I decided to reflect and listen this morning.
Over a few cups of coffee, I skimmed through Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, honing in on some stories and skipping over entire chapters about cleanliness (too early for bodily fluids). And here’s the conclusion that I came to: I think the Israelites get bad rap for all their complaining. Don’t get me wrong, they did complain… a lot. And I’m not condoning complaining… at all. However, as I read the story of the Israelites journey from captivity through the wilderness to the Promised Land, I felt like I saw more of the “why behind” the complaining. This understanding probably comes from seeing myself in this story these days.
This group of people had been in a terrible position for years, and all of a sudden, they were promised freedom and relocation to the Promised Land. Through some intense Divine Intervention, they got their wish, got the command to pack up, and headed out. What a whirlwind of excitement. They were getting out of there! They were headed to a place that flowed with milk and honey.
I can relate! In February, my husband and I were certainly not in captivity, but we knew that our difficult season in St. Louis was done, and were ready to move on. And then came the opportunity. So we made our plans, submitted our notices, and packed our house. We were headed to a place that flowed with family, community, and opportunity.
Back to the Israelites: So they hit the hope-filled trail and somewhere between being chased by some angry former captors and intense desert thirst, it hits them; what about all the details? How long will it take to get there? What route are we taking? What are we going to eat? What are we going to drink? They had never done this before. They had heard that they could trust God, but when they weren’t sure that their daily needs would be met, they got freaked out.
I can relate! When the newness of a move wears off, and all the details aren’t clear, it’s not easy to stay calm (especially for some personalities) and somewhere between checking bank statements and living in a home that’s not my own, I’ve started asking: How long will it take for me to get a job? How long will it take for Adam to have a full salary? How long will we live with family? We’ve never moved somewhere when there wasn’t at least a guarantee of one full salary and there are days when I am completely freaked out.
Back to the Old Testament: And so the Israelites start spiraling emotionally. Anxiety turned into fear. Fear turned into doubt. Doubt turned into disillusion. Disillusion turned into disappointment. Disappointment bred complaining.
They chose fear and not faith and they lived in misery with consequences, and earned themselves a reputation that has lasted them to present day.
I don’t want to relate! I don’t want to buy into that unhealthy spiraling that robbed the Israelites of a lot of joy and peace. So for me, it starts with choosing to trust rather than to fret. For me, that’s the “why behind” a lot of my complaining. If I address the root issue first, the rest should flow healthfully behind.