That night all the members of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. 2 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 wilderness! 3 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?” 4 And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” (Numbers 14:1-4 NIV)
Moses had sent spies in the land of promise who returned with a mixed report – the land was full of good things but it was also filled with people who were frightening to them.
The word “grumble” or “grumbled” appears 18 times in the Bible – six in the book of Numbers! The theme of returning to Egypt also appears a number of times in the story of the Exodus.
The people would prefer t0 (1) have died in Egypt or the wilderness or (2) return to Egypt and their slavery there rather than face the challenges ahead.
They want to take their destiny in hand – choose a leader (rather than follow the leader God chose) and choose a destination (Egypt rather than the promised destination in Canaan). It also suggests choosing another God?
Most of us are not immune to the “Let’s return to Egypt!” syndrome. I like to think that I am but not really. It happens when things get tough… when life seems overwhelming… when circumstances and culture are bewildering. Let’s go back to an easier time. Let’s return to a place where everything was good. The truth is that mostly these places and times exist only in our memory. Time and distance soften the hard edges of past times. Memory crafts a world that didn’t quite exist except through the lens of thought.
The way ahead – the way God calls us to tread – is often difficult and even dangerous. There are , as the spies said in an earlier passage. giants in the land.
We speak of the Promised Land and we mean a place of abundance and ease. The biblical Promised Land was certainly a place of abundance – not only of good things but also of challenge. Israel faced as many problems in the new land as they had in the old!
God’s future is not marked by easy living, smooth roads, or carefree idleness. What that future does promise is that God is with me and that God will bless even in the midst of challenge.
What should else should I expect from a God whose Son’s life pointed toward a cross????
Lord, the future is not always clear and when it is… it is not always easy. As I journey through Lent this year and make my way, as Jesus did, to the cross, remind me that your people have always struggled to move into the future you had for them. My resistance to the hard road – to the cross – is no different from the cries to return to Egypt. Help me, today, to move toward the promised land with its dangers and blessings both, toward the cross with its death but also with its resurrection to come. In the name of the one who walked this road and awaits me in every future… Amen.