I find it incredibly easy to criticize the Israelites. I marvel, incredulous, at their obstinacy, lack of faith, and thickheadedness. How could a group of people be so dull?
You have just watched a sea split open and walked across a stretch of dry land that just a short time before was covered with water, trapping you from escape. Your enemies, who outnumbered you, and could have slaughtered your family and friends, were wiped out behind you, through no effort of your own. You’ve been fed by miraculous food that appears on the ground overnight and have had your thirst quenched by water spout from a rock, in spite of your complaining. Then, after all of this, you create a calf of gold, with your own hands, and bow down to the god you’ve created for yourself - and this is only the beginning.
After seeing God’s faithfulness and provision, how could you doubt that He would meet your needs? After watching him crush your enemies, how could you be afraid of another foe? How could you forget so easily? How could you turn away?
With all of the stories we have in the Old Testament, we could harp on the Israelites for a long time. But the more I watch my fickle heart, I realize I too am an Israelite. It seems they capture the human condition. They may not be the best role models, but they are excellent for holding up a mirror to our hearts. We forget extremely easily. We doubt the things we cannot see and resist those things beyond our control. We would much rather trust something we have constructed with our own hands—because at least we know it exists.
There have been countless times I have seen the Lord provide so faithfully for me or have heard his voice speak a word of truth to my heart, but within a short time, the peace and trust I felt after that clear manifestation of his presence and love fades, and I am longing again to hear, to see, to feel. I forget those things he has shown me.
And like the Israelites, I run back to setting up my “idols.” Like the Israelites, I grumble and whine, putting God to the test. Like the Israelites, I question His goodness, His faithfulness, His provision, His presence.
There have been times when I’ve cried out time and time again, longing for something—anything. I’ve needed to hear him speak. I use what seems to be his silence as justification for my grumbling and doubting.
But I’m realizing that he does not have to say anything—he shouldn’t need to. He has already said enough, done enough to satisfy any longing of my heart, to answer any question of his love or his grace. One look at Jesus on the cross should say everything. I know what I must do—it is no secret. I know what He has done. He does not owe me any new revelation or any special word. He should not need to do anything more for me to live faithfully or trust him simply.
But—sometimes He does. These moments are ones that I treasure, when he breaks through the silence into my little world, and I can sense his presence or almost hear his voice.
This is the other thing I’m learning from the Israelites: my faithlessness does nothing to stem the tide of his ever-faithful, ever-giving, ever-loving presence in my life. In short, I’m learning the pattern of grace.