Summary: Series B, Proper 13 Preached in the McConnellsburg Lutheran Parish 8/5/2012
I have to admit, every time I read through this part of the book of Exodus, I am just amazed at the behavior of the Israelites. If there was ever a group of people who should know from first hand experience that when God promises to do something, He will do it, it should be the Israelites.
Consider this: just one month earlier, they had found themselves in quite the predicament. After all the plagues that afflicted the Egyptians, after the final plague of death, they were finally released from Egypt and were beginning their treck to the promised land. It should have been clear to them even then that their freedom was not a result of their own work or effort, it was all the work of God. But now, Pharoh has changed his mind and he has sent his forces out to intercept the Israelites. And it appears they’re trapped. They are outnumbered by the Egyptian army. And on the other side is the Red Sea. There’s no way for them to cross it.
Remember, God promised to deliver them to that Promised Land. They had His Word on it. And it was His mighty acts that allowed them to get this far. Yet, what do they do when it appears that it’s going to take an act of God to save them? They approach Moses and say: “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than die in the wilderness.” (Ex. 14:12) They don’t trust that God follows through.
So what happens? God, through His servant Moses, parts the Red Sea, and the Israelites are able to pass on dry land. They see the water of the sea surrounding them, but they’re dry. It’s clear to them this isn’t Moses doing, this certainly isn’t their doing. It’s all God’s doing. And once they make it across, God causes a confusion in the pursuing Egyptian ranks, and they are swallowed up by the sea and every last one of them drown. The lesson they saw first hand was this: God would provide a way for them to make it to where He promised to deliver them. Even though when they first arrived at the Red Sea they couldn’t see a way out, God provides one for them.
Now, just one month removed from that, there’s another obstacle. The people are getting hungry. There’s no Sheetz or Giant stores along the way to buy food. There’s no source of food period. Now remember, it wasn’t that long ago they saw God’s mighty hand to first deliver them out of Egypt, and then allow them to pass through on the Red Sea. One would think that having seen that, they would simply trust that even though it doesn’t look like there’s any way they’ll eat, that God will somehow provide food for them. Yet, what do they do? They approach Moses and Aaron and say:
“Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” (Exodus 16:2b-3)
There is a lot to their statement here. First of all, they’re longing for the meat pots they remember in their former life in Egypt. But what they have forgotten is this: they were slaves. Slaves very rarely, if ever, were given meat. If they were so fortunate to have ever eaten any meat at all, it would have been on their best day, not an every day occurrence. And even then, it still was with the shackles and chains of slavery. Slavery they cried out to God to be freed from. At this point, they’re willing to trade their freedom for the shackles and chains of slavery over a piece of meat!
We do have to be careful here and clearly state this: the sin of the Israelites isn’t in their hunger. The sin at play here is this: they refuse to trust in God for all things. They are allowing their current situation to be their god if you will. They are allowing themselves and their concerns and worries to be their god.
At this point, its easy for us, especially knowing the end of the story, to sit back and simply say “What is wrong with you people? How could you have gone through that crossing of the Red Sea and still have any doubt at all that God will provide for all of your needs?” After all, that is what we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, right? In explaining this petition of the prayer, Martin Luther puts it this way in the Small Catechism: