We find ourselves in uncharted territory. Have we ever seen the supermarket shelves stripped and human selfishness exposed on the scale of recent days? There are all the makings of a very scary world both around us and, indeed, possibly within us.
It couldn’t be scarier – or could it? What if there was neither shops nor shelves? There was neither in the wilderness into which the God of the Exodus had Moses lead his people. That fact always reminds me of the bitter complaint of a little Belfast lady who had just completed a wilderness tour with me. Most aggrieved at me she lamented to her travel agent, “he never let us into shaps (sic)!” Quite simply, there were none, neither for her trip nor for Moses and his people.
The wilderness was well named ‘no man’s land’. Liberated from the tyranny of Pharaoh, the Israelites found themselves now facing all the uncertainties created by freedom. Everything before them was uncharted and uncertain. They could only focus on Moses, the man of God’s choice at that particular time and certainly it soon became apparent that they weren’t too happy with him at times. Grumbling came easy. Many presented with what we might call ‘gastronomic glaucoma’ along with selective amnesia. Their empty bellies put such pressure on their eyes that they could only see hardships and deprivations. They could only remember the melons, cucumbers, leeks, onions and garlic while blocking out the misery of slavery. (Numbers 11:7)
It seemed that living under the tyranny of Pharaoh was tastier than living in freedom but depending upon God. This new freedom threw up new insecurities and the challenge of the unknown. What about health and safety? Where are we actually heading? Will there be manna in the morning? What about the next one, and the next one and the one after that? Can God be trusted?
While staying in the wilderness let’s fast forward through the centuries. Over these centuries the history of Israel the nation is writ large. It’s a story of seemingly endless twists and turns, ups and downs. Yet after this lapse of time Israel steps into the wilderness again. However it is now Israel, the man. The man we know as Jesus. You see in this ancient society the idea of corporate personality was widely understood. To express this in modern terms, ‘one for all and all for one’. The one could stand for the many and equally the many consisted of all the ones. Where Israel the nation struggled with God, Israel, the man, Jesus gave unquestioning obedience and showed total dependence upon his Father.
What the scriptures reveal about God’s nature and human nature doesn’t change through time or culture. Perhaps as we all face the daunting prospect of the unknown we need to reflect on which Israel we follow. Is it Israel the nation, sometimes fantasising over the past and fearful about the future? Or, do we company with Jesus, the embodiment of true Israel who teaches us that as human beings we cannot live on bread (stuff, things, material goods) alone but by every word that comes from our Maker and Liberator? After forty days of fasting in the wilderness Jesus must have been weakened physically and yet surely he was never stronger spiritually. He rebuffed every devilish temptation by quoting Deuteronomy, the word of God given in the wilderness! (Matthew 4)
Surely as we face uncharted territory ahead it’s not hard to know who best to travel with?