We’re talking this week about God’s provision and the ways we can trust him more than the situations we see around us… The theme we can see this week that runs from Moses to the eventual conquering of the Promised Land is God’s desire for us to trust Him as our provider and he wants us to act out of faith more than our perception of circumstance… Like the Midwives who feared God more than the circumstance of Pharaoh’s orders. Or Moses’ mother who showed him her faith by trusting God. Too often we’re in the river, holding onto the basket guiding it down stream, while we might say that we trust God, our actions say otherwise…
What follows is a discussion of Moses and then the distrustful and disrespectful Children of Israel (Exodus 16:2-3 ESV). I’d cut the Israelites some slack, after hundreds years of God providing for them by allowing them to be turned into Egyptian slaves and using the Egyptians to house and feed them in return for all their hard work, wouldn’t it be natural that they’re somewhat uncertain of how God’s going to provide for them as a free nation? She boils down the story about getting manna as one of God giving us exactly what we need. It doesn’t always mean that we’re going to recognize when God gives us exactly what we need, but he always does give us exactly what we need. After mentioning how it’s a dark time because everybody would rather be slaves again than to starve in the desert, she points out how focused they are on the situation than on the big picture. It’s easy to say that when you’re in a relatively secure position. When you have nice clothes, a spacious house, secure income, plentiful food and water, it’s one thing. When you are wandering in the wilderness with nothing but the clothes on your back, no idea where to find water, let alone food, wondering if you can survive the elements, all you can do is focus on the day-to-day, the basics.
I remember watching a documentary on the Appalachian Trail. I noticed that absolutely nobody decided to wake up one morning and walk the trail. Everyone carried backpacks full of supplies. Whenever any hiker was ill-prepared and ran out of food – there would always be someone who had brought extra and could help them out. Imagine the Israelites in that situation – hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children of all ages who are ill-prepared for this hike. Between all of them, there’s just not enough of what they have to last them the next week or month let alone the next forty years. We have this twenty/twenty hindsight – but were we in their shoes, we would be doing exactly what they did.
Manna means “what is it?” When the Israelites were asking what it was, God responds by saying: “You don’t need to know exactly what it is, you just need to know that I provided it for you and that it’s enough. Then she mentions Caleb and the other spies that spied on the Promised Land. (Numbers 14:6-10 ESV) We see this pattern over and over again, we can choose to see things the way that our circumstances show us they are or we can trust God… God has been very clear to His people in the Old Testament, if you obey my commands, I will take care of you … IF … you have got to obey me. So the Israelites wander for 40 years, the entire generation of complaining, grumbling, untrustworthy, and disrespectful Israelites die out. The next time around, Rahab enters the picture. When the Israelites begin to move in, they don’t do what they’re supposed to and instead of conquering certain people groups, they ally themselves with them. They don’t see them as all that bad. We cannot trust our perception, we can only trust the Lord… The mantle of leadership shifts to Joshua and before he dies, he teaches: IF IF IF IF you obey – these are the ground rules – and when they intermarry and start to worship other idols and they do all these things they’re not supposed to, well guess what, they get pummeled. They lose battles exactly like God said they would and the cycle of Judges begins. The heart if this is that they’re not taking God seriously and they let these things get so bad they’re screaming for mercy. Do not think that God is naive, He knows that they are going to continue in this and He loves them and Scripture says that he is so moved that he intervenes over and over again only for them to continue falling into the same patterns.
Odd. I always thought the point of Judges was that no matter how many times you make the same mistakes, God never says: “I’m sick and tired of saving you guys. Can’t you just obey me for five minutes? Here on out, you’re on your own.” God doesn’t give up on rescuing them, he does it as many times as they need to be rescued. I’m also not terribly impressed with the IF … obey aspect of this conversation. We should know by know that some things are beyond our human capacity and that’s one of them. Sure, we can obey for only so long, but then the ifs start to pile up. God’s time is infinite, ours isn’t. If God doesn’t pull through in a reasonable amount of time, then it should be surprising that we lose our way when we think that despite our obedience, God’s not keeping up his end of the bargain. Sarah had Isaac when she was 90 years old. Sarah lived to be 127 years old. Assuming that the average woman lives to be 85, then she was the equivalent of having been 60 when she had her son (in our time-frame). Could you blame a 60 year old woman who had struggled with infertility and childlessness for arranging a surrogacy in order to see God’s promise fulfilled after being told year after year, decade after decade that God would keep his promise … eventually? It’s not that we don’t take God seriously, it’s that we don’t always see evidence that God’s keeping his end of the bargain. It’s just that we’ve waited and waited and begin to lose hope when the years turn into decades. At least when we get ourselves rescued, we get proof that He hasn’t forgotten us, but why couldn’t have done that every now and then when we weren’t in trouble? A simple update, a status reminder – “Hey, I heard your prayer. I’m working on it. Can you wait three more months? I think you’ll be surprised when I come through for you.”
So one of the sweetest stories is that of Boaz and Ruth… The reward of her obedience was provision by her redeemer.
And for the Israelites disobedience, God always provided them a redeemer to rescue them as many times as it took. Obedience is not the key here – if we could have been obedient, there would have been no need for our own redeemer to be obedient in our place.
It’s pretty easy to credit God with providence for the good things, food falling from the sky, houses built in the land, farmland already tilled. But it’s not so easy to accept his providence when it takes a bad form like having been made into slaves or having raised up enemies to test them. We can’t just focus on the good providence without weighing it against the bad providence and wondering what kind of God is the Old Testament God. One who will save people only if they obey him? Or one who saves even this disobedient?
It feels like this study glosses over a lot of the unimportant text just so we can arrive at a point that is part of the seamless story that it wishes to present by not glossing over the important points. Sure, you can connect Boaz as a descendant of Rahab, you can connect Rahab to the spies she helped, you can connect the spies to Joshua as the one who took over after Moses, you can connect Moses to Pharaoh, you can connect another Pharaoh to Joseph, you can connect Joseph to Israel – but you miss out on the finer details of what’s going on and why those stories matter because they form loose threads and side-plots compared to the overall narrative. The point is, they aren’t in the Bible because they’re pointless even if they aren’t the nicest of stories. Just how much have we missed in order to talk about God asking “Where are you?”, “What’s your name?”, and “Do you trust God as your provider?” Read through Genesis all the way through Ruth and you’ll see that there is quite a bit that we could have talked about, but didn’t just so we could talk about what we did talk about.