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Exodus 16:2-15

Levi Jones

Moses and Miriam lead a chorus of worship in response to God’s mighty deliverance from pharaoh’s mighty army. The waters with which pharaoh had schemed to drown every male child of the Hebrew people have now crashed down upon his own head. The power of Egypt is swept away by the waters of chaos. These were the same waters, baptismal waters, through which the Hebrew people had passed. These waters constitute them as a new people, a redeemed people, a freed people.

We would expect to find that the party hasn’t ended following the escape from Egypt through the sea. In the afterglow of deliverance, we might expect to encounter a people whose hearts and lives have been captivated by their Delivering God. We would expect to hear them exclaim: “Where You lead, we will follow!” We might anticipate a people so deeply transformed by their encounter with this God of new life possibilities.

There are certainly raised voices in the camp of the Hebrews in chapter 16. But, the tambourine of rejoicing is replaced with the drumbeat of discontent. The lifted voice of praise are forfeited for a raised shout of anger and accusation. Instead of celebrating God’s deliverance from Egypt, God’s delivered people are regretting their exodus. “‘If only the Lord had killed us back in Egypt,’ they moaned. ‘There we sat around pots filled with meat and ate all the bread we wanted. But now you have brought us into this wilderness to starve us all to death’” (Exodus 16:3, NLT).

It is hard to imagine wanting to go back to such oppressive captivity. We find it difficult to understand when people want to return to abusive situations. But, we underestimate the power of psychological dependence that oppressors use to manipulate their victims. The familiar shackles of oppression are preferred to the unknown future of a promised freedom. The wilderness of deliverance looks sparse compared to the seeming abundance offered back in our bondage. As I once heard someone say, “It’s easy getting Israel out of Egypt, but it is hard getting Egypt out of Israel.” God’s people are unable to imagine a future without the bondage of Egypt. They can’t imagine the bare wilderness as the place of God’s abundant provision. So… they complain.

Of course, the complaints aren’t directed to God. Rather, they are aimed at the Moses and Aaron. I’m sure there are some church leaders who can relate. God calls you to work for the well-being of God’s people. The result? Complaints aimed at you. In those moments, it’s certainly difficult for me to not thumb my nose at them and say, “Well, then get back to Egypt and stop bothering me if you don’t like what I’m doing!” Hardly a sanctified response.

Before Moses and Aaron respond to the complainers, we find them in prayer. They are listening for God’s voice. God responds! God responds in a very tangible way to the complaints raised against Moses and Aaron. Moses and Aaron don’t defend themselves, they don’t try to “fix” everything in their own power. Instead, they pray, they listen, and they wait for God to act. But, they do proclaim God’s word to the community. They begin to tease the imagination of the community. There will be plenty in the desert. There will be abundance in the wilderness. There will be life made possible – even here!

Moses and Aaron prepare the people for what they must do in order to receive God’s gift. In Egypt, there were those with and those without. In Egypt, the powerful prosper and the weak wasted away. In Egypt, those with a lot got more, while those who had little often found themselves with even less. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer. But, not in God’s wasteland! Here, we see God’s provision is enough for everyone to have what they need. Everyone’s need is met. There’s just enough. Exactly enough. Nobody has more than they need. Nobody has less than they need. In God’s new world order, Egypt’s way of life is eradicated and replaced with a social order of “enough” for all. Top to bottom. Strong and weak. Rich and poor. Young and old. All have enough!