Our story today follows up on last week. The Israelites have just been
rescued by God in one of the greatest miracles in history. A sea was parted and
walls of water stood alongside them as they escaped into freedom. Yesterday
they were slaves with hard labor, watching their children be killed by an
oppressive king, and today there is a sea between them and they are safe. That’s
the kind of thing you think would make an impression, and would change your attitude
But now today as we heard the story, the people are already complaining.
“Oh, how we wish that God had just put us to death in Egypt, we are going to
starve to death out here in the desert.” Now, in some ways, their complaints are
justified. They are in a desert. There isn’t much water, and there isn’t much
food. Clearly they are still in a difficult situation. That much we understand,
but what seems a little shocking is that they are so focused on their current
situation, they have forgotten already just how powerful the God that they are
following is and what God has done for them.
Think about it, if God just parted a sea, can’t God provide food in the
desert? If God wanted to rescue them just a few days ago, would God abandon them
already? Logically it would be silly for God to go to such great lengths to
save them, just so that they would die a few days later in the desert. But the
people aren’t being logical, in fact, people seldom are when they are afraid.
They are in a new place, with new problems, and so that is what they are
focused on. They don’t just have the “What have you done for me lately?”
approach to God, they have the, “What are you going to do for me now?”
In the midst of their complaints, God is amazingly patient. God doesn’t get
mad and say, “If you all don’t stop complaining, I’ll turn this car around and
do just what you ask, put you back into slavery.”
Instead, God responds with Manna – which if you say “Man, uh, what is this
stuff” – you actually get what the word means. Manna in Hebrew means “what is
People are still trying to figure that out. One theory is that it was a
sweet tasting secretion of a kind of plant lice that infected certain shrubs in
the Sinai desert. Kind of like honey, only from a different bug. Another theory
was that it was either dried algae or lichen that had been carried on the wind
and landed at their feet.
Neither of those sound quite like restaurant quality cuisine. On the other hand
– perhaps it was heavenly food, that tasted like ambrosia. But that really
doesn’t matter, because whatever it was, God had saved them again.
Whenever we read this story, it is always easy to be hard on the
Israelites. We think, if I had just been saved by God through the parting of
the sea, I would have trusted God and wouldn’t have complained. But I think we
The truth is that as human beings we are good at complaining, even after we
have immediately witnessed a miracle of God. There's an old story that comes
out of the Missouri Ozarks,
I bet you have heard it a time or two; it tells of a hound dog sitting in a
country store, howling his head off, as hounds are prone to do. A stranger came
in and said to the storekeeper, "What's the matter with that dog?"
The man said, "He's sittin' on a cockleburr." "Then," asked
the stranger, "why doesn't he get off?" "Because," replied
the storekeeper, "he'd rather holler!"
As human beings we’d often rather holler than move because, I think it has
to do with our fear of change. When a miracle happens that leads us into a new
place, we are frightened, we don’t know what to expect, and all those fears and
anxieties overwhelm us. There is a part of us that would rather keep things the
way they are, even if they are rotten, even if it involves being enslaved and
beaten and watching our children die. Because moving on to something new, just
might be worse.
When I am counseling people and they want to make a change for the better
in their lives, I often warn them, that it will get worse before it gets
This is not pessimism on my part. It is a reality of change. When we want
to change something, the first step of change often feels easy. God has given
us a miracle and we run through it with joy. But when we get to the other side
it is unfamiliar and frightening, and emotionally there is a big part of us
that would rather go back. We would actually rather be stuck in our prior
problems than improve our lives.
For example, Maureen Brady talks about how sexual abuse survivors often
self-sabotage improving their lives. “Sometimes we self-sabotage just when
things seem to be going smoothly. Perhaps this is a way to express our fear
about whether it is okay for us to have a better life. We are bound to feel
anxious as we leave behind old notions of our unworthiness. The challenge is
not to be fearless, but to develop strategies of acknowledging our fears and
finding out how we can allay them.”
And so we fight the changes we know we want to make. Or sometimes it isn’t
we ourselves who fight it, but everyone around us: our families, our friends,
our coworkers. They don’t like the changes we are making and so they actually
fight against us – usually without even thinking about it.
It is amazing how often an alcoholic will be committed to stop drinking,
but when he or she does the stress in the family actually increases. For so
long, alcoholism has been the center of their life. It has been what they
tip-toed around, what they fought about, what they worried about, what they
stressed about, and now there is this void. The alcoholic now has to face
problems they have avoided, and they are trying to break their one familiar and
comfortable pattern they used to deal with them – what emerges instead can be
fear, blame, anger and hypersensitivity. At times the family, in the face of
this new problem will actually intentionally or unintentionally sabotage the
alcoholic’s attempt to become sober. This actually was part of the reason that
Al-Anon was started.
Those are just examples, but the reality is that resistance happens with
many types of change. God leads us into a miraculous new place, and although
our first reaction is joy, a few days later we find ourselves wishing the miracle
had never happened.
So what should we do, when we discover ourselves complaining just after
experiencing a miracle?
Remember that God is still at work in our lives even after the first step
and the big miracle. God has more miracles ahead, we simply have to be willing
to fight through our own fears and anxieties about the change. Use that logical
part of your brain – say to yourself, God wouldn’t have brought me through the
Red Sea just to let me die in the desert. God will be faithful. Keep saying that
over and over to yourself!
Remember also, that although we may look at the new situation God has given
us and ask “What is this?” just like the people looked at the manna and
wondered what it was, this unrecognized thing is a provision from the hand of
God. Our new situation may be uncomfortable, it may be unknown, but it is part
of the pathway of God – leading us on a journey to the promised land.
We have to be willing to accept the discomfort even in the face of the
unknown. We have to be willing to face the resistance of others in order to get
to the land that God has promised for us in the future. Keep your eyes open so
that you see each miracle along the way, remember the miracles of the past, and
most of all know that God has not abandoned us in the process, God will
continue to help us, we simply have to trust and believe.