Ornament of Grace

Ornament of Grace
October 13, 2019

A MURMURING MINDSET

In Exodus 12, the “Passover” event occurred, at which time Pharaoh finally let Israel depart from Egypt, from their bondage.  However, the Biblical text tells us that afterward, Pharaoh changed his mind and pursued after the Israelites with his army and chariots. At this point, our story begins…

Can you even fathom what it would have been like to be a part of the throng of Israelites, basically running for their lives that day, being pursued by the cruel, heartless task-masters that had kept their forefathers in bondage for over 400 years, and now to realize those evil ones were still not willing to loosen their iron grip of control over the Israeli slave labor force, after all these years? With hearts in their throats, sheer terror and adrenaline propelling them forward, the Israelites endured the several hundred-mile trek toward the Red Sea.
I try to visualize what the people at the front of the crowd felt like when they reached the banks of the Red Sea. They were forced to move forward whether they were afraid or not. What else could they do? It had to be an incredible moment because when they stepped out by faith, something miraculous happened!  Instantly, before their very eyes, the sea parted!  Like a gigantic rug, the waters rolled back creating a massive wall on either side, allowing the Israelites to walk (hurriedly) across on dry land! Exodus 14:31 tells us the people grew in their faith in the Lord, as a result of witnessing this “great work”. And one would certainly hope they would never be the same again!

What was it like to stand on the other side, watching the waters overwhelm the Egyptian army, perhaps hundreds at a time? Exodus chapter 15:1-2 says that in those moments, Moses and the people began singing praises to their God: “I will sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously. The horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.” Watching the waters crashing down upon their enemies must have emboldened the Israelites to sing louder and louder in more fervent, boisterous praise! “The Lord is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation.”

Make no mistake about it. It was a sad day in history when the godless Egyptians aroused the fury of Almighty God! They found out very quickly that “the Lord is a man of war.” It must have been both a very terrible and very sobering scene.
Exodus 15 describes the carnage: “captains also are drowned in the Red Sea…they sank into the bottom as a stone….Thy right hand hath dashed in pieces the enemy, they sank as lead in the mighty waters.”
Under the Divinely-appointed leadership of Moses, the better part of that day was spent with the people singing and praising God, as they rested upon the banks of the Red Sea.

The Bible states that Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, “…took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances.” Miriam sang and played music with the ladies as she led them away from where the men and children were, to a place of respite where they could fellowship together. There, they felt the freedom to ask questions and express their concerns to each other. What would their lives be like now that they were liberated from Egypt? Most of the women in the group were wives and mothers, some even pregnant at the time. Maybe their heads were spinning with “what if’s.” In the days ahead, how would their families’ needs for food and shelter be met? Every one of those women had left behind in Egypt, the only home they had ever known. Now, in the midst of unfamiliar territory, to say they were experiencing huge changes in their personal lives was an understatement.

Nevertheless, in spite of their fears and doubts, at this, the beginning of their long wilderness journey, they should be given credit for following the Biblical command, “In everything give thanks for this is the will of God…concerning you.” (1 Thess. 5:18)  In those moments, all the women made the spiritual choice to sing and praise the Lord together, no matter what their emotions were telling them. What an encouraging, blessed time it must have been!

Amazingly, they began to notice that singing together relaxed their spirits. There was just something powerful about focusing on words that exalted Almighty God! It brought peace to their hearts, even causing them to remember situations from the past when God had also provided for them in miraculous ways. By intentionally choosing to thank and praise the Lord, their stress went down and their mindset became joyful. No doubt, the change was noticeable to their husbands and children also.

Later that day, Moses began preparations to lead the Israelites away from the Red Sea and into the wilderness of Shur. The people did not realize it at the time, but their first challenge, post- Egyptian life and the parting of the Red Sea, was soon upon them. The Bible says, “they went three days in the wilderness, and found no water.” Then they arrived at Marah where there was water, but alas, it was bitter! (Sadly, this may have been the last straw for some of the most cynical and self-focused ones in the crowd. Attitude issues may have begun brewing…)

Prior to their exodus from Egypt, the women had prepared food for their families to last a few days. By this time, their provisions were depleted and everyone was starting to complain and “murmur” against Moses. Through the eyes of the flesh, their “logic” determined that these problems had to be their leader’s fault. It is such a typical, human response to blame someone when things go awry.

Being a pastor’s wife, I think I understand a little bit about what Moses went through. For Moses to lead 2-3 million people through an unknown wilderness to the Promised Land was no small feat. Every day, every decision he made had to be done by faith. As a mortal man, Moses didn’t know any more about what lay ahead than anyone else did. However, it was imperative that he understand his own human limitations, all the while seeking the Lord’s direction in order to make spiritual decisions. If he failed to do this, what hope did the Israelite congregation have of ever reaching the Promised Land?

Moses also had to determine to not let the murmurings of the people discourage or defeat him.
They were only 3 days into their journey and already murmuring was a big problem. The fact
that it continued on for the next 40 years offers a glimpse into Moses’ faithfulness and
determination to obey God, no matter what.

Exodus 16:7-8 shows Moses and Aaron reminding the nation of Israel about the miracles God had already performed mere days before, and also assuring the people that God was still in control. How could it be that they had so soon forgotten? At this same time, Moses clearly pointed out their sin by saying, “…your murmurings are not against us, but against the Lord.” Amen! This is always true, by the way. Complaining is an affront to God’s Will in our lives.

So many times the Israelites seemed accusatory toward God. They acted as if He didn’t care about them, and had sent them out into the wilderness to die. How sad that they held such an unkind and ungodly view of God! Having access to the Bible, today we are able to read the entire story of their journey through the wilderness, and along with it, we see a completely different view of who God was to those people.

Of course God knew the waters at Marah were bitter. He didn’t send the Israelites there to trick them. He allowed that situation to cause them to turn to Him, trusting and depending upon their Heavenly Father to meet their needs. God used the circumstances in their lives to teach the people to walk by faith, yea, even to “stretch” their faith, so it would be stronger to meet the next challenge. He did all these things with the goal in mind of making them better people, and thereby more useful in His service.

God also knew they would need daily food provisions, once their personal supplies ran out. Again, He wanted the people to rely on their loving Heavenly Father, by faith, with thankful hearts, remembering all that He had done for them in the past. What love He showed the people by the manna He provided every morning, and this was only one of His providential displays of love! When, in the history of the world, has the Creator God ever designed a personal cloud to protect, comfort and guide people along, day by endless day! Oh what manner of love our God bestows upon his people!

Instead of murmuring, complaining and worrying, I wonder how much stress and pain they could have saved themselves if they had only turned to the Lord in thankfulness and praise? It is never God’s will for His children to see everything far in advance. Instead, He wants us to walk with Him in faith, step by step and day by day.

How different would their outlook on life had been, if they had chosen to believe that no matter what, God was Good! Their negative, often cantankerous spirit brought no joy to their life. It never does. Whether or not they could see it or understand it, God loved them and had their best interests at heart. Scripture reminds us that their insistence on focusing on their problems and continually murmuring about them, eventually caused them to harden their hearts in all areas. How tragic to see how their selfish thoughts and opinions actually caused them to end up thinking evil of the Lord God, the very One Who had delivered them from oppressive Egyptian slavery!

You would think that those people would have realized that a God Who is powerful enough to part the Red Sea and drown every last one of their enemies right before their very eyes, was certainly a big enough God to make sure they had sweet water, enough water, enough food and everything else they could possibly need!

All of this is a sad commentary on the children of Israel, and I admit it is quite easy to see the “mote in their eye,” is it not? I think that we, as modern day women, need to be honest. Are we also just as guilty? If our life-long faith journey were published for the world to read, would there be just as much evidence of murmuring, stubbornness and outright refusal to trust the Lord, as is found in the lives of these people? If they have a mote in their eyes…is it possible we might have a “beam” in ours? (See Matt. 7:1-5)

Do we also complain and murmur against God’s provisions in our lives? Do we feel sorry for ourselves and assume we are unloved by God or others? Do we fight with being self-focused and unwilling to reach out to lift the burdens other people carry? What about when something happens that we don’t like? Do we look for someone to blame, or are we willing to examine our own heart to see “if there be any wicked way in me?” Do we intentionally choose to praise the Lord in the midst of our own painful trials, or do we succumb to murmuring and self-pity?

How does one develop a “Murmuring Mindset,” you may ask? Whether I’m talking about the Israelites or myself, no one murmurs without certain thoughts or complaints first being entertained in the mind or heart. The Bible clearly states “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh.” (Matt. 12:34)

Murmuring usually starts small, may seem “normal,” and can even be something we feel entitled to. After all, the Israelites experienced extreme trauma in their lives. Not even considering the events prior to the exodus, but just being pursued by enraged “control freaks,” would be enough fodder to justifiably cause a person to develop a fretful, distrustful mindset, don’t you think? For all of us, at times, life’s difficulties can make it hard to trust people or even the Lord. Murmuring is complaining, even if only in our minds. If we truly believe God is in control, I also must accept that He has allowed certain things to be a part of my life, whether I like them or not. My response should be humility and surrender.

We are responsible for what goes on between our own ears. We choose our thoughts. We make our own personal decisions as to what we allow to enter our mind and lodge there. At first, the children of Israel made the right choices. They sang joyful songs and praised the Lord. Sadly, by the time they arrived at Marah their “tune” (no pun intended) had completely changed! The only explanation is that with each step they took, they became increasingly focused on the hardships, adjustments, and changes ahead. God was calling them to “let go” of it and follow Him to a higher plane of living, but they would not cooperate.  God’s love did not want them “stuck” in their tragic past, or in their difficult present.

It is the same for modern-day children of God. We have our own “wilderness” to pass through. Our challenges may be different than what the Israelites faced, but they are just as real. Whether we are struggling with health problems, a financial crisis, or relationship issues, the answer is the same.

Are we cooperating with, or resisting God’s work in us? Are we willing to wait on the Lord for His answer, and in His timing? So many times Moses tried to help the people, but they refused. It behooves each of us to stay humble, teachable, and willing to be helped. We need to examine our thinking.  Are we open to instruction or are we usually convinced we are right?  Are we focused on our problems or willing to truly “let go,” and surrender them to the Lord? Am I humble enough to acknowledge Who God is, and that I am wrong to doubt Him?

By their own choice, thousands of Israelites never saw the Promised Land. They went to their graves, “stuck” with nothing to show for their years of wilderness wanderings, but a stubborn will, a hardened heart, and a Murmuring Mindset.

How sad. This was never God’s Plan for them. They really missed out on so many blessings…

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.”  (Jer. 29:11)