Numbers 14:1 Then the whole community began weeping aloud, and they cried all night.2 Their voices rose in a great chorus of protest against Moses and Aaron. “If only we had died in Egypt, or even here in the wilderness!” they complained. 3 “Why is the Lord taking us to this country only to have us die in battle? Our wives and our little ones will be carried off as plunder! Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?” 4 Then they plotted among themselves, “Let’s choose a new leader and go back to Egypt!”
Dear wandering Israelites,
How quickly you’ve become kindred spirits.
Here in the 21st century, I get to see a full view of your story: beginning, inciting incident, rising action, climax, falling action, conclusion. I’ve seen the depths of despair you experienced enslaved in Egypt for hundreds of years, clinging onto your faith the only way you knew how: through wailing and weeping. I’ve watched in nervous anticipation as Moses tells you that it is time for deliverance. I understand your cycles of doubt and awe and worship and unbelief as you wander in the wilderness.
Many of you die in your 40-year wilderness of waiting, having seen glimpses of God’s glory, but never fully able to walk into the promised land.
I wonder if your premature deaths parallel the realization of my own longings. My resolve to follow God’s commands is waning and warring with a hope long suppressed. Does God have something good in store for us? My faith is wavering, but who else can I turn to? There is no one greater.
But there is so much danger. God will take care of us . . . in His own way. We may suffer for years and die a terrible death. We may survive and see our deepest desires fulfilled in this life. There are no guarantees. We are only promised God’s presence.
And the question is – can we trust God knows what we need better than we ourselves?
We have only the choice to obey or disobey. The final outcome will remain the same.
Friends, I want to go with you back to Egypt. Yes, we were enslaved, but at least we knew where our next meal was coming from (however meager it was), that we had a place to sleep at night (however uncomfortable it was), and we did not have the burden of freedom weighing on our shoulders, heavier than the largest piles of bricks.
The burden of freedom pulls back the veil to expose the internal war within us all. When we take on the burden of freedom, God will call us to do the impossible. It is only when we step out into seemingly empty air to cross a bottomless canyon that we feel something solid beneath our feet, despite all appearances that we are going to break all the bones in our body if we take one more step.
Hebrews 11:13-16 13 All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. 14 Obviously people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. 15 If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. 16 But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
If you had the context of Hebrews 11, I believe you would still make the same mistakes. I don’t say this to discourage you, only to empathize with you that your rollercoaster of emotions is the pulse of my own life. The pull of self-rule is tempting no matter how many warning signs and caution tape and examples of faith you receive.
Oh, nomadic Israelites, how my heart hurts for you.
5For your Maker is your husband—
the Lord Almighty is his name—
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
he is called the God of all the earth.
6 The Lord will call you back
as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit—
a wife who married young,
only to be rejected,” says your God.
7 “For a brief moment I abandoned you,
but with deep compassion I will bring you back.
8 In a surge of anger
I hid my face from you for a moment,
but with everlasting kindness
I will have compassion on you,”
says the Lord your Redeemer.
Can we believe? With all the context, with the overarching story in view, I will try. But friends, I will fail, just like you . . . as history repeats itself, so will the individual story of the prodigal son. We are all prodigals in our own way, with nothing but a choice to turn away or to turn back. Rinse and repeat.
Homesick for Egypt,