Exodus 16:1 tells us that the Hebrews had camped at Elim for almost a month before they set out for the wilderness of Sin. Let’s take a moment to consider what might have been going on during that time.
Prior to leaving Egypt, the Hebrews were living day-to-day in a hostile environment. They endured the traumatizing cruelty of their taskmasters verbally and physically. Material and spiritual poverty held them captive. Remember that after Moses’ first visit to Pharaoh, Pharaoh mocked Moses’ request to let the people go to sacrifice to the Lord by taking away their straw with which to make bricks, yet their quota remained the same. The people were angry with Moses and Aaron, Moses was confused, but God reassured him that He had made a covenant with the Hebrews and He was going to keep it. When Moses tried to comfort the people with this promise from God, verse 6:9 tells us “they did not listen to Moses on account of their despondency and cruel bondage.” Their suffering had made them blind and deaf to God.
Next on the agenda were the plagues that God brought on Egypt. The first three plagues were experienced by the Egyptians and the Hebrews. Imagine their horror at having all the water turned to blood, the frogs filling their homes and the insects overwhelming them. Can you hear them crying out, “Why, God? Why are things going from bad to worse?”
Is any of this sounding vaguely familiar? Maybe we haven’t had taskmasters standing over us with physical whips, but consider the expectations that might be on you at your job, when you feel like you haven’t been given the time or resources to complete what’s expected of you; or the debt collectors that hound you on the phone, the foreclosure or repairs on the house and car, the doctor bills from unexpected illnesses….and the list goes on and on. Then you hear that God is going to deliver you out of this bondage and you start dreaming of what that freedom will look like only to find that things get worse. Your heart may grow bitter before you even realize it and the next time God tries to comfort you, you can’t hear Him speaking. Your ears are plugged….la-la-la-la-la
The succession of plagues continued over the next couple months. The Hebrews were spared of the consequences, but certainly not spared of the oppression in their environment. The Bible tells us that many of the Egyptian’s eyes were opened to the futility of their gods and came to believe in the God of the Hebrews during this time. They moved to Goshen to live among them. Imagine the upheaval in their communities as all this was going on. It must have been hard to concentrate. They had Egyptian friends that were suffering. Who knows what their working conditions were like during the plagues? Undoubtedly, though, this was not a peaceful time and only added to their stress. Just prior to leaving, they celebrated the Passover. At this point, God had their attention, but did He have their hearts? Were they obeying His instructions out of fear or from a place of worshipful trust? What must it have been like to hear the cries from all the Egyptians on that night when all the firstborns were slain? They were happy to finally leave Egypt, but then they discovered that Pharaoh’s army was chasing them. If that wasn’t bad enough, they found themselves trapped when they got to the Red Sea. Every time something bad happened, they had to have someone to blame. Moses and Aaron took the brunt of the blame, but their real problem was with God.
I don’t know about you, but I can certainly relate to this scenario. There have been numerous times I felt trapped with nowhere to turn. I wanted to blame someone, I wanted to yell at someone, but if I took the time to get ahold of myself, I knew that the only One I could go to was God and He was the One I with whom I was angry. I don’t like being angry with God, because I know I can never win! So I tell Him what I think and then, I have to repent. Times when I haven’t poured out my heart to Him and repented are times when I felt my heart growing hard. Days might go by and I knew something was not right inside me. That’s how bitterness takes root, and I believe that’s what happened to many of the Hebrews.
As God began to lead them through the wilderness, He wanted to replace every fracture of trauma with His Shalom. Shalom is one of those code words. The Bible translates it “Peace” in English, but it means so much more than that. Shalom is a wholeness word, it is a picture of wholeness being restored to every place of trauma and barrenness inside of us. It implies wholeness physically, spiritually, emotionally, relationally, financially and materially. Each stop provided a challenge to their mindset, but it was actually an opportunity for healing a wound in their soul. He was addressing a lie they believed and wanting to replace it with a truth about Himself and His loving nature. Whether they would receive the truth and be healed was up to them. We know that God says, “it is His kindness that leads us to repentance,” or in other words, His kindness causes us to believe something different than we used to so we could be healed.
It is no wonder, then, that the first stop addressed their bitter hearts and God’s ability to heal them, to lead them to salvation. Their hard hearts did not stop Him from leading them to Elim, a beautiful oasis of restoration and a picture of the eternal Kingdom. This was His kindness meant to cause them to change their mind about Him. He let them rest in this place for almost a month giving them a long time to meditate on His goodness. If they would allow themselves the chance to rest, eat their daily bread, drink freely and sleep in the shade, they would begin to feel His life-giving power restored in them.
Since we are walking this same journey toward our promise, we must ask ourselves if we can recognize our oasis. Are we so busy worrying about what’s going to happen next or how we’re going to manage when we get to the promise, that we refuse to receive the gift of rest right now. We may be tempted to think that our own strength and stamina enabled us to persevere to this point, but truly it has been God’s great grace. While we wait to move on, we can choose impatience and anxiety, or shalom and rest. Personally, I’m tired of waiting but I know that if I choose anxiousness and busyness, I will miss out on a great gift from my Father. If I don’t rest now, I will not be at my best when I get to my promise. I will look back and realize that I could have trusted and rested. I don’t want regret in my life, do you?
Look around and see God’s grace surrounding you. It might be uncomfortable, but it might be your oasis. Trust and rest, believe Him and His promises. Be renewed so you’re ready for the next leg of the journey.