Being raised in a Christian home meant that I grew up listening to a variety of Christian music, like Keith Green. Even though his life was tragically cut short, he wrote many songs that are still sung in churches today. One song, though not necessarily your typical praise chorus, came to mind this week as I read Numbers 14. “So You Want to Go Back to Egypt” is a lighthearted song about the serious sin of the Israelites as they wandered in the desert. In some ways it highlights how ridiculous and foolish it is to doubt God’s promises to us. Often our sin seems most hideous when we put it into the light, like this song does. And it’s a good reminder that we can fall into the same trap of complaining against what God has done for us.
In Numbers 14 the Israelites grumble and complain against Moses, and ultimately God, because their time in the wilderness is not what they thought it would be. God had promised them land, prosperity, and rest, and all they were experiencing was wandering and daily rations of manna. Where was this land flowing with milk and honey? Where was the promised prosperity? They were tired of living in tents, moving from place to place, and being led by a cloud. And they were certainly tired of following Moses, who somehow continued to lead them into more wilderness wanderings. To make matters seem worse, the land their spies scoped out in Numbers 13 was full of men much larger and stronger than they were. Surely there was some mistake. It all seemed so insurmountable, and very far from what they felt they deserved. The circumstances around them seemed to grow bigger and bigger, and God’s promises started to seem smaller and smaller. So they grumbled and looked longingly back at Egypt—the land of their slavery.
Their story has been convicting me greatly in recent days. I see myself in so much of the grumbling and bitterness that permeates these chapters. I have grumbled against God because of my circumstances. I have questioned his purposes for me and doubted his promises. I have ignored the clear evidences of his provision for me, focusing only on the one thing he was chosen not to give me right now. I, like the Israelites, look at my circumstances and think that anything is better than here. So what is the link between this ancient near eastern people and me?
Because God has chosen me and made me his child, I assume that he should give me what I want. Because God has promised rest and comfort to his children, I assume (like the Israelites) that anything outside of that is less than what I deserve. Maybe I don’t blatantly say it, but in my heart and thoughts I believe it. And this feeling of entitlement finds its home and foundation in the sinful attitude of pride. The Israelites were prideful. They believed that God owed them something because they were his chosen people. But they believed it to their great peril.
The story doesn’t end with their grumbling. Numbers 14:28-38 shows us that it is serious to doubt God’s promises. Not only were they not allowed to enter the Promised Land, proving that they were never really saved, but those who brought a bad report about the land were destroyed immediately. Thankfully, God has not struck me down in the moment of my doubting. But it’s a warning to us all. We cannot take lightly the truth of God’s promises. He is a gracious, merciful, and loving God who promises good things to us. But he is also a jealous God, who does not want us to bring dishonor to him by telling a false story to the world about his goodness. When I act in unbelief I’m telling a lie about who God is.
There is hope for us though. Because we are in Christ, we have an advocate before the Father—Jesus Christ. His righteous atonement for our sin of unbelief (and every other sin) makes a way for us to turn from this sin and no longer live in bitterness and anger towards the God who saved us. This is good news for anyone struggling with unbelief. Yes, it is a serious sin. Yes, it grieves God and makes him (rightly) angry. Yes, we deserve eternal punishment for this sin, just like the Israelites. But God, in his great kindness, extended his scepter of mercy to sinners like us, through the powerful work of Christ on the Cross.
If you are struggling with unbelief today, you have a way of escape. Don’t be like the Israelites, who refused to look to the promises of God. Even if you are faced with a long wilderness journey right now, don't be fooled by the seemingly appealing memories of your life in bondage to sin. Look to the Promised One—Jesus. He is our only hope for rest in this life and in the one to come.