Have you ever wondered how the Hebrews could walk through the middle of the Red Sea and a short time later, start complaining about their living conditions? Time after time, they grumbled about the lack of water, lack of food, Moses’ leadership, etc. These are the people God condemned to wandering in the wilderness for forty years until all but two of them were dead. Why?
The adults had grown up in Egyptian culture. It would be hard to live in any culture for the span of a lifetime without adopting at least some of the local beliefs and habits, attitudes and traditions. The Hebrew people had lived in Egypt 400 years—nearly twice as long as the U.S. has been a nation. There’s no record they’d heard anything from God during that time. Egypt and its ways were all the adults in the population had ever known. They may have had a cultural religion, but God wanted it to be more personal.
He spent forty years teaching them, developing a relationship with the people He’d chosen as His own. Forty years of camping in the wilderness. Forty years of eating quail and manna…and nothing else. Forty years of wearing the same clothes. Forty years until all the adults who’d grown accustomed to Egyptian influences had passed away.
The people who entered the Promised Land with Joshua had been young children when their families left Egypt. Their earliest memories likely included the fear of walking between un-natural walls of water piled up in the Red Sea, the oddity of kicking up dry sand and rocks on the sea bed, and the combined horror and elation as the sea swallowed up their enemies behind them. They’d remember the desert thirst being quenched with the taste of pure water from a source that had been bitter only moments before. And later with water that poured from a rock, of all things! They’d remember the hunger, too. And waking up that first morning to find flakes of something like snow covering the ground. “What is it?” they asked each other. The question became the food’s name. Manna–“What is it?” They’d have seen the flocks of quail arrive and tasted the first luscious bite of meat.
But these people who’d grown up in the desert would also remember the terrifying judgments, when their elders fell back into Egyptian ways and customs instead of following the new laws. Thousands dead in one day from fire, or disease, or earthquake.
This generation grew up observing not the ways of Egypt, but the provisions and punishments and even the rewards of the God who brought them out of slavery. They’d experienced Him firsthand and learned to trust His ways. They were ready to take possession of the promise given to their ancestor, Abraham. And yet, as that generation died off, Israel dropped into idolatry and rebellion again and again.
In the centuries and millennia since that time, God has not changed. He still desires a personal faith. He sent Jesus Christ as evidence of His desire for a personal relationship with His people. That’s what we celebrate at Christmas. Without that experience of knowing Him and His ways, we are doomed to wandering in the wilderness. And as that generation that experienced God’s way firsthand died off, Israel dropped into idolatry and rebellion again and again. Truly, one must experience God firsthand to have a solid, living faith.
Have you experienced a personal relationship with God? Have you encouraged your children to seek a relationship with Him? If not, pray and ask God to reveal Himself to you in a personal way this Christmas season.