Because We Are Prone to Wander

Originally published Tuesday, 08 July 2014.

My heart is often fickle. One day I will sing praises to God about His wonders and grace. I'll testify to everyone around me about what He has done and how He has answered my prayers. The next day, I'll face unexpected challenges and uphill battles. Things don't go my way. It's one obstacle after another. I grow angry. I grumble and complain. As those challenges intensify, I question God and begin to doubt the very grace I praised just the day before.

In truth, I am a lot like the Israelites.

A Fickle, Stiff-Necked People

After God called Moses to deliver the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, Moses and Aaron met with the elders and leaders of Israel to tell them all that God had told them. "And the people believed; and when they heard that the Lord had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshipped" (Exodus 4:31). So far so good, right?

Shortly after Moses and Aaron confronted Pharaoh the first time, he made the work even harder on the people. He took away the straw they were using to make bricks, yet demanded that they continue to produce the same quantity. In response to their situation worsening, the people sought out Moses and Aaron and said, "The Lord look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us" (Exodus 5:21).

As we know, after the ten plagues, Pharaoh finally let them go. But Pharaoh and his men pursued them to the Red Sea. The people saw the army coming after them and even though they had seen the amazing and mighty hand of God at work during all the plagues, and experienced the angel of death pass them over at the end, they responded to Moses, "Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: 'Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians'? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness" (14:12).

This response wasn't just something that happened occasionally. It became a pattern. Every time the Israelites faced a challenge, trial, or obstacle, they reacted with anger and doubted God. For those of you who are familiar with the story of the Israelite's desert wanderings, you know that they wandered forty years in the wilderness because of their constant complaining, doubting, and their ungrateful, stiff-necked responses toward Moses and God.

But aren't we just the same?

The Cure for Our Fickle Hearts

In Numbers 21, God punished them for their faithlessness by sending fiery serpents which bit many and they died. The people cried out to Moses to pray for them, to intercede on their behalf. Interestingly, God didn't wipe out all the serpents, instead he told Moses to create a snake out of bronze and put it up on a pole in the midst of the camp. Whenever someone had been bitten by a serpent, they were to look to the bronze snake and be healed.

Jesus referred to this passage in John 3 when he was speaking with Nicodemus in the quiet of night. This is the same chapter where we get the well loved verse, John 3:16. Before that famous passage, Jesus tells Nicodemus, "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him" (vs. 14-15).

There is only one cure for our fickle, faithless hearts: the cross of Jesus Christ. We all have the venom of sin flowing through us. We are all terminal; the prognosis is eternal death. Only through faith in the substitutionary work of Christ on our behalf can we be saved.

Jesus entered the wilderness of this life for us. He experienced all the same heartache, grief, temptations, and pains of this forsaken world as we experience yet he never sinned. He too encountered a serpent and stood firm and secure, perfectly loving and obeying his Father. Jesus became sin for us, was cursed for us, and took the punishment we deserved, so that we might look to him and live.

Like the Israelites, we are faithless. We are fickle and our hearts are prone to wander. We doubt God's goodness and question his love for us. Yet God is faithful. Because of Christ's work on our behalf, and through faith in what he has done, we are eternally secure in his love. It will never waver. No matter how fickle and faithless we are, God will never love us any less. There is nothing we or anyone else can do that will separate us from the love God has for us in Christ Jesus. Our emotions may ebb and flow. Our doubts may come and go with the winds of circumstance. But God's steadfast love and grace remains secure. No wonder John Newton penned these words: "Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind, but now I see."

The Israelite's didn't deserve a cure for their serpent bites and we don't deserve one for our sin either. But in the wonder of God's amazing love and grace he has provided a cure. It's the only cure. We simply have to look to the cross and believe.