The Old Testament is part of the Bible we may not often turn to in favor of comforting Psalms or tidbits about Jesus' life in the Gospels. But it has many interesting stories and lessons that we can learn. Whether you're looking for a new topic for your next Bible study at an assisted living community under the Bethesda Senior Living Communities umbrella or just wanting to explore the Old Testament on your own time, Moses and the Israelites is a good place to start.
Although the book of Exodus opens over four centuries after the end of its predecessor Genesis, it picks up right where Genesis left off. After spending 430 years in abject poverty and enslaved by the Egyptian monarchy, the Israelites were desperately crying out to God for the deliverance promised by Joseph in Genesis 50:25. As Exodus continues, the Lord commissions Moses to spearhead this deliverance and lead the Israelites into the Promised Land, a central part of the covenant God had made with Abraham in Genesis 12 to make his descendants into a great nation.
When Pharaoh gives no regard to Moses’s petition to let the Lord’s people go free, God inflicts the Ten Plagues upon Egypt. At the cost of losing his firstborn son in the 10th and final plague, Pharaoh finally agrees to set the Israelites free but then has a sudden change of heart and pursues them to the Red Sea.
Here, God delivers the Israelites from Pharaoh’s clutches once more by parting the waters and allowing the Israelites to cross safely, and then closes the gap and swallows the Pharaoh and his army in the ensuing torrent (Exodus 14). At last, the Israelites were a free people.
From here, they pressed onward to Mt. Sinai, where God bestowed Moses with the Ten Commandments. But the Israelites failed to obey God, almost immediately breaking commandments by indulging in idolatry. Because of their lack of loyalty to the God who had just liberated them from tyranny, he punished them with 40 years of wandering through desert wilderness before being able to enter the Promised Land. During this time, the Israelites experienced the humbling dependence on God that comes from learning to fully rely upon Him.
It's a sad story — even though we know how great the eventual ending is — and it's normal to wonder why the Israelites couldn't just do what they were supposed to do. But there are also some important lessons we can learn from the Israelites’ years spent wandering.
“By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light.” (Exodus 13:21)
Even after their unfaithfulness to Him, God never left His people alone on their journey to fend for themselves. In the same way, He will never leave or forsake you. Even in times when you may forget how merciful and powerful He is, He does not forget about you. His presence is always there — a reminder that you haven’t been left on your own in the wilderness.
Maybe the way He is leading you doesn’t make much sense at the moment, or His timing feels off, or the wait too long. Maybe wandering in desert places is the last thing you want to do right now. Trust that He knows the way and is seeing a bigger picture that you may not be quite yet. All things work together for good for those who trust in the Lord. (Romans 8:28)
“Then the angel of God… withdrew and went behind them.” (Exodus 14:19)
Even in moments when it may not make sense to you, God will give you the victory and the power, as He did for the Israelites after a fierce ambush by the Amalekites. He provides in miraculous ways and will never leave you to fight the enemy with your strength alone.
When the Israelites were hungry, God sent manna (Exodus 16:4). When they were thirsty, God sent water gushing from a stone. Not a day passed without a providential miracle occurring right before the Israelites’ eyes. All they had to do was accept the blessings and praise their Source.
Perhaps in the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life, you forget the grace of the Lord’s deliverance. Even in these days, He waits faithfully for you to notice the miracles right before your eyes.
“‘I have seen these people,’ the Lord said to Moses, ‘and they are a stiff-necked people.'" (Exodus 32:9)
Complaining, lack of faith, hearts far from God — things far too common in the Israelites during the wandering years. It’s often easy to lose sight of how far sin is carrying you away from the direction God is trying to take you, even after being redeemed through His mercy and grace. What may start as a dissatisfied, grumbling heart can lead you further into a place you never wanted to be. Still, God in His forgiveness lifts us out and places us on solid ground. Even with all the Israelites’ shortcomings, the Lord outstretched His arms and said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Exodus 33:14)
Remember God’s power and presence goes with you wherever life may take you. In learning from the Israelites’ example, strive to practice diligent prayer and mindfulness to help you keep your faith fixed upon Him in the wilderness. Where you don’t see a way, know He will make one. Where you may have an empty space, He will fill it. In all circumstances, the Lord is your strength and your song. (Exodus 15:2)