Meat pots

I’ve just been in a Bible study on Exodus 15:22-17:7. In brief, the Israelites have just seen how great God is, and now they’re not trusting him to provide but are grumbling and wishing for the good old days (of slavery, babies being killed and crying out to God) in Egypt. There are two particularly helpful places to go to understand this passage. Psalm 95 is a warning not to repeat what the Israelites did in the desert and Hebrews 3-4 expounds on Psalm 95.

There are three blocks of grumbling: for water, then food, then water again. My first instinct was to feel sorry for the Israelites the first time – after all they’ve not had any water for three day, they hadn’t yet seen God miraculously provide water for them before, and it’s not obvious from the passage that God was upset with them. Indeed, coming to God through Moses was surely the right thing to do even if grumbling was the wrong way of going about it. As the story progresses, though, they get worse and worse (despite seeing more and more of God’s provision) and the third time (at “Massah and Meribah”, 7:7, cf Psalm 95:8) they reversed God’s testing of them (15:5) and put God himself to the test (17:2, Psalm 95:9). The Israelites didn’t do well, and the warning of Psalm 95 is “do not harden your hearts” as the Israelites did.

But exactly what heart-hardening were the Israelites guilty of? Hebrews 3:13 seems to exand, saying “that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin”. We see this in work in Exodus – in 16:3 the Israelites deceive themselves saying how good things were back in Egypt (“we sat by the meat pots”). They were under the impression that if they were still in Egypt things would be better. They also made out that God wouldn’t provide what he had promised he would, in 7:3 they said Moses (and so God) had brought them out of Egypt to kill them.

It’s quite easy to think the Israelites were muppets – they so quickly forgot how bad things were in Egypt and how powerfully God had already provided for them. But we do the same all the time. So there were two challenges for us, to help us avoid hardening our own hearts. The first: what is our “meat pot”, the thing we think would be better if we weren’t a Christian. For me at the moment, I think it’s praise from other people. I’ve had a load of opportunities to lead things and I’m grateful for them and have loved doing them and having chances to serve. But I also want to be able to point out how amazingly spectacularly well I’ve done and have everyone think I’m, well, amazing and spectacular. My heart tells me that I deserve it, and that I would be far better off if I didn’t have to give glory to God. That is the deceitfulness of sin, and I want to be aware of it and guard against it.

The second part of the challenge is to work out what we God has promised, but I don’t trust him to provide. Thinking over the last few days, I reckon the answer is sanctification – especially with regards to prayer. I’ve been really trying to improve my praying recently but, though I’ve seen God improve me in amazing ways over the last year, I don’t really trust him to be able to make me better at praying. He can, and he’s promised he will so again that is sin’s deceitfulness. I don’t want any of it!

Hebrews says that I need to hold on to my original confidence to show that I share in Christ (3:14). I am glad of the reminder to search and destroy where I’m not trusting God so that I am not hardened by sin’s deceitfulness, and so I can “strive to enter that rest” (4:11).

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