Lesson 3 - Absence of Water - Thirst and Longing
This lesson focuses on the Wilderness journey and the people’s thirst.
The Journey: As we begin I think that we need to begin with the journey itself, and the images which are associated with it. The Exodus/wilderness story begins with the people being in captivity in Egypt. Even though they continue to be fruitful and multiply, they cannot fulfill God’s great commission to take possession of the land God had promised Abraham. And because they cannot do so they cannot bless all of the nations of the earth, thus God’s plan for restoration of creation is in peril. The Exodus event then becomes more than a liberation story, it almost becomes a story of re-creation; of the creation having a second chance to be reclaimed. We see this in the God subduing the waters of the sea (just as God did in Genesis 1) in order that life come from/through it. Humanity and God’s plan for it will now have a new beginning.
The Problems: The first problem is that the other side of the waters is not the land flowing with milk and honey. It is a wilderness. Little wonder then that the cheers of the people once liberated become the grousing of the people who have not found this new and wonderful creation that they were promised. Instead they find a place which has no food and no water. They are driven to a place which will not sustain life; which has yet to be “recreated.” The second problem is that unlike Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, these people have no track record with God. They have not learned to trust God, or God’s servant Moses. They are on a large learning curve. The third problem is that they, like most human beings, have a tendency to make the past out to be nicer than it was. Rather than seeing the past as it was (being slaves and trying to make bricks without straw), they see it as a place with lots to eat. In a sense slavery was more like the land of milk and honey than is the wilderness into which they have gone. All of these problems then lead them to “test” God.
The Response: There are two responses. The first is that of the people. The people begin by complaining and accusing Moses of having led them their deaths. By extension, this also implicates God because it was God who used Moses to lead them to freedom. Moses then complains to God. The second response is that of God. God responds by giving the people what they need, water.
And what we need to notice about God’s response is that God does not condemn the people. God provides and does so in a miraculous manner. The writer makes the comment that God blesses creation even when “creation does not deserve God’s blessing.” (pg. 27) The reality is that creation never deserves God’s blessing. In fact the relationship between God and creation has nothing to do with deserving. It has to do with relationship, faithfulness and covenant. God has cut a covenant not only with the people of Abraham. God has cut it with all of creation. All of creation is God’s. God cares for it. God will bring it to completion.
The Reason: So why the wilderness? Why have the people go through it rather than immediately head to the land of promise? Why have the people go through a time without water? Here are some possible answers. First, this is how God works. God is not Santa Claus. God develops human beings through periods of testing and journey. As fallen creatures, human beings need to be “rebuilt.” They/we need to discover what it means to trust God and be in relationship with God. This only comes through journeys in which there is this interplay between God’s providence and human response/responsibility. There need to be wilderness times in which we are stretched and during which we develop a sense of what we are capable of and of how we still need to be dependent on God. Second, we need moments when we are forced to look more deeply into who we are and what is it that God has in store for us. This is part of the story of Jesus being sent into the wilderness after his baptism. He has to go out and learn who he is and what he has been called to do. Jesus’ words on the cross “I thirst” are words spoken by someone who is once again in the wilderness, being tested as he heads toward a new liberation.
These wilderness moments are those times when spiritual thirst and tough times drive us to ask deeper and more profound questions about God, the universe and everything. If everything always goes well then we seldom ask those kinds of questions and God can get lost or left behind.
1. When have you been in the “wilderness”? How did it feel and what did you learn?
2. Why do you suppose our natural inclination is often to complain first and trust God later?
3. How do you see your wilderness times as preparation for something better?