A couple of years ago, some friends and I spent over 30 hours in the car together. The last leg of our trip took us through Atlanta and about 200 miles east to Columbia. We hit Atlanta at midnight and were desperate for a way to stay awake for the next three hours. One of us had the idea to play a few rounds of Would You Rather. The game consists of making choices between two equally difficult options. For example, would you rather be itchy for the rest of your life or sticky for the rest of your life? Or, would you rather spend a year needing to sneeze but not being able to or having something stuck in your eye?
Thankfully, my friends and I kept ourselves occupied and awake playing Would You Rather. What made the game entertaining was the struggle we went through trying to make our choices each round. The game wouldn’t be much fun at all if one of the options was far superior to the other. Sadly, though, our skills in the game don’t always translate well into real life. We are prone to make choices driven by fear, doubt, and familiarity instead of faith, hope, and a proper sense of value.
An example of this comes from Israel’s history. After 430 as slaves in Egypt, God miraculously delivered His people from the hand of Pharaoh. Each of the former slaves walked on dry ground as the Lord held back the Red Sea on both sides. This is great news, because surely they’d rather be free than be slaves. It seems like a no-brainer.
I’d expect the Israelites to be singing God’s praises as they marched out of slavery toward the land He promised to give them as their own. Instead, Numbers 11:1 says that “the people complained in the hearing of the Lord about their misfortunes.” My question is: what misfortunes? Being rescued from slavery? Crossing the Red Sea to safety? Being led by God Himself in the form of a cloud and fire? Feasting on manna from heaven?
Their complaining continued: “The people of Israel also wept again and said, ‘O that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength has dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at’” (11:4-6). The poor Israelites had nothing to look at except what God had graciously, faithfully, miraculously provided. How sad for them.
In her Bible study titled Seamless, Angie Smith observed, “It is a dark point in history when you have a bunch of people who have finally left slavery and now they want to go back because they’re having a craving for leeks.”
The issue was obviously deeper than their stomachs. Forgetfulness gave way to ungratefulness, and unbelief was underneath it all. God’s people doubted whether He would do what was best for them – whether He’d give them exactly what they needed when they needed it.
I’m sure the Israelites realized independence is preferable to slavery, but their newfound freedom meant they had to trust God to meet their most basic needs day in and day out. The familiarity of slavery became more appealing than the discipline of walking by faith.
The aversion to living by faith wasn’t unique to the Israelites. Sometimes it seems like we’d rather do anything than let go of the illusion of control and trust God to be who He is. We sing words like “Spirit, lead me where my trust is without borders” and then avoid any situation we can’t predict or manage. Unfortunately, like the Israelites, we’re not always quick to see the irony.
Trusting God may be uncomfortable, but it’s not irrational. In fact, as far as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is concerned, unbelief is far less reasonable than faith.
Would God really rescue the Israelites from Pharaoh only to leave them stranded at the Red Sea? Would He really save them from the Egyptian army only to let them go hungry in the wilderness? Would He really promise them their own land only to discover they’d never be able to conquer it?
These questions sound different in our context. Would God really lead you away from a job only to stop providing for you? Would He really ask you to use the gifts He’s given you in a particular capacity only to forget to equip or empower you? Would He really promise to work for His eternal glory and your ultimate good only to find His hands tied by your difficult circumstances?
Here’s the deal. We can either live our lives confident that God can split the sea in front of us, provide in the wilderness around us, and keep His promises to us, or we can turn around at the shoreline, grumble in the desert, and fret at the border of the Promised Land. In the words of Solomon, we can either trust in the Lord with all our hearts or we can lean on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5).
The choice is yours. Would you rather…?