Rebellion and Forgetfulness
(40) How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness and grieved him in the desert! (41) Again and again they tested God and provoked the Holy One of Israel. (42) They did not remember his power nor the day when he ransomed them from the enemy (43) when he worked his signs in Egypt and his wonders in the fields of Zoan. (44) He turned their rivers into blood so they could not drink from their streams. (45) He sent among them swarms of flies which devoured them and frogs which ruined them. (46) He gave their crops to the caterpillar and the fruit of their labor to the locust swarm.
While there are no specific repetitions in his segment, the emphasis of the first two verses is clear from the four verbs that are used to describe how Israel had responded to God’s grace: “rebelled against him...grieved him...tested... provoked him.” Note also the synonymous use of “often” and “again and again” to emphasize Israel’s pattern of constantly turning aside from God’s path of obedience.
I. Israel repeatedly rebelled against God in the wilderness. (40 & 41)
II. Israel rarely remembered God’s mighty miracles. (42-46)
A rebellious heart often results from our failure to remember how loving God has been to us throughout our lives.
“Quick fuses and short memories” is an apt description of Israel’s forty years in the wilderness. At any provocation or inconvenience, the nation was ready to complain about the hardships they faced, ready to let God know they were unhappy with the treatment they were receiving. They quickly forgot God’s long record of faithfully delivering, faithfully providing, and lovingly guiding and protecting them through mile after mile of hostile wilderness trekking. How many signs and wonders would it take to convince them that God would never abandon them? How many partings of the sea, showers of manna and quail, streams of water pouring from rocks were necessary to prove God’s faithfulness?
It is easy for us to look back at Israel’s sorry record and say, “We would not have acted this way. We would never have complained or tested God like that.” Really??! If we are honest with ourselves we would have to admit that the circumstances we have faced, the problems we have undergone, the difficulties we have encountered have far too often caused us to question God’s loving care. All too readily we cry, “Where are you God? Why have you let this happen to me?” We need to evaluate our lives according to the checklist Paul gave us in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.
✓ Be joyful always.
✓ Pray continually.
✓ Give thanks in all circumstances.
When we look at our lives this way, we might not be so ready to condemn the failures of the Israelites. Instead, we should learn from them how not to behave and determine to show God the gratitude and submissive spirit that he richly deserves for all the benefits he has showered upon us.