Dislocation, Relocation, and Sympathy for the Israelites

Moses Parts the WatersWhen we read about Israelite unbelief prior to crossing the Red Sea we are tempted to think, “Tsk, tsk. Shame on them for their unbelief. Didn’t they know that the Lord would part the waters, lead them through on dry ground, and lead them to the promised land?”

Well, actually, they didn’t, at least not from experience. We have a great advantage over the Israelites, we know from biblical history how the story came out. We know the outcome even before the narrative begins. It’s almost impossible for us to read the story without reading back into their experience what we know about the outcome.

Humans are creatures of habit and of the familiar, even if the familiar is miserable. We like what we know. Ask a social services worker and she will likely tell you stories of abused persons who cannot seem to leave their situation even though there are alternatives. Why? The answer, of course, is complicated but part of it is fear of the unknown. Yes, this is bad but change might be worse. Drug and alcohol addicts won’t change their behavior until there is no other alternative but death and sometimes even that is not sufficient motivation.

The Israelites were called to trust the word of Yahweh mediated through Moses and Aaron. They were called to believe in a future they had never seen, that they could not see with their eyes. They were called to leave a place they hated but which was familiar. They were called to look to a city whose builder and maker is God. They were called to dislocation and relocation. Yes, the Lord revealed himself and his will and even aspects of their future along the way. Yes, the 10 plagues should have been enough to engender trust but they weren’t. Israel grumbled because Israel doubted that the future really will be superior to the present, even if the present meant making bricks without straw.

When their backs were to the Red Sea, they did not know that Yahweh would part the water. They did not know that he would lead those grumblers through the waters, on dry ground, but he did. The grumbling, challenging would continue. Many of them would eventually die in the wilderness, where they wandered for a generation. Moses, their leader and the mediator of God’s covenant with them would sin in unbelief so that even he would not be allowed to enter the land of promise, “the rest” as Hebrews calls it.

Faith is trusting what the Lord says before seeing how it all turns out. It is dislocating the center of confidence from ourselves and our experience to the Lord’s promises. It means seeing ourselves for what we are: idolaters. We idolize our experience, even when it is miserable. Faith is relocating the center of our confidence to him who promised and to him who was and is promised to all who believe. By nature, after the fall, it is impossible. We could no more generate true faith than we could send plagues or part the waters. That is why faith is a gift, a divinely wrought confidence in Christ and his promises.

The Evil One offered to Jesus what he could see but Jesus resisted him and chose to trust his Father. The Evil One tempted him with all the kingdoms of the world, a promise, of course, that he could not ultimately keep. That’s his modus operandi. That’s the difference between the first Adam, Israel, and the Last Adam. He trusted his Father and he obeyed in the wilderness. He went through the waters of judgment for us, and kept his promise to the Father to be our substitute and our Mediator, our representative. He entered into the rest but he did so through suffering and death. Jesus, our obedient Mediator is the object of that divinely wrought confidence. He is the basis for our confidence.

After his ascension into glory, he poured out his Spirit on his church and gave to us the benefits of the new covenant. He has given us new life, and with it faith, and with faith has given us union with Christ. By faith, i.e., divinely wrought confidence in Christ’s promises, we are in the process of being dislocated from sin and death, and from this life and we are being relocated to the heavenly city. It’s a dual process. On the one hand it’s cosmic. The kingdom has already been inaugurated. The consummation is coming. We’ve been initiated into it. On the other hand we are being personally renewed, sanctified, conformed to image of Christ. Both entail dislocation and relocation, of different kinds.

The bad news is that, left to ourselves, we would choose Egypt, leeks, and onions over Canaan, milk, and honey. We would choose Pharaoh over Jesus. The good news is that the One greater than Moses did not fail to cross over and he will not abandon us to die in the wilderness. He has already entered the rest and we have, in him, entered with him and his Spirit testifies to us that his Word is true. When you stumble and grumble today, remember your Mediator who loved you, came for you, obeyed for you, gave himself for you. Remember that he is at work in you by his Spirit, even in the desert, even when you can’t see the outcome for yourself. By his grace repent of your unbelief and press on. What lies ahead is better than what is behind.

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  1. In speaking of the Exodus, I would commend an excellent resource that I have recently come across dealing with that subject from an eschatological vantage-point (A Glorious New Passover Exodus). It shows that the New Covenant realities in Christ are the fulfilments of Israel’s typological redemption. Click on hyper-link above.

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