Today, my lesson for Sabbath School  was originally planned to be the tenth plague, but I found out last night that the previous teacher, and occasional reader of this blog, two weeks ago had covered the tenth plague and the Passover, so I decided to shift the discussion to the Days of Unleavened Bread, the beginning of Israel’s epic travel through the wilderness, as a way of setting the place for the forty years of vagabondage that was to follow. Although they had not left Egypt by this time, during this week of wandering they were setting up patterns as to how they would behave during the next two generations of wandering around the wilderness under Moses’ rule as they were taught the ways of God. Most of those habits were not good ones. In fact, the general irritation of Israel during this wandering was like the shrill plaintive cries of a child wondering “Are we there yet?” But that is a story for another time.
In stark contrast to the way in which the Night To Be Much Observed is a time of relaxed, even luxuriant dining at leisure , it is worthwhile to at least briefly discuss what it was that the children of Israel did on the 14th of Nisan that year they left long slavery in Egypt. First, they did not leave their houses the entire night while the firstborn of Egypt were being stuck down. Second, upon waking up, while their neighbors were grieving over the deaths of their firstborn sons, Israel managed to collect generations worth of back wages from the Egyptians who used to oppress them and march from their various abodes to the area of Succoth, at the edge of the Nile delta region. They were in such a hurry that the bread they were preparing was not leavened, and so the unleavened bread had a certain layer of hurrying about it, in addition to its later Christian meanings of being cleansed of sin. Even by the time of Jesus Christ, the seder was eaten in a slow manner taking several hours, as is the case today. But in the time of Moses, the trip involved leaving a land mourning the death of many, collecting valuables to pay the price of centuries of oppression, and then marching to the point of embarkation into the wilderness. It was quite a busy day, in fact, so much so that they had not properly began their trip out of Egypt until the Days of Unleavened Bread had begun the following night.
It should be noted that God was quite merciful and understanding when it came to guiding the path of Israel through the wilderness. There was a direct path, the Via Maris, otherwise known as the Way of the Sea, that would have taken Israel to the promised land in a very short time, as the crow flies. However, the Bible notes that this particular way was full of Egyptian fortresses, which would have been too much for Israel to take at this point, and would have led them to whine about how harsh the journey was and bring them into the Promised Land long before they were ready for it. This is an important point to consider, as it relates to how God deals with us today as well. God did not only intend on giving Israel the promised land, but also to prepare and shape them as a nation. Taking a people from slavery and oppression and abuse and turning them into a model nation for the world to follow is a difficult task, but God is not afraid of challenges. However, we have to realize that the point was not merely to provide them with the land promised through God’s covenantal promises to their ancestors, the patriarchs, but also to mold and shape their own character. Ultimately, it took 40 years of wandering before Israel was fully shaped into a people who was capable of inheriting the promised land. Sometimes it takes a long time for God to shape our own character, to make us the sort of people who are ready to receive the promises He has made.
Nevertheless, Israel did not start their journey on the right foot. Although during the week of the Days of Unleavened Bread they were being chased by an Egyptian chariot force, which is a pretty terrifying thought for anyone, much less hundreds of thousands of frightened refugees who had no military experience, nor any experience of freedom of any kind within several generations, it was a bad start to a pattern that would be repeated throughout the entire journey through the wilderness. Their cry to Moses that first week was one that he would hear often, and that would grate on Moses’ ears as well as God’s, as it is written in Exodus 14:11-12: “Then they said to Moses, “Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you so dealt with us, to bring us up out of Egypt? Is this not the word that we told you in Egypt, saying, ‘Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness.'”” God had not taken the children of Israel to slay them in the wilderness, although they were a wicked people, stubborn and stiff-necked. He had taken them out of slavery to mold them into a people capable of ruling over a good land, and as being kings and priests, but they had no vision of what God was doing, so they only whined and complained the whole way there. Let that be a lesson for us, lest we do likewise on our own epic journey to the promised Kingdom.
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