Are you risk-averse or risk-tolerant? I remember learning these terms while studying Personal Finance in high school and shuddering as I considered the type of people who would jump headfirst into risky investments, banking money on volatile stocks that could leave them with either a significant loss or a huge benefit. The idea horrified me because I’ve always liked control. I like to decide for myself what my future will hold and I don’t want to give anyone else the ability to change my plans.
That is not entirely realistic, however – you cannot control everything. The Israelites quickly come face to face with that truth in this chapter when they find themselves in the Desert of Sin. They are thirsty – again. They are dramatically predicting their own deaths – again. God steps in to miraculously provide them water – again. It all seems so predictable, but the Israelites must have felt incredibly vulnerable. Anything could happen out in the wilderness, and so far it didn’t seem as if they trusted God enough to protect them all, come what may.
Yet God continued to come through. When the Amalekites picked a fight with the Israelites, God worked through Joshua and the troops under him to rout and defeat their enemies. As Moses, his brother Aaron, and a man named Hur stood overlooking the battle, God caused the Israelites to take the advantage whenever Moses raised his arms. He caused the Amalekites to gain the upper hand when Moses lowered his arms. Soon, with Aaron and Hur holding Moses’s arms steady, the Israelites won. Moses built an altar to commemorate the unique miracle that was their victory. It would not be the last victory the Israelites would have – either over the Amalekites or over the numerous nations they had yet to face.
The Treasures Within:
Testing vs. Trusting
Similarly to Exodus 15, this chapter tells two stories that are in stark contrast to each other. In the first one, the Israelites are upset with God. They do not believe He will provide them with the water they need and thus they throw a tantrum. Moses accuses the Israelites of “testing” God in verse 2, but what does that actually mean? If you were thirsty, out of water, and unsure of where to get it, would you not ask God for some? Would you not look for Him to provide? Yet the Bible suggests that the Israelites were not making a simple request. They demanded water (verse 2) and, according to verse 7, they wanted the water not just to drink, but also as proof. If God was with them, they hinted, then He would give them water, would He not? It was as if they were negotiating with God, withholding trust until they saw the results they wanted. They were trying to define God on their own terms, deciding exactly what He would do if He was really God. No wonder Moses scolded them – they were out of line.
The second story is much better. Here, the leaders of the people, namely Joshua, Aaron, Hur and Moses, believe God. They believe that He will give them victory over their enemies, the Amalekites. Rather than demand something in exchange for faith, these men have faith first. In verse 9, they take faithful actions – going out to fight, taking the staff of God to overlook the battle – before God does anything for them. They do not yell at God. They demand nothing. They wait for Him to move in what way He sees is best. Unsurprisingly, God shows that He is the all-powerful God, making it clear to His children that He is the one controlling the battle and providing the victory. I wonder how the Israelites reacted to God’s actions this time. Did they learn from the example of their leaders?
Take The Risk
An even better question is: will we learn from them? Will we trust God or will we test God? The decision to test God is one born out of fear and distrust. We do not want to be vulnerable. We do not want to risk discomfort, or the loss of some belief, some sin, some norm that we hold dear. Thus before we commit ourselves to God and before we surrender our hearts and lives to Him, we make our demands. “Well, God, if you help this job interview go well, then I will give my life to You.” “Lord, if You take this desire away from me, then I can serve you.” “Jesus, if you keep giving me my salary, my health, and my safety, then I will believe in You forever.” Maybe in our heads these requests seem reasonable – I mean, is God real or is He not? If He is, then He would do these things!
But God does not always move in ways that make sense to us. His commands do not always make us comfortable. Sometimes He allows us to feel pain and loss. These things do not make Him any less God, because His ways are not our ways – they are better. But none of this occurs to us when we are too busy trying to take control by testing God. When we are trying to dictate just who God is, how much He should require of us, and how deserving of our trust He really is, we are no longer looking at God. Instead we are gazing at our own navels, snuggling in deeper into our own comfort zone, too frightened to risk everything for Jesus. And this is how we’ll stay unless we desert our expectations and instead trust Him to do what’s best. God is more than capable of taking care of you, but you’ll never find out until you trust Him.
God’s Message To Us:
“I am the Pearl of great price.” Jesus is constantly declaring to us who He is. He is constantly telling us what He will do for us, the priceless blessings He has stored up for us. Yet somehow this isn’t enough. We continue to doubt Him and His worth, convincing ourselves that what we already have is worth more…unless God can prove it to us. Yet this is not how relationships work. God is not a merchant but our Father. What He wants from us is not payment for blessings but our hearts, minds, and souls in exchange for His. He is worth the sacrifice; He is worth the risk, but we will only discover this if we stop testing God and decide to trust Him. Will we?
What do you think? What strikes you about what the children of Israel have gone through so far? What did God want you to learn from this chapter of the Bible?