Weekly Thought: Encouragement from Every Book Exodus: These Uncertain Times
The only thing certain about this past year is that every few days (if not more often), we are all likely to hear the phrase, “these uncertain times.” We are all acutely aware that we do not know what is coming next. Each day this year has seemingly provided us with surprises and greater mystery about what the future might hold. When will the virus end? What will happen in our country? When will life be normal again? No one knows. No one is certain.
That reality can be quite frightening. How do we prepare for that? How can we be ready? Most of us balk at uncertainty and do whatever we can to minimize it because we find comfort in being in control. In the book of Exodus, we are offered a picture of a people who face incredible uncertainty. Israel, after hundreds of years of being in Egypt and enduring the monotonous brutality of slavery, experiences a great deal of sudden change. In Exodus 7-12, we read about the wonders of God and the amazing and terrifying plagues that he brings upon Egypt in order to liberate His people from bondage. This newfound freedom is met with rejoicing from the Israelites, but it is not without uncertainty, and it is not without fear. God leads His people out of Egypt, the only place they had ever known, and brings them into the wilderness, a wild and unpredictable place. They soon realize that they are being pursued by the armies of Egypt; Israel quickly decides that they miss the comforts of home:
They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this
what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness” (Exodus 14:11- 12).
With the obstacle of the Red Sea in front of them and the raging Egyptian army in hot pursuit behind, they have no idea what will come next. In this moment of doubt and fear, they would prefer the certainty and security that they had before, even though that old life had been full of misery. Yet, we know the ending of the story. Just as God was faithful to deliver His people with the ten plagues, He continues His deliverance and parts the sea so that Israel can escape. Again, Israel responds to this wonderful work of God with joy and song in Exodus 15. However, the praise of the Lord in Exodus always seems short-lived. The people continually grumble and complain about their uncertain new reality. ‘How will we get food? What about water? We had all those things in Egypt.’
Over and over, Israel seems to prefer the comfort and surety of the known (despite its horrors) over God’s provision as He leads them into unknown places. Certainty can be a blessing; having comfort and security can be a good thing. Yet, we are deceiving ourselves if we think we can ever truly be certain about the circumstances of this life, that we can truly be confident about what will happen next.
The only things that we can really be assured of are those things which God has promised. We can only be confident in His faithfulness. But paradoxically, as was the case with the Israelites, following a faithful God can create an apparent uncertainty from the vantage point of our own earthly perspective. This is because we are not in control and because God’s vision and wisdom is so beyond ours that we cannot always predict where obedience to Him will lead us in this life (although we do have confidence in the eternal result). Moses understood this, yet he trusted in God anyway. One of my favorite passages in Exodus illustrates this. In Exodus 20, God appears to Israel with thunder and lightning and smoke at Mount Sinai, displaying his majestic and frightening power. Notice the response of the people and of Moses:
“… the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off 19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” 21 The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was” (Exodus 20:18-21).
The people were afraid of God’s presence, and rightly so. That caused them to stand far off from God. But for Moses, the fear and the darkness didn’t hold him back. He went into the darkness, into the uncertainty, because he knew God was there. He was willing to walk into unknown territory because he was seeking after God’s presence. As Christians, we cannot know what will happen in the future, but we can have confident expectation that God will be with us if we follow and trust in Him as we walk into the uncertainty. God’s promised presence and His will as revealed in His Word will keep us and direct us in “these uncertain times.”