They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”
The book of Numbers tells the story of the Israelites in the wilderness, from the time after the exodus from Egypt—after they received a new covenant with God—through the giving of the Law. During the 40 years the Israelites were in the in the wilderness, there was a recurring theme of rebellion and complaint. In many of the complaint narratives the Israelites were hungry, and God responded by providing manna from heaven.
Today’s Old Testament reading, Numbers 21: 4-9, is the last complaint before the conquest of Canaan. It is a familiar narrative, with the Israelites complaining and God responding. With the Israelites complaining, we get a sense of a relationship between God and his people where they are willing to “wrestle” with God. Three things can be noted in all of the complaint narratives: God listened, God provided, and God did not abandon the Israelites. But the wilderness was not easy. The suffering was real.
This Lent, let us explore the wilderness in our own lives. Our wilderness can be the loss of a loved one, difficulty in our jobs, a strained personal relationship, illness, and many other things. Our personal wilderness can leave us with a deep hunger that needs to be fed. Let us have the kind of relationship with God that allows us to “wrestle” with God and be willing to take our wilderness complaints to God. Each week as we go forward to receive communion let us leave our wilderness at the altar as we are fed with the bread of life. Let Christ, the bread of life, nourish our deep hunger. And let us not forget that in our wilderness, God listens to us, God provides for us, and God is with us.
Appointed readings for today: Numbers 21:4-9, Psalm 102: 15-22, John 8:21-30