Both we and our fathers have sinned; we have committed iniquity; we have done wickedness. Our fathers, when they were in Egypt, did not consider your wondrous works; they did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love, but rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea. Psalm 106:6-7
When God sent Moses to Egypt to free his people, several things happened. The most prominent is God’s wonders. The second time Moses goes before the Pharaoh he performs two miracles. When Aaron throws down the rod it turns into a serpent. That in itself is enough to get someone’s attention. But of course Jannes and Jambres, the chief magicians of Egypt, produce their own serpents. But then the second miracle occurs that could never be produced by “slight of hand” magic. Aaron’s rod or serpent swallowed up the magicians’ serpents leaving only the rod that Aaron had cast down. And this is only the beginning. From this time forward God inflicts the 10 plagues upon Egypt to show he is God and that the Israelites must be set free. Here is the list of plagues:
1) Water turned into blood
2) Plague of the frogs
3) Plague of lice
4) Swarms of flies
5) Death of Egyptian cattle
6) Boils and sores
7) Hail and fire
8) Plague of locusts
9) Three days of darkness
10) Death of the firstborn
After all the mighty wonders God performed in Egypt, the Israelites finally left Egypt. After 430 years they were leaving and their bondage was broken. Can you sense the occasion? It is grand – something that only happens once, something that no one will ever see again. And as the Israelites are leaving, Moses in his speech to the people says, “Remember this day” (Exodus 13:3). It is a momentous, grand moment when God had performed such wonders for their deliverance; they were moving from bondage to the promised land of Canaan – a land flowing with milk and honey. Can you feel the greatness of such a moment in time? In such a time, we need to be very careful. Look at what happens. As they were following the cloud by day and the fire by night for God to lead them (another miracle God performed for them), they come to the Red Sea. But this time the Egyptians are in pursuit and this is where we find the rebellion mentioned in the psalm. Let’s review part of the verse again, “Our fathers, when they were in Egypt, did not consider your wondrous works; they did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love, but rebelled by the sea”. And this brings us to chapter 14 of Exodus.
When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly. And the people of Israel cried out to the LORD. 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 14:10-12
Complainers tend to have a really short memory. The Israelites had forgotten what God had done and sharply accused the leader God had given them. And we see later in the story how this generation is not allowed to enter into Canaan – it is the next generation with Joshua who conquer the land of milk and honey. Although the verses in Exodus 14 are sharp in themselves, when we see the background and all that God had done for his people in light of these verses, we draw a very dim conclusion. In the midst of many, many miracles from God, the people rebelled. In the middle of the greatest moment in their history they rebelled and wanted to go back to Egypt. They forgot God’s miracles and deliverance. They responded in fear instead of faith.
Whether a grand moment in history or an ordinary one, forgetting God’s wondrous works and steadfast love is sin. And I certainly do not think we can attribute this type of forgetfulness to human frailty. We all can forget things, but this is something different. Do you really think the Israelites “accidentally” forgot everything God did – all the miracles and deliverance. That would likely be impossible. They chose to forget and lash out in fear and rebellion. And we can certainly do the same. We can choose to forget all of God’s good works in our lives and we can choose to lash out and rebel. Are we choosing to forget God?
In 1863 Abraham Lincoln made a proclamation for a day of fasting and prayer for our nation. I find his words fitting and applicable to our time. Consider this excerpt from the proclamation:
And, insomuch as we know that by His divine law nations, like individuals, are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war which now desolates the land may be but a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole people? We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.
It is possible that America in the midst of great blessing has forgotten God. We did not earn this land; most of us were born here. We did not fight for it; another generation did that for us. We believe we are entitled to all the benefits that someone else paid for while at the same time thinking that we have produced all the good of our land by some “superior wisdom and virtue of our own”. We have forgotten where we came from and who has blessed us, loved us, and graciously multiplied and enriched us. Who are we to be so arrogant? Whether lashing out in fear or arrogance, we are in rebellion. We have forgotten the God who loves us. And just as the Israelites sin was great in God’s sight at the Red Sea, so is our sin great. We have chosen to forget God. And make no mistake, God is not one to be forgotten. He chastens his people and brings them back to himself – either peacefully by our own wise choice to return to him, or forcefully like a rebellious child.
It is time to admit that we are a nation in rebellion, rebellion in the midst of great blessing and miracles.