Our First Resort (Exodus 15).
When you face a problem, what is your first resort? What’s your first inclination? Do you try and fix it yourself? Do you side-step and try and find a way round it? Do you blame others, give up, or call in favours? There’s lots of ways, and most of us have tried plenty of them at different times, but how often is prayer our first resort? Too often it’s our last resort, if we think of it at all. Something to fall back on if all else fails. That’s not how it should be.
Let’s rejoin the Israelites in the desert. Most of Chapter 15 is taken up with songs of celebration and thanksgiving for God’s amazing rescue of His people at the Red Sea. Things are good, spirits are high. But it doesn’t last long. Precisely three verses and three days after the singing stops the grumbling starts:
“For three days they travelled in the desert without finding water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah). So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?” (Exodus 15:22-24)
I wrote previously about ‘understandable grumbling‘, and again here I have some sympathy with them. It’s no fun hiking in the desert, especially without all the modern comforts and aids. Take water out of the equation and it’s an utter nightmare. I’ve trekked through the deserts of Arizona, and I can tell you that you need to drink pretty much constantly, and carry so much water that it really weighs you down. Just imagine how much water you need to keep over a million people on their feet?
In the desert you’re only ever a few days away from death if you don’t get water. As scientists will tell you, three days of no water and the human body is in seriously bad shape. You can survive without food for weeks, perhaps, but unless you’re Bear Grylls you can only go a few days without water. Remember the last time you got dehydrated after a few hours in the summer sun, having forgotten to drink? Remember the headaches, nausea, apple-juice-coloured wee and dizziness that often follows? OK, now go for a long walk and multiply the hours without water by nine. Are you getting the picture of the state these guys were in? I’m talking chapped-lipped, weak-legged, brain-barely-functioning probably unable to pee because there’s just no fluid in there.
So they’re in bad shape. Then, after a hellish journey, having finally arrived at water they find that it’s undrinkable. What a kick in the teeth! I would have been surly already, but this would have made me flip out. I’d have wanted to chuck Moses in the pool. This was a really bad situation. The Exodus wasn’t easy or plain sailing, and the Christian life is also tough. Sometimes, when we’re going through a hard season, we’re disappointed by what we find. We have as much of a propensity to grumble as the Israelites.
Yep, that was their first resort. Grumbling. They were quick to criticise and cast blame. Slow to trust God. Despite just last chapter putting their trust in Him and watching Him do incredible things. Didn’t they stop and think, wait a minute: surely the God who parted the Red Sea can make this water drinkable? Amazing what dehydration will do for your theology.
Moses is a better example of how to react. He must have been as parched and unhappy as the rest of them, even before being turned on by the people he had just rescued. But he didn’t grumble. He didn’t try and argue with them, he didn’t try to justify himself or stand on his rights. More than that, he didn’t order them to move on and look for alternative water. No, straightaway he ‘cried out to the Lord’ (v. 25). Prayer was his first resort. He trusted God, and God came through for them, albeit in slightly bizarre fashion.
We should be like Moses. Our worst days are probably way better than his state at Marah, so we should be well placed to emulate him. Our first resort should be to look to God. Too often we rely on our own strength and resources, do everything we can think of, and only then, when all else has failed, turn to God.
God should be our first option, not our last resort.
To take away:
What problem are you facing at the moment that needs you to be prayerful, not just proactive?