Bloody, undrinkable water fouled with the smell of rotting fish. Piles of dead frogs. Hordes of insects to the point of insanity. An epidemic of festering boils. Hail from heaven. Thick, stifling darkness. Lambs. Blood. An incredible deliverance from death. A hasty escape from former slave owners still burying their dead sons. A fiery cloud bringing comfort on one side and wreaking confusion on the other. A trap by the sea. Dust stirred by the wheels of chariots in hot pursuit. A powerful wind. A plunge between two walls of water.
In the tent, Moses sat opposite Jethro, his father-in-law, pouring out the narrative of God’s mighty deliverance from Egypt. The last time they had seen each other, Moses was leaving with his wife and two sons to go to Egypt. Now he had returned to that same wilderness accompanied by two and a half million fellow Israelites! Of course Jethro wanted to hear firsthand the amazing events that had brought this about!
Moses continued his narrative, but the details took a turn as he chronicled the events since crossing the Red Sea. The cloud had led them south into the barren wilderness and scorching sun. Instead of milk and honey there had been bitter water and no food. There had been complaining, complaining, and more complaining from people who were pining for the pots of meat in Egypt. The excitement of God’s spectacular provision of manna had faded into the daily routine. Had the water not poured from the rock when it had, Moses was certain the people would have stoned him. Just after that they had been attacked by the Amalekites. Had Aaron and Hur not held his arms up during battle, who knows what might have happened? On top of it all, it seemed there was a never-ending stream of complaints from sunup to sundown, as the people found their way to his tent with their newest problems.
Moses had been through a lot during those first three months in the Sinai Wilderness. No wonder Exodus 18:8 says, “And Moses told his father-in-law all that the Lord had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, all the hardship that had befallen them on the journey, and how the Lord had delivered them.”
Who could argue with Moses’ account of the journey: “It has been hard!”? Not even Jethro disputed the difficulties they had encountered, but he focused on the other half of the details. “And Jethro rejoiced over all the goodness which the Lord had done to Israel in delivering them from the hand of the Egyptians.” (Exodus 18:9) Cloud. Fire. Water. Manna. Quail. Victory. God had displayed His goodness to these people right through the midst of the hardships.
But there was another perspective that not even Jethro could see. After Jethro left Moses, God appeared and gave Moses His view on the trials they had come through: “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself.” (Exodus 19:4) The difficulties provided the occasion for an utter dependence on God. A dependence that He welcomed and longed for, because in that dependence He was carrying His people along. The route they had taken was not aimless wandering, but purposeful footsteps leading them to Mount Sinai to meet with God and hear His voice. The difficulties were not merely to display God’s goodness in getting them out of one situation after another. On a deeper level, God intended the difficulties to draw them and bring them to Himself so that they would know Him first-hand as their Provider and Deliverer.
If you were to recount to a friend difficult events you have experienced recently, through whose glasses would you be looking?