Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Remembering God’s Past Protection

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Leslie Basham: Do you ever feel like God is letting you down and not answering your prayer? Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth says, “Remember the times when God did answer.”

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: In those moments, when our circumstances change, and it appears that God is not paying attention or that He’s not intervening, the question is: Will we choose to keep believing what we have seen and experienced of God in the moments when He was miraculously intervening?

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, co-author of Seeking Him, for October 16, 2018.

Nancy: Well, in this short series, we’re looking at the subject of water, God’s purposes, and God’s people in the book of Exodus. If you weren’t able to join us yesterday, we looked at three scenes in the book of Exodus that involved water.

In chapter 2, we saw how God led a faith-filled mama to place her infant child in the very same river that Pharaoh was using to commit genocide against the Israelites—drowning all the baby boys. But as a result of this woman’s faith and God’s sovereign plan, God preserved the life of the one in that river who would ultimately deliver His people from slavery.

And then we went to chapter 7, and we saw that when Pharaoh resisted the word and the command of God to let His people go, God turned all the water in Egypt to blood. God was saying, “I’m more powerful than the river Nile that you think is a god, and I am in control here.” It was the first of a series of plagues that God used to get Pharaoh’s attention and ultimately to break his will.

And then we looked at chapter 14, and we came to the Red Sea where God delivered His people and destroyed His enemies. So those waters were both waters of salvation, and they were waters of judgment.

Now, let me say those Egyptians had plenty of opportunity to believe in Jehovah, and actually a few went out with the children of Israel, presumably because they had believed. But most of those Egyptians never believed. They never bowed their wills. They never submitted to the Passover, the sacrificial Lamb that was offered so that they could be passed over by the angel of death. And so they drowned in the sea—Pharaoh’s army.

And so as the children of Israel come out on the other side of the Red Sea, there breaks out this amazing worship service. This is a great celebration by these people who have been redeemed after hundreds of years of slavery and bondage in Egypt.

Today we come to chapter 15, verse 1, in the book of Exodus, which is right after the Red Sea deliverance. And here’s the content, the description of this praise and worship service—verse 1 of Exodus 15,

Then Moses and the children of Israel sang this song to the Lord, saying, [here are the lyrics to this song:] "I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.”

The whole rest of this chapter is a praise song. It’s not actually a praise chorus; it’s more like a praise hymn with a lot of stanzas because there’s a lot of praise welling up in the hearts of these people who are newly saved from the hands of the Egyptians.

And then we come to the end of this chapter, verse 20 of chapter 15:

Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, [and both of them, brother and sister of Moses, she] took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing. And Miriam sang to them: "Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea."

And you think, Wow! What a worship service! This is a high. This is a great service. I mean, what could possibly be hard or difficult or challenging after this? We’re just going to go home and ride in the joy of this worship service forever and ever. Right?

Well, the very next sentence is more like real life. Verse 22 of Exodus 15, and here we’re going to see some more scenes of water, God’s people, and God’s purposes in the book of Exodus.

Exodus 15:22, “Then Moses made Israel set out from the Red Sea, and they went [where?] into the wilderness [into the wilderness].”

Now, the wilderness is another theme that’s going to figure prominently in Exodus, the book of Numbers, the book of Deuteronomy, and the Old Testament experience, and also in the New Testament experience of Christ our Savior who went out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

But the wilderness for God’s people is a journey. It’s not a one-moment experience. It’s a season, a time of testing. But it’s also going to prove to be a time of preparation. Preparation for what? Well, for getting finally home, home to the Promised Land, home to the place of rest, home to the final destination that God has in mind for His people.

And all of this is not just symbolic. It was literally true. It was a training ground for the Israelites, but it’s all pictures for us of our lives and our experience. So we have these great deliverance experiences.

You see the hand of God delivering you from hardship and difficulty and bondage. And then you sing, and you celebrate, and you worship. You praise the Lord. You play your tambourines, or whatever you play in your church, and then the very next sentence, the very next moment, the very next hour or day or week or season, you find yourself led into a wilderness.

And here you thought you were going right from the Red Sea to the Promised Land. The Promised Land is still miles and years away. It’s not there yet. Now, there are going to be moments of grace and beauty and wonder and the glory of God being glimpsed.

But even once they got to the Promised Land forty years later, that was still only a foretaste of the Promised Land that awaits us at the end of this earthly journey in the presence of God. That’s what we live for. That’s what we long for. But in the meantime, the wilderness is part of our journey. It’s not the only part of our journey. And in the wilderness, we learn the ways of God, and our hearts and our lives are prepared to get to our final destination, to the Promised Land.

So, “They went three days in the wilderness and found no water” (Ex. 15:22).

Now, as I understand this, it means that they had just come through the Red Sea, and now for the next three days, they have no water. They can’t find any water. And remember, as we said in the last session, there were probably two or three million Jews in this band that escaped out of Egypt.

These were the people of God. You would think God would provide water for His people, wouldn’t you? I mean, water’s pretty basic. That’s not asking a lot. But God knows what His people need and when they need it and how to get them to the place where they trust Him for everything they need. We’ll come back to that, but verse 23,

They found no water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; therefore it was named Marah. And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, "What shall we drink?" (vv. 23–24).

Okay, let’s just unpack this all. We see that the celebration on the far side of the Red Sea turns to consternation and worship turns quickly to whining. Have you ever been there? Is this your story? It’s my story at times.

It reminds us that the sweetest victories are often followed by severe testing.

The children of Israel had experienced God’s deliverance and His salvation in an astonishing way that they would tell their children, and they would tell their children, and they would tell their children, and they would tell their children, and somebody would tell us: “This all happened at the Red Sea. It was amazing.”

That amazing deliverance did not exempt God’s people from future, further trials and difficulties. Within three days they were threatened with dying from thirst, lack of water.

Sometimes our greatest tests follow on the heels of the most amazing victories. And in those moments, when our circumstances change and it appears that God is not paying attention or that He’s not intervening, the question is:

  • Will we choose to keep believing what we have seen and experienced of God in the moments when He miraculously intervening?
  • Will we take what we’ve seen of God in those divine intervention moments, those salvation moments, those celebration moments, and will we keep believing that He is the same God when the circumstances change, and it doesn’t seem that God is doing anything about it?

Now, let me just give you a two or three-minute parenthesis here in this passage because it’s another lesson. It doesn’t have to do with water directly, but I want to point it out because I think it’s important for us as we live this life headed toward the Promised Land. And that is that God keeps His people on the move.

When you come to the book of Numbers, you may want to turn there if you wish, Numbers, chapter 33, or you can just listen as I read it. The book of Numbers, chapter 33, is a lengthy recounting of Israel’s journey. Let me read to you a few paragraphs of that review, that rehearsal, beginning in verse 1, Numbers 33:

These are the stages of the people of Israel, when they went out of the land of Egypt by their companies under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. Moses wrote down their starting places, stage by stage, by command of the Lord, and these are their stages according to their starting places (vv. 1–2).

This is like a travel journal. If you go on a long trip . . . I have some friends who are on a trip in Europe right now, and by using Instagram, they’re keeping a travel journey. They’re saying, “This is where we were yesterday. This is where we are today. This is where we’re going tomorrow.” And you can follow their journey on Instagram. This is a pre-Instagram travel log. (laughter)

They set out from Rameses [which is in Egypt] in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the first month. On the day after the Passover, the people of Israel went out triumphantly in the sight of all the Egyptians, while the Egyptians were burying all their firstborn, whom the Lord had struck down among them. On their gods also the Lord executed judgments.

So the people of Israel set out from Rameses and camped at Succoth. And they set out from Succoth and camped at Etham, which is on the edge of the wilderness. And they set out from Etham and turned back to Pi-hahiroth, which is east of Baal-zephon, and they camped before Migdol (vv. 5–7).

Does that sound familiar? That’s what we read in Exodus. This is what God told them to do. They followed His instructions. This is going back and looking at their Instagram journey, so to speak, and reminding themselves of where God had led them.

And they set out from before Hahiroth and passed through the midst of the sea into the wilderness, [that’s where we find them right now] and they went a three days’ journey into the wilderness of Etham and camped at Marah. And they set out from Marah and came to Elim; at Elim there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees, and they camped there (vv. 8–9).

And so the passage continues on and on with this. If you don’t know the geography or don’t care about it, it’s going to be a really boring chapter to you, but it wasn’t boring to the children of Israel because these were all places they had been. This is where they had traveled. And as each of these places would have been named, they would have been reminded of, “Oh, yes, that’s what God taught us there. That’s what happened there. Oh, that’s how we acted there, and this is how God responded.”

So these would have been names they would have been familiar with, and it would have triggered memories, just as if I were say to you or were to name some of the places you’ve lived, where you met Jesus, where you got married, where you had your first child, where you got your first job. These names would trigger memories, and hopefully those memories would come with reminders of the faithfulness of God.

Now, it talks in Numbers 33 about the “stages.” It’s a curious word, but it also says they “set out and camped,” forty-one times total in this chapter. From the day they set out from Egypt, till the day they finally came to Jordan River and crossed over into the Promised Land into Canaan, they “set out and camped.” That means they moved, all two or three million of them, forty-one times in the space of about forty years.

They did this over and over and over again. And it wasn’t just one person or one family moving. It’s the whole nation of Israel. Every time one moves, they’re all moving because God is leading them. So, repeatedly, on this journey of faith to the Promised Land, God never gives them time to settle down for very long.

We are camping as the people of God. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m not much of a camper, and I’m not much of a mover. I don’t like traveling. I don’t like moving. I don’t like packing. I would have made a whiny Israelite. (laughter) We’re on the move.

In my early ministry I traveled. I lived on the road full time, year round, for about thirteen years. Maybe that’s why I don’t like traveling today. If I never saw another suitcase, it would be just fine with me.

Sometimes God keeps us in one place geographically. But even more importantly, in a season of life, sometimes He keeps us there for months or years. But there’s always another move, another place, another stage He wants to take us to.

We want to settle down. We want to keep things the same. Some of you love babies, and you just want to keep the baby stage of life. But those babies become toddlers, and toddlers become school-age kids, and they become teenagers, and they grow up and they get married, and they have children. Some of those stages are sweet. But some of those stages have hard places to them. And you can’t control whether it’s sweet or hard. Right?

We want to next. We want to settle down. We want to put down roots. And God says, “No, no, no, no, no. Not yet. Maybe for a little while. Maybe just long enough to enjoy and to savor what I just did.”

But in the case of coming out of the Red Sea, He didn’t let them savor it very long, did He? He said, “On to the next stage. On to the next place.”

God keeps us “on the move” in the Christian life for our protection. And that means, even if you never move geographically, He’s keeping you “on the move” in terms of what He’s doing in your life. He does it for our sanctification. He does it to prepare us for greater usefulness. He does it to keep our hearts detached from this world and increasingly attached to our future eternal home. He keeps us “on the move” so we can see His glory in places that we’ve never seen it before.

Well, let’s go back to Exodus chapter 15, verse 22,

Moses made Israel set out from the Red Sea, and they went into the wilderness of Shur. They went three days in the wilderness and found no water.

Now, they’d just been at the Red Sea three days earlier where there was lots of water—shall we say, tons of water, gallons of water, bazillions of gallons of water. And in that situation, God had proved Himself to be sovereign over water. He could send a lot, and He could make the land dry so you could walk across, and you could be saved.

Now they get into this wilderness where for three days there is no water. Talk about extremes. They are now in this hot, sandy desert. They’re facing a serious, life-threatening emergency, and they’re helpless.

Water is pretty important. You can't live without it. We’re not talking about luxuries here, as we’ve said. The maximum time the human body can go without water in the desert, I’m told, is about three days, and that’s what they were at, the three-day mark. I imagine it wasn’t just them. It was their animals, their livestock. All of life was threatened.

Now, how did they get to this desperate place? Well, the answer is: God led them there—God led them there. We read about this in Exodus 13. Let me invite you to just turn back a couple of pages in your Bible to Exodus 13, verse 17, where the Scripture says,

When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near.

The most direct route, if you look at a map, would be by way of the land of the Philistines, and God didn’t lead them the way that. If you look at the map, that would seem to have made the most sense.

For God said, ‘Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt. [God said, “They’re not ready for that yet.”] But God led the people [God’s always leading] around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle. . . .

And they moved on from Succoth and encamped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people (vv. 17–18, 20–22).

Even though God’s ways seemed winding and twisting and mysterious and inexplicable, there was never a time, day or night, when God was not leading His people. God never slumbers nor sleeps. We sleep. We’re out of control. We think we’re controlling during the daytime, but we’re never in control. God leads. He controls—day and night.

Now, from our perspective, the providences of God are often puzzling. Sometimes He leads us through unexpected or unusual routes or ways that don’t make sense. Sometimes they’re difficult ways. Sometimes He leads us right smack into the face of adversity—the Red Sea would have been one of those times. It’s not the way we would write the script. It doesn’t seem to make sense. But we’ve got to keep reminding ourselves, counseling our hearts that God is here; God is leading; He knows what He is doing.

So they’ve been through these three days without water. They’re desperate. They’re dehydrated. And then they hear the faint, at first, then louder and louder sound of what? Water! You think you’ve had nothing to drink for three days. Your children are thirsty. They’re crying from dehydration. They’re maybe wanting to pass out, or you’re feeling like passing out. And then you hear water, and your heart leaps up within you, and you think, God has come through. There is hope. There is help on the way. There’s water. And there’s lots of water, so it sounds like, verse 23—hope deferred.

When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; therefore it was named Marah.

Now that word Marah means bitter. Remember when Naomi said to Ruth, “Don’t call me Naomi. Call me Marah, which means bitter. My life has been really hard”?

So, literally, the verse would read, “When they came to ‘Bitter,’ they could not drink the water of ‘Bitter,’ because it was bitter; therefore, that place was named ‘Bitter’.” I mean, that’s how that verse would read if you transliterated it from the Hebrew to the English.

So after three days of no water, they finally come to water. And they have to have this sense of exhilaration and anticipation and joy, only to have their hopes dashed. That water may have been brackish (salty). We don’t know exactly what made it bitter. But they had to be asking, “Has God led us to this place, this answer to prayer we thought, only to disappoint us? Is He mocking us?”

That word “bitter” is the same word that was used in chapter 12 when the Jews were having the Passover dinner, and they ate bitter herbs with the Passover meal. Those bitter herbs were a symbol, a reminder of the bitter slavery and affliction that they had endured in Egypt.

God had delivered them from the bitterness of Egypt, and now, in His way and in His time, He would deliver them from the bitter water. But the people didn’t see that.

So, verse 24 says, “The people grumbled against Moses, saying, ‘What shall we drink?’”

And aren’t we prone to attack the most visible source of our pain? This wasn’t Moses’ fault any more than the difficulties in your life are your kids’ fault or your husband’s fault or your pastor’s fault or your boss’ fault. There are no second causes with God.

God was the one who led them to this place of bitter water so He could prove His greatness, so He could use their circumstances to reveal what was in their hearts, so He could show then how big and great He is.

Well, tomorrow we’re going to see how God redeemed this situation and how it proved to be an opportunity to experience fresh expressions of the grace and power of God, but I want us to remember that God is never unaware of what we are going through. He knows what you’re going through. He knows your circumstances. He is sovereign over those circumstances, and He uses those circumstances—just as He did with the Israelites—to expose your heart and to reveal Himself, His grace, and His power to you in ways that you might not otherwise have experienced. And He uses those circumstances to increase your faith that He really is leading.

As the long-ago hymn writer wrote:

He leadeth me: O blessed thought!
O words with heavenly comfort fraught!
Whate’er I do, where’er I be,
Still ’tis God's hand that leadeth me.

Sometimes mid scenes of deepest gloom,
Sometimes where Eden’s flowers bloom,
By waters calm, o’er troubled sea,
Still ’tis God's hand that leadeth me.

Lord, I would clasp thy hand in mine,
Nor ever murmur nor repine;
Content, whatever lot I see,
Since ’tis my God that leadeth me.

And when my task on earth is done,
When, by thy grace, the victory’s won,
E’en death’s cold wave I will not flee,
Since God through Jordan leadeth me.

He leadeth me, he leadeth me. By his own hand, he leadeth me.
His faithful follower I would be, for by his hand, he leadeth me.

Leslie: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth will be right back to pray.

She’s been showing us how God uses difficult circumstances to test our faith and draw us closer to Himself.

If you’ve missed the first part of this series, you can listen to the program online at ReviveOurHearts.com. While you’re there, take a sneak peek at the new 2019 wall calendar. It’s available now for a gift of any amount. Nancy’s here to tell you a little bit more about it.

Nancy: Our listeners always look forward to getting a copy of this calendar that our Revive Our Hearts team designs. This time the calendar is based on themes from a book that I co-authored called Seeking Him. You can request that calendar to put in your home when you support the ministry of Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any amount.

So let us know what amount the Lord’s putting on your heart to give when you visit us at ReviveOurHearts.com. And be sure to let us know that you’d like the Seeking Him wall calendar. If you’d like you can give us a call at 1–800–569–5959.

Leslie: Thanks, Nancy.

Tomorrow we’ll pick back up in Exodus 15 to see how God redeemed a tough situation for Israel. We’ll also consider how your difficult circumstances may be an opportunity to experience God’s grace in a fresh way. Please be back tomorrow for Revive Our Hearts. Now, here’s Nancy again to close in prayer.

Nancy: Lord, we thank You for this promise, for Your presence, Your protection, Your provision. And even before we see the end of the story of what happened at Marah, the bitter waters, we’re reminded that even in these horrendous circumstances, we can’t calculate, we can’t figure out, we don’t know how we’re going to survive, You are still there, still leading.

So help us to trust and to follow, and thank You that You lead. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth reminds you of God’s loving care for His people. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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