Have you ever wondered why the Israelites grumbled and complained so much after they left Egypt, why they couldn’t just “get their act together” and go into the Promised Land when God led them there the first time? I have struggled with such frustrated thoughts myself. How could these people who were taken out of Egypt by such a miraculous thing as the Ten Plagues and the parting of the Red Sea not remain grateful for what God had done for them? How could they even consider going back to Egypt?
But while reading a book recently (The One Who Told the Desert Stories by Shirley Robinson, which is set during the time of the wilderness wanderings) I had a bit of an epiphany thanks to a statement one of the characters made:
“They cannot let go of sins like complaining and gossiping because inwardly they have traveled all these years dragging the bondage of Egypt behind them.”
That hit me between the eyes and made me stop and think. It suddenly made sense--the Israelites could not fully live in the freedom they were given, and the generation of those who actually walked through the Red Sea missed out on the Promised Land entirely, all because they were still hanging onto the chains of their slavery. Their bodies were freed, and in God’s eyes they were free! But their hearts and minds were still trapped in the mindset of slavery. They were so attached to the bondage of their past that they could not even appreciate the salvation and great blessings that God had lavished upon them. This led them to commit more sins, like murmuring and complaining against God and his chosen leader, Moses, gossiping, idolatry, and so on and so on.
They had to stay in the wilderness for forty years, so that Egypt could be purged from their hearts!
And you know what else I realized? We judge the Israelites for their foolishness and lack of faith, but we are just as guilty as they are. How many times have I, or has any Christian, been just like the Isrealites? We are saved by the Great I Am, brought through the waters of baptism (like they crossed through the sea) and given His spirit as our comforter and guide (just as they had the pillar of cloud and fire to lead them, with His glory radiating from it) and yet… we look back over our shoulder at the land of our enslavement, we drag those fetters and chains behind us, refusing to let go of what God has already delivered us from. We beat ourselves up over mistakes. We let negative experiences continue to affect our thinking in the present. We consider ourselves unworthy because of what we used to be. When all the while our Mighty Savior is trying to lead us to something greater!
Proverbs 26:11 says:
“As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool retruneth to his folly.”
What fools we become when we continue to return to what we should be letting go! We end up repeating our mistakes and harming ourselves and those around us in the process. Just as with the Israelites, there is no end to the things God wants to do in our lives, but how can He do those things if our hearts are still focused on the past?
Is there something in your past, whether a sinful mistake or a painful situation, that you’re still dragging around? If you have the blood of salvation applied to your life and have asked for forgiveness, then leave that mess behind you! You’ve already been set free, so don’t put yourself back in slavery. Embrace the Promised Land that God has ahead of you!