God gave me the phrase, “fruitful in a famine” sometime last month after my Bible study group was wrapping up reading Joseph’s story of helping Pharaoh feed a nation during the 7 years of famine. That was the working title of this post until today when God revealed another phrase that meant so much more.
To be fruitful in a famine sounds ludicrous, but with God anything is possible. Can we really be fruitful during times of world inflation and, even in Joseph’s days, famine? Well, I think we’ve seen it is possible in Joseph’s story.
Then came our readings in Numbers 11-17 about obedience and the Israelites wandering through the wilderness. This is the second time I’m reading these passages, as a year ago I read along this same plan with a different Bible study group. Much like last year, this story stayed with me and as always when reading the Bible something new appeared.
Y’all know I like to give you all a backstory to help set the context, and as you also know I try my best to be brief yet concise.
Most of you know the timeless story of Moses and Pharaoh and how God had freed the Israelites by parting the Red Sea (on dry ground–my favorite part of that passage, Joshua 4:22). The Israelites were slaves in Egypt and were treated very poorly by Pharaoh and the Egyptians. God promised the Israelites that they would enter a land that was flowing with milk and honey, a paradise on earth. Not long after they left Egypt and God’s miraculous display of parting the Red Sea, did their grumblings begin. God not only freed them from an enslaved future, but he also was providing manna (bread) from heaven, fire at night, and a cloud (God’s cloud) followed and protected them during the day. God would frequently come down and speak to Moses and at times, the elders in the Israelite community.
Ok, so the Israelites began to tire of manna and as Moses walked by each tent he heard their grumblings–many wanting to taste meat again and why hadn’t they reached this “land of milk and honey” God had promised them. God asked Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in Me, in spite of all the miraculous signs I have performed among them?” This broke my heart. Why had the Israelites been so blind? Quick answer: because their flesh longs for predictability and comfortability. Not unlike us today, am I right? Anyone else feel seen now?
God then directs Moses to send 12 men of each tribe to go to Canaan (the land God promised them) and report back what the conditions are like, hoping that this will enliven the Israelites and they will be ready to enter into the promised land. No such luck. Of the 12 men, 10 men reported negatively that they saw giants the Israelites couldn’t possibly overtake and fortified cities that again the Israelites couldn’t scale or bring down. But the other two, Caleb and Joshua said, “wait, hold on a second, we can with God’s help!” What do you think happened then? The Israelites sided with the majority and began to curse God and even thought about going back to ENSLAVEMENT in Egypt!! WHAT!? They were scared and they wanted to jump right back into their comfortable box even though they would be mistreated. Their fleshly desires overcame their faith and they let their FEAR boss their FAITH. I would just like to remind the reader that GOD JUST PARTED THE RED SEA. Why did they think He would abandon them now? That God wasn’t big enough to handle giants and fortresses?
Here’s the truly heartbreaking end of this tragic story of disobedience and faithlessness. Of the Israelite adults, only Caleb and Joshua entered into Canaan. The rest died in the wilderness as they wandered for 40 years, waiting on God to determine they were ready. God knew they never would be for their lack of faith. How we act in the wilderness, rather with faithfulness or faithlessness, determines our entry into what God has planned for us. Will you continue to suffer or trust in the One who is omniscient?
What fear are you letting boss your faith around? What is God asking you to be obedient for today? To trust Him with your finances? Your health? Your marriage and relationships? You already know, and if we can’t trust the Creator of the universe to keep His promises to us, then we will be found wanting in the wilderness.