When I was younger, I read through the Old Testament and wanted to scream, “Don’t you get it?!?!” It would break my heart that the people of God would turn from Him so easily. That they would be distracted from faith so readily.
But, as the years have passed and I have read and reread the familiar passages, reading the Old Testament has become less like looking down at a narrative picture of others and more like looking into a mirror at myself.
One of the more recent mirrors was Exodus 16. First comes the pining after meat and the complaint that freedom isn’t all it’s cracked up to be if they have to go without meat. Then they are given simple instructions regarding the collection of manna and how it changes for the Sabbath, but they can’t even seem to follow those. In my “I see the big picture” mentality, it’s easy to wonder why the don’t get it.
But, when I move down to their level, suddenly I see the mirror.
I get grumpy when my needs aren’t met, too. It doesn’t matter that they were met yesterday. Yep, just yesterday! Not last week or last month…yesterday. Still, that was yesterday. Now I’m in today, and I have needs! Memories don’t keep me fed. A mental image of yesterday’s nice, juicy steak doesn’t keep my body’s natural hunger for red meat from acting up today. Instead, it just exacerbates the problem. I’m hungry today!
And then there’s the collecting. That all comes back to trust. Yes, there is a miracle today, but will it be here tomorrow? Will I be provided for tomorrow as I have been today? Maybe I should hang on to today’s provision just in case. I mean, God might have something else He needs to take care of tomorrow. And we all know that good stewardship tells me to save. So, wouldn’t He think me wise and a good steward of what He’s given me if I put some back for tomorrow? Yes! That’s got to be it! I really want to be seen as a good steward of what He’s given me!
Yes, the whole picture changes when I put myself into the story. It’s a change I don’t like because it shows me who I really am. It puts me in the ugliness that I have so long condemned as I’ve read about the Israelites.
As much as I don’t like it, though, it’s just what I need. Because the truth is that I am like them! I am a fallen human, made in the image of God but completely lacking the perfection I need to be unified with Him. I am a wanderer, struggling to find that perfection by following rules, but finding myself so frustrated when following the rules seems to lead to difficulty instead of ease. In short, I am a condemned soul whose only hope is Jesus Christ.
And then a smile comes to my face. Why? Because I realize that I have that hope. Just as God reached down and saved the Israelites even when they rebelled against everything, Jesus stretched out His arms on the cross for me, even when I was His filthy, dirty enemy.
The mirror is hard. The mirror is painful. And the mirror is beautiful. I’m so thankful for those moments when I see the mirror instead of the narrative. For while the narrative has taught me about the perfection of God, the mirror has reminded me of His mercy and has shown me how to move out of my own filth and into His grace.