Are we nearly there yet? How many parents get tired of hearing that one?! The 40 years of wandering are soon to be over, the camp of Israel is close to the borders of the Promised Land, they are almost there and so what happens? Throw a party to celebrate this achievement? No,they grumble and complain, murmur against G-d and attack Moshe and Aharon!
In Numbers (B’midbar) 20:4-5 we read the questions being asked: is this what it’s supposed to be like? It’s too dry, too little fruit, too little progress. It’s just too hard, surely if it was a blessing it would all be easy! Is that what you want? Easy? Or do you want to walk the way of growth and maturity? Do you want easy blessings or lasting blessings? The easy ‘blessings’ were in Egypt, or so they thought, but the real blessings were still ahead. They were growing towards them. It was hard, dry and difficult, they had to struggle each new day it seemed. Stephen summarises it in his sermon in Acts in that they wanted to turn back to Egypt, to their former ways which apparently were so much better, but wrong of course! Isn’t it interesting how the word ‘back’ seems to encapsulate so many of our problems and woes. Only when we say ‘I can’t go back’ do we begin to break loose and move on, being released from the past.
Here was the delusion: It was hard in Egypt, but it’s worse now. AND? The delusion is that it somehow should be easier and better. But G-d isn’t interested in easy. The wilderness, and the difficulty of it, got the people ready to enter the Land. Our life’s journey is preparation for how G-d will unfold His will through us. But notice this, G-d is interested in seeing His will done through you, not your will to be used. ‘Am I nearly there yet?’ we ask, surely I am ready to be used for you, to serve you? Not that that in itself is wrong or laudable, but we have begun to see self-worth only in service and not in following G-d’s will alone. The difference may be subtle but the outcomes can be vastly different. G-d is far more interested in you and your personal growth (spiritual, personal and knowledge of Him) than what He will do with you. The myth today is that G-d is just waiting to ‘release’ you into ministry, impatient for your readiness. The truth is, He is far more interested in your life becoming more like His than anything He will DO with you. G-d doesn’t ‘need’ you to do His work. Did G-d need us to conquer the Land? Instead of rushing the job through He waited 40 years for us to be ready, to be in that place where we said yes and submitted to Him.
Our decision on how to respond in times of difficulty will determine whether we actually do arrive to where G-d wants to get us. If when problems and difficulties arise (and they will) we choose to attack the leadership by action or word, create problems beyond the one in hand, begin to become angry with G-d, then we shall walk a longer path than the one G-d intends. If we choose to carry on anyway, G-d can begin to work. Obedience is what we need to learn, not expressing our individual needs through a ‘service’ that we feel we need to bring.
This is highlighted by the two places mentioned in this portion: Kadesh and Meribah. Interestingly enough both names are used of the same geographical location. In Kadesh G-d wanted to exalt Himself and make Himself holy to them. In Meribah they fought against G-d. In some ways this is encouraging, that despite our rebellions against G-d and revolts, at the end of the day He will get us (either individually or corporately) to the place we need to be in, in other words He will exalt Himself despite or in spite of our sins. But that is no cop out. What place will we choose? Is our will always so important that it’s worth going to Meribah for? Will we continue to fight against G-d’s will and so delay the entry? The hallmark of those who went through the desert experience according to Torah was ‘they didn’t obey the voice of the Lord’, in other words they didn’t act in faith or trusting thus prolonging the walk. In our rebellion, lack of obedience, we extended the learning process, but learn we did.
We need to establish that G-d’s plan for our lives is to make us more like HIM and less like ourselves, our needs and wants. How we want to ‘serve’ is not necessarily how He wants us to be. Service can be as idolatrous as anything else, when in fact all G-d wants in us is change, a reduction in rebellion. Will we see HIM exalted (Kadesh) in our lives, or will we fight and rebel (Meribah)? The wonderful divine paradox of all this though is that even at those times when we cause a prolonging and make it harder than it might otherwise have been, He uses that to continue to mould us into the image of His Son.
So, the journey goes on. The length of it is determined often by us, even if with hindsight we can see G-d’s hand at work. But the destination is never in doubt, so lift up your eyes to One who can set you free and bring you into the Inheritance by faith, the hallmark of the Community and people of G-d.