When the mighty waters of the Red Sea returned to their place and covered Egypt’s chariots and horsemen, the people of Israel understood they were finally safe. Then when they saw “the mighty power that the Lord had unleashed against the Egyptians, they were filled with awe before him. They put their faith in the Lord and in his servant Moses” (Ex. 14:31, NLT).*
As the Bible keeps telling, the people’s awe and fear of God lasted only as long as their provisions. Then they grumbled against their leaders, accusing them of tricking them into premeditated genocide by starvation and dehydration. God again stepped up, provided them with food and drink, and they were satisfied.
Soon, however, Israel faced another challenge of a different sort: Amalek came and fought with Israel. Strangely enough, before the prospect of a likely genocide, they didn’t ask to return to Egypt or try to stone Moses. They answered Joshua’s call and went willingly to fight. God did the rest, and Israel became victorious.
Had they learned their lesson? Apparently not, because grumbling seemed to be the default behavior during their decades in the desert. Why did they become so doubtful before one challenge but not say a word when facing another?
Unless we learn to experience God on a personal level, we may end up doubting His presence.
Some commentators point to a striking difference. After crossing the Red Sea, they explain, Israel learned that they could trust God as a mighty warrior. They accepted that God would take care of their enemies and make them ultimately victorious. They had seen it in Egypt. They had witnessed it by the Red Sea. Surely God would grant them success against the Amalekites.
It was the daily challenges of sustenance that seemed to the people of Israel insurmountable roadblocks. They asked, “Is the Lord here with us or not?” (Ex. 17:7, NLT). Somehow the God who defeated whole armies was not big and powerful enough if they couldn’t feel Him personally in their daily, more mundane adversities. A God with the power to part many waters? Awesome! But now we are thirsty; just a few sips of drinking water would do.
Our relationship with God always presupposes a tension between the God of the mighty sea waters and the God of a life-giving sip. Historically, Seventh-day Adventists have excelled in explaining the big picture. The Bible-based metanarrative of the great controversy between good and evil keeps opening eyes and hearts just as when it was first outlined by prophetic revelation. It is a story that announces a God who will cancel evil in the universe forever. Big picture indeed!
There is another aspect to it, however. The same God who oversees the universe also wants to reveal His love in a personal, relatable way. Unless we learn to experience Him as our protector and provider on a personal level, we may end up doubting His presence. “For this is what the high and exalted One says—he who lives forever, whose name is holy: ‘I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite’” (Isa. 57:15).
Sometimes, the God of parted waters comes out stronger in a sippy cup.
* Bible texts marked NLT are from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015, by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Marcos Paseggi is senior news correspondent for Adventist Review Ministries.