Lest We Forget
Puppies are equal parts glory and destruction. Our black lab Sawyer fully lives into this narrative of glory and despair. He seamlessly floats between dropping his ten-pound head on our laps and looks up with those huge puppy dog eyes as if to say, "I only have eyes for you." And he does. He is loyalty at its finest. And just when I want to truly love him, he's tearing planks of wood siding off of the house, digging up new grass, and ripping up the new dog bed. He's not cooperative. We can't control him.
Life can be a roller coaster. We can vacillate between moments of glory and utter despair. Sometimes the despair is so thick we forget there was ever a moment of glory.
Just three days after the majestic crossing of the Red Sea, this moment of miraculous glory, the Israelites forget. Backs against the wall, Pharoah's army closing in, and all of a sudden, an unexpected path opens. My favorite rendition of this comes from Psalm 77.
"Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen."
It was such a beautiful moment of glory, the next chapter in Exodus there is what is called "The Song of Moses." They break out in song and declare the glory of God. It's such a great moment and such a great song, it shows up two more times in the Biblical narrative. It's certainly worth a read.
Before the chapter can even finish, the story changes. Significantly. This part I have to include below.
Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness and found no water. When they came to Marah (מָרָה), they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter; therefore it was named Marah. So the people grumbled at Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” Then he cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree; and he threw it into the waters, and the waters became sweet. There He made for them a statute and regulation, and there He tested them. And He said, “If you will give earnest heed to the voice of the Lord your God, and do what is right in His sight, and give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have put on the Egyptians; for I, the Lord, am your healer.”
Then they came to Elim where there were twelve springs of water and seventy date palms, and they camped there beside the waters.
It's only three days later. But, it's three days later, without water. I typically write off the Israelites as a particularly "complainy" and "grumbly" group of people, but if you think about it, they are in the wilderness, a million plus of them, and no one has had a drink of water in three days. They are on the brink of death. I'm usually parched by noon. I get it. So when they finally see something resembling water, something alights within them...until they taste it.
It's bitter. It's not drinkable. It's death. The bitter waters of death.
Of all the things to help at the moment God points out "a tree" to Moses. He throws the tree into the bitter water and alas, another miracle! Another chance for Israel to trust God in this new relationship. And it is here that God foreshadows a covenant relationship He intends to have with them speaking of commandments, statutes and regulations to come through the Law. And they come to Elim, a place of Terebinth trees that had twelve springs, one for each tribe. There were also seventy date palms, reminding us of the 70 members from Joseph's family that came to settle in Goshen, a place of provision for their ancestors.
This tree of life. It's not the first time it shows up in Scripture. Go back to the Garden of Eden and God sets in the middle of Eden a tree of life. It was later that Noah would take his family aboard another tree covered in pitch, or literally an ark from the Hebrew word tevah (תֵּבָה), and find salvation in a tree of life amidst the waters of death. And Moses, whose life started in Egypt, is placed by his mother in an ark (tevah) of bulrushes, covered in pitch, to float down the waters of death that drowned a generation of Hebrew baby boys, and he is saved, in a tree of life.
Standing at the banks of the bitter waters of death called Marah, Moses is shown a tree that brings salvation to a thirsty people. Maybe it was then they remembered the God Who rescued and saved just three days before. It wouldn't last long before they would forget, again. Just turn the page to the next chapter.
What feels like a parenthetical story all of a sudden carries a deeper plot of a God continuing to offer a tree of life to His people. Ultimately He would have His Son, Jesus, Who dies on a tree to give us all life.
It's no wonder that God, just before the Israelites enter into the Promised Land, reminds them to remember (Deuteronomy 8). Don't forget. My own moments of glory and despair, my fickle forgetting when I only see bitterness before me, mirrors the story of my own people.
Lest we forget, God never does. In the glory, and in the despair, He never forgets.
“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me." Isaiah 49:15-16