Their reaction betrays a people accustomed to slavery. "It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness." (Exodus 14:12) The price was too high, and in their minds it was better to be alive as slaves than dead as free men. And because they were unwilling to sacrifice for an ideal greater than themselves, they wanted to turn back to the system that enslaved them.
None of us are tempted to go to Egypt for sustenance, but the New Testament speaks often of the temptation of going back into the bondage of sin. And make no mistake: sin does enslave. Paul mentions how, if we offer ourselves to sin, we become slaves of sin (Romans 6:16). Just as Israel wanted to go back to the land of slavery, we too can be tempted to go back into the slavery of sin. This Way to which we have committed is often not an easy walk, and sometimes discouragement is such that we want to lament the difficulties and go back to familiar territory, even if that territory is self-destructive.
But God has something better for us, and he is not about to let go of us without a fight. As he said to the Israelites in this hour of discouragement, "Why do you cry to me? Tell the children of Israel to go forward" (Exodus 14:15). You're not turning back, Israel. There is too much at stake.
And to bolster that point, the Angel of God left the front of the camp and went behind them. Certainly this was to be their rearguard to protect them from the Egyptians, but there was more to it than that. Not only did this keep the Egyptians from attacking Israel (and God is the greatest Protector we can have), this also kept the Israelites from going back to the Egyptians.
Sometimes God forces us to have freedom for our own good. We owe a debt of gratitude for the assurance that we have not been left comfortless. God will in fact protect us, and he will intervene mightily to keep us from returning to the slavery of sin. We cannot do it on our own, but he is there to do what we cannot, even in times of discouragement.
Excerpted from The Sabbath
Morning Companion, April 9, 2004, by Lenny Cacchio.