Exodus 17:8 “Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim.”
Israel’s history as they wandered in the wilderness is an interesting one. After they had been delivered by God’s mighty hand from captivity in Egypt, they started on a journey of faith to the Promised Land. It was a journey that would take 40 years, and a journey during which God constantly led them. By a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night He directed them as to when they should stay in one place, when they should break camp and move, and where they should go. By the time of the account in Exodus 17 above, which was actually quite early in their journey, He had met their every need. He had delivered them from the Egyptian army at the Red Sea. He had provided manna from heaven when they complained about their hunger, and He had provided water from a rock when they complained of thirst. And now, immediately after they had been miraculously provided for yet again, they were attacked by the army of Amalek.
What in the world was going on here? If God was truly leading them, if He was truly with them, why the hunger and thirst? Why the attacks of an enemy? If God is all-powerful, couldn’t He have kept them from these difficulties? Couldn’t He have provided for them before they were hungry or thirsty? Couldn’t He have wiped out the Amalekites with fire from heaven before Israel had even encountered them? What in the world gives with all of this?
Well, the fact is that although God is indeed with His people all the time, although He is the Great Shepherd who gently leads His flock along the way (Isaiah 40:11), He is also our Teacher. God wants more for us than to have an easy life. He wants us to know Him. He wants us to grow in our trust towards Him. He wants us to have the power to have peace and joy not just when our circumstances are peaceful and joyful, but also when our circumstances are anything but.
While we are in this fallen world, whoever would follow Christ does so in the face of three enemies – the world, the flesh, and the devil. God has commissioned His followers not to live a pain-free, problem-free life, but to be His ambassadors to bring hope to the hopeless in a sin-cursed world. To strengthen and enable us for the task, we have much to learn – and many of those lessons are only learned through trials.
Trials are weathered by faith, a faith that holds no matter how things look or how terrible the circumstances. That’s because faith is nothing more than a supernatural trust in the person of God regardless of how things appear. Faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).” The “things not seen” are a reference to the God Who in Invisible, but Who is surely there, just the same. It is when the people of God learn, in the midst of difficulty, no matter what it is, to trust God and His Word, that other people in their lives, no matter how ambivalent to the God who can save them, stand up and take notice. To this, God has said “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:13-15).”
You see, it is in times of need and trial that what we know in our minds about our Lord becomes firmly planted in our hearts. It is in times of trial, like Job said, that we go from having “heard of Him” to actually having “seen Him” with eyes of an ever-deepening faith (Job 42:5). It was Paul, who was used by God to give us the major portion of His Word in the New Testament, who also experienced extreme suffering all through his life – things like stoning, shipwreck, and prison – and experiences of physical need, like hunger, thirst, and other forms of deprivation. And through it all, Paul came to a place where He could say “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13).” Then think of Jesus, the source of Living Water and creator of the oceans, who, as He hung on the cross, said “I thirst,” but at the same time said some the most wonderful things ever spoken by anyone; words of great mercy like “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” and words of total trust in His Father, like “Today, you will be with Me in paradise.”
So, do we want to truly know God and to glorify Him as we traverse the wilderness of this life, the time between the moment of our salvation and our entrance into the Promised Land? Then we all need to be taught along the way through lessons prepared for each and every one of us by our Great Shepherd, who gently leads us on every step. May we, like Paul and like Jesus, Paul’s Savior, learn to be content, no matter the circumstances, so that the message of the gospel from our lips receives a hearing that would likely not be possible in any other way.