Can our most severe trials be opportunities for God’s greatest miracles and victories?
The lesson introduces a passage from Ellen White’s book, The Ministry of Healing, about how a bird caged and covered will learn to sing in the darkness a song unable to be learned in the light. While I love the book, as a Biblical scholar, I prefer to focus on Scripture. The examples for today’s lesson about the birdcage do in fact come from the Bible, and exemplify God’s victories even after leading His people intentionally into trials.
At the End of the Road
Exodus 1-13 tells the story of God’s deliverance of His Israelite people from their bondage and slavery in Egypt. After the Passover, ch. 14 tells how God led them specifically into a trap. Yahweh God was present in the pillar of fire/cloud and led their way. It was not Moses who accidentally and ignorantly took them in the wrong direction.
Israel were brought to the Dead Sea, hemmed in by the water in front, walls on each side, and the armies of Egypt pursuing from behind. They were essentially without any human way out. They had come to a place where only God could deliver them. No human response would bring victory, not engineering or tactics could help them escape. It is in just such places where God comes through, opening a way through the waters with supernatural power.
Would the victories of God in Egypt have given you greater faith in God’s power when brought to the edge of the Red Sea? Or does human nature cause us to easily forget God’s mighty acts in History?
Is there a reason we should see the Red Sea crossing as just a tall tale, a legend, if you will, or a myth teaching a certain truth, but not historically accurate? Or does the truth of the story depend on its actually occurring in our world, in time and place?
Led to Thirst
Israel’s continuing journey after their miraculous crossing of the Red Sea brings them through the wilderness (likely the Sinai Peninsula, or possibly the Saudi Arabian desert, according to some Archaeologists and Biblical Scholars). The greatest need of humans in such an environment is for water, then shelter from the sun. Marah is a place with water, but not the kind they could drink. Read Exodus 17. Two stories of trial are presented in here: Moses’ struggle with the people whom he fears will kill him, and the people’s thirst after three days without a new water source, their skins running dry.
How does God’s miracle answer each of their trials? Look again at vs. 5: why is it significant that God would point out that Moses’ staff is the same one “with which you struck the Nile?” How important is remember God’s previous actions when we face trail?
Jesus as New Israel
Jesus’ own ministry brought Him through the waters of baptism (just as Israel was baptized in the Red Sea: see 1 Cor 10:1-6) and into the wilderness. Instead of 40 years, Jesus was there 40 days, fasting and facing extreme hunger, and then being tempted. Matthew 4:1 specifically says that the Holy Spirit led Jesus into that place by who had just manifest himself as a dove descending on Jesus at His baptism.
How many parallels can you find between Israel’s wilderness experience (think broadly from Exodus through Deuternonmy) and Jesus’ wilderness experience?
Jesus’ closing statement in His well-known prayer asks, “lead us not into temptation,” yet Jesus Himself was led into such a situation. Should we see these as contradictory? Is there a better way to understand God’s leading into places where we can be tempted?
Does it give you encouragement that Jesus overcame the temptations He faced? Are you more moved by His perfect victory and sinless life as our Savior, or His example of overcoming as hope for personal victory our own weak condition?
Trial by Fire
1 Peter 1:6-9, the introduction of Peter’s 1st letter, begins with an affirmation that his audience “have been distressed by various trails,” but then gives some encouragement.
List the positive results that come from the trials faced by the first-century Christians to whom Peter was writing…
Can God lead us into situations out of which we have no power of ourselves? The answer seems to be yes. In fact, it seems He wants us to come to such tests, because only then do we see evidence of His power. We don’t see the miracles unless we’re at our own end, when necessity demands we turn to divine help, not human agency.