Better Off Dead

You would expect a little more gratitude from emancipated slaves.

The whole nation of Israel had only recently emerged from captivity within Egypt, where the Pharaoh and his taskmasters had made their burden heavy each day. They gathered straw, produced bricks and raised pyramids against great odds, even as their cries increased and reached the God of Heaven (see Exodus 1-4).

They watched as Moses and Aaron afflicted their captors with plague after plague, culminating on the first Passover night as Death swept through the land, leaving in its wake the corpses of Egypt’s firstborn. Israel escaped, plundering the Egyptians of their riches in the process, passing through a miraculously parted Red Sea which became the watery grave of their unfortunate oppressors. “Sing to the LORD, For He has triumphed gloriously” (Exodus 15:21)!

Would gratitude and hope be enough to carry them across the plains to God’s Promised Land? Would enemy armies block their way, disturbing the courage of 600,000 travelers? Or would some more subtle foe appear?

“So Moses brought Israel from the Red Sea; then they went out into the Wilderness of Shur. And they went three days in the wilderness and found no water. Now when they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter … And the people complained against Moses” (Exodus 15:22-24).

After sweetening the water and rendering it potable, the people’s confidence was soon again tested by hunger. “And the children of Israel said to them, ‘Oh, that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger’” (Exodus 16:3). 

Gratitude for emancipation can be short-lived, especially when the redeemed slip into an attitude of “What have you done for us lately?” – as in, sure, you sent your son to a cross 2000 years ago, but God, what have you done for us lately? A redeemed person can quickly forget from whence he came – how awful was slavery and the hopelessness it engendered until freedom came. A redeemed person can lose sight of where he should be headed – to a Promised Land more wonderful than Canaan. A redeemed person might even begin to wonder if he was really better off back in slavery, if not to Pharaoh, to the devil who offers such tasty little trifles in exchange for human loyalty (see Second Peter 2:20-22). 

“But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed … For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:17, 23).