This year, I feel like a vagabond.
I would venture so far as to say, this year has been unsettling for everyone in a myriad of ways. As a college student, the places in which I’ve dwelled throughout 2020 have all felt very fleeting and have left me with a deep, lingering feeling of unsettlement. I’ve tampered between the west coast and the midwest, city and suburb; each with different communities, different rhythms, and different worries. Within this lack of place sensation, I’ve questioned God countless times as to how I could be sustained while I cease to feel settled. Maybe you feel this way too.
In a way, I feel like an Israelite, wandering through the wilderness in search for the Promised Land and not fully trusting the Lord’s provision. This is what we see in the book of Numbers:
“The entire Israelite community entered the Wilderness of Zin in the first month, and they settled in Kadesh. Miriam died and was buried there. There was no water for the community, so they assembled against Moses and Aaron. The people quarreled with Moses and said, ‘If only we had perished when our brothers perished before the Lord. Why have you brought the Lord’s assembly into this wilderness for us and our livestock to die here? Why have you led us up from Egypt to bring us to this evil place? (5) It’s not a place of grain, figs, vines, and pomegranates, and there is no water to drink!’ Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the doorway of the tent of meeting. (6) They fell facedown, and the glory of the Lord appeared to them. The Lord spoke to Moses, ‘Take the staff and assemble the community. You and your brother Aaron are to speak to the rock while they watch, and it will yield its water. (8) You will bring out water for them from the rock and provide drink for the community and their livestock.’ So Moses took the staff from the Lord’s presence just as he had commanded him. Moses and Aaron summoned the assembly in front of the rock, and Moses said to them, ‘Listen, you rebels! Must we bring water out of this rock for you?’ (13) Then Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff, so that abundant water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.”
Does anybody resonate with verse 5 today? “God, where are the grains? I don’t see any figs or vines. There are definitely no pomegranates here. And no water…I just don’t get it. Why am I here?” Last New Year’s Eve, I think I was imagining a year of figs and pomegranates, not pandemics and unsettlement. Yet, here we are. And just like us, the Israelites were deeply distressed, not trusting, confused, and angry at God because their circumstances did not match the blessing that they were expecting. But, the Israelites were not left without water and they were not left without blessing; things changed when they sought the presence of the Lord.
Something I love about the book of Numbers, is how God is present with His people. As the Israelites traveled, God’s presence was secured in a tent at the center of their camp. So, when Moses and Aaron realized their lack, they sought the Lord’s presence in the tent, falling down to their knees in humility. The Lord responds in verse 8 saying that he will bring water out of the rock for everyone to drink, both the community and their livestock. Keep in mind, this is supposed to sound absurd, think parting the Red Sea absurd- it doesn’t make worldly sense. Yet, just as God promises we see in verse 13 that when Moses raised his staff, abundant water flowed out from the rock. Heavenly wisdom prevailed over their worldly sense. And God didn’t just give them what they needed, he provided for the Israelites abundantly as a demonstration of his holiness and trustworthiness. Even though the Israelites were not in the place they expected, and even though they couldn’t see how they could survive and flourish in the environment they found themselves in, God’s presence was the answer; God’s presence was the blessing.
Just as God did not abandon the Israelites, despite their many shortcomings, He will not abandon us. He is always at the center of our camp by means of the Holy Spirit, listening and responding graciously when we, His beloved children, come running to Him. And not only that, but He is moving with us through every step of our seemingly vagabond-type journey; His tent is pitched on every unforeseen and unconventional path we find ourselves on.
“We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”
This I cling tightly to: that God, in His omniscience, knows where we are going and is working that way for good all the while. It is not up to find the way to the Promised Land, all we have to do is follow obediently one step at a time and trust that even amidst our disobedience the Lord is still for us. I pray today that, as we walk unsettled through the wilderness, in different places and different circumstances, we may call to mind God’s provision and purpose for His people in the most unlikely places. He is the God who pours water out of rocks and turns staffs into snakes and parts seas into roads. God sees us right where we are and His presence and will have not been halted.
He is here and perhaps that is all we truly need.