We need to believe responsibly. We need to know what we believe, individually. If the group goes wrong, we needn’t be swept away with it, but we will, if we don’t know what we believe, individually.
After the children of Israel left Egypt, and entered the wilderness, they soon felt betrayed. They actually wanted to return to Egypt. However unpleasant and miserable their circumstances in slavery were, it all seemed better than trekking through nowhere, in unbearable privation, dearth, and heat.
But they were neither deprived, thirsty, hungry, over-heated, or exhausted. So great had been the terror of the Egyptians under the plagues, they bestowed enormous wealth on the Hebrew slaves, begging them to leave the country. (How’s that for a deportation policy?) They came out “with great substance” (Genesis 15:14). Yea, Israel “spoiled the Egyptians” (Exodus 12:26) as would a conquering army. In fact, it is said that Israel left Egypt as an army, or “with their צבאה” (tseba’ah) –their battle mass, or soldiers (Exodus 12:51). No sooner than they had noticed their animal skin water bags were running low, they were led to Elim, the oasis of seventy palm tries and twelve springs of water (Ex. 15:27). When they noticed their food supplied dwindling, the Lord sent down bread from Heaven, the miraculous “manna” (Ex. 16: 14,15). There wasn’t a single feeble person in the ranks of nearly a million people (Psalm 105:37). Their clothing and shoes didn’t even wear out, in forty years of that wilderness life (Deuteronomy 29:5, 8:5). Furthermore, they had miraculous shade in the day, and heated light in the nighttime (Ex. 13: 21,22). It was portable air conditioning, central air and heat, provide by Heaven, in the middle of the most arid, barren land known to man.
The divine light and heating system for the hosts of Israel en route to Cana’an, forty years en route. Who could doubt the system, or its Provider?
So, how is it that the people complained at ever turn, and were ever ready to return to slavery in Egypt? They remembered “the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick” Numbers 11:5. They became weary of the “angels food” (Psalm 78:25), three times a day, day in and day out, apparently, and remembered the rich variety they enjoyed in Egypt. Is that it? Boredom with the miraculous? Is that possible?
Well, it was a lot of people, kids, animals, and no certain place, just the hope of the promised land of plenty. An odd circumstance, or so it seems.
It is difficult to determine which is the greater lesson, the wondrous power of the Lord, or the incredible mistrust and disbelief of man. In all of history, there is no record of such an experience. It seems utterly unique and therefore impossible to appreciate.
But, the Lord held every Jew born then and thereafter, forever, responsible for knowing this, and vicariously responsible for having experienced it. Indeed, at the end of Moses life, he admonished the population as they neared Cana’an. He called upon them to remember Sinai, and the fiery voice of the Almighty, and Decalogue in stone (Deut. 4:4-13). But, that was forty years before. Only three named adult men witnessed Sinai that were now living at the time of Cana’an: Moses, Joshua, and Caleb. All the rest had died in the wilderness, as punishment for unbelief (Num. 14: 28-34). Of course, the little ones grew up in the wilderness. There must have been many of them who could remember Sinai–but they would have grown up and had children during that forty years, and that generation, born in the wilderness, had certainly not seen Sinai, nor heard the voice of the Lord, nor seen the fires of the Law.
Ergo, all Jews are responsible for knowing, believing, and yes, having experienced Sinai–and everything else in the Passover story.
Ergo, again, anyone who joins himself to Israel, in faith, is also responsible.
The folk rabbi said, (quoting Moses, of course), “Man shall live…by every Word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4; Deut. 8:3). He who hears, or reads, is thereafter responsible. It is the word of the Almighty. There is no unbelief permitted, excused, or tolerated, in a sense.
These are solemn thoughts. They are actually very joyful thoughts. Clearly, human nature has no ability to sustain such realities. The children of Israel proved that. Daily miracles do not suffice. So, somehow, there is a giant, opened door here. Anyone, indeed, everyone, is invited, encouraged, and shall we say, tempted? What is it like to believe? What kinds of things may happen? The whole thing sounds terribly exciting.
Holidays, like Passover and Easter, call public attention to events believed to be historical. I don’t know that public participation in ceremonial remembrance or memorial actually encourages real belief by individual choice. Group think is always a lot easier. Perhaps a public participation can stir the soul to consciousness, and awaken a sense of the sacred. The Lord is certainly a great lover of the public, and public gathering–when it is focused on Him, our Creator. So public worship cannot be said to inhibit or prevent sincere belief.
Nevertheless, I would encourage a certain awareness of liabilities of public consciousness. It is important to know what one believes–in the closet. Then one’s public expression is perhaps more appropriate. Just a thought, for the season.