The other big lesson that we need to take from Israel's journey from one desert to another is that there is a way to be faithful in the desert.
In fact, it is in the desert where Israel's faithfulness was not only tested, but learned.
We have to draw a big distinction here, and it is one that we often ignore: there is a difference between faithfulness and obedience. Israel's obedience had been building for a little while.
For example, it is obedience when Israel sacrifices the first Passover lamb, smears the blood on their doorposts, and eats the meal with their sandals on. It is obedience when they ask their Egyptian overlords for jewelry and other valuable possessions. It is obedience when they follow Moses into the desert. And it is even obedience when they follow the pillar of cloud and fire from one desert to another. Obedience is one thing, and it's what we most often talk about when we talk about the Exodus event. But I'm not talking about obedience.
I'm talking about faithfulness.
A year after they left Egypt, Israel is still wandering in the desert. They shouldn't have been; it's been far longer than even the long way should have taken. They haven't even engaged in their big act of disobedience yet, the one for which they were sentenced to 40 years of wandering. They're just...there. Slowly winding their way, they hope, toward the Promised Land.
But even with all of the bumps in the road, as the one year anniversary approaches, Israel starts asking questions about the celebration of the Passover. And this is an act of faithfulness.
It's faithfulness because we see in them the desire to observe the Passover. Not only the desire to observe it, but the intense desire to observe it. And faithfully so. Those who are unclean at the time of the appointed festival come to Moses and ask him how they are supposed to participate. They want to participate! Their uncleanness separates them from the rest of the community. They aren't supposed to be able to eat the meal. They aren't supposed to be able to take part. But they want to! And they want to know if there's any possible way that they can.
Many of us probably are not going to be this excited about God's festival. Not here. Not now. It's been a year. We haven't even seen a glimpse of the Promised Land yet. We've moved from one desert to another to another for what seems like forever. Most of us are the kind of people who say, "You know what? I'll do the faithful thing when I'm out of this wilderness." We don't have time for God in our wandering. We don't have time...or we don't have heart. We're weary. We're exhausted. We're kind of upset, if you want to be honest. This God should have delivered us by now. There's no food here. No water. We're living in tents.
We'll celebrate the Passover once we get to Canaan.
That is not, however, the testimony of Israel, and we would be wise to pay attention to their witness here. In spite of everything they were going through, the same kinds of setbacks and frustrations and exhaustions that we often face, they desired to celebrate the Lord's festival. They desired to keep the Passover. They desired it so much that they were willing to look their own uncleanness in the face and beg for there to still be a way. That's incredible!
Were that we would be so faithful....
...even in our deserts.