By Titus Chu
The spiritual life of a Christian is a constant struggle to progress from one stage of life to another. The picture in Exodus of the children of Israel as they left Egypt and progressed station by station until they arrived at Mount Sianai is an excellent portrayal of this struggle. God wants us to run the race and finish the course, but how easy it is to stop at any of these stations and go no farther. I fear that many Christians never arrive at the goal God has for them. The apostle Paul warns, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win” (1 Cor. 9:24).
If we’re not progressing, what are we here for? We are already qualified to go to the heavens by virtue of our regeneration. The Lord may as well take us all right now. If we are not progressing in our Christian life, it would seem to make no difference if we live longer or shorter. But the Lord keeps us on this earth so that we can grow and advance day by day.
Station one is regeneration. Yet even regeneration is not that simple. Regeneration is pictured by the Passover and relates to the blood of the redeeming Lamb, to our savior Christ, to the local church life, to the body life, and to our life. It results in a revolutionary change in our living. We no longer belong to the realm represented by Egypt, but to the realm promised by God, even though our experience of it is as yet so limited. So much happens in stage one.
Station two, baptism, is not as simple as we think. Paul wrote, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 Cor. 12:13). Our baptism involves all those who are in the one body of Christ, all of whom are exiting Egypt with us. Baptism is not an individual matter. The exodus of the children of Israel was crowded with at least two million people and probably four million cows, sheep, and other animals. There must have been a lot of noise and confusion.
When I was a child, I was in such a mass exodus in China as my family ran with so many others to escape the Communist takeover. Because we were constantly on the move, I attended six junior high schools. I went to the first one and studied about one year, then I had to run away. I went to a second place and studied only a few months before I had to run away again. In my third school I studied only a little before I had to run away. My next school was the same. I cannot even remember the name of my fifth school because I was there so briefly. Finally I came to my sixth school where I was able to finish. So I know what it means to flee with thousands of frightened people. Many were seeking for a boat, cart, or any vehicle to carry them to a safe place. The communists were behind us and the unknown was before us. Along the way were bandits and robbers. We kept on running. It was actually very dangerous.
I sometimes think about the Egyptian army closing in on the fleeing Israelites who could no doubt hear the pounding horse hooves behind them. It must have been really scary. To follow the Lord is not to take the easy way. It is tough. The Israelites were stuck on the bank of the Red Sea, and their only escape was to pass through the water on the dry land provided by God. This is baptism.
Station 3—Overcoming Walls
After we pass through baptism, we discover that we are surrounded by walls. This is stage three, and matches the experience of the children of Israel at Shur, the first place they came to after crossing the Red Sea. These walls will be with us our entire Christian life. They are the frustrations that try to keep us from moving forward in our pursuit of Christ.
Often these walls come in the form of our relationships with others. We may have close friends who cannot understand our new love for our Lord. Some of the things we used to freely do with them we no longer have the conscience to do. Our friends often become jealous, and, as Peter said, “They are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you” (1 Pet. 4:4). Eventually they try to make us choose between them and the Lord. We feel we cannot go back and we cannot go forward. We are surrounded by walls.
Once we by God’s grace determine to press on, we may find ourselves sitting in church meetings in which we have no idea what the speaker is saying. We may find ourselves serving in areas in which we feel fully inadequate and doomed to fail. We may try to pray or read the Bible but fall asleep. All these discouragements become walls. And this is just the start. We will confront walls our entire Christian life. Everyone and everything will seem to be against us.
When I began to love the Lord, my family became one of my walls. My father was very adamant, “Drop your belief in Jesus or get out!” I said no, so he chased me out of the house. I became homeless, but only for about two hours. I knew very clearly that he loved me even more than I loved him. I could make him unhappy but he would never sacrifice me. I left the house and waited nearby. In due time, my youngest brother come out with a message that I should come back to eat. I sat in my place at the table, not daring to look at my father for fear of inviting problems. My father never looked at me, pretending I was not even there.
Another time my mother came to me as I was studying. She was crying. She said, “I had eight children, but I lost one. I still have seven.” She meant she lost me. That was really hard on me. But I knew that if I gave in then I would never be free to follow the Lord freely again. So I hardened myself and continued to study, pretending she was not there. Some days later she asked if she could go to a gospel meeting with me. I was so happy!
If we give ourselves to the Lord absolutely, nothing can frustrate us. We can only frustrate ourselves. There is no wall so high that it can stop us from following the Lord unless we let it. Eventually, because of my stand, my whole family was saved. When there is one in the household who really loves the Lord, He will bless the entire household (Acts 16:31, 34; 1 Cor. 7:14).
Station 4—Surrendering Our Taste
Like the Children of Israel, we eventually come to Marah, a place with some water, but when we drink it, it tastes bitter. Actually, there is nothing wrong with the water. It simply doesn’t fit our taste. It doesn’t fit our natural man. Our natural man has it’s view, observation, consideration—it’s taste. We may like a large choir all singing in harmony wearing long white robes. Or we may like congregational singing with no choir at all. We may like organ, piano, or guitar accompaniment. Or we may prefer just voices with no instruments to help. All of this is taste, and when it doesn’t match what we want, it seems bitter. It is too easy to look around and choose the water that fits us. Though we may have to choose what kind of music to have, we do not choose it to please anyone’s taste, and we should not be offended if it does not fit our taste. The church must only have a taste for Christ.
Water is necessary for life, and God is faithful to supply it. But the taste of the water may not agree with us at all. For this we need to learn to take the cross, typified when Moses threw the tree into the bitter water (Exo. 15:25). We must learn to say, “Lord, whatever you like, I like.” This is just like a newly married couple. They must learn one another’s taste so they can please each other. If the wife says, “I will cook only what I like and don’t care about you,” it will be a rough marriage. Likewise, if the husband says, “I will stay out as late as I want and don’t care about you,” that marriage is in trouble. If out of love they each learn to lay down their taste and pick up the taste of the other, that marriage will be blessed. When children come, they will both have to lay down their taste again for their children’s sake. If we must learn to put our taste on the cross for our families, how much more is it necessary in our church life?
Following the Lord has so much to do with our taste. We must develop a taste for Christ and for the heavenly things such as the word of God and the church life. We must have a desire to be with our brothers and sisters to “pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:22).
Station 5—Enjoying God’s Supply
Station by station we, like the children of Israel, move forward. Station five is Elim, the oasis in the wilderness in which were twelve springs of water and seventy date palms (Exo. 15:27). The Bible is careful to record these numbers, yet when we consider that there were over two million people plus their countless herds of cows sheep and other animals, this number seems to be a joke. When thirty thousand people have to share the shade and dates of one tree, that tree doesn’t mean much anymore. The numbers twelve and seventy must have been recorded for their symbolic meaning, not just literal numbers.
Symbolically, these numbers are very meaningful. The number twelve is made up of three (God) times four (man). Twelve is the number of eternal completion, and so the twelve springs show that God supplies man with “wells of water springing up to eternal life” (John 4:14). For example, we may go to a church meeting or a conference and hear wonderful words from the Bible. If we are asked a few days later what we heard that helped us, we may have forgotten it all. But, the Christ we received at those meetings will be with us the rest of our lives and into eternity. When God is multiplied within us, we experience the twelve springs of water.
The number seventy is made up of three (God) plus four (man) times ten (completion in time). This shows that God will supply all our need in this life as well. I recommend reading a biography of George Muller to see how God was faithful to supply not only his need, but the need of the thousands of orphans and workers in his care, all by prayer. Muller read the promise in the word, “open your mouth wide and I will fill it” (Psalm 81:10). Based on this verse, he learned to pray big prayers, and God was faithful to answer in a big way.
I once knew some high schoolers who wanted to serve the church but needed $185 for their project. One was so bold as to tell the Lord that they wanted Him to supply that exact amount, not one cent more or one cent less. That was really a test. Most of us would not dare to pray like this. When the day came to count the offering, they were ten cents short. Everyone got so discouraged. It seemed that their God was not so living. They had asked for exactly $185 but only received $184.90. Where was the Lord?
Then a young brother stepped forward who was an orphan without much money. He said that he had a sense to offer his only dime when they were praying but had felt it was too insignificant. He apologized and offered his dime. This became a lesson to them all that their God was really living, and that no offering was too small for Him to use. From this experience they all learned what it was to have the seventy date palms.
Station 6—Our Labor
Up to now, God had supplied everything, from the parting of the Red Sea to the twelve springs of water and seventy date palms. All that the children of Israel had to do was to enjoy God’s provision. Yet there is no hint that they ever gave a sign of appreciation. They only knew to complain when things were not up to their standard. They were like spoiled children who take their mother’s cooking for granted.
Many Christians are like this. Those who lead the church labor to diligently supply the congregation with nourishing spiritual food, but most in their congregations take this provision for granted. They do not need to labor at all. They never give a word of appreciation, but are full of complaint when the food is not up to their standard.
When God brought the children of Israel to the sixth station, the wilderness of Sin (Exo. 16:1), there seemed to be no supply at all. Their complaint was fully justified that they would all die there for lack of food. They longed to be back in Egypt sitting by the pots of meat. If they had not taken God’s provision up until now for granted, perhaps they would not have complained so much when it seemed to disappear.
The Lord responded by telling Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether or not they will walk in My instruction” (Exo. 16:4). The people called this heavenly bread manna, and they were to collect it every day. It was supplied by God, yet the people had to do work to get it. This was a test to see if they would obey God’s instruction.
Manna was small, a “fine flake-like thing” (v. 14) “like coriander seed” (v. 31), and therefore it took some work to collect enough to feed everyone. It was no doubt tedious and tiring work, and it was only available early in the morning. After collecting the manna, they had to find a way to cook it. I can imagine the women trading manna recipes as they tried to find new ways to prepare it. God provided the food, but they had to learn to labor for it. They could only collect one day’s worth or it would breed “worms and become foul” (v. 20). Only in preparation for the Sabbath could they collect and prepare two day’s worth.
When we are in the early stages of our Christian life, God supplies us with everything. He makes our bitter water turn sweet, and gives us springs of water with date palms. When we get more advanced, however, He still supplies us with food, but He makes us labor for it. It no longer works just go to church meetings and say, “Preach to me, preach to me.” Adequate food is there, but now we must spend time to pick it up and cook it ourselves. If one day we feel we are short of spiritual food, we can blame no one else. Our own laziness is at fault.
Moses instructed the children of Israel to collect the manna “according to the number of persons each of you has in his tent” (v. 16). If there are some in our church who are too young or unhealthy to collect for themselves, we cannot forget them. We should collect a little extra so we can visit them and bring the fruit of our labor for their nourishment. Eventually they will be brought to the place where they can do the work to feed themselves and others according to God’s instruction.
Then God gave the children of Israel a bonus—quail. He never mentioned quail to them before, but they had been complaining of how much they missed the pots of meat they once enjoyed in Egypt. God desired them to eat manna, the heavenly bread, as their diet, but he gave them one meal of quail to meet their earthly appetite. There was nothing wrong with eating quail. It came from God, but it was not given to replace their main diet. Quail was secondary; manna was primary.
God allows us to enjoy many things, but they should never replace Christ as our heavenly bread (John 6:51). It is good for us to do things together such as have love feasts and picnics, go sight-seeing, or even participate in some sports. Such things help make the church life warmer, and may even be opportunities to present the gospel to our friends. We need make no apologies for such activities, but they should never become the center of our church life. We do not want to become a picnic church, or have our friends join us to see God’s creation but not see God Himself. All these are quail, given to us by God as a bonus. They are secondary. Christ is primary.