God was no miser to His Old Testament people. He drenched all of them with grace, an undeserved love that foreshadowed the word and sacraments in which He wraps you and me today.
The pillar of cloud and fire went before them like unto Him who said: “I am the Light of the world; he that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”
They all passed through the Red Sea and emerged safely on the other side as a new people, saved from slavery, even as all of us have been redeemed from sin’s slavery by Christ. All of them were “baptized” into Moses – united with their leader. Passing through the sea separated them from their old life as the gospel waters of baptism have given you and me a new life. They were sustained by miraculous food and drink in the desert. You and I are sustained on our journey by the banquet of Christ’s body and blood.
St. Paul recounts these blessings in 1 Corinthians 10. But then he adds a numbing “nevertheless.” “Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them. He had them die in the wilderness.” Here is the painful truth. We may partake of the full abundance of God’s grace and yet be lost.
Many of us, as children, listened to the Bible stories about Israel in the wilderness and we could scarcely believe it, much less comprehend it. Here was this special nation of people who had seen the finger of God shake an empire with ten miraculous plagues. They followed a towering pillar of cloud and fire which stopped and started by the will of God. They saw Moses stretch out his staff over the Red Sea and God parted the waters with the blast of His nostrils. They saw rivers gush from a rock to quench the thirst of thousands. They walked out of their tents each morning and picked up their daily bread from the ground. They stood at the foot of a quaking, smoking, fiery mountain and, amid the blast of angels’ trumpets, heard the very voice of God Himself thunder: “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt…” We listened to these Bible stories and we wondered how they could break faith with God, and by sins as common as sparrows.
Our wilderness path, too, is littered with casualties – abandoned baptismal grace, forgotten confirmation vows, Christian schooling that is only a distant memory, childlike trust in Christ long lost, Christ-like living a thing of the past, consciences calloused to the clear commandments of God. Nothing fancy. Just deadly. Just ask Judas Iscariot. All for 30 silver pieces. None of us are beyond these common sins. But God reaches out with uncommon grace.
As with Israel, so it is with us. Here on our journey through the wilderness toward home, despite all our rebellion, God bids us look to Christ and live!