How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness and grieved him in the wasteland! Again and again they put God to the test; they vexed the Holy One of Israel. They did not remember his power— the day he redeemed them from the oppressor, the day he displayed his signs in Egypt, his wonders in the region of Zoan. He turned their river into blood; they could not drink from their streams. He sent swarms of flies that devoured them, and frogs that devastated them. He gave their crops to the grasshopper, their produce to the locust. He destroyed their vines with hail and their sycamore-figs with sleet. He gave over their cattle to the hail, their livestock to bolts of lightning. He unleashed against them his hot anger, his wrath, indignation and hostility— a band of destroying angels. He prepared a path for his anger; he did not spare them from death but gave them over to the plague. He struck down all the firstborn of Egypt, the firstfruits of manhood in the tents of Ham. But he brought his people out like a flock; he led them like sheep through the wilderness. He guided them safely, so they were unafraid; but the sea engulfed their enemies. And so he brought them to the border of his holy land, to the hill country his right hand had taken. He drove out nations before them and allotted their lands to them as an inheritance; he settled the tribes of Israel in their homes. – Psalm 78:40-55
This Psalm is a great circling back to recount the ways that God has shown up for the Israelites in the past. Many of these remembrances involved water in some way. The account begins with a retelling of the story of the Nile being turned to blood to convince Pharaoh to free the Israelites from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 7:14-24).
The God being described here is a “Mad Max” sort of God who comes in and “kicks butt” for the Israelites. He sends hail, frogs, and all manner of miracle to come to the aid of the Israelites. This is a God who saves in a tangible way…a real Marvel Comics superhero kind of God who swoops in with vengeance and wrath to take it to those doing evil against the followers of God. This is where the hearts of the jewish people were when Jesus showed up to rescue them from the Roman oppression of the day. They wanted Mad Max and they got something else entirely — the Son of Man.
God helped the Israelites make it to the Promised Land after crossing over the Jordan. They were rewarded for their troubles and trials in the wilderness as they followed the Shepherd who was leading them into the Promised Land. The situation today is somewhat more vexing. Those who follow Jesus are also following a Shepherd out of the spiritual wilderness that is this world into a Promised Land (the kingdom of God). Our pursuer now is not a bunch of chariots and men with spears. It is a clever deceiver who wishes to win our souls and keep us from following God.
The confusing and hard part about this following is that God is fighting spiritual battles for us now rather than tangible battles that we can feel viscerally in our gut. It is much more difficult to cheer for the winning of a soul than to clap for a clobbered villain. The battles are far more subtle and cerebral than those described in this Psalm. They are not the stuff of a Hollywood action movie, although Hollywood tried with the Movie “Left Behind” starring Nicholas Cage — of course in that movie they had to make it interesting by putting Cage in the cockpit of a jumbo jet landing on a freeway in the dark while almost running over his daughter.
I am confident that God will win this epic battle for our souls, not with high tech suits, amazing weapons, or superpowers, but by His spirit and love. In reality He has already won this battle, but we must play a part. He asks us to surrender to Him before He can win for us.
Prayer: God help us to trust You in the midst of what seems like discouraging battles.