A baby’s first step is a big deal. That one small step for baby-kind is a giant leap for growth, maturity, and independence. That first step begins with learning to roll over. Then comes the ‘army crawl.’ Then pulling up and letting go. Finally, that first tentative step is taken. Every eye is riveted on baby as she lets go and wobbles forward in a tenuous rapture. And in that instant of confidence, she takes her first step.
Parents hold their breath, fumbling for phones to capture the moment. And as they cheer exuberantly from the sidelines the moment quickly passes. Overwhelmed by attention, baby becomes self-aware of the uncertainties of walking upright. Like Peter walking on the Sea of Galilee, her faith wavers and she sinks down to the floor.
Her parents revel in the accomplishment. They text videos to grandparents and friends. Put stickers in the baby book. And tearfully journal that their baby is growing up. Then in a flash of prescience, the full weight of what just happened dawns on them. That first step has been taken. It is the step that leads to climbing, to running ahead, and to learning the power of ‘no.’ Much more has changed than mere mobility.
First steps mark more than the end of infancy. They mark the beginning of freedom. Children learn to trust and obey parents, not because they must, but because they should. First steps lead to experience and peril beyond a child’s maturity to assess or navigate. Those first steps are physically significant, but even more significant relationally and spiritually.
For the Israelites, the deliverance through the Red Sea is just the beginning. As God’s people, their infancy is over. Now it is time to take the first steps of new life in Christ. Steps that call on them to endure trial. Steps that require the continual exercise of faith. And steps that teach them to enjoy the Lord. God’s saving act in their lives, as in ours, is never the telos, but the ontos. Deliverance is just the beginning. By faith we must take our first steps and follow Christ, step by step, wide-eyed, and full of tenuous rapture.
But these first steps are not without peril. We are told to count the cost. God’s Word is filled with examples that embolden and warn. No sooner had God delivered the people from certain death on the shores of the Red Sea, littering the beach with the bodies of their enemies, than the people failed at the very first test of faith. The people were finally free of Pharaoh’s death grip. But three days in the desert without water is serious.
For a single lost traveler, three days without water is dire. But for over two million refugees and their livestock, it is a humanitarian crisis. They had followed the pillar of cloud and fire, but it led them only to bitter water. And their lack of faith makes their hearts, minds, and speech bitter as well. Their memory is short. And their faith even shorter. Yet, despite their faithlessness, God is faithful. He graciously slakes their thirst. And gives them something more important – his promise.
There the Lord made for them a statute and a rule, and there he tested them, saying, “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the Lord your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, your healer.”Exodus 15:25-26
On the far shore of the Red Sea faith and worship come easily. But at the edge of Marah’s bitter waters, faith is tested. But faith also grows. When you are in the bitter place will you “diligently listen to the voice of the Lord your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes?” Or is that when you grumble and turn away? Obedience is not the path that leads to grace, it is the road that leads out from it. Obedience teaches us how to enjoy God, which is why we exist.
Do you enjoy the Lord even when the water is bitter? When the children and the livestock are crying for thirst will you cry out to him or against him? When the Lord, himself, leads you to a dead end, will you trust him even then? The Christian life begins with deliverance. But that is only the beginning. Like the disciples in the gospels, we too are called to follow — to endure trials, to exercise faith, and to learn to enjoy God in any and every circumstance.
Have you taken those first steps of faith to follow Christ? Join us as we examine Exodus 15:22-27 and consider God’s gracious work of sanctification in the life of the believer as he teaches us to endure trial, exercise faith, and enjoy him, no matter what.