“We’re having a party….Everybody’s Singing….Dancing to the Music….From the Tambourine”
Okay, that’s not exactly how the song goes, but it’s what was happening as the Israelites were having the party of the century on the shore of the Red Sea. It was a party that was 430 years in the making. The people were celebrating not only their miraculous way that God delivered them from slavery in Egypt, but through the grace of God they had just seen the army of their enemy and oppressor completely and utterly destroyed in the Red Sea.
Exodus 14:29-31 tells us: “But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in Him and in Moses His servant.”
All that was left to do was celebrate!
“Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord: ‘I will sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted. Both horse and driver He has hurled into the sea’….. When Pharaoh’s horses, chariots and horsemen went into the sea, the Lord brought the waters of the sea back over them, but the Israelites walked through the sea on dry ground. Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing. Miriam sang to them:
‘Sing to the Lord,
for He is highly exalted.
Both horse and driver
He has hurled into the sea.’”
(Exodus 15: 1 & 19-21)
Can’t you just imagine them all---over 1 million people---singing, dancing and worshipping God for His amazing deliverance and salvation? It was must have been the biggest, loudest, most hip-hopping worship service you’ve ever seen! They were having a party---singing, dancing, and celebrating the invincibility of God and the victory He’d given the Israelite nation.
If you continue reading through Exodus 15, you see that their worship was filled with confidence. Both their emotions and their hopes were riding high as they sang and shouted phrases like:
“The Lord is my Strength and my Defense; He has become my Salvation. He is my God, and I will praise Him, my father’s God, and I will exalt Him.”
“The Lord is a warrior….Pharaoh’s chariots and his army, He has hurled into the sea. The best of Pharaoh’s officers are drowned in the Red Sea.”
They were even talking a little smack:
“The nations will hear and tremble; anguish will grip the people of Philistia. The chiefs of Edom will be terrified, the leaders of Moab will be seized with trembling, the people of Canaan will melt away; terror and dread will fall on them. By the power of Your arm they will be as still as a stone—until Your people pass by, Lord, until the people You bought pass by.”
They sang confidently about their future:
“You will bring them (the Israelites) in and plant them on the mountain of your inheritance—the place, Lord, You made for Your dwelling, the sanctuary, Lord, Your hands established.”
Confident in God and God’s chosen man, their leader, Moses, the Israelites partied on. It had to be an amazing sight!
Yet, what is more amazing to me is what happened when the party was over. Actually, I find it astonishing. Let’s read it together:
“Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah.)
So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?” (Exodus 15:22-24)
Apparently, their excitement and rejoicing was short lived, because after only 3 days without water Moses was no longer the hero. In fact, they were pretty unhappy with him.
Fortunately, this was nothing new to Moses. He’d seen it all before in Egypt. When things were going good, he was “the man”, but the second things went bad he became “the man who better do some explaining.”
Fortunately, Moses knew what to do and the problem was quickly solved.
"Then Moses cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became fit to drink.” (Exodus 15:25)
Crisis averted. Problem solved. Verse 27 tells us that their next stop had plenty of water, “Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there near the water.” So, you’d think everything was good, right?
Wrong! Look what happens next!
“The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt.
In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron.
The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.’” (Exodus 16:1-3)
Are you kidding me? Before we go any further, let’s take a look at the timeline here. If you go back to Exodus 12:1-3 you see that God put Israel on a whole new calendar when they were delivered from Egypt. The Passover (the night they were delivered from Egypt) took place on the 10th day of the 1st month.
This incident takes place on the 15th day of the 2nd month.
That means it’s been less than 40 days since they Israelites were miraculously delivered from Egypt, since they crossed the Red Sea on dry land and they’d seen their enemies destroyed.
This was the same month that they had the big party. You remember---the one where they were singing and dancing about the greatness of God and how all of their enemies were going to be conquered and they were going to live in the Promised Land.
It’s just a few weeks after they saw God miraculously provide water from a rock when they were thirsty. Seriously, the timeframe here is unreal!
They say time flies when you’re having fun. I guess it goes really slow and makes you lose perspective when the going gets tough, because just one month after their miraculous deliverance, the Israelites aren’t having fun. Instead, they are grumbling against Moses saying, “Why didn’t God let us die in comfort in Egypt where we had lamb stew and all the bread we could eat? You’ve brought us out into this wilderness to starve us to death, the whole company of Israel!”
There’s a part of me that thinks Moses must have looked at them and thought, “Are you kidding me?” Sometimes leadership is fun---not!
This brings us to our leadership lesson for this month. It’s pretty simple and straightforward. Because even though these passages are filled with a wealth of material and so many sermons about the dangers of grumbling, ungratefulness, not trusting God and a million other topics, when it comes to leadership, this passage demonstrates a lesson that all leaders need to learn. It’s a sad fact, but a fact that leaders must accept none the less:
When it comes to leading people, a leader needs to accept that even the greatest period of rejoicing can be short-lived and end quickly when the people are presented with a challenge.
He saw it in Egypt, and now it’s happening again. As we continue to study the life of Moses, we’ll see this storyline repeat itself over and over again.
The people are up; the people are down.
The people are totally into follow God; then the people want to serve idols.
The people are celebrating their deliverance; the people want to go back to Egypt.
A good leader---a godly leader---will recognize that these waves of emotion and popularity are par for the course. Good leaders expect to face extreme highs and lows. They know that neither the people’s attitude nor the problems they are facing are their fault. They don’t get caught up in the panic. They don’t get offended that the people don’t like them anymore. A godly leader accepts and understands that this is all a part of being a leader and they lead.
A few months ago, a friend posted a quote on Facebook that said, “Leaders, never allow success get to your head and never allow failure to get to your heart.”
These words pretty much sum up this leadership lesson. If you want to be a good leader, you can’t trust either end of the pendulum---when the people you’re leading are celebrating or grumbling. In a day, a week, or a month, their attitude will change. A good leader accepts this fact and expects the change. Whether it’s a boost in popularity or a dramatic drop, a good leader is unaffected. He just keeps following God and leading.
Perhaps the best example of this lesson comes from Jesus Christ, Himself, as He walked on the earth. Remember, one day the crowds were waving palm branches and celebrating Him as the new king of the Jews. A few days later, they were shouting, “Crucify Him, Crucify Him.” Yet neither extreme fazed Him. Through it all, He continued doing the will of His Father in Heaven and leading His followers down the path God had chosen. If we want to be godly leaders, this is the path that we need to take.
The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
Martin Luther King, Jr.