I have always had a fascination with names. It must be my Jewish heritage (my great, great grandmother was Jewish.) When we were naming our children, we made sure we were naming them for the hope we had for them. So when I come to a name in the Bible, I want to look it up and see if there is a "hidden meaning" for the passage.
Today we hear the stories which occurred as the Israelites wandered through the Wilderness of Sin, between Elim and Sinai. As English readers, we would pronounce this wilderness the same way we would pronounce the word which means the acts or state of evil. The true pronunciation of this Hebrew word is seeyn. It means clay and thorn. The name most likely was a description of the wilderness' barrenness--a place of untillable soil and thorny brambles.
This wilderness was located between Elim and Sinai.
Elim, pronounced ay-leem', carries with it a meaning that is hard for us to understand. It means palm and sacrifice. Palm might lead us to believe that the starting off point of the journey was an oasis. Sacrifice might lead us to believe that Elim was the place of worship which launched the journey.
Sinai, pronounced see-nah'-ee, is an extension of the name of the wilderness; it means the place of thorns. It seems the mountains in this region of the world were not like the mountains of America, majestic and snow covered, but instead barren, tumbleweed, prickly places.
Thus the Wilderness of Sin is bordered by a place of refuge and a place that promised more and more desolation.
This is the land to which the LORD called the people of Israel to test them.
At the end of chapter 15, the LORD makes a proclamation and promise to the people of Israel.
If you will give earnest heed to the voice of the LORD your God, and do what is right in His sight, and give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have put on the Egyptians; for I, the LORD, am your healer.
After feeling really good, sated with fresh waters, the Israelites enter the wilderness of dry clay and prickly thorns, a place where water, bread and meat are non existent. Within a few days, the LORD's promises are forgotten as mouths get dry and bellies are empty. The grumbling of the stomachs erupts from the mouths of the people. They begin to murmur discontentment to one another against their leader.
Thus the test begins.
I will test them, whether or not they will walk in My instruction. 16:4
I'll send bread, but you must gather it as I instruct.
I'll send quail, but you must recognize my providing hand.
I'll provide for you, but it will be on a day to day basis.
I demand a day of rest.
I'll provide water, but you must receive it according to my instructions.
You will face an enemy army, but the victory will be for my glory not yours.
It is so easy to read the scriptures and judge the people of Israel. Why didn't they just trust God? How could they have experienced the miracle of the Red Sea and in less than one chapter forget all about it?
I'm judgmental, until I find myself in the Wilderness of Sin. It is that place, where after a life of blessing, I find myself in need. My first response is usually my soul response which cries out my discomfort. The questions, "Why is this happening to me?" and "Where is God?" are murmured more often than the confessions, "God will provide" and "I will trust the LORD."
Barren and thorny places are hard places to be. I think we can observe from scripture that these are the very places where we are tested. Will we trust, or will we murmur and grumble? Will we take the next step in the wilderness, perhaps with a thorn in our side, and yet, take the step?
The season of Lent has always been known as a time of poverty and testing. Holy Week is the pinnacle of the passion and test.
I think Exodus' Wilderness of Sin is a foreshadowing of Holy Week. It is that time between the palms and the thorns. A time when we move from the oasis of a victory parade to the cauldron of a brutal crucifixion. The disciples strive to pass the tests and temptations of the week. Their vessels of clay crumble under the pressure and stress of the path toward the mountain of thorns.
Only one is able to pass all the tests, remaining faithful.
He is the one who, despite the discomfort and agony to his flesh of clay, "gives earnest heed to the voice of the LORD" and becomes "the LORD I AM, the healer."
How wise it is for us, when we find ourselves in the wilderness, to continue to "give earnest heed to the voice of the LORD your God, and do what is right in His sight, and give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes."
One clay foot in front of the other.
Until we truly live into our name.
"A little Christ follower."