After spending 430 years in Egypt, the Israelites were finally freed — and one of the first things they did was complain and ask to go back to Egypt.
Then they spent 40 years in the desert. When they finally crossed the Jordan River and entered the Promised Land, one of the first things they did was become discouraged and pine for the desert.
It is human nature to want to stick with what we know and remain in the familiar. But that is not how we grow and not the way of progress.
God often asks us to do the uncomfortable, to take risks, and do what we would rather not do. But it is when we leave behind what is known that real growth can occur; it is when we are outside our comfort zone, depending on God, that our relationship with him deepens.
Yes, we can remain in our own Egypt or own desert, but staying where we don’t belong is being stuck in something less than God’s best plan for us.
When God says to go, do it — and don’t think about going back.
[Numbers 14:3, Joshua 7:5, 7]
In earlier posts, I noted that after the Israelites left Egypt, they spent 40 years in the desert before entering the land God promised for them. I also observed that Moses waited 40 years before leading them out of Egypt. This makes for an unnecessary delay of 80 years.
However, why were they in Egypt in the first place?
God told Abram (later called Abraham) to “go to the land I will show you,” which he promised to give to Abram’s offspring. Abram went. His son Isaac and grandson Jacob were born there. Jacob had 12 sons. Joseph, his favorite, ended up in Egypt in a position of power. When a severe famine hit the entire region, Joseph invited his whole family to Egypt, where he had stockpiled plenty of food.
The famine lasted seven years. After which you would think that Jacob’s family would go home. But instead, they stayed in Egypt for 430 years — which God likely did not intend — eventually becoming slaves and suffering greatly. This all could have been avoided had Jacob remembered God’s promise to Abraham and returned to the place God intended them to be.
Instead, they spent 430 years as slaves in Egypt, when they could have been in the Promised Land the whole time.
[Genesis 12:1, 7, Joshua 24:4, Exodus 12:40]
The Israelites left Egypt for what should have been an eleven-day trek across the desert to the “promised land.” However, because of their disobedience, God gave them a 40-year timeout in the desert.
This, however, may not have been the first delay. Prior to that, Moses sensed that his place was to rescue his people, but when initial opposition occurred to his leadership, he high-tailed it out of there, only to spend 40 years hiding in the desert. Imagine that. Moses spent a total of 80 years of his life in the desert.
Now Moses’ initial 40-year desert retreat could have been a needed time of preparation, but I think not. God could have worked through him at any time — then or later. I think Moses shirked his initial call. He needed 40 years of alone time, tending to his sheep, before he would be ready to hear God and obey.
So, had Moses not procrastinated for 40 years and had the people of Israel not been disobedient, earning another 40-year delay, they could have arrived in the land God promised them 80 years sooner.
[Numbers 14:33, Acts 7:30]
After the Israelites left Egypt, God gave them a 40-year timeout in the desert. This was because of their lack of trust in his pledge to provide for them as they entered into the land he promised. This meant that what should have been an eleven day journey, ended up being a 40-year desert experience — which for most, literally lasted a lifetime.
While their desert sojourn was marked by complaining and disobedience, there were a couple of significant bookend events to their time of waiting.
First, they celebrated Passover for the first time just before they left Egypt to head to the desert. Then they celebrate it again, 40 years later after they leave the desert. The first Passover was marked by God’s provision for them to leave Egypt, while the subsequent ones were intended as a reminder of the first.
Second, two miracles occurred, allowing them to enter and later leave the desert. After leaving Egypt, and being pursued by its army, God parted the sea so they could escape attack and enter into the desert. Forty years later, when it was time to leave the desert, God parted the Jordan River — at flood stage — allowing them to leave.
So their desert experience began with Passover and the parting of the sea; it ended with the parting of another body of water and another Passover celebration.
[Leviticus 23, Joshua 5:10, Exodus 14:21, Joshua 4:18]
When God told Moses to confront Pharaoh and lead the Israelites out of Egypt, Moses objected. He said, “I have never been eloquent… I am slow of speech and tongue.”
Moses’ self-perception was that he was not able to do the job God asked of him, that he lacked the essential qualifications needed for success. While Moses’ self-assessment may have been correct — which would allow God to work through him despite his deficiencies — that may not have been the case.
We get a glimpse of how God viewed Moses through Stephen in a powerful speech he gave hundreds of years later. Speaking under the power of the Holy Spirit, Stephen proclaims that Moses was “no ordinary child,” that he was “powerful in speech and action.” It seems that God’s perception of Moses was in sharp contrast to Moses’ self-perception.
When we are called to do a difficult task, it could be that:
- God will use us for his glory even though we aren’t qualified
- God will grow us and help us become qualified
- God sees things differently and we actually are qualified
Regardless of our self-perception, we shouldn’t let that limit God. One way or another, he will work things out to accomplish what he calls us to do.
[Exodus 3:10, Exodus 4:10, Acts 7:20-22]
In Jude’s short letter, he often writes in triads, listing three items or offering three examples. He does this with such regularity that when he deviates from this in verse 12, I thought I had misread the text. Consider the following triplets:
- three actions of God: called, loved, and kept (and if you implicitly see the Holy Spirit in doing the calling, then the Trinity is implied here as well: Holy Spirit, Father, and Jesus); verse 1.
- three blessings: mercy, peace, and love; verse 2.
- three historic warnings: leaving Egypt, deserting angels, and Sodom and Gomorrah; verses 5-7.
- three negative actions: pollute their bodies, reject authority, and slander angels; verse 8.
- three bad examples: Cain, Balaam, and Korah; verse 11.
- five negative allusions: shepherds who feed only themselves, clouds without rain, dead autumn trees, wild waves, wandering stars; verse 12.
- three characteristics of ungodly men in the church: cause division, follow natural instincts, and do not have the Spirit; verse 19.
- three prescriptions: build up your faith, pray in the Holy Spirit, and stay in God’s love; verses 20-21.
- three ways to show mercy: help doubters, save others from destruction, and carefully rescue others without being taken down; verse 22.
- three attributes of God: keeps us from falling, presents us without fault, and has great joy; verse 24.
- four praises for God: glory, majesty, power, and authority; verse 25.
As someone who also has a propensity of writing in threes, Jude’s style is especially appealing to me.
[read Jude 1]
The book of Joel is classified as one of the Bible’s prophetic books, as it contains a foretelling of the future. After multiple reads, however, this short, 3-chapter book begins to emerge more as poetry than prophecy, revealing multiple levels of meaning awaiting the patient reader to unveil and discover.
The name of the book is the same as the prophet who received God’s oracle — Joel. The nemesis of Joel’s story is a swarm of locust.
Joel’s message is one of unprecedented destruction via this army of locust, which eats everything in sight, devastating all plants — and the sustenance they produce. Both man and animal suffer as a result. However, there is also a grand and glorious redemption that follows, with God promising to restore the years that the locust ate.
Perhaps the most notable mention of locusts in the Bible is as one of the plagues that befall Egypt during Moses’ day. Another is that of locust — along with honey — comprising the unique dietary stylings of John the Baptist.
Aside from the life-nourishment that the locust provide to John, all the other Biblical references of locust relate to plague and destruction — and death — be it literal or figurative.
Regardless, I wouldn’t what them to eat my food or to eat them as food — I’m happy to take my locust as a metaphor.
[See Joel 1:2, Joel 1:4, Joel 2:1, Joel 2:25, Exodus 10:1-20, Matthew 3:4, Mark 1:6]
In this Christmas season our thoughts turn more intentionally and more frequently to Jesus, the reason for this annual celebration.
In consideration of the first Christmas, my thoughts are warm and cozy, happy and joyous, and idyllic and serene, with angels singing, kings bearing gifts, and happily contented shepherds shepherding. This is all true, but one reality is often overlooked.
Jesus was homeless.
Jesus was born in someone else’s barn, amid unsanitary conditions and with the stench of animal feces permeating the air. It seems unholy and unworthy, but that’s how it was.
Not only was Jesus born homeless, his early childhood was homeless as well, living an intenerate life as his parents fled to Egypt to save him from a premature execution. Even when it was safe to return, they did not go to their hometown, but instead settled in Nazareth.
His ministry has also marked by homelessness, traveling from place to place with no home or a “place to lay his head.” So it was when he was arrested, tried, and executed: homeless.
With this in mind, wouldn’t Christmas be a great time to do something in memory of him for the homeless?
[Luke 2:1-20, Matthew 2:1-23, Luke 9:58]
After Moses led the people out of Egypt, God gave him some specific instructions for constructing a place of worship. Moses was not supposed to do the actual work, but was charged with making sure it was done correctly. He had to delegate:*
Here is what he did:
1) Moses selected capable people with good character. Successful delegation requires finding the right people; not everyone is ready or able to receive delegation. Although it was ultimately God who made the selections, it was Moses who carried it out. [Exodus 35:30-33]
2) Moses provided them with the resources needed to do their job. Moses gave all of the gifts that had been received to the people he selected. Because of their character, there was no need to be concerned about them misusing these resources. [Exodus 36:3]
3) Moses inspected their work. Since Moses was ultimately responsible for the results, he wisely inspected their work. Because the right people had been chosen for this task, this was an easy step and their work met expectations. [Exodus 39:42]
4) Moses took responsibility for the results. The people were first esteemed for their fine work, but later Moses also received accommodation for the results. Similarly, had the work not been completed or done appropriately, Moses would have received the blame. Such is the responsibility of management. [Exodus 40:33]
* This was not the first time that Moses delegated work. At his law-in-law’s advice, he set-up and trained a network of judges to help guide the people. Prior to this, Moses spent each day with people lined up to see him. [Exodus 18:17-26]
When the Israelites left Egypt, they spent 40 years in the desert before proceeding on to the land God had promised them. During this time, God miraculously gave them food each day, which they called manna. All they needed to do was go out in the morning and pick it up off the ground.
What is interesting is that they were told not to stockpile it and save it for the next day (except on the sixth day, when they were to gather enough for the seventh day, as well). Regardless of how much each person gathered, he or she had enough to eat. However, if they tried to save some for the next day it would spoil. [Exodus 16:14-21]
Does this daily provision of food sound a bit familiar?
When Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, one of phrases was “Give us today our daily bread.” [Matthew 6:11 or Luke 11:3]
Of course, for most of us, the daily provision of food is something that we give little thought to. However, on a spiritual level, we do stand in need of other things on a daily basis. This might be making God-honoring decisions, using our time wisely, not wasting money and using it for good and not selfish purposes, or making sure we spend time with God.
Regardless of the situation, be our need physical or spiritual, the lesson to be learned is to rely on God for what we need each day.
Rather it be a literal plea or a figurative request, we all need to say, “Give us today our daily bread.”