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In early February I began reading through the Old Testament and am just now three-quarters of the way through Numbers. The pattern unfolding reveals a familiar story: God did not rescue the Israelites from the tyranny of Pharaoh to provide them a life of ease. The Israelites had the Promised Land in mind, but God used their time in the wilderness to reveal the sinfulness of their hearts through their circumstances, pruning them for glorious things to come. Still, God blessed them with His protection, provision, presence, and guidance on the journey. The Lord had a specific purpose for freeing the people of Israel. He did not mince words when He said,
“I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the Lord” (Exodus 6:7-8, ESV).
These verses produce the bottom-line up front. But, true to life as we know it, no date was given as to when they would arrive in the land flowing with milk and honey. Nevertheless, one chapter later God told Moses to say to Pharaoh,
“Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness” (Exodus 7:16).
That declaration wasn’t a hidden clue or a slip of the tongue; it added some specifics for the Israelites to the trek that lay ahead. News flash:
There’s some work to be done while you’re in the wilderness.
Hannah Hunard beautifully captured the value of suffering in her novel Hinds Feet on High Places. “…I begin to think, my Lord, you purposely allow us to be brought into contact with the bad and evil things that you want changed. Perhaps that is the very reason that we are here in this world, where sin and sorrow and suffering and evil abound, so that we may let you teach us so to react to them, that out of them we can create lovely qualities to live forever. That is the only really satisfactory way of dealing with evil, not simply binding it so that it cannot work harm, but whenever possible overcoming it with good.”
Like the Israelites, some days all we want is to be done with this journey, be free of hardship, and be with the Trinity in Paradise. Maybe even most days. Especially now, “Shelter in Place” can feel like “Suffer in Place” with no real end in sight besides the knowledge that this can’t go on forever, right? However, every day God uses our circumstances to expose sin in us—not to bring shame, but to prune and shape us into the image of Christ, to prepare us to be in the presence of YHWH.
For disciples of Christ, there is a better hope than the Israelites knew in their wanderings, “(for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God” (Hebrews 7:19).
Jesus fulfilled the prophesy of Scripture:
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone” (Isaiah 9:2).
Whatever place we find ourselves in today, let us remember that the enemy has been defeated and God is using every joy and sorrow in this current place to make us more like Himself.