One of my favorite Old Testament stories is the story of the exodus, which begins when God frees the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and leads them across the Red Sea, eventually into the Promised Land.
When you really think about it though, the story of the exodus begins with Jacob whose name God changed to Israel and whose twelve sons become the fathers of the nation of Israel.
In the book of Genesis, chapter 46-47 we read how the Israelites leave Canaan because of a drought and subsequent famine. They are welcomed into Egypt because of Joseph, who’s Pharaoh’s right hand man, and who earlier in chapter 37 was sold into slavery by his own brothers.
There’s a startling connection here that struck me recently as I listened to a sermon. The pastor put it this way: the place the Israelites escaped to, eventually ended up becoming the place where they were enslaved. He followed it with these two questions: what’s your escape and has it enslaved you yet? More on this below.
Back in the exodus story we see Moses leading the Israelites to the Promised Land. God decimates the Egyptians on their behalf, first by various plagues then by trapping them in the Red Sea after He parts it for the Israelites to pass. Miracle after miracle He shows His love and intention for them.
Yet, we see their complaining in Numbers 11:5-6 after the Lord sends them manna, they say: “We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!”
What they are saying is, enslaved food tastes better than God’s miraculous manna. But, you see, that’s the curse of human kind, the grass somehow always seems greener on the other side, don’t mind the weeds, snakes and all the other ugly things lurking in the unknown.
And that’s the thing; the enemy will usually try to seduce us with half-truths. It may be that your Egypt overflows with the proverbial delicious tasting fruits, a temporary source of comfort, but chances are, you’ll be eating them in galley slave chains.
Egypt here is a metaphor for anything that you escape to- from addictions to unholy habits. How about something as seemingly innocent as trolling Facebook. Or something far more sinister like gambling or pornography addiction. And then the obscure like, unforgiveness or resentment.
I see the story of the Israelites played out in my own life. I find myself tempted to go back to Egypt. I struggle. I question. I doubt. The Lord’s intention is clear. He’s consistently shown me, more than that; He’s led me personally through the deserts of my life, He’s reassured me, and sent me manna in various forms. He’s never abandoned me. I see His hand over my life.
Yet, I find myself looking back at Egypt. It doesn’t happen often, praise God, but when it does, it’s vengeful. All the voices of the past resurface, they remind me of all the things I’m not, but could have been and of the things I was: my past, my wounds, my sins. They remind me of my Egypt, a place purportedly overflowing with all good things. What the voices don’t tell me is the cost of all these allegedly good things: my very freedom and all the collateral damage that goes with it.
I wish I could tell you that His grace was always enough. In of itself, of course, His grace abounds, but I didn’t cooperate, and so I turned back to Egypt. Like Hosea’s Gomer I abandoned my Beloved. Like Job’s friends I was foolish in my own wisdom, and like proud king Nebuchadnezzar, I proverbially lived the life of a madman eating grass when I could have been feasting at the King’s table. Despite all of it, in His goodness and mercy, the Lord graciously welcomed me back, every time. He bandaged me up, and with His red, washed me white.
One thing has been consistent, in the midst of the struggle the Lord reminds me to cling to the Cross. And so I do, it’s hard but I remember Joseph’s words to his brothers in Genesis 50:20 “…you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…” Yes, the Lord will bring good out of it. His promises are true and faithful.
And so, on your way to the Promised Land, when you find yourself in the deserts of life looking back at Egypt, remember that what the evil one intends for our destruction, the Lord can turn around for our good and His glory, we just need to give Him permission to enter.
Tell Him today to come into the secret places of your heart, the deepest, darkest corners, the ugly stuff. Then pick up the cross and carry on through the desert, trusting that His manna is far more than enough until we get to the Promised Land, our heavenly Jerusalem.
Sacred heart of Jesus have mercy on us!