Tag Archives: Israelites

55: Out of Control

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Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies.” Exodus 32:25

 

People without boundaries is generally not a pretty sight. The Israelites were in dire need of some rules, and Moses was about to give them just that. No wonder, when he saw what fools they were making of themselves, that he gave them quite so many! The ten commandments were just the beginning, and these straight from the Lord.

We tend to look at the rules as constricting things that limit our freedom, but God knows that too much freedom is a dangerous thing. If we do as please we generally end up like chickens loose on a motorway, running wild and causing mayhem. Similar to small children who push all the limits just to see how far they can go, to discover where the edges of acceptability are, we start out on our spiritual journey trying out the freedom that we imagine we have. But as Paul so wisely says, everything is permissible to me, but not everything is good for me (1 Corinthians 6:12). Rules are generally there for our good, and God’s rules created for that very purpose.

We moan endlessly today about the strenuous health and safety regulations we have to negotiate to get things done, but we forget that many people died or suffered terrible accidents before we had these laws to protect us. In the same way, people say they don’t want to suffer the restrictions of living out the discipline of a religious life. “We won’t have any fun!” is their very real concern. It is not until we know and understand that God is our loving parent, wanting us to come to no harm, that we start to see that the rules are there for our own benefit.

For when we do get out of control, it is rather like getting drunk – it’s stupid as well as dangerous. We can become a mockery. Our sex lives, which the mosaic law is so incredibly fussy about, are a good example. Out of control, giving in to every whim and fancy, means that we are prone to disease, heartbreak, a lack of emotional stability, and come to an overreliance on looks and pleasure that make us open to attack, coercion and abuse. If we live promiscuously we also miss out on the rewards of a monogamous, trusting and loving relationship that stays exclusive. Marriage is often hard work, but it bears great fruit, and a lasting love is something we all want and which does us tremendous good. The Lord knows this, because he made us that way, and he understand far better than we do the kind of harm that frivolous living and selfish ways do to us.

Left to our own devices we do laughable things. We do what we have specifically been told not to. Like teenagers left alone in the house for the first time, the Israelites perhaps do the inevitable equivalent of raiding the drinks cabinet, making a golden idol to worship. It’s foolish, it makes them a laughing stock, and Moses, like the weary parent arriving home, is furious, smashing God’s commandments. But rather than grounding, the day ends in a great amount of killing, for the Levites are commanded to punish the people by the sword and over three thousand are killed. This being out of control is clearly no laughing matter.

Thankfully, in Christ, every time we find ourselves out of control, we can turn back to the Lord and start over. Thank God that his mercies are indeed fresh every morning. We may never, in this lifetime, reach a point where we stop making stupid mistakes, nor can we always refrain from breaking the rules; but we can, by prayer and discipline, create good habits and begin to learn to walk in the Lord’s ways, trusting that he truly does know best.

We find perhaps, in the end, that our greatest freedoms are found within obedience, that the sheepfold is fenced for a reason and is the safest place for our Good Shepherd to guard us from wolves, and the best starting place for herding us in the right direction.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Morguefile.com

30: Deceived

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However, when the people of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, they resorted to a ruse: They went as a delegation whose donkeys were loaded with worn-out sacks and old wineskins, cracked and mended.” Joshua 9: 3-4 NIV

The verse that we looked at yesterday was all part of a deception that the Gibeonites enacted upon Joshua and the Israelites, in hopes that their nearby lands would not be taken over. And it was very successful. Having tricked been tricked into making a treaty, the Israelites could not then break their oath. But the scripture is clear on why the ruse worked so well. The Israelites did not enquire of the Lord.

How often do we make the same mistake! It is so easy, when things seem obvious and the facts and way forward are laid in front of us, to carry on regardless, and forget to pray. I think this is one of the reasons I loathe phrases like “God helps those who help themselves,” because for me the path of following Christ is always more and more of him and less of me. It is always more dependence on his grace lived out and prayed for in every circumstance (big or small) and less self-reliance. In fact, I might go as far as to say that relying on my own wisdom can get me into all sorts of trouble.

Following my God-given instincts prayerfully and relying on the truth of scripture is good practice in life. And all decisions need to be taken with him and not on our own running to him later and saying, didn’t I do well? The longer I live the more I ask the Lord into everything and although there is a confidence based on knowing his ways, this too is founded on trust that he knows best and I don’t. This is probably why I don’t always have confidence when I write theology, because I have no training, but that very fact (though sincerely a weakness and not a strength) means that I can and must lean into him for the wisdom I do not own.

Getting out of our own way, letting him shine, enquiring of him at every crossroads, these are staples of Christian discipleship and growth we should nurture, lest we find ourselves bound by treaties we should never have agreed to.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Morguefile.com

 

24: Jammed

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“During the last watch of the night the Lord looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. He jammed the wheels of their chariots so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, “Let’s get away from the Israelites! The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.” Exodus 14:24-25 NIV

The Egyptian charioteers were expert drivers. They had the best chariots and horses that money could buy (and slaves could build or train) and they were used to being the victors. They had had the upper hand over the Israelites for so long, it must have been one heck of a shock to find themselves on the receiving end of God’s wrath.

When we are used to being the best at something, it can be a literal as well as metaphorical jolt to suddenly find our wheels jammed or clogged (one translation has “twisted”). At such times we need to be clear about where our reliance is founded. I remember feeling like this during my first attempt at university, where I first got ill in 1990. I suddenly felt as though someone had jammed the brakes on, like my brain was clogged with cotton wool, like exhaustion was waiting for me round every bend, and the wheels of life, well, they just weren’t turning.

And the glandular fever I was later diagnosed with (which precipitated my M.E.) was not the only jolt. Used to being the clever clogs, I found there were people far brighter than I was, and that most of the people there were not there to learn, or to save the whales, or for any reason akin to my own motives, but to get the right degree to earn them the most money, to drink themselves stupid and to generally be hooray henriettas. I was bewildered and disappointed. Had I been well, I might have rallied and found some like-minded folks. Ill as I was, I didn’t stand a chance of coping, and six weeks after starting what I thought would be a new dream, I was back home with my parents feeling dreadful, and staring failure full in the face. I felt like the wheels on my chariot weren’t only jammed, but had fallen off.

A juddering halt like this in life is heart-breaking and soul-destroying. But it is also an opportunity, especially to re-evaluate. Sometimes our wheels need some repair and recalibration. Wheels on cars have to be rebalanced every so often, and ours in life are the same. My priorities in life had to change, because I’ve never been well since, but I did manage to go to a much more open-minded university and begin a completely different degree a year later. And who knows who I might have become if I’d just gone sailing on into the fray? Would I be a writer or an artist now? Would I know the Lord the way I do? I doubt it. One thing I do know is that ifs and buts, maybes and what ifs do us no good, and can keep us just as stalled as broken hopes.

Retreat is sometimes our best plan. It certainly would have been the most sensible option for the Egyptians. When what normally carries us forward is spinning in the mud getting us nowhere, it could well be time to get ourselves off the battlefield for a while, and take the chariot in for a service. Finding a new balance, and a more reliable set of wheels.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Morguefile.com

182: Desert

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The tempter lives here, somewhere in the shimmering heat, his lies a mirage. But the truth is here too, in pillars of fire and burning bushes that consume nothing and everything at the same time: leaves and faces ablaze. Here is a place for paga meetings on summits above, when dry dust from broken stone tablets catches in your throat even as you try to pray. Here is thirst of the panting deer and water gushing from rocks, split open like the heads of the unbalanced and unwary. Here is a rain of quails and a covering of honey wafer, what-is-it? confusing your mind with its mantle of snowy white crumbling.

And here is the place of tents and tabernacles, the twisting path of a lost people, going around in circles, caught in a spiral journey that never seems to end. Forty days, forty nights, forty years. Each ending atop a peak, each carrying an ark, and then the newcomer, old as the universe, stood here and calmly hungered, patiently thirsted. Everything inside him complaining that he could end the suffering here and now, calling forth a whole new cosmos if needed. And he knew and he knows, and he still chooses to keep the vigil, alongside us in our lack. This torrent of love will slake all thirsts, and this broken bread leave behind basketfuls to be gathered up daily. The desert borne become a place of abundance.

© Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2016

Photo from morguefile.com