12. Problems in the Land

Meditations in the life of Abraham : 12. Problems in the Land

Gen 12:9,10  Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev. Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe.

Now the main thing I want us to remember is that Abram has only an embryonic faith. He knows very little of the Lord. He is on a major learning curve with the Lord for the rest of his life. So far, back at home, he had come to an awareness of the Lord speaking to him and telling him to go to Canaan where he would have a family and become a great nation. He had followed that guidance and come to the Land and when he reached the centre of it, the Lord had spoken to him again and declared that this land would belong to his descendants. So far, so good! Perhaps to spy out the whole land he continued on south. Then it happens!

Food in the land starts to run out. Now he has flocks and herds but life doesn’t comprise only meat. We aren’t told what caused this food shortage. All we are told was that there was a famine and it was severe. Now at this point Abram might have been forgiven for feeling slightly peeved: I’ve been brought all this way to this land and as soon as I get here they run out of food! So much for God’s guidance! That’s how embryonic faith might respond.  Don’t be all super-spiritual and deny it; it’s just how most of us respond. If you deny that, you really don’t know yourself – at least when you were a young Christian, and maybe still today.

Be honest with yourself, it IS how young faith responds, and even some of us who have been around a while! Things go wrong and we wonder where God is. Why didn’t He protect me and stop this happening? Perhaps when we first came to Christ we thought everything would be wonderful from then on.  If you have been around in the kingdom of God for a longer time you will know that things often go wrong in the world but the Lord is always there for us. Why is it like this?

Abram’s situation demonstrates that things go wrong in this Fallen World. That is the reason it is like it is; the world is fallen. It is no longer perfect as it was when God first made it; it is now broken by Sin and that means things go wrong, all of which can eventually be traced back to the Sin of mankind. Does God step in and stop these things? No, we know that He doesn’t. He is always there to be called upon and He will always help when asked, but He allows us the freedom to live in a world that works like it does because of our actions, our Sin. More than that, He uses such ‘breakdowns’ to test or train us. How do we respond when things don’t go right? Do we cope gracefully or act like spoilt children and throw a temper tantrum?  I know my ‘natural’ tendency is to feel all miffed by things going wrong. I am a work in progress.

So a famine comes to the land. What should Abram’s response have been? Well probably with the little knowledge that he has, to do what he does, to go south toEgyptwhere they appear to have food. It might be smart to say he should have asked the Lord but one wonders what sort of answer the Lord would have given. It might well have been to say go down to Egypt, but it would probably have come with a reassurance that the Lord was with him which might have given him more confidence in the light of what was to follow. But he doesn’t because he is only a new believer and new believers haven’t learnt to refer every problem to the Lord and listen for an answer. If we see what follows as failure, remember the Lord doesn’t cast him off and doesn’t withdraw His promises of blessing. The Lord has a plan for this man and his descendants and that plan allows for the fact that he is a very human man and will get things wrong.

The reality for each of our lives is that we will get things wrong – many times, but as long as they are not purposeful rebellion against the Lord, He will still be there for us and will pick us up and take us on. It is part of the faith learning process that we get things wrong. It is part of the learning process that we learn to confess our sins and our failures and say sorry. That is all part of growing up in the Faith. It may take us a long time to learn some of these lessons, but the Lord is not in a rush. In the meantime He will allow us to be confronted by things going wrong in the world so that we will have further opportunities to learn to overcome.

Check out your present circumstances. Are there things that concern you, things that are not going right, things that are stressful, things that are indications of the world not working right or people not working right?  Rejoice that here is yet a further learning exercise! Hallelujah!

24. Trust

Lessons from Israel: No.24: Trust

Ex 14:11-14 What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 12Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

What happens when everything seems to be going contrary to the way you expect or want or hope it would go? How do you act when the sky seems to fall on you? It has been said that a measure of maturity as a Christian is the length of time that it takes to move from panic to serenity. The problem with things going wrong is that mostly they happen without any warning. If we had an angel appear at the foot of our bed each morning to give us a ‘warning bulletin’ for the day, we might possibly cope better. It is the fact that stuff happens when everything had been going well, peace reigned and you were thinking just how good life was. Then the car broke down, someone ran their car into your car, you fell down and broke a hip, and so on!  It gets worse when you went to someone you trust for advice, they gave it, you followed it, and it all turned out badly! It gets even worse when the one you were consulting was God, you were certain of His guidance, and then it all went wrong when you followed that guidance.

We have an expression: “better the devil you know than the one you don’t.” That’s how Israel reacted when they realise that Moses (at God’s leading) had led them into a place where the sea was before them and the enemy were coming up behind them and there was no way out. “See,” they said, “we said we should have stayed in Egypt! Pharaoh, who is as angry as can be, is going to kill us all, out here in the desert!” It is at such times that leaders are revealed. Moses speaks out of his total assurance that God is going to do what He said He would do. The penny dropped, as we say, for Moses. Suddenly he knew that all that God had been saying about Pharaoh was about to happen. He had heard the Lord again and again speak about Pharaoh’s downfall and now he knew that this was the time. It’s all right, was what he basically said to his people, hang on in there. Just watch and see what happens. God will deliver us (somehow) and it will be in such a way that we’ll never the see the Egyptians again! God will do this. You don’t need to do anything; just watch. You see part of growing up is learning to trust Father!

So what happened? “Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel‘s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long.” (Ex 14:19,20) The first thing was that God separated Israel from the Egyptians by means of the pillar of fire so that that night it was dark for the Egyptians but light for Israel.

What happens next? The Lord parted the water to let Israel through (v.21,22) and then the Egyptians tried to follow them but were thrown into confusion (v.23,24), they suffer mishaps (v.25), and then the waters came back and they were all drowned (v.26-28). What was the result? “And when the Israelites saw the great power the LORD displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.” (v.31) Now Israel began to realise a little more as to who it was who was with them and for them. Up until then they had been largely just observers of the plagues but this time they were right in the midst of it. This had been a matter of their lives being under threat – and God had saved them – and they knew it!  This had been a major miracle. Yes, all the plagues had been miracles, but this was the final chapter and now they were free and now there was no one pursuing them!

What’s this story all about? It is about learning to trust God. There is an oft quoted verse from Paul’s writings which is most apt here: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28). Note that God is working for our good in ALL things, i.e. at all times. We may say, ‘Oh yes, I believe that,’ but it is easy to say it when you are not going through the trial. When your child is seriously ill, when a loved one has just died, when you have just been made redundant at work, when things break and you don’t seem to have enough money, will you still be able to say, ‘Yes, I believe it!’? I believe the truth is that we will all spend the rest of our lives learning it. I suggested earlier on, a measure of maturity as a Christian is the length of time that it takes to move from panic to serenity, and that is something you are going to be able to watch in yourself for years to come, for the Lord will test you on it many times before you go to heaven.

Is that a gloomy prophecy? No, it’s a recognition that living in a fallen world, things go wrong and the Lord allows those things both to test and train and build faith in us, and also to display His love and glory. Holding back, when Jesus was told about Lazarus dying, he told his disciples, “for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.” (Jn 11:15) for he knew the outcome would involve them believing in him more strongly. When confronted with a blind man and the disciples’ questions, Jesus declared, “this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” (Jn 9:3) No, God’s didn’t bring it about, but He would certainly use it. He’s here for our blessing; He’s here working for our good. Let’s learn it and cut down the time between panic and serenity!