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Posts Tagged ‘Egypt’

regretWhat a pathetic phrase, “if only.” It’s all about yesterday, the milk is spilled and the people whine. Oh, if only I hadn’t said that or done that or gone there or looked there. So sorry. If only I could change it back to the way it was.

All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” [Numbers 14:2-3, NIV]

If I hear myself actually use this phrase in regular speech, I’m going to excise it as fast as I can.

This was the Israelites lament in the desert after Moses had sent a representative from each clan to scope out the promised land. Out of all those emissaries, only two came back with courage, trusting God to fulfill the promises. After all, this was the same God who had poured out lamentations about the Egyptians and who rested on the Tabernacle in a cloud by day and a pillar by fire at night. This was the God who had orchestrated the great escape from the Egyptians through the Sea (one way or another). This God had shown God as miraculous and specifically in their cause. Why was this day different? What made the giants and foreigners of the land of Canaan so frightening, so indomitable?

Did the Israelites forget what God could do? Why? The only thing I can imagine is that their eyes became stronger than their faith. What they saw overwhelmed what they could not see. And lastly, the messengers themselves were suspect.

Had the spies who went into Canaan come back with confidence, the people would have followed. Instead, those men sowed fear and discord, questions and distrust. It was those few who did not believe who led the majority astray. And that’s a lesson as well.

Who do we believe? Who do I believe? The Press? The politicians? The blogs?

In some ways, I think it’s my own fault when I am so easily swayed. I am turned when I don’t have enough reliable information. I am unsure when I have not invested in discovery and latched on to the easy answer. And then, what about those trustworthy characters? What exactly draws me to trust in a leader?

I remember how appalled I was the other day when a person I have always admired in politics, suddenly took a turn in a direction I could never have foreseen. Has the person’s character changed or merely his/her point of view. Do I move my point of view along with the person? Or was the person’s change merely politically advantageous or necessary for success or advancement?

The Israelites chose to believe their representatives and in the end, as a result, they lost the promise altogether and were “banished” to the desert for forty years, two full generations. They paid a steep price for their herd mentality.

They were afraid of the unknown future so much that the past, as wicked as it was seemed more appealing. They remembered the foods and some of the minor comforts, but forgot the violence and the slavery. The future is always a surprise. That’s true. But, if we have just enough confidence in God, to believe that our lives are ultimately fashioned by the Spirit, then we should never go back. It’s unproductive to even contemplate it. In fact, it’s Lot’s wife, looking back toward Sodom & Gomorrah.

If only. . . no more. Instead, I will say when.

 

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stubborn muleWhy did God choose plagues? In Exodus chapters 7-10, we read about liquid plagues, hopping plagues, flying plagues, buzzing plagues, animal dying plagues, skin plagues, weather plagues, lighting plagues, and finally, the straw that broke the Pharaoh’s back, people dying plagues.

But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in Egypt, he will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out my divisions, my people the Israelites. And the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it. [Exodus 7:3-5]

A cursory look at some commentaries indicates that many of the ten plagues appear to correspond with a particular “god” the Egyptians worshiped and in this way, Yahweh was demonstrating superiority over these gods. And certainly, if these miraculous plagues were intended to make a point, an indelible memory, they certainly did that. Although we may not remember all of the types of plagues or how many there were, most people have visceral reaction to one or more of the manifestations. (I’m glad he didn’t choose rats or spiders as I would be forever frozen at the thought of a teeming swarm of either. I barely recovered from the story of the Pied Piper as a child.)

But perhaps the most important aspect of these plagues to point out is that the plagues were explicitly devised to change the mind of Pharaoh and extract repentance. In this case, it took ten times.

How many times does God act to change me, to draw my attention to poor and selfish thinking, inappropriate behaviors, or simply, to sin? Am I equally stubborn?

In Pharaoh’s case, the letting go of the Israelites would alter Egypt’s way of life dramatically because slaves were cheap labor and there was plenty of it, in essence, the bedrock of that economy. He wasn’t just resisting God’s will, he was resisting change.

I just want to pay attention, that’s all. I don’t want to be a hard heart.

Plus, a hard heart can have collateral damage. In Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, during the course of the two families bickering and fighting, it is Mercutio who is mortally wounded:

No, ’tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a
church-door; but ’tis enough,’twill serve: ask for
me to-morrow, and you shall find me a grave man. I
am peppered, I warrant, for this world. A plague o’
both your houses! ‘Zounds, a dog, a rat, a mouse, a
cat, to scratch a man to death! a braggart, a
rogue, a villain, that fights by the book of
arithmetic! Why the devil came you between us? I
was hurt under your arm.  [Mercutio, Act 3, Scene 1]

Such family quarrels continue in our modern world and who suffers? Stubbornness has no victor.

In Shakespeare’s tale, many more die, but in particular, both Romeo and Juliet lose their lives, choosing out of misplaced loyalty, somehow taught by their feuding families. In Pharaoh’s time, he lost his firstborn son, before he let go. But even that, was not the end of his stubborn, single-minded story.

God works in mysterious ways to bend the earth and its peoples to God’s will. For the best. And unfortunately, it appears we, as a human race, are feeling some of those plagues today. How many more tragedies and how many more deaths will we endure before we respond humanely to one another? Or will we continue to blame one another because of the color of our skin or history of our faiths or the geography of our land?

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dream and forgivenessIt’s not like Joseph had one God dream after another. He had a couple of foretelling dreams as a teen and no other dreams of his are shared through his time in Egypt. Instead, he turned to dream interpretation, but again, only a few. He known for being an honorable man, but not necessarily a diviner. Yet, God used him in this way at a point of need.

[Joseph said:] And now let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt . . . Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.” . . .  Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt.  [Genesis 41:33, 39-40, 46a; NIV]

After twelve years of servitude, Joseph is raised up to one of the highest positions in that world, second only to Pharaoh at the age of thirty, all because of a dream, an interpretation, a vision, and twelve years of leading in lower positions. Every year of his captivity was actually a year of practice and preparation for the big leap. He had no way of knowing that such a day would come.

What we don’t see is any record of built up resentments toward his half-brothers. The only hint that memories cause him pain comes in the naming of his sons: Manasseh (which appears to mean “forget” and Joseph writes that his son has been born to help him forget his father’s household) and Ephraim (which seems to mean “twice fruitful,” and Joseph writes that this birth symbolizes a new life of fruitfulness in the place of suffering). Suffering? Interesting.

By the time the brothers finally come from Canaan to ask Egypt for grain, Joseph has been away at least twenty years. He has a new name, a new life, and his own family. And yet, the moment of reckoning arrives–the moment of payback, the moment when he could, at a word, destroy all ten of his brothers for their betrayal. During this first visit, he is tempted but there is also his integrity fighting against it.

Resentments build fast in my world. I know it. I see it. I feel it. People will say, “oh, I forgave, but I will never forget.” I think it was my old friend, Mma Precious Ramotswe, from the mystery series The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, who said (more or less), “If we don’t choose to forget as well, the memory may very well erase the forgiveness.”

I can choose drama or I can choose dream. I can choose to forgive and forget. I can allow God’s dream to build a life or I can fight the way. I can complain of the time and the disappointments or I can trust in the preparation.

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Sarai would have been the loser in either one of the Abram/Pharoah scenarios. Either she is pulled into Pharaoh’s household as the widow of Abram (if they confess she is his wife) or she lies and says she is Abram’s sister and goes into Pharaoh’s palace with no loss of life. Undoubtedly, as the sister of a wealthy herdsman/patriarch (Abram), she would be included with some respect.

Genesis 12:12-13
 When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me [Abram] but will let you [Sarai] live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.”

And yet, the woman in me recoils at either plan.

I know, I know. Like Esther, she was highly regarded for her beauty. She was given servants and she was dressed in elegant clothing (or lack thereof, as I’m pretty sure the Egyptian dress of that period for the wealthy was exotic and revealing). She was introduced to and encouraged to participate in their customs. In essence, she became part of the Pharaoh’s harem.

Now, living in a harem was not a bad life in many ways. A harem is really the place where women lived within the palace that was off limits to men (except eunuchs). These women were really the earliest “sister-wives” (to use a term from popular television about a man with multiple wives who live in separate houses). In my experience, any time you have more than ten women in a single space (like my work), there will be the potential for deep friendships as well as deep resentments. I am sure there were ranks among these women, seniority, let’s say. This is often illustrated in the story of Esther (in the book of Esther).

How long did Abram plan to stay in Egypt? Just through the time of the famine? But how, then, would he extricate Sarai from the harem? By then, she would have become a fixture, a working part of the life there. Undoubtedly, she would have had sexual relations with the Pharaoh as well.

We are not told how Pharaoh found out that Sarai was actually Abram’s wife and not his sister, but I would guess, “someone told.” Maybe it was one of the other women. Maybe, as in the time of Moses, it was the plight of the children that brought out the truth. In any case, Sarai was actually released (tossed) from the household.

But what application is there for me in this story? Only one really.

If I believe that God’s hand is on the big picture of my life, even my mistakes are covered and will be transformed into another path that leads to the end God has for me (my true destiny). But I have to submit to the sovereignty of God for this to work out. Abram and Sarai had a habit of trying to help God along in bringing their destinies closer and faster. They trusted God. They loved God. They worshiped God. And yet, God didn’t seem to be working out those promises the way they expected.

We’ll never know, but perhaps God’s original plan had been for Abram’s household to stay in Canaan during the famine and to trust God to feed them. I don’t really know. But going to Egypt during the famine was clearly a “human” solution to their problem. And, as a result, a number of unintended consequences resulted. And yet, God worked WITH their bad choices in conjunction with His will.

There is still hope for me.

And so I say, dear God of my life, take my bad choices and my mistakes and put them back on the potter’s wheel. Reinvent them. As You will.

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There are a few stories in scripture about being told to get up and go. Abraham comes to mind [Genesis 12] when God told him to leave Harran and go (who knew where) and Abraham wandered to several places looking for the right one (and even, for a time, into Egypt). When God first spoke to Abraham and Joseph, the “away” was more important than the destination.

Matthew 2:13-14
When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt . . .

God doesn’t always give us the big picture when we’re asked to leave one situation or place for another. In fact, I think the truly Godly adventures come with a pretty good dose of the unknown (may even a flat-out Star Trek mission “to boldly go where no man has gone before). Anytime we leave the familiar for the unfamiliar, there is trepidation and fear. If there wasn’t, then we’re probably not being straight-up about the departure. We’re thinking, I can always go back. Like so many twenty-somethings who are boomeranging back home after college while looking for work, they figure “home” is a good Plan B. But you see, Joseph didn’t have a back up plan. He was totally dependent on that voice inside his head that said “go” and had to hope he’d hear it again when (and if) a time came to return.

Me? I’m always second-guessing my destination. My not-so-private joke is that I prefer “planned spontaneity.” I don’t even like using a GPS because it’s a turn-by-turn description and too hard for me to “see” ahead. Give me a good old paper map any day. (And this is from a tech junkie!)

So, here’s the thing. If God wants me to head to Egypt (symbolically), chances are I’m going to ask for a Fodor’s. Maybe, if I had a really strong guide or someone who’s been there before, I would be more willing to go.

This is where the Body of Christ could really come into the picture. You see, each one has been to one of these Egypts along our way. Right? Even me. Like everyone, I’ve had times and places I didn’t really want to go, but I had to go and despite my proclivities, I didn’t always have a map: I learned through experience. Boy, did I learn. (I’m pretty sure those “Egypt” trips would have been better had I gone willingly; had I gone with trust in the one sending me there.)

That’s the key: I can say or do all kinds of things to avoid Egypt and yet, I end up there anyway–the long way; like the Israelites who had to put in those extra 40 years in the desert because they were unwilling to trust God for the land of milk and honey. They thought they knew better.

I believe I have a certain obligation to go back and tell/show the other ones about the way. I know there are folks still hanging back? Granted, I blazed a pretty loopy trail, but I also got some insights and short-cuts in hindsight.

As I begin this new, and last quarter, of my life, I believe I am being asked to take on a new role.

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I do it all the time. I start a diet, lose weight, and then go back to my old eating habits. I order my space and vow to keep it that way, and before I know it, it’s trashed. I judge someone, ask for forgiveness, and judge again. Am I so weak? I am.

Galatians 4:9
But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?

What is the draw of the old way? I guess if I were an alcoholic or drug addict, I would be drinking and shooting up again. It’s destructive behavior and yet it’s familiar. It’s crazy-making [Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.] It’s the path of least resistance.

I am the Israelites in the desert who complained about the new way and wanted to go back to Egypt and slavery: they thought that would be better than their current struggle in the present time [Exodus 16:1-3].

Is it forgetfulness or is it mindlessness? Or both? When God brings change into my life, I am so happy and full of energy. I am clear headed and I see the big picture. I am focused. I am motivated. But once I reach a certain plateau in the process, it’s like hitting a wall. There is no movement forward. I lose track of those initial feelings and strength. Oh, I might try to climb the wall for a bit, I might even try to walk around it. But my drive to persevere is sucked away and I am left with my old self for company.

I say mindlessness because it feels like the opposite of mindfulness. It takes mindfulness to stay aware of the Christ Spirit within and without. It takes effort. It is a special type of wakefulness.

When I was in acting school I learned how to walk a tightrope in our circus class. The clue to tightrope walking is maintaining a focus on the end of the rope, the junction point. As soon as I would take my eyes off that point, I would lose my balance. As I tried to do more complicated maneuvers, it became harder and harder to maintain that focus. My little life is not much different.

Put me back on the tightrope today, with Christ ahead, my focal point.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me. (St. Patrick)

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