NB: Please do click all the links in this blog post, they take you to specific examples throughout the Bible that frame this story.
Sometimes it’s just ‘one of those days’.
A day when life seems more difficult than expected. I find myself asking questions like:
- What is the point of trying to live a ‘good’ life when it’s full of mistakes, challenges, and suffering?
- What is the point of trying to make a name for ourselves when we could suddenly lose it all?
- Why are we born into situations we can’t control, and why do we bump into such huge hurdles along the way?
I wonder if you’ve ever asked yourself questions like these. Sometimes it’s easy to brush them off, other times they consume your mind - and when that happens we can become deflated, defeated and disappointed.
Surprisingly, I found some comfort and clarity in reading the Old Testament (OT) as part of my Bible in One Year devotional. It’s surprising because the OT doesn’t always have the best reputation, it’s seen as harsh, confusing and scary... but that’s not the case at all.
After many years of slavery, the Israelites are freed and begin their long-haul journey towards their Promised Land:
“A good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills."
- Deuteronomy 8:8-9
The thought of this is stunning, you can sense the abundance, ease, and enjoyment.
So when they first got freed, it must have felt like the end to all their problems - after all, what could go wrong? Moving from slavery to ‘a good land’ was what anyone would hope for, right? They had the freedom to be who they were really designed to be, similar to how many of us feel when we finally experience God for ourselves. They were encouraged to be bold and courageous and to always keep their eyes on the prize.
But life being life, it was a little bit more complex than that.
Making that transition, and having that promise didn’t guarantee an easy ride. There was a long, winding road between freedom and their final destination. And in the hot desert struggle, they got angry, they got impatient, they lost their integrity, and they doubted.
I have questioned why the journey of the Israelites dominates most of the first 5 books of the OT, and why there is so much detail about their struggle but also their victories - going to war with other countries, taking their territory and taking their land. It seemed so violent and a stark contrast to the almost pacifist principles set out by Jesus’ life.
"Don’t suppose for a minute that I have come to demolish the Scriptures—either God’s Law or the Prophets. I’m not here to demolish but to complete.” - Jesus in Matthew 5:17
"The New Testament is in the Old Testament concealed; the Old Testament is in the New Testament revealed.” - Chuck Missler
And then, Hebrews 11 sprung to mind:
"For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God [...]
How did they do it, [how did they stay the path and endure a life full of challenges and success]?
They saw it way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world. People who live this way make it plain that they are looking for their true home.”
- Hebrews 11
They were trying to get to a place that God has promised them, a home for life.
You can't get hung up...
By looking at the Israelites' story through the lens of Hebrews I learned this: from the day we are born we are on this journey back to our real home, whether we acknowledge it or not. And because we live in a world where good and evil exist, internal challenges and external difficulties are always part of the process.
The Israelite’s journey is a metaphor for the challenges and opportunities that we will face on our pilgrimage back home. We will see God’s provision and guidance just like they did, but we will also be tempted to give up and revert back to a lesser time.
These experiences are not for us to get hung up on, because there will never be a time on Earth where everything falls into place for once and for all. Maturity means understanding that struggle isn't to be avoided, it is to be overcome.
God’s Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go!
This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life.
It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?"
- Romans 8:14-15
When you recognise that these hurdles are part of the journey rather than some great failure, you become a bit more resilient. You recognise that you’re either going to make it through or get stuck. You understand that being uncomfortable and frustrated is bound to happen otherwise you get complacent, you get soft, and you lose your momentum. You accept that sometimes may have to get aggressive about maintaining your sanity and pushing through hard times.
Use every adversity to stimulate you to creative survival, to concentrate your attention on the bare essentials, so you’ll live, really live
- Luke 16:8
The Israelite’s story, just like the story of your life, is a story of bravery. A story of stepping into leadership when it’s hard like Moses did and of seeing opportunity even when the odds are stacked against you like Caleb. A story of boldly claiming your slice of the pie even when it goes against societies expectations, just like these sisters.
God’s word is flawless and intentional. It exists for a reason, so don’t fear or dismiss the OT just yet: it’s a picture of the possibilities and pitfalls of our own humanity. Times may change but the human experience remains the same. Understanding the New and Old Testaments in reference to each other is what makes the Bible so rich and so relevant. Jesus’ life on earth, gives us a glimpse of the home that we are slowly inching towards every day: the thing that we hope for which isn’t yet seen. The miracles and the freedom that we experience through Jesus today are a small slice of what life is like when we get home, designed to sustain us throughout life’s peaks and troughs.
That’s why Jesus doesn’t promise a pressure-free life on earth. In his parting prayer before going to the cross, he simply asks:
"I’m not asking you [God] to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one." - John 17:15
And there we have it.