Are You Chasing Egypt?

How do you respond when following God isn’t what you expected?

 

Then the whole community began weeping aloud, and they cried all night. Their voices rose in a great chorus of protest against Moses and Aaron. “If only we had died in Egypt, or even here in the wilderness!” they complained. “Why is the Lord taking us to this country only to have us die in battle? Our wives and our little ones will be carried off as plunder! Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?” Then they plotted among themselves, “Let’s choose a new leader and go back to Egypt!”

Numbers 14:1-4 NLT

This scripture talks about the Israelites after God had brought them out of Egypt. After wandering in the wilderness for a couple of years, they had finally arrived at the threshold of the Promised Land. The land flowing with milk and honey.

Keep in mind that this promise was what kept them going through some pretty harsh circumstances. Their answer to everything, I imagine, was “Just wait till we get to the Promised Land!”

It is therefore inevitable that they would have built up a mental picture of what the Promised Land would look like. After being in the desert so long, they probably pictured green rolling hills, bubbling streams, and trees rising to the sky.

Instead, they got a land inhabited by giants. The only things rising to the sky were the walls fortifying the cities. (Numbers 13:25-33)

And the people began to complain.

By itself, this was nothing new. The people of Israel had complained before. (Numbers 11:4-6) But this time their complaint was something special:

They wanted to go back to Egypt.

Egypt. The place of their slavery and bondage for four centuries. Egypt, where they were worked ruthlessly and without mercy (Exodus 1:11-14). The place they were tasked to make bricks without straw, and when they complained were told they were just lazy (Exodus 5:6-18). Egypt, where Pharaoh once commanded that all their newborn sons be put to death. (Exodus 1:15-16).

Egypt, the place of their greatest shame and suffering.

They wanted to go back to Egypt.

As with most things recorded in the Bible, it’s easy to look at this story and think to ourselves how remarkably stupid and/or ungrateful the Israelites were because we have the benefit of knowing how their story ended.

But the Bible tells us that the things written about the past are written to teach us (Romans 15:4), and this scripture can teach us a lot about ourselves.

***

In our walk with God, there always comes a time when it looks like God has made a mistake. Or that we made a mistake in choosing to trust and serve God.

When we follow God, we will sometimes find ourselves in uncomfortable places or difficult circumstances we didn’t expect and don’t want.

This can manifest in a number of ways:

Maybe it’ll be a breakthrough you’re trusting God that looks like it’ll never come. Maybe it’s a prayer you’ve been praying for years that still hasn’t been answered.

Maybe it’ll just be a time when it looks like the people in the world (Egypt, in this case) are having way more fun than you are, while you trudge through an endless wilderness and wonder if this is all there is to serving God.

And when these circumstances arise (and I can’t stress this enough: they will arise), when we become like the Israelites who set out expecting an easy ride into their Promised Land and instead got a land full of giants, more often than not we start longing after Egypt in our hearts.

We look back at a time before we chose to follow God and think to ourselves that it wasn’t so bad.

We want to go back, because the devil we knew seems better than the God we can’t seem to figure out. We reflect on a time when we knew what to expect, when things more or less made sense even if we were unhappy, and we want to go back.

But this is a great and terrible sin, because when you start looking fondly at the things you’ve left behind, you’re calling God a liar.

You’re telling Him that He doesn’t know what He’s doing. That He doesn’t know what’s good for you. You’re telling the Omnipresent and Omnipotent God that clearly He didn’t see this coming, so the best decision is for you to go back to Egypt while He gets His sh*t together. Because clearly, God made a mistake at some point.

***

But it was the children of Israel who were mistaken. They were remembering their past wrongly. They thought if they returned to Egypt, things would somehow be different. That it would be better for them this time than it had been for the past 400 years.

But Egypt had not changed. Egypt was no better a place simply because the children of Israel remembered it differently. They remembered the cucumbers, the onions and the garlic (Numbers 11:4-6), but if they had returned they would have quickly remembered the chains and the whips, too.

When we desire a return to our old lives, our old friends, our old comforts, we fail to see that we’re also choosing to return to our old sufferings.

Turning from God’s will, even in the little things, always means returning to bondage.

Don’t do it.

(And by the way, chasing Egypt doesn’t only mean desiring things you’ve left behind. It also applies to holding back some parts of ourselves from God’s direction because we like things the way they are. It can be your money, your job, your time, or your sex life. In instances like that, it means we love Egypt so much that we never leave in the first place.)

***

I was telling a close friend some time ago that if you could see things from God’s perspective for a fraction of a second, everything would make sense to you. All the struggles, the difficulties, the unanswered prayers. It would all make sense.

Because there is a plan. And to trust what the Bible says about God is to trust that the way He’s choosing to direct your life is the best way it can possibly go.

Turning from God’s will, even in the little things, always means returning to bondage.

If the children of Israel had looked toward Heaven instead of the walled cities before them, they would have seen that the God who parted an ocean for them would not bring them to face giants if He didn’t intend to sweep the giants before them as well.

God won’t tell you to attack a walled city if He’s not preparing to bring those walls crashing down.

Why would He?

Why would God tell you to quit your job if He wasn’t preparing a much better one for you?

Why would God tell you to give generously (2 Corinthians 9:7-13) if He’s not ready to replenish you for everything you “lose”?

Why would God ask you to take a difficult road if there wasn’t a much better destination at the end of it?

Seriously, why would He do it?

So why, then, should you face tough circumstances or disappointments in your Christian walk and turn around? Do you not know the glory ahead of you dwarfs the one behind you by miles?

My question to you today is: Will you trust what God says even when your current circumstances are harder and more unpleasant than you expected? Will you stay with Him?

And will you make the decision to commit your future wholly to Him today, knowing that the road is going to be hard and unpleasant at times?

Will you?

Or will you turn and start walking toward Egypt?

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