Lessons from the Israelites

I’ve been learning a lot from the Old Testament lately. I’ve been reading the first half of the Bible more than I ever have before, and I’ve been surprised at how the Lord is using things that happened thousands and thousands of years ago to teach me. If you haven’t read the Old Testament, you should. It’s good stuff.

I’ve been especially focused in on the history of the Israelite nation. Early in the book of Genesis, God tells this dude named Abraham that He is going to give him descendants that are as many as the stars in the sky; these descendants will be God’s chosen people to whom He will give the land of Canaan. Not to mention the fact that the Messiah (Jesus) would be born out of this people and redeem all of creation.

“I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you…I will make you the father of a multitude of nations…I will make you extremely fruitful. Your descendants will become many nations, and kings will be among them! I will confirm my covenant with you and your descendants after you, from generation to generation. This is the everlasting covenant: I will always be your God and the God of your descendants after you. And I will give the entire land of Canaan, where you now live as a foreigner, to you and your descendants. It will be their possession forever, and I will be their God.” 

That’s a pretty big promise, eh? Especially to a guy like Abraham who’s almost 100 years old and doesn’t have any kids. But God gives Abraham children who have children who have children, and pretty soon the Israelite nation is booming. Unfortunately, they end up being enslaved in Egypt. Exodus chapter 1 says that “the Egyptians made the Israelites their slaves. They appointed brutal slave drivers over them, hoping to wear them down with crushing labor…so the Egyptians worked the people of Israel without mercy. They made their lives bitter, forcing them to mix mortar and make bricks and do all the work in the fields. They were ruthless in all their demands.”

They had it pretty bad. They were literally being worked to death. God had said that He would pour out His blessing on the Israelites, that He would raise up kings from among them, and that He would give them land to possess. But it sure didn’t look like that was going to happen any time soon. After 400 years of brutal oppression, God frees them and brings them out of Egypt. At last God’s chosen people are free and on their way to the Promised Land. In order to get there, however, they have to go through the desert, and it’s not an easy journey. Let me tell you, the Israelites are very frustrating people. God parts the sea for them to cross, sends bread from heaven, miraculously provides fresh water, and appears in a pillar of cloud and fire for them to follow. Yet they complain incessantly. They tell God that He should have just let them die rather than bring them out into the desert. Some of them deny God completely and start worshipping idols. They forget not only what God has done for them in the past, but they forget the goodness of the promise that lies ahead of them.

When they finally reach the edge of Promised Land, after all that God has done to bring them through the wilderness, they get scared because of some giants that are currently living in Canaan. God has clearly told them that Canaan rightfully belongs to them and that He will fight all of their battles, but they decide that they “are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.”

And because of their unfaithfulness, they end up wandering around in the wilderness for forty years. Yep. Like I said, the Israelites are very frustrating people.

Fast forward forty years, and the new generation is ready to enter the Promised Land. He only gives them a few instructions: “When you cross the Jordan River into the land of Canaan, you must drive out all the people living there. You must destroy all their carved and molten images and demolish all their pagan shrines. Take possession of the land and settle in it, because I have given it to you to occupy…But if you fail to drive out the people who live in the land, those who remain will be like splinters in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will harass you in the land where you live. And I will do to you what I had planned to do to them.”

But, as you now know, the Israelites seem to have a really hard time obeying God. They decide that it would be a much better idea not to destroy the Canaanites and their possessions, but to take some of them as slaves and enjoy the plunder.

God continues to love the Israelites and offers them so much more grace than they deserve; but their deliberately sinful ways have consequences, and the years lived out in the Promised Land aren’t exactly pleasant.

I know that was a long summary, and I applaud you if you made it all the way through. If it all seems like a pointless history lesson, hang in there. I have a point.

In my last post I got brutally honest with the fact that even though I do believe I’ve been set free from anorexia, I still struggle. I’ve had a really hard time maintaining a healthy weight and I’m beginning to recognize some eating-disorder behaviors that I’ve hung on to. I talked about being humble enough to allow the Lord to take me through a time of healing. So here’s what I’m learning from the Israelites in regards to recovery:

  1. I’m out of Egypt, but not yet to the Promised Land. Anorexia was my Egypt. And praise God that He brought me out of Egypt! I’m no longer enslaved and in bondage. However, I’m going to have to walk through some desert before I get to the Promised Land. For me, the Promised Land is when all eating disorder thoughts have been completely extinguished. When I don’t have to check to make sure that I’m maintaining my weight. When I’m no longer in a time of healing from this specific bondage. And the fact that I’m not there yet doesn’t negate what God has done in any way!
  2. The desert really isn’t that bad. Think about it. Some of the most profound miracles recorded in scripture took place in the desert! God made himself so obvious to the Israelites that His spirit was among them in a pillar of fire. If the people had followed God faithfully, things would have gone so much more smoothly. The journey through the desert was a time of preparation, learning, and growth for the great things that were in store for them. For me, the journey through the wilderness is a time of healing and restoration. It’s a time of intimacy with the Lord as He searches my heart and reveals the areas of my life that He wants to make new. It’s a time for me to be completely and totally reliant on His provision and protection. And if you ask me, that’s not a bad place to be.
  3. Egypt sucks. One of the biggest problems that the Israelites had is that when things got tough in the desert, they wanted to go back to Egypt. They forgot how merciful God had been to them by delivering them from slavery and at the slightest discomfort they wished they could return. Seems crazy, right? But how often do we look back on the things that once held us in bondage and reminisce about the good old days? I pray that I never even turn around to look at my Egypt. So if I ever start missing the “simplicity” of being anorexic, if I ever miss being “special” because of my weight, if I ever am tempted to engage in an old habit, please remind me that Egypt sucks.
  4. I don’t have to be afraid of giants. God had already promised to give the land of Canaan to the descendants of Abraham. He took them all the way through the desert and never once went back on His word. Yet the Israelites are completely shaken up by the prospect of having to go against some giants that are living in Canaan. God has promised me full healing and full recovery, so any “giants” that are preventing that have to die! To think that I could fail when I tackle a lie or a habit is ridiculous; if God is for me, who can be against me?
  5. None of the Canaanites, and nothing belonging to the Canaanites can remain. God warned the people that if they didn’t completely drive out the Canaanites, they would have to deal with the consequences. These people were pagan idol worshippers, and the Lord knew that if any part of them or their practices remained, the temptation would be too great for the Israelites. Unlike the Israelites, however, I’m not going to let any leftovers from the eating disorder remain. Things like skipping meals or snacks, weighing myself, counting calories, keeping food logs, following food rules, and any dishonesty about what I’m doing or thinking can have absolutely no place in my life. Anything that is a reminder of the bondage I was in must be driven out.

So…

If you’re still in Egypt, hang in there. Your Deliverer is near.

If you’re in the desert, keep looking towards the Promised Land.

If you’re facing giants, don’t be afraid. He will fight your battles.

Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. -James 1:12

One thought on “Lessons from the Israelites

  1. I love the way you interpreted this scripture! Really well written. God will bring you through! Stay encouraged. 🙂

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