Deuteronomy 9: 13-21
Hebrews 3: 12-19
The Baker Illustrated Guide to Everyday Life in Bible Times (John A. Beck)
Why is it so hard, sometimes, to walk in obedience to God and believe in his promises in the Bible? Because our secular humanistic culture teaches us to worship ourselves and our achievements above all else. We are encouraged to question everything we read, see and hear and argue our own opinion. In some ways this can be good, but in other ways, not so good. Sometimes it’s easier to read the Bible like a history book, or literature, rather than the inspired word of God. We Americans are “free thinkers,” and we are proud of that. Absolute truth is as variable as the weather. But when we put ourselves on a pedestal and worship our opinions about the way the world works, it is definitely more difficult to submit to a higher authority.
Doubting is also so much easier than believing.
If we are inundated by thousands of voices claiming truth, then perhaps the Hebrews were drowning in a polytheistic culture practiced by Egyptians. Maybe the Hebrews understood the God of Abraham, Isaac and Joseph as just one more god to worship. And this god’s job was leading them away from Egyptian oppression. Whatever the outside influence, it seems to me that those ancient Hebrews and we 21st Century Western Americans have something in common to overcome. Unbelief.
The Hebrews witnessed God’s sovereignty over the 10 plagues while Pharoah stubbornly refused to release them from slavery. They watched the Red Sea part and Pharoah and his men become fish food. They felt God’s warmth in the form of a fire by night in the desert and God’s refreshing coolness through a cloud by day. They were nourished by the manna God provided for food and drank the water God provided from the rock. Oh to have been an eyewitness in all that!
All this, and yet still the first generation of Hebrews freak out and built a golden calf to worship while Moses climbs the mountain to receive the 10 commandments. Thus the Hebrews are already breaking the first Commandment: Thou shall have no other Gods before me. Deuteronomy 9: 13-21 describes the scene where Moses is actually reminding the grown children of their parents’ mistake 40 years ago (found in Exodus) in building that silly calf. The Lord calls the Hebrews a “stiff-necked people” and said he was ready to destroy them and start over with Moses, but Moses intervened. What’s this? The Lord God, running out of patience?
I found the term “stiff-necked” fascinating. It’s used to describe animals, such as camels, horses, donkeys and oxen who have long necks that were used in those ancient times to do to manual labor, like plowing, threshing, or pulling carts. But due to their strength, they can refuse to cooperate. An animal that resisted the commands to turn this way or that was said to have a stiff neck. “These first uses of the expression reveal just how serious this condition is: stiff-necked people are thoroughly rebellious people who live within a hair’s breadth of divine destruction.” (Beck).
Those first generation parents never reached their final destination – their reward – the Promised Land, because they refused to believe God and wait for the blessing he had for them. It’s laughable until we realize that we do precisely the same thing today – just in another form. We have a multiple “golden calves” we turn to when fear tempts us to turn from God. Money. Pleasing others. Self-reliance. Careers. Education. Technology. Greed. Pride.
The challenges of believing in one sovereign God who has a plan and is loving and protecting us every step of the way is as hard for us today as it was for the Hebrews. Believing is especially challenging when none of our circumstances or prayers align with what we hope or expect. That’s when we encourage one another to stay in God’s word and continue to thank and praise him without having a clue what the future will bring.
The Hebrew people obviously serve as an example of what not to do because they became hard-hearted when they disobeyed God’s command to enter the Promised Land. That’s why the writer of Hebrews 3: 12-19 (NIV) commands all believers to encourage one another. “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it called today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness . . . . Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? . . . So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.” Lack of trust and belief in God always prevents us from receiving his Best. This is a hard lesson that my husband and I are still in the process of learning as he continues to pursue what’s turning into a nearly two-year long job search while we learn to wait on God and the next step he has for us.
Who has God put in your path to encourage today? Pray for the right words and the right timing. Who has God placed in your path to be the encouragement you need today? Allow God to speak to you today.
Dear Heavenly Father:
Thank you for your encouragement through your word, the Bible. Thank you for your faithfulness. Thank you for hanging in there with us despite our unbelief. Help us focus not on this crazy world around us, but on you. Forgive us for turning to other distractions for comfort when we are afraid. Lord, you created us for community, not isolation, so help us to be more aware of the opportunities you set before us to be encouragers. Amen.