Customs and traditions become disembodied and meaningless when we don’t know the back story. Jewish heritage is rich in customs and traditions, and the purpose of these is to remember God’s faithfulness. After leaving Egypt the prophet Moses announced to the people of Israel (Exodus 13:3):
“Then Moses said to the people, ‘Commemorate this day, the day you came out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery, because the Lord brought you out of it with a mighty hand. Eat nothing containing yeast.’”
We can easily see that the custom of eating unleavened bread (bread without yeast) for seven days in spring would raise questions in following generations. These questions are encouraged because they serve as a reminder (Exodus 13:8-9):
“On that day tell your son, ‘I do this because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ This observance will be for you like a sign on your hand and a reminder on your forehead that this law of the Lord is to be on your lips. For the Lord brought you out of Egypt with his mighty hand.”
Israel was forced into slavery by Egyptian kings for a time period of approximately 400 years. Leaving Egypt for good left these horrible memories behind; however, a seemingly endless journey through the Sinai wilderness made Egypt look attractive again. Time and again the Israeli refugees lost hope that they would ever reach the Promised Land; they figured their only chance of survival was to turn around and go back to where they came from.
We could say that the wilderness became a place of Israel’s identity crisis. Transitioning from an enslaved people group to a free sovereign nation is not an easy thing to do. Like a caterpillar morphing into a butterfly, a group of slaves evolved into a sovereign nation. It’s a miracle of God to be remembered.
Perhaps we have a similar wilderness experiences today and are going through an identity crisis of our own. In every identity crisis we can resort to some sort of survival mode, or we can embrace the Lord. He is faithful. If we have encountered His redemptive power in the past, then we know He will come through for us in present times as well. We need to remember who He is and whose we are.
King David was a man devoted to God. He captured in writing the good, the bad and the ugly and eternalized his times of triumph and of failure in the many psalms he authored. Whether passing through a deep valley or arriving on an illustrious mountaintop, King David shared all these moments with the Lord.
Psalm 18 represents a mountaintop moment. A footnote of this particular psalm paints the picture:
“He sang to the Lord the words of this song when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul.”
King Saul’s leadership led the nation of Israel into a crisis. David served in King Saul’s army at the time, and his continued success in battle eventually brought on King Saul’s deadly jealousy. As a result David had to be on the run and had to spend a significant portion of his life as a refugee. Eventually, King Saul and his son Jonathan were killed in battle, which is when David was elected the new king of Israel.
In his moment of triumph David took the time to remember that everything he had came from the Lord. His victory was the result of many steps of faith that had led him to this place. Every step of the way he had needed protection from his enemies, deliverance in battle and a Rock to hold on to. He could not have reached the mountaintop without the Lord. So David turned his gratitude into a prayer (Psalm 18:2):
“My God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”
It is good to remember the gifts we have been given. Gratitude is humility’s sister and opens our eyes to the wonders of God’s love.
A few years back, I had a near-death experience after an unsuccessful second heart surgery. For a while I felt my life was drawing to a close. I did not want to admit to it at the time, but I felt hopeless when my health went south. In the book of Proverbs we find a brief description of the effects of hopelessness (Proverbs 13:12):
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”
It is a medical reality that lack of hope eventually catches up with us and affects us physically. Sometimes our struggles go unnoticed, and that is very unfortunate. Suicide-rates are up – a sobering indicator that we live in a lonely society.
How can we help a hopeless person? Pep talk in a depressed state may not be the best approach. Self-help groups promote positive thinking, and that is perhaps a good start, but there is no doubt in my mind that the Lord is the answer to our deepest needs. Ultimately He is the One who can fix what is broken inside of us. I believe, in our frailties we depend on God’s mercies to get us through a valley and beyond.
We all need the Lord. Turning to Him for encouragement is a wise move. God is not stuck in a mold and He can get us out of ours; He is able to help us see things differently. Regardless of how much or how little lifetime we have left, we have things working for us; God is able to open our eyes so we can become aware of these things.
The Lord walks with us on difficult roads – and I cannot stress this often enough – His presence is the best gift He can give us in most confusing times. When we feel lost, we need to remember the Lord.