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.
David authored many of the psalms in the Bible. In his writings he captured the good, the bad and the ugly. While celebrating his victories he also illustrated his weakest moments. I find this kind of transparency pretty remarkable.
Mountaintops or valleys, David shared everything with the Lord. Psalm 18 represents one of his mountaintop moments. 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.”
Previously, David’s continued success in battle had aroused much interest. He was the talk of the town. Unfortunately King Saul felt threatened by his growing popularity and planned to kill him, but David got wind of the situation and escaped. Eventually, both Saul and his son Jonathan were killed in battle and David was elected the new king of Israel.
God is everything to us and we need Him every hour – whether we are aware or unaware. David relied on the Lord when he was in a very vulnerable position. As a refugee he needed protection from his enemies, deliverance in battle and a Rock to hold on to. As a king he needed God’s wisdom and guidance. He knew that all he had was a gift from the Lord. Without Him he wouldn’t be where he was. So David turned his gratitude into prayer (Psalm 18:2):
“My God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”
Our victories are the result of God’s faithfulness. It is good to keep that in mind and never stop counting our blessings. 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.