Going Down to Egypt

Lately I’ve been wrestling a bit with the process of trusting God. He has always cared for my family, sometimes in miraculous ways. I am accutely aware that my ability to make a living and the skills I have that people will actually pay me to use are a gift from him, not anything inherently wonderful about me. I know and believe the promises He’s made about caring for our needs, and I’ve seen it many times in my own life. My point of struggle is this: where does my responsibility to work and plan and be a good steward of the gifts and resources God entrusts to me meet my need to trust God to provide?

My tendency is to plan for contingencies. Recently God pushed me out of the boat. I was ok with that, other than the fact that I didn’t say “Command me to come to you Lord!” but rather just accepted the push when it got hard enough. Maybe I’m more like Gideon than like Peter. I know that God provides, and I trust him. At the same time, I keep a close eye on what’s in savings, and what harvest is coming up in the fields (as it were) and I come up with contingencies in case it doesn’t rain.

I’m reminded of the times when Abraham and his descendents headed to Egypt. A couple of times when there was a famine, Abraham went to Egypt to wait it out, and perhaps that was God’s plan for provision for him. On the other hand, Abraham didn’t trust God to keep him and Sarah safe, and came up with some pretty bad plans for not getting murdered over Sarah’s good looks. He should have trusted God with that. Clearly, doing wrong to protect ourselves or improve our position isn’t a part of acceptable stewardship. Abraham had a pattern of amazing faith contrasted with bad contingency planning. Its important in noticing Abraham’s failures of faith to remember that God blessed him and counted his faith as righteousness. Strong faith doesn’t seem to have to be perfect faith. Thank God for that.

Jacob and his sons went to Egypt during another famine. That time it was clearly God’s plan for them, and was setting up for the Exodus and Passover. On the other hand, for Joseph that trip to Egypt cost his freedom and years of struggle. That provision for the family of Israel also turned into generations of enslavement. God provided, and in the long run he used it to point forward to our full redemption. It was a key moment in the history of the world. God’s provision and plan sometimes are enshrouded in his eternal plan, and sometimes come with significant discomfort.

After God delivered the people from Egypt, they kept wanting to go back. Egypt meant slavery, but the grass is always greener just beyond our reach, yesterday is often greener than today, and enslavement with stability often seems preferable to the apperent insecurity of depending on God to provide in a place we have no hope to provide for ourselves. For all those years they were provided daily with mana, God miraculously provided quail and water on more than one occasion, and their shoes never wore out. Even with all of God’s clear provision, Egypt still held its allure. Going back would have been forsaking God’s leading. In fact, when they got to the Jordan the first time they said (my rough paraphrase) “God’s promises and provision are not enough for us. We don’t trust God enough to stand against walls and giants.” Sometimes God calls us forward even through the wilderness, through the water, and into the midst of battle. In each of those situations he provides. At the Jordan, when they did finally cross, he didn’t stop the water until they stepped into the river. When God calls us forward, turning back to Egypt is never the answer.

Generations later when the Assyrians and later Babylon came against them, Israel tried to play the larger powers against each other rather than trusting in God. They lost on all sides. When they fought against Egypt they lost. When they turned to Egypt for help they lost. Contingency planning failed completely. They should have turned to the Lord.

After Judah fell, the people again turned to Egypt for sanctuary instead of trusting God. They even asked Jeremiah if they should go to Egypt, and then refused to listen when he delivered God’s message that Egypt would not be the security they sought. God is our hope and salvation. There is no other safe harbor for God’s people but God.

Finally, though, we get to Christ. When Herod sought to kill Jesus, Joseph was instructed to flee to Egypt. This time it was God’s provision again. This time the time of sanctuary in Egypt was short, and God again called them out of Egypt as a part of his plan and provision.

There are, of course, many other pictures of God’s provision. There are numerous example’s of God’s provision throughout the Old Testament, from Noah, Job, Ruth, Gideon, David, Daniel and his friends, and many others. In the New Testament Jesus talked about God providing for our needs quite a bit, and so did the epistle writers. Recently I have read biographies of people like George Müller, Liu Zhenying, CT Studd, Rachel Saint, Sundar Singh, Lillian Trasher, and Brother Andrew. It is very clear that God’s plan for his children is best, even when the path leads through valleys, jungles, disease, and prison.

I would love to have a burning bush, or fire from heaven, or a pillar cloud to follow, or the clear leading God gave at times to the people I just mentioned. Visions and dreams, visits from prophets bringing a message to us from God, angels opening prison doors. These things do still happen. I’ve had times in my life when his hand and direction were clear. Other times his presence is clear but it seems like he takes down all the road signs. Sometimes you get to the Jordan and the water doesn’t stop, or our shoes give out while we’re crossing the wilderness. That too is God’s provision. We rest in his hands.

I haven’t answered the question of where stewardship means contingency planning and where we step out in faith and leave contingencies to God. I haven’t found the answer yet on this stretch of my path. I do know that when our contingency planning means we don’t look to God for our security, it undermines our faith and we stagger under a load this isn’t ours to bear. In these situations, maybe especially for us in the modern West, savings accounts and earning potential and a solid business plan are as much or more of a distraction to our walk as having less that seems dependable. We love to feel in control. We aren’t in control of God’s provision or call, and we never were.

On this trip the path leads on through. I can’t go back to Egypt now. I wish I had a clue where God is taking us, but the path I thought we were on isn’t going where I planned. Money we thought was coming didn’t. A child we thought that God was preparing a place for has stayed missing. Just when I had figured out what God was doing the path curved. Maybe confidence in the path and thinking I understood the plan meant less reliance on God. It seems that God failed to look at my calendar and schedule in deciding his timing. Certainly the lessons of patience and trust are not learned as deeply as I would like to have claimed. Or maybe he is planning to weed out the sin that still lurks where I’ve tucked it, trying to keep it out of view. There is still work for God to do on my heart, and God’s method of transformation in us sometimes involves discipline. Or maybe this is part of a longer term plan the outline of which can only be seen from eternity. I will have to be content in leaving God’s plan in God’s hands.

He loves us. I trust him. For today that will have to be enough.

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