“The Israelites had moved about in the desert forty years until all the men who were of military age when they left Egypt had died, since they had not obeyed the LORD. For the LORD had sworn to them that they would not see the land that he had solemnly promised their fathers to give us, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Joshua 5:6 NIV).
Friend To Friend
One night, I was sitting on my sofa doing some paperwork when I noticed a large red fire ant crawling across my sand colored carpet. Being that I was comfortably molded into the seat cushion, I didn’t want to get up. So I waited until the ant was within striking distance before I reached for my shoe to put an abrupt end to his journey. The carpet was just a few months old and I didn’t want Mr. Ant’s remains to leave a permanent mark, so I just banged on him softly. Just in case he wasn’t “all the way dead,” I left my shoe lying on top of him until I was ready to get up.
To my surprise, a few minutes later, a shaken ant eased his way out from underneath his leather prison and began to limp away. I guess his vision, equilibrium, or left side was impaired, because instead of making a mad dash toward the door, he began to totter, making a series of left turns and going in circles.
Thirty minutes later, my husband, Steve, walked into the room. “There’s a big ant crawling on the floor.”
“Yeah, I know,” I nonchalantly replied.
“Why don’t you get a tissue and get rid of him?” he asked.
“I will when I get up,” I answered.
“Aren’t you afraid he’ll crawl away by that time?”
“Nope,” I responded confidently. “He’s been going around in circles for thirty minutes. I’ll get rid of him when I get up.”
Sure enough, forty minutes after the ant’s trip to nowhere began; I finished my work, got a tissue, and sent him on a trip to visit the city’s water treatment plant.
This scenario made me think about another creature that traveled in circles. Well, a lot of creatures in fact: about two millions Israelites – and not for forty minutes, but for forty years.
The Israelites had been under the Egyptians’ shoe for 400 years. Then God called Moses to convince the Pharaoh that their brick making days were over and it was time for them to move on. Moses was to lead this band of slaves to freedom – to a land flowing with milk and honey. With plagues that would excite any professional exterminator, God convinced the Pharaoh that letting the Israelite go would be a good idea. He yelled, “Get those Israelites out of here!”
So they gathered up their belongings (not to mention a few belongings that weren’t theirs) and left. Led by a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day, they moved forward. After marching between the towering walls of the parted waters of the Red Sea, they sang for joy. “Hip, hip hooray! Now we’re on our way!” Or so it seemed.
But they didn’t joyously parade on to the land flowing with milk and honey. They didn’t continue in reverence and awe of a God who had already performed more miracles in their presence than most people see in a thousand lifetimes. Instead they started to grumble and complain. “We’re sick of this food.” They started to doubt God. “Did He bring us out here to die?” They started to question Moses’ leadership. “What are we going to drink?” They bickered among themselves, argued with Moses, and disobeyed God. And each time they stiffened their necks, God told them to take a left turn.
For forty years, they wandered in circles in the sand, like my little friend the ant crawling in circles on my sand colored carpet. An entire generation died out and a new generation was born. One day the stiff necks’ prodigy had a light bulb moment. “Hey, we’ve got an idea,” they reasoned, “let’s try obeying God and see where that leads us.”
Of course, we know where it led them, where obedience to God always leads, on a straight path to the Promised Land.
As I studied the Israelites’ journey, I noticed a strange phenomenon. As long as they were going in circles in the dessert, bickering among themselves, they didn’t encounter many outside enemies. They didn’t fight many battles. There was only one.
But as soon as they crossed over the Jordan and headed in the path called obedience, they were under attack left and right. And so it is with us today. Many have been led out of Egypt (saved from the bondage of sin) and passed through the Red Sea (Jesus’ blood) only to continue their Christian walk going in circles going nowhere. And amazingly, in the circular walk, there are very few battles. It’s safe – not much action. Satan doesn’t need to spend his energy attacking this bunch because they’re absolutely no threat to him. But let God’s children start walking in obedience and moving toward the Promised Land of spiritual maturity, and the battle’s on.
Why didn’t I get up from my comfy seat and dispose of the ant? Because I knew he wasn’t going anywhere, so why bother. But if he had started heading for the door, I’d have taken care of him immediately.
Are you experiencing spiritual warfare in your life … Jebusites, Amalekites, Hittites, Gossip-ites, Mocker-ites, In-law-ites, Neighbor-ites? Well, praise the Lord! It must mean you’re headed in the right direction and someone’s not happy about it. Just keep obeying God and marching forward. The Promised Land is just ahead.
Dear Lord, I don’t want to be like the Israelites who wandered around in the desert, going in circles for forty years. My heart’s desire is to hear Your voice and obey Your bidding. Lord, I let go of the things that keep me in a holding pattern, circling over the runway of life. Lord, anything that keeps me from spiritual maturity, I give to You. Like the obedient second generation Israelites, I step forward with the anticipation of someone headed toward her personal Promised Land.
In Jesus’ Name,
Now It’s Your Turn
Draw a picture of your spiritual journey over the past few years.
Are you going uphill, downhill, or in circles?
Which way do you want to go?
Write out a plan to get there.