I’m always reminded that the route to the Promised Land led through wilderness territory. The journey begins when Moses encounters God in a burning bush and is told, “I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters; I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” Exodus 3:7-8a
The idea of a Promised Land after years of slavery, must have been a seed of hope to the oppressed Israelites living in Egypt. What no one hadn’t counted on was the path to the Promised land, would take them into a place where water was scarce and food more scarce. If given a choice, the Israelites would have bypassed that time . . . and yet it was in the wilderness that they were shaped and formed as God’s people. Wandering through the wilderness they discovered God would care for their needs on a daily basis. In the wilderness people learned to trust God with their future. And it was there that the Israelites learned obedience to the God of Abraham and Sarah. No one would accuse the Israelites of being quick learners though. Their wanderings take them far afield of where God wants their hearts to be. God’s intended brief wilderness sojourn is stretched to a very long time.
Which in some ways gives me hope. When I read the newspapers, I can get pretty discouraged about this world. Whether it’s Martin Luther King Jr.’s “long arc of the moral universe” bending “towards justice,” or Isaiah’s words of hope that one day “They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, “(Isaiah 11:9) we’ve been given words of promise that one day God will set right what is wrong in our world. Today we live in the world of Covid19 where decisions in high places have plagued our response. We have been woefully unprepared for a pandemic, failing to learn lessons from the past. In our wilderness time we are facing consequences of yesterday’s actions and indifference. Much like the Israelites, we are learning lessons that would have been better heeded yesterday.
Eventually, the Israelites entered the land of promise when they started to listen to God and act on what they heard. We also are being led. Day by day God’s tugs at our hearts to take a turn toward mercy, kindness, goodness, sacrifice and compassion. Other voices would have us lean into resentment, prejudice, selfishness or vengeance. Some would tell us that the elderly and vulnerable are expendable. Still others would tell us not to care, that it doesn’t matter or the crisis we are living is a fraud.
Lovers of God soon learn that all of this matters. God cares what we do with our lives and how we live in our relationships, not only as individuals, but as a nation. God has this dream that one day there will be peace on earth and God’s will shall be done here, even as God’s will is done in heaven. God always uses individuals to accomplish what God intends. From Moses who led slaves in Egypt to freedom, to Mother Theresa feeding the hungry in the slums of Calcutta, there have been those who said “Yes.” God still pulls at our hearts asking us to follow to the unique places where we can best be a part of healing a broken world. Each of us has a place and a part in this healing. Each of us has a way to say, “Yes.”
A version of this post was first published February 15, 2015 as “The Long Journey to a Promised Land”