What is Best?

The dust bowl of the 1930s will forever be recorded as one of the worst droughts and farming losses in American history. Hundreds of millions of acres of farmland were lost to fierce dust storms and the lack of rain. Photographs from the time illustrate the devastation such a drought could cause. After four years of drought, the entire country felt the effects of rationing, expensive food, and lost employment.

Photography in the 1930s recorded the dust bowl with dramatic images. I can imagine that the images would have been just as dramatic during the seven years of drought that sent Joseph’s brothers to Egypt (Genesis 42). Seven years of drought in a region much smaller than the dust bowl region and without support from neighboring lands equated to certain death for Jacob and his family. Jacob’s children journeyed to Egypt to find food.

Fast forwarding a few years, Joseph and his extended family settled in northern Egypt, the land of Goshen. To this day Goshen produces some of the most amazing crops. The land is fertile and a far cry from the arid land the family left. The Jewish people grew and multiplied quickly until the favor of Pharaoh and the Egyptians faded. Years later and now enslaved, God would rescue His people from captivity.

I wonder if Egypt’s favor had never changed, if the Jewish people would have left the fertile land of Goshen. God had promised them their own land yet for generations the people were content in borrowed land. After all, they were successful. The Jewish people grew in number and in wealth. LIfe was good. Some Rabbis suggest that the people ceased taking part in the covenant and quickly began to assimilate into the culture. They were living with the best.

What is best? What is success? Churches often live on the measure of tithes and attenders. Businesses exist for the bottom line. Personally, the size of our homes, the age of our cars, the intelligence of our children (and the rating of their schools), the size of our retirement, savings, and checking accounts, and the health of our family members all indicate success. But what is best?

In the case of the Jewish people, God would eventually call an exiled murderer to be His voice. Moses, after a dramatic series of events, plagues, and heartache, would lead the Jewish people to the promised land. The people revolted because of the difficulty of the task before them. Evidently, the promised land flowed with milk, honey, and large cruel inhabitants. After 40 years of wandering, the people were ready to be obedient. They would spend the next generation fighting for the land God had given them. This land is largely desert, full of rocks and in the middle of the ancient world. Was this the best?

It appears that our definition of best according to our eyes is oft a far cry from best through the eyes of a limitless God. After all, it was in the desert that God’s people learned to lean on Him. It was in captivity where they remembered to call on His name. It is in trial and pain that our relationship with God is most alive.

We have to live in the world and engage the culture. We are called to selflessly love people who aren’t like us. But too often, I begin looking and living like them. I redefine best and reach for the reigns of life. The land of Goshen looks so nice but is void of desperation, sacrifice, and cries to God. God’s provision may truly be the desert only because it is there I learn to lead hard on Him alone.

10 thoughts on “What is Best?

  1. I don’t subscribe to the idea that the Exodus story is an allegory to the Christian life. But, there are some interesting thoughts to be had on it. Since you started the speculation, I’ll continue!

    What if the Israelites had not become so attached to Goshen? Would they have required the 40 years of trials in the desert? Do you see those 40 years as something of a purification, that they had to be cleansed of the idea that Goshen was more than an intermediate provision for them on their way to the Promised Land? Interesting that practically the entire generation was dead before the Promised Land was delivered.

    Bringing that to the current day, is the Church (universal, not local) in the same position as Israel in Goshen? Are we content with what God has given us thus far? Are we content with the temporary provisions?

    Remember, too, that Goshen was a temporary blessing from God. Did the Israelites begin to worship the blessing, and not the One Who Blessed? Materialism…

    Were the Israelites striving to be like the Egyptians? I think this might be a stretch. The Israelites were very clearly the slaves of the Egyptians. The cried out to God, not accepting the polytheism/pharaoh-worship of the Egyptians. They suffered persecution. Seems to me that the Israelites were just trying to survive (parallel to the early Church?). Now, later on, in their occupation of the Promised Land, I think a strong argument could be made that Israel tried to be like the world. See Solomon, or most of the other kings. That being said, prior to the turn of the Egyptian favor, there could have been this “keep up with the Jones'” mentality.

    All this begs the question – is the Church today somewhere on this journey, too?

    I know, this is slightly off-topic from your initial post. I think your initial post is spot-on from a personal perspective, accepting God’s good instead of God’s best. I’m curious about your thoughts on the whole Body, though.

    Thanks!

    • “Were the Israelites striving to be like the Egyptians? I think this might be a stretch. The Israelites were very clearly the slaves of the Egyptians. They cried out to God, not accepting the polytheism/pharaoh-worship of the Egyptians.”

      Gotta disagree that it took till the settlement in the Promised Land for the Israelites to turn to polytheism or follow the Egyptians’ rejection of the Lord.

      From Exodus 32:1 “When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” Later in verses 7-8 “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.'”

      I don’t think the church today (universal or local) is very different. I am no different. When I am surrounded by blessings and comfort its so easy to forget about the source of the gifts and turn from the Lord. It might be gradual, but soon the relationship is so twisted that it takes a while to restore. While the Israelites called out to the Lord due to their suffering in Egypt, they seemed far from a right relationship with Him as evidenced by their turn to idols so quickly after the miraculous exodus. It took the Israelites 40 years of wilderness wandering to learn to rely on Him, and I have been blessed by those periods in my life too – figuratively at least.

      • Krentist – you’re absolutely right in the Exodus 32 quote. I was lazy in my language in my first post. My intent was to argue two separate ideas. Reading back, I didn’t do a good job of that.

        First, I’m not sure that the Israelites, while in Egypt after the Egyptian turn of favor, were striving for material things. They had moved into survival mode, turning their hearts toward God. It took the crisis of Pharaoh’s decrees against the Israelites to do this. That was the thrust of my first point: we often don’t cry out to God until crisis.

        Second, and this is chronologically far removed from the first, the Israelites did turn back to Polytheism after the Promised Land arrival. Your are right to point out that they did in the wanderings, too. That doesn’t take away from my point, though, that they turned after the blessing had been received. My intent wasn’t to pick the first time they turned, but more to demonstrate that the “ultimate” blessing had been received (the Promised Land and the end of the wanderings being that to the Israelites).

        I find, too, that those wandering periods in my life have proved ultimately to be blessings. I don’t think it has to be that way, though. My initial questions were around whether the Israelites would have had to wander for 40 years if they had not become so attached to Goshen. If they had thought about the reason that Joseph didn’t want his bones permanently buried in Egypt, if they remembered God’s covenant with Abraham, if they had maintained their relationship with God, would they have wandered for 40 years? Applying to the Church, are we sitting on our laurels, content that God has provided for us salvation (no small blessing!), comfortable places to worship, very little persecution, etc., or are we remembering the responsibilities God has assigned to us, namely making disciples and sharing that salvation He’s so graciously given us, honoring God with our lives, and worshipping Him in all we do? Sadly, I’m more in the former.

  2. I like looking at the Exodus, not as a story about the church, which it is not, but as a pre-cursor of Christ.

    Christ is seen in the N.T. to be a prophet “like” Moses in that He, through His sacrifice for us, is leading us out of exile. He is not like Moses in that He is God and Moses is not. But there are tons of parallels from scripture:

    1. Israel (God’s chosen nation) is in bondage to Egypt, while mankind today (both Jew and Gentile) are in bondage to sin.
    2. A lamb is slain to “save” their household at passover in Egypt, a lamb (Jesus-“behold the lamb of God”) is slain for the forgiveness of our sins before God.
    3. Moses leads the people out of bondage to a mountain where he receives the 10 commandments (think vows of a wedding) where covenant is made (1. Don’t cheat on me, etc), Christ leads us out of sin and specifically started with 12 whom he led to Jerusalem (Mt. Moriah is the highest point where the temple was-where God dwelt, and will dwell again in the future) and proposed a new covenant (with marriage language again where we will have the marriage supper at the end of time when Christ returns) at the Passover supper.
    4. When Israel entered the promised land, Solomon started ammasing for himself wealth, chariots, marrying people who didn’t love God and turned his heart toward other gods, etc…He built an empire much like Egypt and built the temple using slaves! Israel became the taskmasters! God sends them into exile (Babylon, Assyria, Rome) for forsaking the words He gave Moses! He eventually will woo them back through Jesus. We have been delivered (from Egypt/sin) through Christ, but many times become like the empire we left when we live according to the flesh and don’t reflect Christ in our culture. Our sin has consequences that seperate us from God (speaking of loss of fellowship not salvation here)…a sort of exile. Through the Holy Spirit, we are wooed back towards Christ.

    Cool stuff. This is given much better treatment in Rob Bell’s book “Jesus wants to Save Christians”.

    I’d personally caution us to never insert “The Church” into the scriptures where it is clearing referring to “Israel”. However, the New Testament uses the imagery of the exodus to be a precursor to what was fulfilled through Christ, and therefore it has implications on us today. Studying the Exodus of Israel can help us learn lessons for our relationship with God today. We are blessed to have a relationship with God through Jesus, the ‘seed’ promised to Abraham (Gen 15). Through Israel the world is blessed to know Messiah. He has led us out of darkness (oppressive Egypt) and into His marvelous light (His promises fulfilled in Christ).

    • Rufus,

      I think you said much more eloquently than me what I was trying to say. I’m sorry if I implied that the Church is Israel, though we are an extension of it (branch grafted on, and all that). I think we have to be careful distancing ourselves too much, too. That being said, there are of course promises given to Israel that do not apply directly to the Church. Like you allude to, they are often pre-cursors to or types (in the type/anti-type sense, not as versions of) of Christ.

      But, if we are to apply the lessons of Israel to our lives as individual Christians, are we not in some sense applying them to the Church, as the Church is the body of individual Christians? If enough of us, especially leaders, find ourselves in the desert, so to speak, doesn’t that indicate the Church is heading that way? Isn’t it time for a prophet to come out and call the Church back to God? I think of the Reformation, the Great Awakening, etc. as more modern, Church-age examples.

      You’re absolutely right that the Exodus is not a story of the Church, but the Church, like the individuals in it, can find itself in similar situations. I think of the pre-Reformation period.

      At the end, I thank God that He will complete in us the work He has begun. I’m so glad it’s not up to me to get out of the desert, or to stop wandering on my own (see Krentist’s point above). And, I thank God that “He causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

      • Good thoughts.

        As far as your question, “But if we are to apply the lessons of Israel to our lives as individual Christians, are we not in some sense applying them to the Church, as the Church is the body of individual Christians?”

        My response is that too often we try to filter everything through the cross as the central point of God’s story. I like the New Exodus perspective in the sense that God has always been about liberation (“Before the foundation of the world, Christ was slain”). So when you see the order of how God did this, starting with the promise in the Garden to send a “serpent crusher” to save us all, to the Exodus of the Israelites, all the way to the cross for all mankind, it makes more sense. So instead of trying to divide history into pre-cross/post-cross as some sort of dividing line, I would suggest we look at the cross as the ultimate fulfillment of God’s redempting mankind out of exile. He started with a particular people (Israelites) and led them out of a particular location (Egypt, Assyria, Babylon).

        But read the prophets and you’ll see that Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, etc started talking about an exodus for all mankind. They start talking about how God is going to dwell in a temple big enough for the whole world to worship God in (Ezekiel 43:10; Isaiah 66:20; 2:2) Jerusalem won’t have walls (Zechariah 2:4) that all these people will be able to come in. The covenant to Abraham in Gen. 15 is like this when God says through your seed (which is Christ) all the nations will be blessed. “All” is everyone.

        He even talks about Assyria and Egypt-Israel’s mortal enemies-being bonded with Israel in one thing… worship of God (Isaiah 19:19-25). This won’t happen until the end, but its interesting that God sees Egypt as his beloved, and Israel as his inheritance.

        Israel and the church are separate. Some promises are for the nation of Israel alone, but in response to your question, many of the blessings that come from promises to one particular people will be realized by all which includes the church. Remember the church is both Jew and Gentile, so there will be some overlap there. My caution is just to not allow N.T. church language nullify national promises to one particular people God loves and made covenant with…the Jews.

        All that to say, I think we agree. We need prophets to always call us back to that covenant God has made with us and sealed through the sacrifice of Christ. May we be found faithful to do so until his return.

  3. This has been a good discussion. I have to say that I think, as you all have stated, that the Church and Israel are separate. Otherwise we would be delving into covenant theology which some would argue for. I would also have to assert that while promises to exist for Israel as a nation, many of those promises also exist in the believer’s life. For me, it helps to see from a over-arching perspective of God’s Story. Even before Israel existed, redemption was promised and the story was still that of God restoring relationship with humanity. I think we are all in agreement that after God chose Israel to be His own, for the purpose of worship and a testimony to all nations, the purpose of the story continued and culminated in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

    The goal has not changed, God’s restoration of humanity to Himself. He chose to use Israel, then expanded to the church (Gentile included). All of that to say that I don’t believe that Israel and the church can so easily be paired in the Exodus event. There is no doubt that the Exodus was full of pre-Christ “pointers” for lack of a better word. The parallels are endless. The metaphor of the Church needing salvation through a new exodus seems to go a little too far. The story is still God’s but the page has turned. While parallels can always be found because the cycle of sin seems to always remain, I am really interested to see what will the pages will look like in this chapter of God’s story. I hope that makes sense. I haven’t had a lot sleep lately.

  4. Rufus, are you saying that the cross is not the central point or that we too often look through that filter when understanding the Text (Hebrew BIble)?

  5. I apologize for letting the conversation drop. I feel like I walked away from the table, coffee still warm, and never returned. My apologies.

    I probably subscribe to more covenant theology than you do, but I don’t hold to exact parallels, i.e., baptism does not appear to be the continuance of circumcision. That being said, I think dispensationalism goes too far the other way in dividing parts of the Bible to different eras. MacArthur, in his book _Faith_Works_, notes in the appendix some fallacies of dispensationalism (and he even includes himself in that camp!). That’s just background on me, but I think relevant to the discussion.

    With that in mind, I agree with Josh that the Exodus metaphor for the Church seems to be a stretch.

    First, I don’t know what it accomplishes to have that as one’s hermeneutic when interpreting Scripture. Yes, the Exodus did point forward to Christ, as did all of Rufus’s examples (Eve’s promised Deliverer, Abram’s Blessing, etc.). They all are types to the great Anti-Type of Christ. They were to serve as object lessons of what Christ would accomplish. I think Hebrews is probably most helpful to me as the Rosetta stone to decode the Old Testament. It connects that scarlet thread of redemption from Eden to the Cross, and then beyond. The author’s argument for the supremacy of Christ leaves no doubt that He, being the ultimate revelation of God, was the pivotal point in history. Thus, we should interpret the Old Testament through the lens of Christ, rather than the other way around, which is what I fear the Exodus paradigm does. The prophets used the Exodus story to point to Christ because that was the most complete revelation the people had at the time. It was something they should have completely understood and should have proved helpful in their faith in and hope for the promised Messiah.

    Second, one thing I do worry about with Bell’s hermeneutic is the bent toward social justice theology. If we are indeed living in an Exodus paradigm, then it is easy to argue that the Church will be judged for similar things Israel was, namely the oppression of the poor, etc. While that is true that the New Testament is replete with calls to meet the needs of fellow humanity, the meeting of those needs is not to be the focus of the Church. Israel was indeed called to task for not taking care of the poor, but it was a deeper issue. Israel was besmirching the name of God, and Israel was forsaking her relationship with Him, as evidenced by the way she treated the poor. It wasn’t the treatment of the poor, per se, but the root cause of that mistreatment, namely the relationship with God, that God judged. The Church has slipped into the bad theology in that we are truly meeting people’s needs by setting up homeless shelters, delivering clean water, or . Those are valiant goals, no doubt to be admired. However, we forget too easily that the ultimate need of forgiveness is not met with clean water, but with Living Water. Social equality is not our goal as the Church; making disciples of all men is. An interview with Bell (here: http://www.wittenburgdoor.com/interview/rob-bell/) seems to indicate that his concern with the poor is not necessarily their evangelism, but ours. See about 1/4 down the page, he states “it’s not about saving the poor…” The social justice gospel is getting too prevalent, and I think there is some root in this New Exodus paradigm.

    One note of clarification – I’m not saying we shouldn’t concern ourselves with meeting needs; we are definitely called to do that. However, our primary mission is to proclaim the glory of God, making disciples in all nations. We can get all the fresh water in the world to sub-Saharan Africa, but if we don’t take Jesus to the people there, they’re no better off.

    I may be way off on what you’re saying, Rufus. If I am, I sincerely apologize. And, please note that I say all this in Christian love, desiring to glorify God in understanding His Truth. If my discussion is wrong, or offensive in any way, please know that my heart did not intend it to be so. And, please don’t think that I’m suggesting that you’re taking Christ’s atonement out of Christianity. I don’t believe that for a moment. I fully believe our hearts’ desires are the same: to know God, to love God, and to serve God with every part of our beings.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s