“Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 8:2-3)
Guidance is a big topic, but we can make it harder than it needs to be. Frankly, with some weeding and some weedwacking—sorry, weed trimming since Weedwacker® now appears to be a registered trademark—we can remove a lot of stuff we don’t need. So you can go fire up the grill in the meantime. Medium rare is fine.
It goes without saying. So why did you say it?
About the time I started blogging, there was an outbreak of strange behavior in some churches that started with contagious congregation-wide laughter and moved on to persons making animal noises, flopping around on the carpet like a fish (possibly the origin of the phrase holy mackerel), and so on.
Like a moth to a lightbulb, one blogger affiliated with a prominent ministry went on a reconnaissance mission to investigate. He wrote up his report with the requisite scriptural evidence that this was not of God.
You don’t say? So I guess I need to go back and mark the email from the Flop Like a Fish Fellowship as Spam. Got it.
“Who is blind but my servant,
and deaf like the messenger I send?
Who is blind like the one in covenant with me,
blind like the servant of the Lord?
You have seen many things, but you pay no attention;
your ears are open, but you do not listen” (Isa 42:19-20).
To answer the prophet’s question: it’s a tossup between the investigated and investigator. What possesses—and I realize the word is fraught with sinister connotations—a person to think that making animal noises is, what, edifying, like the barking dog telegraph in 101 Dalmatians?
But what possesses someone to warn others off from this foolishness? Is it taking yourself a little too seriously, is it vanity or a conceited sense of your own importance? In any event, pride (even with a degree) goes before a fall. Clunk. And watch out for the guy scratching himself like a spaniel.
The last place I lived in Maryland was a five-minute walk from one of the local high schools. Every spring, a couple of weeks before graduation weekend, the local MADD chapter and the Wicomico County Sheriff’s Department parked a wreck right at the entrance to the school parking lot. They didn’t want students to drink and drive, and one tangled mass of steel and gaping holes where windows used to be was the all the message they needed to publish.
God has parked wrecks everywhere that we can’t miss, and for the same reason. Do what they did and this will happen. Enough said.
Getting there is half the fun. The other half is about transformation.
There still seem to be differences of opinion about the route of the exodus. I’m not a scholar on that, but I know forty years is a long time by any route, longer than it should have taken.
But why? Are we to suppose that the God who made the earth forgot to download the latest update from Google Maps? Clearly, when Shortest Route and No Tolls or their ancient equivalent were available, there’s another reason for the slow and fitful progress.
The verses at the top of the post reveal some of the reasons. The how of God’s guidance, in terms of means, were the pillars of cloud and fire that were unmistakable. But the how also means the underlying purpose of the entire exodus: to make a people used to Egyptian slavery into a people who could reach, take and live in the land of promise. As Jesus later described it, new wine requires new wineskins.
And that meant doing things that usually aren’t on anyone’s itinerary: humbled them; tested them to find out how they really felt about being the people of God; caused them to hunger (he could have rained edible fowl on them anytime, something that later happened); then fed them with something that was completely unknown to them; used all of this to teach them that living “on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” is no less important than the bread you need to survive physically.
If any of those italicized verbs are ringing in your ears, welcome to the kingdom of heaven. It’s a privilege that requires not just emigrating spiritually to a different kingdom but being transformed to receive it, understand it and bear fruit in it.
And have you ever wondered why the two pillars disappeared at the end of the wilderness? Unmistakable external guidance, vital in getting from one kingdom to the other when everything was literally uncharted territory, was internalized after learning the ways of God in transit and receiving the law.
It’s like learning a new skill: First it’s slow and deliberate and maybe someone has to talk you through it a couple of times, step-by-step. Then you start to pick it up, and eventually you do it without even thinking about it. It’s become second nature. New wine, new wineskin.