On the plains of Moab by the Jordan River across from Jericho, the Lord spoke to Moses. He said, "Speak to the Israelites and tell them, 'When you cross the Jordan River and go into Canaan, force out all the people who live there. Destroy all of their carved statues and metal idols. Wreck all of their places of worship. Take over the land and settle there, because I have given this land to you to own. Throw lots to divide up the land by family groups, giving larger portions to larger family groups and smaller portions to smaller family groups. The land will be given as the lots decide; each tribe will get its own land. But if you don't force those people out of the land, they will bring you trouble. They will be like sharp hooks in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will bring trouble to the land where you live. Then I will punish you as I had planned to punish them.'" (Numbers 33:50-56, NCV)
On several occasions in my life, I've had difficulty with my eyes. I've worn corrective lenses since I was twelve (and needed them longer than that). Eventually, when I could pay my own way, I ended up in contact lenses as so many young people do. That all went along fine for years until I developed an irritation on the inside of the eyelid that forced me to toss the contacts and go back to wearing glasses. Except for when playing softball, having "something in my eye" was very uncomfortable for me.
More recently, when we moved into our North Carolina house, we thought we'd take the opportunity to be eco-friendly and place a rain barrel under one of the downspouts. I installed it easily enough, but later that evening, my eyes began to water and feel sharp pain. I flushed them out as best I could, but it took me a while to realize what was wrong. This time, the "something in my eye" was the residue from the peppers or salsa or whatever had occupied that rain barrel before I purchased and installed it. The pain in both of these cases went away, but the memory of the discomfort lives on.
Listening to the book of Numbers recently, the thought of "something in my eye" came readily to mind when I considered the passage above. Unlike the unilateral covenant discussed in a previous post, God is requiring something specific of the Israelites as they are preparing to enter the Promised Land. He is telling them, for their own good, to completely drive out the current inhabitants, tear down their pagan systems of worship, and completely possess the land as their own. They have been camping long enough, and it's time to finally settle permanently.
The warning here is pretty pointed - fail to do what God says, and you will end up with "something in your eye" that you won't be able to flush out and a thorn in your side that will devil you for your entire life. You will still live in the land, but you will know trouble the likes of which you cannot begin to imagine. Sadly, we've heard the end of the story since we had our first flannel graph lesson in Sunday School (if you have no idea what that means, go ask your parents). They found the work too hard to do completely, and they ended up with a LOT of "something in their eye" as a result.
All of this time, God would have come to their aid, flushed out their eyes, and yanked the thorns out of their sides. That is the exact kind of God we read about ... but it seems like we have a hard time experiencing Him in that degree of love and fullness. Somehow, we've duped ourselves into thinking that we've sunk a bit too far and have to correct our issues on our own before coming back to Him. Or, like the Israelites, we've attempted it all in our own strength because we've subscribed to the warped belief system that "God expects us to do the work and do it well." Nothing could be farther from the truth, at least in the Bible I read and with the God I've come to know.
Sure, He realizes we will miss the mark ... but He already made provision for that in Jesus Christ. He wants us to come in our frailty ... He absolutely LOVES it when we admit we can't do things in our own weakness. His command may seem stern (as I'm sure this one did to Israel), but He has promised us over and over that His burden is light and He will never leave us. That's the essence of the unilateral covenant in Christ.
So, as I travel my Crooked Path, I can actually take heart in knowing that anytime I get "something in my eye", I can run to my Father and He has already promised to take care of it. He still may correct me, but that is always out of love and His desire to deepen our relationship. Besides, the road will always seem clearer if my eyes don't hurt.
- Does God's command to Israel seem a little harsh to you? Do you have difficulty reconciling a loving God to the command he gave them to "drive them out"?
- Are you still feeling like God "expects" you to deal with your problems before you come back to Him? Does that way of thinking make you weary, sad, or even angry?
- Are you ready to accept His gracious offer to get that "something" out of your eye so that you can live a more joyful life and deepen your relationship? Do you hear His heart beating for you to draw closer?