I wanted to share a few things God has been talking to me about over the past couple of weeks, which now seems very timely. I shared some of this with leaders in our organization back on March 12th, because it seems like a relevant message for all of us. But the Lord has continued to progressively reveal additional things, like He tends to do. We wanted to share this more widely, because it seems like something many of us may need to hear in this season. I know I certainly did!
I’ve been reading the Tanakh lately, which is how orthodox Jews refer to what we Christians call the Old Testament. The version I’m reading is the New Jewish Publication Society translation, which is an entirely original English translation from the Masoretic (the traditional Hebrew) text. It honestly isn’t vastly different from Christian translations of the Old Testament, but it does keep some of the original wording or the use of footnotes to add context to the underlying text, which can add depth. I’ve noticed when I read scripture in different translations it can often bring fresh revelation or new insight. Sometimes I’ll be reading, and I think, “What?! I’ve never read that before! Is that even in my ‘normal’ Bible?” Then I’ll flip in my NIV or ESV translation and often find it says the same exact thing – but it just felt new for some reason. So, I’m not reading the Tanakh because I think it contains some mystery traditional Christian scripture missed, but I simply enjoy reading different translations to hear God’s word with fresh ears.
In my quiet time earlier this month, I was reading through Exodus and came to chapter 14. That is after the plagues in Egypt, and Pharaoh has finally allowed the Israelites to leave – but then he has a change of heart and goes after them in the desert with his army. When the Israelites see the Egyptian army pursuing them, they panic! Of course, we all know the rest of the story, so it’s easy for us to be critical of the Israelites lack of faith … but if I’m completely honest, I’d be terrified too if I were in their shoes. The most powerful army in the world (who they had just looted the chapter before) is bearing down on them, and they are defenseless!
Moses tries to calm the people and tell them to not be afraid. Part of what he says to them is in Exodus 14:14, which is a well-known verse that is usually translated something like “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” (NIV) or “The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” (ESV) But how the New JPS translation said it really struck me: “The Lord will battle for you; you hold your peace!” The King James version says it very similar: “The LORD shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace.”
To me “You hold your peace!” is different than being still or silent. I see how they’re similar, but it’s not like Moses is telling the people, “You guys just go sit over there and do nothing while God handles this. Don’t worry, you don’t have any real responsibility here.” Instead, Moses gives them a command related to what their role is in the midst of the chaos: “You hold your peace!” It even has an exclamation point as if Moses is imploring them to obey! It is critical for them to comply and do their part. They are to be active participants, not passive. Moses is saying the Lord will do this (battle for you), but here is your role: Hold your peace!
This is an unprecedented season in many ways – one none of us have ever experienced. Sports are canceled, the stock market and oil prices are dropping, universities and schools are closing their doors mid-semester, etc. It’s even hard to find toilet paper on the shelves! The coronavirus and all these other factors have created so much widespread fear and anxiety in people across the world!
It is so easy to get swept up in the anxious, panic, especially with all the news and internet articles. I admit it’s easy for me! But, as believers we must hold onto our peace! I’m not saying we shouldn’t be wise, or that all of those things are wrong or evil … but I do know this: We should have no fear!!! As believers we must hold onto the fact that the Creator of the universe is still in control, even in the midst of uncertainty and chaos. In fact, it’s especially critical that we trust God in the midst of so much uncertainty! This is a moment for us to show that we’re different, and our faith is more than surface-level. That we don’t just trust God for the answers, but cling to Him because He is The Answer!
The second thing that God showed me in this text is the very next thing God says is “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward.” Let’s stop there. I’ll admit that I was confused when I read that recently. After all, I’m just a home builder – not a theologian. Isn’t crying out to the Lord a good thing? That’s the pattern we see in the life of King David throughout scripture; most often, before David makes a decision scripture tells us he would seek the Lord. But, here is a commentary on Exodus 14:15 from a famous rabbi, known as Rashi:
Wow! As leaders, do we often take too much on our shoulders? While we may justify that as us taking responsibility for others, let’s be honest for a second: Could it sometimes be arrogance? Do we sometimes think too much of ourselves and maybe even try to take the place of The Provider for people? Wow, that is convicting! While that is likely not always the case, maybe a good question to ask ourselves is, “Did God ask me to pick that up and bear the burden of it – or to trust Him with that?” If your shoulders are tight after a crazy week like this, like mine are, could that be because we need to rely on the Lord more and less on our own wisdom, strength, and understanding?
That brings me to the last (or at least the most recent) thing that I feel like God has shown me in this story. Let’s read what happened next:
So, the angel of God had been leading Israel from the front, like good leaders do, right? But, as the Egyptian army approached the “cloud shifted from in front of them and took up a place behind them, and it came between the army of the Egyptians and the army of Israel.”
I may have read this story 50+ times, and I always thought the cloud moving between the Israelites and the Egyptians was a strategic move by God to slow the Egyptian advance and protect the Israelites while He parted the sea. While that may be the case, could it also have been out of mercy for Israel?
Let’s think about this: If the Israelites’ role is to hold their peace, would they be able to do that if they all turned and constantly stared at the Egyptian army and fixated on the chariots and swords? God could have protected them supernaturally in a number of ways, but what if the cloud didn’t go between them just to hide the Israelites from the Egyptians, but also to hide the Egyptians from the Israelites so they could hold onto their peace and fulfill their role in this situation?
But let’s be honest, that sounds easier than it is. Do you find it difficult to hold onto your peace this week? Is that because we’re fixating on the chariots and swords more than you should? What are we focusing on? Are we constantly watching the news and hitting refresh on our phone to see what the latest is on the coronavirus or stock market or oil prices? While I’m not suggesting we stick our heads in the sand, and it’s important for us to be up to date on the latest recommendations – we can all go overboard, can’t we? Sometimes we feel that if we just understood the situation better, we’d be back in control. Might that be keeping us from being able to hold our peace and having no fear like God is asking us to?
Last week, my sister told me about a new coronavirus app that notifies you of the latest stats on the outbreak and provides real-time maps and charts. One of her friend’s watches it constantly and was continually texting her updates. While that wasn’t intentionally malicious, the Lord is not pleased with that! The Lord asks us as believers to not be anxious and rest in Him. He certainly doesn’t want us to spread and cultivate fear in others. Quite the opposite! As I was literally writing this article, a friend of mine texted me out of the blue and shared this quote from his devotional this morning:
“Our response in the wake of danger or uncertainty isn’t to ignore pain, but to draw people to God’s peace.”
As believers, we have a specific role in this season. It’s similar to Moses in Exodus 14. It’s being the voice of someone calming the people around them, reminding them of God’s faithfulness, and then showing them what it looks like to hold onto God’s peace in the midst of chaos and uncertainty. It’s not about pretending we have a plan or we know how all of this is going to shake out. We don’t – but God does! He is still on the throne with His feet up! None of this has taken Him by surprise.
Finally, I’d encourage you guys to watch for what God is doing around you. I’ve already seen multiple ways that God is moving, uniting people, and drawing people closer to Him. Often crisis can be the thing that draws people to the end of themselves, and they meet God face-to-face. So, we pray for that! We pray for the Spirit to break out across the world, and for a massive, global revival to emerge from the pandemic! We know the Lord is at work, and we trust Him – even when we can’t see it or don’t understand it. We choose today to put our hope and faith in Him! We choose today to carry His peace. We choose to lift our eyes and watch expectantly to see Him move, because we know He will!
I’d encourage you guys to find some quiet time and read through this part of the Exodus story. The Lord has used it to encourage me, and I pray that he’ll do the same for you.