As God’s people, the Israelites, were finally about to enter the Promised Land after years of wandering in the desert, God reiterated a warning he made shortly after they had first fled from Egypt a generation earlier: once you’re settled in your new land, you must not forget your history. Remember that you(or your ancestors) were foreigners in Egypt, mistreated by Pharaoh, and that it was my grace—not merely your own efforts—that brought you from that place of desperation to where you are now, to this land “flowing with milk and honey.” Because, if you do forget, you may turn to the foreigners who seek refuge in your new land and treat them just as terribly as Pharaoh treated you.
How many of us have stories in our families that are similar? In the United States, for example, nearly everyone can trace their lineage back to somewhere else, whether those ancestors came on the Mayflower or a slave ship, through Ellis Island in New York Harbor, across a border, or through an airport. Most Americans have at least a basic awareness of their ancestral origins, often maintaining some cultural traditions or family recipes.
Too often, though, we’ve forgotten precisely what God warned the Israelites not to forget: the challenges and mistreatment that many newly arrived immigrants faced, such as the “No Irish Need Apply” signs of the mid-19thcentury. Most are likely unaware of the violence and legalized discrimination against Chinese immigrants that culminated in the federal Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, legally prohibiting all Chinese immigrants for more than a half century. We tend to forget the resentment faced by the Southern and Eastern European refugees and other immigrants who came in through Ellis Island around the turn of the 20th century, or Benjamin Franklin’s incredulity that the Germans arriving in colonial Pennsylvania could ever assimilate.
The lesson of the Israelites is to remember our history—not so that we can treat those who come after us just as badly as our ancestors were treated, but so that we can do better, responding with the love and welcome with which we would want to be received.
1. Are there refugees or other immigrants in your family history? Do you know what their experience was as newcomers?
2. How might remembering your family history inform how you respond to those arriving as newcomers today?
God being jealous is an image difficult to imagine. Don’t we get jealous when our best friend is spending time with somebody else when they should be spending time with us? Now, God created us in His image to have a relationship with Him. He is waiting for us to spend time with Him. Doesn’t He have the right to be jealous for our attention? God wants us to give Him first place in our thoughts and actions willingly and joyfully.
Closely associated with being jealous is being zealous, which shows the attitude of our heart. God is zealous about us. I have realized that it is not a matter of right or wrong but it’s a matter of our heart being zealous for the Lord. Our zeal for the Lord helps us to grow closer to Him and to get to know Him more intimately. Once we start knowing God, we want to please Him and avoid doing the things He doesn’t like which automatically means we are obeying Him.
As humans we all have some zeal – It can be to please ourselves, our family, our friends, to become famous or to pursue our own goals. God is jealous about that zeal. God has the best planned for us and He just wants us to partner with him.
As a parent I get angry when my son does not obey me. Yes, sometimes it’s the human anger which is caused because I can’t control my emotions. There are times I am angry because he fails to trust what I am telling him, as the situation is beyond his understanding.
There are times I punish him because I want him to learn a lesson. As a child my son can learn to trust me or he can move away from me and start doing things behind my back. Being a parent I am able to understand a lot of instructions my parents gave me as a child which I questioned as a child.
There is a joy as a parent when we know our children trust us and they know in their heart that we wish them well however annoying and irritating we may be. This is the same joy God wants with us. Let our misplaced zeal not arouse God’s jealousy.
“Why did God allow it to happen?” This question seeks to probe the remote or ultimate purpose. The question assumes something crucial to our understanding of God. It assumes that God could have prevented the thing that happened. If we deny this verity, we deny the very character of God. If God could not have prevented it, He would no longer be God. By asking why, we also assume something else that is vital. We assume there is an answer to the question. We assume that God had a reason or a purpose for the thing that occurred.
The question remains—”Was God’s reason or purpose a good one?” To ask the question is to answer it—if we know anything about God. We err in our reason. We establish futile goals. We rush off on fools’ errands. We pursue sinful ends. Let us not project the same kind of vicious intentionality of God.
The only purpose or intention God ever has is altogether good. When the Bible speaks of the sovereign exercise of the pleasure of His will, there is no hint of arbitrariness or wicked intent. The pleasure of His will is always the good pleasure of His will. His pleasure is always good, His will is always good, and His intentions are always good.
It is often said that life consists of a series of highs and lows, times of enjoyment and promise mixed with seasons of challenge and doubt. Life is not just a steady climb to the top; rather it is a journey that consists of hills and valleys. Everyone, believers and non-believers alike, goes through life’s ups and downs.
But as Christians, we have an incredible promise from God that we never have to face the valleys in life alone. Here are His encouraging words to us:
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6
The truth is that we need God’s presence in both seasons of challenge and seasons of success. By knowing God is with us, we can face each challenge in life as a stepping-stone toward success rather than a decline toward despair.
No mountain is too high nor valley too low where God cannot meet us. No matter our circumstances, God is faithful, and He’s always with us!