“It is a land flowing with milk and honey” Exodus 3 :8
When I was a child I was never that impressed with the idea of the Promised Land being one where milk and honey abounded – primarily because I wasn’t very keen on either of those foodstuffs and indeed I’m still not a huge fan! But even back then I understood the principle that God was assuring His people that He was going to lead them to the most wonderful place that would fulfil all their hopes and dreams, a land where they would thrive and be free, exactly the opposite of the place in which they were confined, Egypt.
For the Israelites, Egypt was their experience of lockdown and then some! They may not have been confined to their homes or unable to see their loved ones but their lives were controlled by their captors and they were not at liberty to leave the country.
Yet when Moses led them out of captivity they remained dissatisfied. In fact at one stage they rebelled and suggested that actually a return to Egypt would be preferable to their long and meandering journey in the wilderness. Definitely a bad case of the grass always being greener on the other side! Now I accept that 40 years is a very long time to be itinerant. It makes the 100+ days that we have spent living under lockdown restrictions look like a mere drop in the ocean.
Forty years gives a lot of space to build up a picture of what a new life in a new place might look like. In that time all sorts of expectations would have built up in the minds of the people. Other than those times when everyone got thoroughly fed up with the wilderness wandering, the Israelites remained a people of hope as they strived to reach the land that God had promised them.
But as they emerged from their wilderness wanderings they found that life in the promised land was not quite as blissful as they may have imagined. For a start there was already a bunch of people in residence, who were none too keen at being ousted from the land they considered their home. But perhaps more importantly the Israelites needed to establish a way of being God’s people, of building a community with God at it’s very core and it turned out this was no easy task.
For some people lockdown has been a time in the wilderness when they have felt isolated and lonely, worried about how they would provide the basic necessities, food, a roof over their heads, lamenting not only the loss of significant occasions when they would have gathered to celebrate with others, but the loss of those loves ones with whom they would have celebrated.
And now, with the gradual lifting of lockdown, our promised land is within sight, we are within touching distance of all those aspects of life that we have missed so much. Just like the Israelites, we are exhausted and frustrated by the lack of clarity about what we’re actually aiming for, of what a post lockdown world will be like.
There is a danger that we will rush towards these new freedoms without thought for the longer term repercussions, without considering the need to build a sustainable future in order that we might safeguard as far as possible any return to lockdown, necessitated by reckless behaviour.
The other day I found myself almost missing the days of complete lockdown, when our movements were restricted and life seemed simpler and slower. I was nostalgic for the lack of traffic noise from my window and the almost comforting lack of choice that lockdown forced upon us. And then I realised that it was within my gift not to return to the frenetic activity of the pre-pandemic world. It was up to me whether I chose to model a life of purposeful doing and intentional being.
The forty years the Israelites spent in the desert provided them with ample time to think deeply about how to shape a society that respected all people and gave glory to God. Lockdown has given us that same opportunity. We can continue to live fast paced, stressful lives or we can stop, take stock and focus on what is really important.
We need to be aware that while God is faithful to His promises to protect us, we need to be equally faithful to Him, to honour Him and give Him the glory for all that we are and have.
A post-covid world may feel like the promised land but it can only become that if we are faithful to our promise to proclaim the Gospel and commit ourselves to building the kingdom in this place.
There are no easy or quick solutions to establishing a new rhythm of life but God will sustain us in this if we trust in His goodness and are obedient to His word
“This is my command – be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” Joshua 1:9