They say the “only way to move cattle fast, is slow.” When working with an animal who’s IQ is abysmally low, their fight/flight instinct is virtually indistinguishable, and a stubborn streak is readily observed, there really is nothing that goes quickly. I have seen them break for open ground, stand still and refuse to move, or turn around and run over anything that moves. They run through fences, run over feed bunks, but will balk at water in a ditch. Cattle, not unlike middle school students, can ruin the best-laid-plans.
Patience is a virtue when it comes to ranching. It takes years to accumulate the land, the cattle, the equipment, and the know how. The cold winter, the wet and muddy calving season, and the sweat spilling summer was spent getting ready for one fall pay-day. There are few quick solutions in ranching. It is a patience building profession. The nation of Israel found themselves in the patience building phase of their journey at the end of Exodus 24.
When it comes to chronology, there are two main types of stories in the Bible and each communicates a different message about God and His people. The first type of story is probably more well known and it takes place over three days. John Ortberg, in his book Faith and Doubt, calls these microwave stories. Microwaves make quick work of everything. Cold cups of coffee become warm in 15 seconds; leftover pizza in 30. On a cold morning, socks get warmed up in 10 seconds before being put on…like you guys don’t do it! The microwave works quicker than a dryer.
Three-day-microwave stories put the character and activity of God at the front and center. They are stories of “crisis and urgency”.1 Desperate circumstances surround the microwave stories. It was three days after the Israelites were deceived by the Gibeonites, when they realized their mistake (Joshua 9.16). It was three days that the people had to prepare to enter the promised land (Joshua 1.11) and three days the spies hid after meeting Rahab (Joshua 2.16). When David has sinned against the Lord (2 Sam. 24.10), as a consequence, the Lord offered up three options: “Three years of famine…three months of fleeing…or three days of plague?” (2 Samuel 24.13) David, in his own words, describes the situation as “deeply distressful” [sara] (2 Samuel 24.14) a word reserved for the most dire of circumstances. There is also the three days Nehemiah waited in Jerusalem before checking the wall (Neh. 2.11); the three days to confess sin to Ezra (Ezra 10.9); and the three days Jonah was fish food (Jonah 1.17). Of course, the most famous three day story, Jesus resurrection account. Where the words “on the third day” took on a fuller meaning. Three-day-microwave stories point to a need for God to do something, a need for Him to show up, a need for his action. Moses experienced a three-day story when the Lord gave a three-day heads-up before the fireworks of his arrival on Sinai (Ex. 19.15). Moses knew what a three-day story looked like.
But in Exodus 24 another type of story emerges. The 40-day (or year) story, which Ortberg calls a Crockpot story, is one of patience and perseverance. It is a sit-around-and-wait story where people are tried and tested. Crockpot meals set all day and simmer. They take a while to heat up. These are the stories the take time to develop, but develop the people they involve. Jesus began his ministry with a 40 day fast in the desert (Matt 4.2) and he ended his time on earth with 40 days before his ascension (Acts 1.3). Noah and his family waited through 40 day/night rain on the earth. Through tense and tumultuous seas, Noah and his family waited in the ark. (Gen 7.12) For 40 days Goliath defied the armies of the Living God (1 Sam 17.16); Elijah hid from Jezebel on Mount Horeb for 40 days and nights (2 Kings 19.8); and Ezekiel slept on his side for 40 days (Ezekiel 4.6). Moses would become very familiar with the Crockpot story. The spies would be in the Promised Land for forty days (Numbers 13.25) and when they brought back a bad report and the people were unfaithful, they would wander in the desert for 40 years (Numbers 14.34). Even Moses life was a testament to perseverance and Crock-pots. He was in Egypt 40 years learning leadership from the most advanced civilization of its day. Then he spent 40 years in the desert chasing sheep, un-learning his Egyptian ways and learning God’s way of leadership. Finally, he would spend 40 years leading the people in the desert.
In Exodus 24 the Crockpot story was for the whole nation of Israel. Moses and Joshua headed up the mountain to meet with God. They left Aaron and Hur to lead the people (Ex 24.13) Moses stayed on the Mountain for 40 days and nights (Ex. 24.18). For the next 7 chapters, Moses is on top of the Mountain hearing from God and writing things down. Aaron, Hur, and the people are partying down below. In the “have patience-Crockpot story” the people couldn’t wait and became corrupt (Ex 32.7) Because they “didn’t know what happened to him” (Ex 32.1), they made for themselves an idol. So what are we to make of this story? The forty days of waiting?
Forty days is a long time to wait…to learn. Our forty-day terms can be a wait for a diagnosis, a period of unemployment or under-employment, a rebellious child, an extended disagreement with a spouse. God shouts in the three-day stories, but he whispers in the 40. God is always on a mission to reach us, speak to us, teach and lead us. For 40 days, he sought to teach patience to Israel. Are we learning in the Crockpot? What are we learning in the slowness and the still?
1 Ortberg, John. Faith & Doubt (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 2008) 91.