Songs for the Road

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Chris Ledoux,’73 World Champion Bareback Rider

“The competition’s getting younger
Tougher broncs, you know I can’t recall
The worn out tape of Chris LeDoux, lonely women and bad booze
Seem to be the only friends I’ve left at all” — Garth Brooks, Much too Young

Songs for the road can be hard to come by. Chris Ledoux or King George are a safe bet. My favorite is Casey Donahew or The Brady Wilson Band. Between me, you and a fence post, Kelly Clarkson and Casadee Pope might make an appearance on my play list. Since King David preceded Chris Ledoux by a few years, and tape players, contrary to what many middle school students believe, were still a ways off, he was forced to write his own Songs for the Road.

Of the 14 Psalm titles that give contextual background, 6 of them are found in what I call “the fugitive narrative”. David is on the run from King Saul. He has finally convinced Jonathan that Saul wants him dead and then takes off. Like the “Rodeo Drifter” that Ledoux was, David writes his own songs about life as an outlaw.

Track 1: “The Ride”

“In God I trust; I will not be afraid; what can mortal man do to me?” (Ps. 56) goes the refrain of Psalm 56. David is in Gath, alone (1 Samuel 21.10-15). This is Philistine country, the birthplace of Goliath, and home of the sworn enemies of Israel. The songs of his triumphs have reached the ears of the Philistines as well. David was afraid [hb. yare’] of the King and what would he was capable of, so he pretended to be insane, drooling all over himself and coloring on the walls. While doing so, he wrote the song that is Psalm 56, where 3 times fear is brought up [hb. yare’]. In 3 instances, David sings that trust [hb. batach] will replace his fear. (v. 3, 4, 11) Specifically, David is trusting in the word [hb. dabar] of the Lord. While surrounded by enemies, in a foreign land, the only comfort David can find is in a song about trusting God’s word.

Track 2: “Photo Finish”

David probably thought sleeping in a cave was a thing of the past. Back when he was a shepherd boy it was ritual, but now he was the anointed King. This is where men on the run find themselves, in the dark recesses of the rocks. The prophet would later call it a “stronghold”, which that it was. It was a safe place, but he still felt vulnerable. Sleeping on cold stone will do that too you. But word had spread that he was hiding in the cave of Adullam (1 Sam 22.1-5) so at least he wasn’t alone now. Four hundred had gathered around him. The distressed, indebted, and discontent, flocked to him looking for a leader. There in the paradoxical-vulnerable-stronghold, David would start his song talking of refuge (Psalm 57.1) Refuge [hb. hasah] is spoken of in scripture as being found in 4 places: under trees (Jud. 9.15) and behind God’s shield (2 Sam 22.3, Ps.18.30). The other two are in rocks (Dt. 32.37; Ps. 18.2) and under the protective wings of God (Ruth 2.12). David, here, connects a metaphor and reality. While taking refuge in the rocks (1 Sam. 22), he is taking refuge in the shadow of God’s wings (Ps. 57.1). As he praises and sings this refrain repeats: “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth.” (Psalm 57.5, 11) David will remain steadfast and he will continue to praise because of God’s mercy, love, and faithfulness. So God will be glorified all over the earth…even in this cave.

Track 3: “Unrecorded”

Not every song gets a melody. Sometimes the content or message can never be put to music. David just recorded a praise song in the cave, but he left another one dangling in his prayer journal. Psalm 57 was a praise hit, but Psalm 142 is a desperate cry for help. Maybe 142 was a little too heavy to find a melody for, a little too dark for air play. Certainly it didn’t have the upbeat feel that Psalm 57 did. Twice he cries out to the Lord (v. 1, 5). He is still in the cave, still in the refuge of the rocks (5), and crying out to God. Twice he mentions how weary he is (“my spirit grows faint” [3]; “I am in desperate need” [6]) and twice how men are after him (3,6). As he looks around, he wonders if anyone cares for his life or that he is confined to a cave (4,7). People do care…400 to be certain. (1 Samuel 22.2) “Then the righteous will gather about me because of your goodness to me.” (Psalm 142.7) He closes his journal and glances at the darkness descending outside the cave, the stronghold that has become his home.

Track 4: “It Ain’t the Years (it’s the miles).”
Following the advice of the prophet Gad, David took flight to the Judean desert. Moses went there to experience leadership and hear a call (Ex. 3); Elijah to think (1 Kings 19.4); Jesus to be tempted (Mark 4). It was in the desert [hb. midbar] where Israel learned to depend on God (Deut 8.2) for the little things and years later it is where David would meet with God in a song he would compose and record as Psalm 63. It depicts his current position and his physical distress comes out in spiritual language. He “thirsts” and “longs” for his Lord. His life is on the line, yet he desires love (3). Satisfaction never comes in a land that is constantly parched, but here he will be satisfied in God (5). In a land often forgotten, David will remember [zakar] the Lord and in a desert of constant peril, David rests in the “shadow of God’s wings” (6). The jackals of the desert that seek David’s life, will feast one day on the flesh of his seekers (9-10). In the wilderness, David understood that the love of his Lord would outlast this life that he lived. Despite the trials and sufferings that this life held, the love of God would outlast all. David’s been on the run for a while now and time doesn’t seem to be changing his position. It’s been a long road, but he knows the love of God still surrounds him.

Track 5: “Hard Years”
While David resided in the Desert of Judah, in the land of the of Ziphites, Saul was exhausting every means to root him out. The Ziphites did his job for him. They went to Saul and told him where David and his now 600 men were hiding. Saul told the Ziphites to keep a close eye on David (1 Samuel 23.19-23). David was “very crafty” [hb. ‘aram] which is a hebrew term that is seldom used in the Old Testament. It indicates that David has “learned a lesson.” David is not ignorant of Saul and his intentions. He knows what is going down. David pens Psalm 54 as Saul is just over the summit of the mountain. The words he uses show his pain: “vindicate” (1); “help” (4); “sustain” (4); “deliver” (7). But the way he uses them indicate his journey. Hebrew poetry is written in couples. Two lines are in relationship. They either negate one antoher, meaning the second line says the opposite of the first. They can build on each other, meaning the second line completes the first. Or they can compliment one another, meaning the second line says the same as the first. In Psalm 54 he uses the last one over and over. Save me and vindicate me, verse 1. God is my help and the Lord sustains me, verse 4. I will sacrifice and I will praise, verse 6. Delivered me from troubles and looked in triumph, verse 7. This song ends well. Sometimes a victory is all we need to change our tune. Certainly, David understood to whom the victory was attributed.

David’s time of running was complimented with songs. Like Ledoux, he wrote from experience, sometimes with tears staining the scrolls. David’s pain (and his triumph) is best communicated through song. But what came about during this fugitive time was more than just a great cd or soundtrack; this was a time of growth, that David would draw deeply from during his rule. A great song will take you back to an instant and experience so sit back and let the soundtrack communicate the wisdom gained during these years…and be thankful for the tune.
“Sit tall in the Saddle,
Hold your head up high.
Let your eyes fix
Where the trail meets the sky.
And live your life
Like you ain’t afraid to die.
Don’t be scared
And enjoy the ride.” —- Chris Ledoux, “The Ride”

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David’s Bind

DSCN2889The most definitive sound in rodeo can be heard during the Bareback Riding.  If you time it right, just in front of the chutes, amidst the sound of the clanging gates and exhaling broncs, a bareback rider will crack his bind.

A bareback riggin’ is the perfect combination of raw beauty and functionality.  A collection of steel bolts, rawhide, and wood that vaguely resembles a suit case handle that has met far too many customs agents and luggage carousels.  Their glove is rosined up leather that is molded to their hand that is resting upon about 30 layers of athletic tape.  The glove is a perfect match for the hand that animates it and the riggin’ that receives it.  On either side of the palm of the glove, or even on both, can rest two thicker pieces of leather sticking out to ensure that the glove can not be dislodged from the handle.  The rider takes all these pieces and connects them all.  They wedge their gloved hand in, carefully pulling the leather of the glove through to keep it tight and wrinkle free  until the handle sits square across their palm, with the thumb resting alongside it.  Then in one motion, the rider will pull his thumb across the handle and rotate his hand in the riggin’, making a creaking, stretching sound.  The scraping of leather and wood, born of pressure and friction, is un-mistakable.  “Cracking a bind” is the term for this sound.  The bind is what keeps a 140 lbs cowboy connected to a 1200 lbs horse that is trying to separate from him.  When the horse breaks in two, it is the bind that keeps the cowboy and horse one.

“After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself.” (1 Samuel 18.1)

This verse begins the narrative of David and Jonathan; but it begins it with odd vocabulary.  The three words “became one with” in English, translates one Hebrew word “qasar”.  It is the same word that Moses used as he instructed the Hebrews to “tie” the commandments of God to their hands.  Rahab needs to “tie” a scarlet cord in her window to be saved from the collapse of Jericho and Jeremiah had to “tie” a rock to a scroll that he threw into the river.  Three times in Proverbs this word is actually translated in the NIV as “bind” (Prov. 3.3; 7.3; 22.15).  Jonathan was bound to David…which is the perfect image of what their relationship would look like.   God had bound these two together, at the perfect time, to help David survive some of the worst moments of his life.  Do you have someone you’re chained too?  Someone who says “no matter what, we are in this together?”  The easiest way to tell is by looking at the next few chapters.

prayerDavid and Jonathan were tied together through covenant. (1 Samuel 18.3-4)Much of life is based in a relationship that we would call: contract.  I specify my demands and my desires in order for me to arrive at the deal that is in my best interest.  Think of sports and the contracts involved there.  Friendship (and marriage as well) is founded in a relationship called covenant.  Covenants are entered for the betterment of the other party and unlike contracts, have no expiration date.  Jonathan understood that his relationship with David would bring him very little in return.  Jonathan was the next in line to be King, but his allegiance to David would mean the throne would never be his.  So they made a covenant.  When a covenant is made there is usually a sign or action that accompanies it.  “Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt.” (18.4)  He renounces his identity as the next King as a sign of the covenant that he made with David.  It reminds me of the story in Mark 2, where 4 men dug through a roof to get their paralyzed friend to Jesus.  What’s in it for them?  What do they have to gain?   In contract, we gain; in covenant, we give.  Who are you chained too right now that you would give anything for?

me seth and lucasDavid and Jonathan were tied together through battle (1 Samuel 19.4) When David needed a brother to fight alongside him and fight for him, he had Jonathan.  Saul had tried twice to kill David already.  Once by his own hand (1 Sam. 18.10-11) and another time by using the Philistines by sending David on an apparent suicide mission (1 Sam 18.24-25).  The only one who had a chance to change the mind of Saul was Jonathan.  Jonathan had already seen the relationships of Saul crumble.  There is nothing to say that Saul wouldn’t do to Jonathan what he had already tried to do to David.  Still, Jonathan stood up and “spoke well of David to Saul his father and said to him, ‘Let not the king do wrong to his servant David; he has not wronged you, and what he has done has benefited you greatly.’” (1 Sam 19.4)  Men of God need others to stand and fight with them and if this verse doesn’t convince you of that, look at these passages from Paul’s last letter, 2 Timothy, and draw your own conclusions:

  • “You know everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes. May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me.” (2 Tim 1.15-18)
  • “Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me.  Get Mark and bring him with you…” (2 Tim 4.9-13)
  • “At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me…” (2 Tim 4.16)

In the midst of a fight, do you people who’d step in?  My two favorite bullfighting pictures don’t have bulls in them.  One is of Daniel and I praying at Burlington and the other is Seth, Lucas, and I in front of the chutes in Nevada.  These are men that when the situation gets the worst, they are at their best.

David and Jonathan were tied together through service (1 Samuel 20.4) David needed information.  He knew Saul was out to get him.  He also knew that Jonathan had stood up to his father about him before.  But a second spear dodging event, has led David and Jonathan’s relationship down a pretty dark road.  Jonathan alone would be able to ascertain the information about Saul’s true intentions with David.  Jonathan promised David: “Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do it for you.” (1 Samuel 20.4)  David asked Jonathan to get the scoop from the palace.  In doing so, Saul tried to kill Jonathan as well (1 Sam. 20.33).  Still, Jonathan passed the message along to David.  There is nothing that Jonathan would not do to serve David.

Despite the Godly friendship that was displayed throughout their time together, friendships do evolve over time.  When David fled, Jonathan remained.  “The Lord was a witness” to their friendship, (that is covenant talk) even as they went their separate ways: David towards the wilderness and Jonathan back to the city (1 Sam. 20.42) This is the last recorded interaction between them.  Upon hearing of Jonathan’s death, David mourned his good friend (2 Samuel 1.17-27).  True friendship, even death cannot separate.  It can interrupt, put off, or suspend, but many of us have lost friends who despite their absence here on earth, are still very present in our friendship.  The chain of friendship is vital to God’s process of turning us into men after His heart.

Happy Mother’s Day

For most the mothers around here

The day will come with accolades

She’ll get a carnation, dinner in bed

And adoration through the day

But there’s a group of mom’s out there

Who’s day will go differently

They’ll feed the horses, check the stock

And go on with the routine

Breakfast in bed’s an after thought

When in a 3 horse slant she’s fed

But the gesture loses a bit of grandeur

When you can see the stove from bed

A romantic night out or getaway

is probably not in store

cause all the families needed

to water and to chore

She’s celebrating her day

In a town she probably can’t name

Towns with rodoe’s

Are kind of funny that-a-way

So unless the Casey’s

Has got a hallmark aisle

Or the kwik trip or conoco

Has updated their mothers day file

So her day will probably be void

Of the little charms other moms get

Flowers, candies, chocolates,

Gifts that haven’t been bought yet.

But without complaint or negative word

She cheers on her kids, pen in hand

Documenting every run and ride

From her perch within the stands.

She is the forgotten hero

As her kids pursue western dreams

Dad connects behind the chutes

Mom feels like shes in the wings.

But she would never utter a word

About the rodeo life she lives

Because her kids and family

Is part of who she is.

On Mother’s day, thousands and tens of thousands of Mom’s will wake up in a trailer or motel room, surrounded by their families. Instead of breakfast in bed, a carnation on her collar, or a day at the spa, she will haul gear bags and tack to little areans in unnamed towns because that is where here kids are competing, be it rodeo, cowboy racing, or horse shows. She will wake up in small towns like Oswego, Kansas; Marshalltown, Iowa; Spanish Fork, Utah; or Mineral Wells, Texas. All of these places are not famous for their Mother’s day celebrations. But without complaint, they will rise, help their son’s with their gear, saddle their daughters barrel/goat/pole horses, and without complaint serve their families and their kids. I have been involved with youth rodeo for the last 7 years and have never once heard a mom say, “I would rather be…” or “I wish I was…”. Ranch Mom’s, Rodoe Mom’s, and Western Mom’s know what they are in for and they sacrifice more than others. This is a thanks to them and all they do. Happy mothers day.

God’s Greasepaint

Not all Bullfighters get their facepaint put on by girls...just the ones with game!
Not all Bullfighters get their facepaint put on by girls…just the ones with game!

On a rodeo weekend it is not uncommon for me to take a little while to do my make up.  Recently, I added blue, because that is what William Wallace did.  Now it takes forever…it’s a reversal of commonly-sterotyped roles.  She is waiting patiently for me to finish putting on my make-up from my One Direction bag.  Should the baby powder smudge my face paint…might as well cancel the dinner plans.

I put on face paint for fun, where as others have put it on for much more serious purposes.  Face paint was utililized as far back as the Neanderthal civilizations as camoflage for hunting and in battle.  The Neanderthals invented it, but William Wallace made it famous.  It is pretty obvious God had His face paint on in the book of Exodus.

The picture of God as a Warrior (also called the Divine Warrior motif) has been traced throughout the Old Testament and even into the New.  It is an often overlooked aspect of the Lord’s character.  Many embrace the “God is love” (1 John 4.8); “God is light” (1 John 1.5); “God is merciful” (Deut 4.31); “God is gracious” (Psalm 116), idea of God.  Even within the book of Exodus, in the great revelation of God’s character, which will be unpacked at a later date, God is described as:

“the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaing love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.  Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished…” (Exodus 34.6)

The self-disclosure of God ends with the punishing of the guilty, something which most everyone can agree with and by doing so will embrace “God is just” (2 Thes. 1.6)…but that is about as far as most feel comfortable to go.  The theme of Divine Warrior, especially as portrayed in the prophets, but founded in Exodus, is a motif that reveals a side of God that doesn’t fit nicely into preconceived notions of a loving and compassionate deity.

The Lord is certainly a warrior (Exodus 15.3), to quote Moses and the Israelites.  He even has a book about His battles: the Book of the Wars of the Lord (Num. 21.14).  He gained the reputation with the way He dispatched of the best of the most powerful army on Earth.  All of chariots of the war machine of Egypt, destroyed with the power of the The Warrior Lord’s right hand and the breath of His nostrils. (Exodus 15.6-8)  The people honored Him with song; the Israelite version of “the Wabash Cannon Ball”; “Roll Tide” or “Rocky Top”.

Before the Battle at the Sea, there was an arm wrestling match between the Lord and Pharaoh that ended with a striking of Biblical proportions.  God struck down the firstborn of all those without the blood on their door frames on the Night of the Passover.  The word for struck, nagap, is used 49 times in the Old Testament.  Only 16 times is the word used to denote a plague or attack on a single person.  Every other time it is a word for battle, the defeat of an enemy.  The Passover was not just a plague, but the routing of an enemy.

After the Battle at the Sea, as Israel marched toward Sinai, the Amalekites attacked the rear of the Israelite parade. (Exodus 17.8ff)  Moses chose Joshua to take the best men into battle.  He stood above on a hill, raising his staff (God and Moses’ finishing move), and helped the army of Israel defeat the Amalekites.  As mentioned earlier, when God beat Egypt at the Red Sea, Israel responded in song.  In this instance, Moses responded by building an altar.  The pile of stones he named: “The Lord is my Banner”.  Jehovah Nissi.  The banner is mostly used in Scripture as a military sign.  Jeremiah would tell the people to fly a banner to proclaim the ultimate demise of Babylon (Jeremiah 50.2) and in the Psalms, the people were to declare victory and the triumph of the God by setting up banners in the “name of God”. (Ps 20.5)  The Lord is my Banner, is a declaration of the triumph of the Divine Warrior.  Though the Amalekites weren’t completely destroyed by Joshua, they would be pursued by the Divine warrior from generation to generation (Ex. 17.16) until David destroys them in 1 Samuel 30.

God was in the business of reminding Moses of this attribute.  He told him on Mt. Sinai:

“If you listen carefully to what he says and do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and will oppose those who oppose you.  My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land…and I will wipe them out…I will send my terror ahead of you…I will make all your enemies turn their backs and run…I will send the hornet ahead of you.” (Exodus 23.22-28)

God, as the Divine Warrior, was key to the understanding of the people, especially as they were forming and coming together as an infant nation.  But the theme is just as central to our understanding of the Lord.  God is not a passive, unresponsive God who delights in seeing us toil.  He wants to lead us, to fight for us.  It was He who sent His son to defeat Satan and death.  It was He who sent His Spirit to give us power as we face obstacles and opposition.  The Divine Warrior, who will someday come and win the Final Battle spoken of in Revelation, is fighting for us right now.

I don’t know what God’s face paint pattern would be…but I know that He has His on and is ready to fight for His people when and wherever.

A Time to Experience

39740728_318073“Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment – Cowboy Proverb

It’s a strange feeling to wake up wondering where you are and how you got there. From a guy whose taken a few shots to the head, within the first few minutes, the puzzle can be solved of where you are and how it came to be. It doesn’t change the interesting feeling.

It was mid-june and I was down in Lyndon fighting bulls at a youth rodeo. The bull riding was still a few events away and I was doing what I always do before the bull riding: annoy the judges and chute help. The stock contractor looked over the chutes during a down time and asked me “if I was going to get my vest on and fight bulls today?” While I wasn’t paying attention, they had run some jr. bulls into the chutes. Without hesitation I put my vest on and hopped into the fray. The first bull bucked that day came out 2 jumps and spun to the right. The bull rider came off to the outside of the spin and I stepped in. Fifteen seconds ago I didn’t have my vest on and now I was making a save. The bull didn’t look at me as he continued his spin, but the bull rider wasn’t making a real quick get-a-way so I stepped in a second time I paused between bull and bull rider, when he stuck a horn under my right knee lifting me into the air. I was perched atop his head just long enough for my head to make contact with some part of his body. He took me for a ride, two spins with me as a hood ornament. I don’t remember that part. I came too sitting on his head and holding onto the bull rope. He flung me clear and left the arena. He had no intention of hitting me in retrospect…I just kinda got in the way. When I opened my eyes, sitting on his head, with a bull rope in hand, I wondered where I was and how I got there.

Someone once said: “Experience is what you got when you didn’t get what you want.”

My briefly lived football career, my time spent on the cross country team, my service in ministry, all were times when I didn’t get what I wanted, but appreciate what I got. Fighting bulls, roping, and my attempt at cowboying has been spent getting experience. But my times of greatest experience pale in comparison to Moses.

Life had been good for Moses. He was saved from the waters of the Nile by Pharoah’s daughter (Ex . 2.5-6) In a wacky turn of events, his mother gets paid to raise him (Ex. 2.8) until he is old enough to learn the ways to rule. He grew up in the best schools of the most powerful nation on Earth (Acts 7.22). He was training to lead a nation.

But his quick temper got him into trouble and he killed an Egyptian who was mistreating a Hebrew (Ex 2.12). Now his life of luxury was behind him and he ran to the desert and entered his own time of “wilderness wandering”, following some of the dumbest animals that have ever graced God’s green earth: sheep. His father-in-law puts him to work and he spends 40 years wandering the desert tending his flock, not getting what he wanted but getting what he needed,

Experience to lead God’s people through a tough 40 years of their own; experience that Jesus would view as his ministry; experience to see that best lessons of schooling is no match for a relationship with God; experience that God would use as a metaphor of His relationship with us.

How many times did Moses feel like he was wasting his time? I feel like I am wasting my time often. I work at a school where I have no leadership and responsibilities. I have a bachelors degree in Old Testament, which I challenge you to find a more useless degree in the secular world. I feel like most of my life at this phase is a wilderness wandering where I am gaining experience. Experience….that I have no idea for what. Learning to trust God in these times is difficult as I wake up every morning and question the point of a lot of it. But experiences that Moses took from his time as a shepherd helped shape him into the leader that God could trust with His people.  I write this to remind myself that this is a phase, a stage, where I may not be getting what I want, but am certainly getting what I need.

What lessons are you learning in your desert wanderings and what experience are you gaining now that God is going to leverage in the future?

Growing Pains

The rain came down this morning.

I knew it was comin’ in.

The creaking in my achy bones,

Told me ‘fore the weathermen.

 

Doc says its cause I’m growin’ up.

I’m getting older by the day.

My body’s fighting ‘gainst the time.

Some say its growing pains.

 

The change in bar-o-metric pressure

Ties my knees up in a bind.

As the isobars huddle up,

My hips, they creak and grind.

 

Rodeo’s been kind a hard,

On all my parts the move.

They do alright on most my days

But weather puts ‘em in a mood.

 

Before the crack of thunder

My fingers start to pop

My back refuses a simple flex

And neck pain just wont stop

 

My hands wont grip a single thing

Every joint remains in state

My phalanges swell and stiff

And my feet wont supinate

 

See just before the change in temp

My ankles remain affixed

My shoulders feel their glued in place

Cold air blows and it all sticks

 

So like the Tin Man in the Oz

I hate how the rain treats me

My cows and crops they love it

it’s a conundrum, cant you see?

So what’s a stove up cowboy do,

When the rain and cold transpire?

Simply put, the rem’dy is…

Find a warm beach and retire.

When reading the first few chapters of Exodus, my mind is drawn to the growing pains that faced the people of God.  A nation, a people in its infancy, seventy in all (Ex. 1.5; Deut 10.22), settled in the northernmost region of the Nile (Gen. 47.27).  The land of Goshen was a paradise, constantly and consistently fed by the waters of the Nile.  It was a perfect place of refuge from famine (which is what brought them there in the first place) and to graze their herds of sheep.  Long after the time of Joseph, the Hebrews found themselves in a land that was not their own with leader who didn’t know Joseph or his legacy (Ex. 1.8) and a cold wind started to blow in Egypt.

The new Pharaoh saw the numbers grew to the point of threatening his leadership and rule.  If they ever decided not to stay in line, they could over run the country.  From that point on Pharaoh enslaved the Israelite, forcing them to build cities, make bricks, and work the fields.  They became forced labor.  Growing pain number 1.

After the enslavement, Pharaoh had a talk with the Hebrew midwives.  At Pharaoh’s request, they were to kill any male baby born to the Hebrews (Ex.1.15-16).  They were on a hit list. Growing pain number 2.

Finally, if Pharaoh can’t force their numbers down or abort them out…he was going to drown them out. (Ex. 1.22)  Their babies being thrown into the Nile, was Pharaoh’s way of exerting his power, exercising his authority, and thinning out the Hebrews.  The Nile, which gave life to their land of Goshen, was now the instrument Pharaoh was using to kill their babies.  Genocide.  Growing pain number 3.

Despite Pharaoh’s best attempts, the Hebrews multiplied.  After Joseph’s death they “were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous, and the land was filled with them.” (Ex. 1.7)  Then Pharaoh enslaved them and “the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread.” (Ex 1.12)  Then Pharaoh tried to abort them, but the midwives feared God (1.17) and the people “increased and became even more numerous.” (1.20) Finally, Pharaoh ordered all male babies thrown into the Nile.  It was from these waters, that Pharaoh’s daughter would “draw out” Moses, the one who would deliver their people. (2.5-6)

Despite the pain of this time, in hindsight, God used it to grow the nation to upwards, of some estimates, 2 million people at the time of the Crossing of the Reed Sea. It was during this time of subjugation and persecution that lessons, growing pains, were learned by the people like:

  • A testament that evil will not prevail over God’s people. The Hebrews withstood persecution from the most powerful man on the face of the earth at the time. He was a God in his own country, who held the fate of men in his hands. Yet the people of God flourished.
  • A lesson about salvation. Over the next 900 or so years of Israel’s history, God’s action at the Reed Sea, would be a constant testament to God’s ability to save His people. It was a lesson in his power as He plagued the Egyptians and protected Goshen. It was a lesson in control as God made the Hebrews plunder the Egyptians without force. (Ex 12.36) They learned salvation as He parted the Sea before them. They understood his judgment as He brought the waves down on the Egyptian army.
  • A lesson in loving others. During His instruction of the people, in His commands to love and care for the down and out, the poor, and the alien, He reminds them that they were once aliens in Egypt (Exodus 22.21; 23.9; Lev. 19.34; Deut. 10.19; 15.15). There is no better teacher than experience. They felt subjugation; will they learn from it and show mercy to the aliens amongst them?

For 430 years, Israel lived in Egypt (Ex. 12.40) under the protection of mighty Egypt. Without fear from invasion, the infant nation grew into a powerful people. But as they grew the experienced pains that would forever give them learning about God and His interaction with man. It is my prayer that these lessons stick as I grow as well for I occasionally experience fear in the face of evil, though Jesus tells me to fear not. I need reminded that once I was an alien, far away from God, but in His love and grace, He gave His son as a sacrifice so that I became no longer an alien but a son.  While we were still slaves to sin, in bondage to our flesh, He liberated us by sending His Son.  The lessons learned by the Israelites are the lessons we so desperately need today.

Growing up can be painful, but God is showing me that in some of the most painful times are when His lessons can be learned the clearest.

The Bondage in Egypt

Courage from Chad

IMG_20140914_105151_216John Wayne once said, “Courage is being scared but saddling up anyway.”

It’s fitting to talk about courage in the shadow of bucking chutes, which just happens to be where church was held Sunday morning at Homestead Rodeo School.  Chad Chambers challenged us to commit to living a life of courage and devotion to the Lord.  For a group of men who are courageous every time they nod their face, it seemed ironic that the topic would be something they are so familiar with.  But like many of them, my courage is often used in, for lack of a better term, trivial situations.

I will stand in front of a bull, but will I talk with a stranger about God’s work in my life?

I will get back on a broncy colt, but will I continue a conversation with my wife, apologize, or take leadership in our relationship?

I will take a shot for a bull rider, but when it comes to standing up for those who cant stand for themselves, where is my courage then?

It may look courageous to ride bulls, race cars, or jump a bike (most every boys first sign of courage), but courage is shown in what battles we fight as well.  In Joshua 1, God’s message to the new leader of Israel, 4 times he tells him to be courageous [hb. ‘ames] as he leads the people in the conquest of the promised land.  The reason for their courage is always the same: “for the Lord your God is with you…” (Josh. 1.9)

When Judah is staring down the barrel of Sennacherib’s, the King of Assyria, war machine, Hezekiah tells the people: “Be strong and courageous [hb. ‘ames].  Do not be afraid of discouraged becasue of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him…”  (2 Chronicles 32.7)  He has just ransacked the Judean countryside leaving destroyed cities in his wake, but Jerusalem is not to fear.  Why?  “…for there is a greater power with us than with him.  Whit him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles.” (2 Chronicles 32.8)

To Israel, God says:

“Do not fear, for I am with you;

do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  

I will strengthen [hb. ‘ames] you and help you;

I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41.10)

God’s promise to be present, alongside, and with is what gave his people courage and with God a promise made is the same as a promise kept.  The New Testament gives us the same promise:

  • “Surely I am with you always to the very end of the age”  — Jesus (Matt. 28.20)
  • “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” — John (1 John 4.4)
  • “Take heart! I have overcome the world” — Jesus (John 16.33)

The circumstances for these verses are no less dire than above.  Jesus is leaving his disciples to change the world and he reminds them of his presence.  John and the Church are facing heresy, controversy, and suffering, but Jesus is with them.  Jesus is promising the disciples that they are going to be in the cross hairs, but he is with them.

In times of great decision, God calls his people to courage knowing that He is active and working.  When divorce looks like an easier option, courage is needed.  When cancer is discovered, courage is needed.  When bullying, bankruptcy, Alzheimer’s, separation, unemployment, or unexpected debt comes, courage is needed.

It is the men who make-up with their wives who display courage.  The father’s who ask their son’s for forgiveness who take courage.  The men with integrity who own the issues at work who show courage.  And in those times, God says: “show courage because of who I am.”  I forget that He is with me, and that is when I best display my cowardice.