Yes, the Bible was written thousands of years ago to the Jews and later to the Gentiles who were converting to Christianity, but the Bible is also full of stories and parables that are relevant to each of us in the 21st century: how we are to live as we follow Jesus and learn how to love our God with all of ourselves and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew22:36-40). The Bible is full of stories that are meant for us as well as for the Israelites and Gentiles. Take for instance the Exodus story. I have written a book about it that is titled: Exodus: Our Story, too! Yes, it is the story of the Israelites being held captive in Egypt and how God, through using Moses as His spokesman, freed the Israelites from slavery and then guided them across the wilderness into the land long promised to them, Canaan.
In my book I relate the texts of the books Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy to the four stages of the classic spiritual journey of following Jesus.: Awakening, Purgation, Illumination, and Union. For we, too, are enslaved to our culture and the way it expects us to behave, the education, the jobs, the money we are to accumulate all because we have set our minds on its goals without reference to who we were really created to be—that person lies dormant in the depths of who we are until we say “Yes!” to God and to following Jesus and leaving behind all that the culture asks of us. We must leave the world behind before we begin to have an idea of who we are designed to be by God. That is the first step on the journey, Awakening, which starts us on a step-by-step path of following Jesus without having a clue as to where we are going or what will happen when we get there.
That 2nd stage, Purgation, means that we are to give up all that comes between us and God, the world’s goals for us, our way of doing things, what we want for ourselves and others. There are two parts to this second stage of the spiritual journey: first, the more difficult part of facing who we have been trained to be and all that we have to give up to be a follower of Jesus—our goals, our desires, our way of doing everything. All this is symbolized by the manna that the Lord sends every morning that will sustain us through that day, but it will rot if we try to keep any of it. The wilderness that we are walking through lacks any familiar stuff for us, it is truly a foreign place and not one that we like particularly. As we face each issue and difficulty of the wilderness, over time we begin to doubt that God is actually taking us anywhere. And so, like the Israelites, we turn back to our “gods” of the past that we worshipped like Ba’al that the Israelites built an image of when Moses was gone a long time on the mountain.
The second part of the Purgation stage happens when Moses returns and finds Ba’al, he knows what it means. He makes them reduce the statue to liquid and forces them to drink it, to admit that they turned their backs on God in spite of how God is caring for them. He then broke the Ten Commandments plaques into pieces and had to go back up the mountain to get another set of plaques from God. After he comes down off the mountain, he sets up a tent of meeting where he meets God and the Israelites watch as the Lord in a cloud descents to the tent of meeting each day. And, as they absorb what they have done and recommit themselves to the Lord, Moses assigns the purpose to each of the tribes and to some of the individuals as well.
The second part of Purgation comes with more challenges, but with the people’s faith in God leading them mostly restored. They are living into their purposes. As they get closer to the Promised Land, Canaan, they find out that if they obey what God is asking of them, they will succeed and, if they don’t, they will fail—a serious lesson that ends up giving them more faith in God. Throughout the wilderness journey, Israelites have died. I take this as a metaphor for what has to die in us, so that we can be faithful followers of Christ.
The third part of the journey comes as they approach the Jordan River and settle in on its nearest banks. This is the stage of Illumination when the Israelites absorb the lessons of the journey so far and settle into faithfully following what God asks of them. They are preparing to cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land, Canaan. Here the leadership changes, too. God asks Moses to retire on this side of the Jordan and appoints Joshua who has never rebelled against Him to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land.
And, the last part, the fourth part of the journey proceeds on God’s command to be “strong and courageous” as they enter the Promised Land, Canaan, where they will settle into their new lives, having rid themselves, with God’s help, of all the bonds of slavery and of the world. The land is divided equally among the tribes and then equally within the tribes. It is a rich land which will sustain them and their descendants. And so, they have entered the Kingdom of God on this earth in which everyone Is equal, and everyone has a place, and where community is the watchword. As I began this post, the Exodus story is our journey, too, now in the 21st Century, as we follow Jesus through these four stages, too. And in this journey, as we proceed, we experience the fruit of the Spirit growing in us until they blossom fully in us: Love, Peace, Joy, Patience, Goodness, Kindness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Humility (Galatians 5:22-23). It is so worth the journey out of the world into the the truer/deeper person that we were created by God to be. It takes time to be converted from our world’s ways to God’s ways. As the prophet reveals in Isaiah 55:8-9:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Questions to ponder over the week: Where do you see yourself on this journey? Still totally in the world? Having said “Yes!” to Jesus? In the Purgation stage of shedding the world’s ways? or in Illumination where you are absorbing the wisdom of the journey so far? Or in Union with God where God is residing in you and directing your every word and action? What would you have to do to move on to the next stage?
Blessing for the week: May we be the people of God who have already begun this journey in Christ and are applying our full selves—heart, mind, soul, and strength—to God in love. May we remain open and growing in our faith and our commitment to God.
Check out my two websites: patsaidadams.com and deepeningyourfaith.com.
- I am giving away a 10-week journaling guide to Jesus’s Two Great Commandments. If you are interested, email me at email@example.com and I will email it to you, free of charge.
- My latest books, “Called to Help the Poor and Needy” and “A Study Guide to the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount” are now in bookstores and on line. The first is about the more than 2,000 verses in the Bible which detail God’s instructions for caring for those in need. The second is a journaling/pondering guide to Jesus’s most complete sermon.