© 2017 Lynn Abbott
Whenever two become one. adjustments must be made. Ask any newlywed. If you have made that transition yourself, I’m sure you remember it well.
It had only been about five months, but my husband and I were still trying to figure it all out.
“Of course,” you say.
Marriage is a lifetime commitment, and while the commitment takes only minutes to make before a group of loving witnesses, the practice of unity is a much longer process.
In our case, the adjustment produced a good many humorous stories. What might have seemed self-evident to others was news to my husband and myself.
You see, we had each lived very independent lives. My husband, in particular, had been a bachelor for many years. His expectations for marriage, then, differed a great deal from mine.
And so, five months into our journey we hit a humorous but minor snag.
One Sunday, after church, we each visited with various friends in the sanctuary. He noted some good friends of ours standing in the row of pews beyond ours and made his way over to give a hearty “Hello! How ya been?”
Within a few minutes, he returned to my side and politely interrupted the conversation I was having with a friend.
“Hey, I’ve been invited to lunch. I’ll see you later at home,” he thoughtfully communicated.
Yeah. You know I did a double take.
“Uh, wasn’t I invited?” I asked gently.
“Oh, I dunno. Let me ask,” he said and scurried off in the direction of our friends.
I still giggle when I recall that morning. After all, our mutual friends fully intended that we should both join them for lunch.
Thus, while our friends believed it a matter of course that the invite extended to us both, my husband only recognized the invite for himself. After all, he still “thought” like a single person.
Obviously, if my husband responded in a similar manner to a lunch invitation after nearly 35 years of marriage, I would not find the situation so hilarious…
In fact, I would immediately question his sanity and rush my husband in for medical evaluation. Such an oversight on his part would evidently, at the very least, indicate an onset of temporary amnesia.
But we had only begun our journey at the time. So a gentle reminder was all that was necessary. Grace understood that our vows simply began our journey as “one.” And grace put in the work to fulfill our vows.
Five months into our marital journey we hit a humorous but minor snag.
Truly, the move from independent, self-rule–from “me” to “us”–is not without its ups and downs. And I have yet to hear of any couple who has been able to accomplish it overnight.
A lot of things change. Two lives have been grafted together. A new life has begun. But along the way, signs of the old life attempt to reemerge and must be pruned for the sake of the new creation, the new “us.”
Our relationship with Christ is quite a bit like that. Coming to faith, we enthusiastically embrace our Savior. But learning to live for Him is an ongoing journey on this side of eternity. After all, most of us put in quite a number of years on our own before coming to faith in Him.
For this reason, after the “altar,” the real work begins.
Perhaps, that’s why the story of the nation of Israel in the Pentateuch so resonates with me. Israel’s exodus from Egypt and the years that followed provides a vivid picture of the faith journey.
When Moses burst onto the scene, the Israelites had sojourned in Egypt for 400 hundred years. I am certain that Joseph and his family never anticipated that what started as a short-term residency because of worldwide famine would ultimately lead to their long-term relocation.
However, I suspect that the people became pretty comfortable in their adopted land. After all, the human race is extremely adaptable. Thus, Abraham’s descendants would likely have made the best of their circumstances. And God blessed them. The Israeli people grew and so did their wealth.
And so, they were very comfortable; they were, that is, until as Scripture records, “a new king that did not know about Joseph” came into power. Soon, things became extraordinarily uncomfortable.
The “good” turned sour rather quickly. The new Pharaoh required that God’s people serve Egypt as slaves. And a massive building program ensued. Many historians and scientists have found evidence that suggest that the Egyptian ruler of Exodus fame as Ramses II, known for his great architectural achievements.
Understandably, then, when Moses asked that Ramses let God’s people go, Ramses strongly opposed such a plan. Israeli freedom came at great cost, and Abba gave us a beautifully analogous visual of Christ’s work of salvation on the cross through the tenth plague known as the Passover.
Israel’s enemy released God’s people and Israel left Egypt as the oppressors buried their firstborn sons. But their vindictive enemy proved he did not give up so easily. The Egyptian army pursued Israel into the desert and attempted to cut Moses and the people off from any possible escape.
After the “altar,” the real work begins.
How true that proves for you and me as believers. While we no longer serve the evil god of this world, our enemy nevertheless seeks to cut us off and to place us in bondage once more.
That’s right… after the exodus, the real work begins.
Sometimes, Satan attacks in a blatant manner. At other times, he finds our weaknesses and uses subtle methods to sidetrack us.
Such was the case with Israel. Pharaoh had failed to enslave or destroy God’s people. Balaam had failed to curse Israel.
The enemy, however, persists. If one means does not work, another is employed.
Enter the Moabite beauty queens. And the Israelite men fell. In Numbers 25:1-2 reports, “While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate and bowed down before these gods.”
The long-established habits and patterns of their Egyptian lives still influenced the people’s thinking and behavior. Their walk with Yahweh, by comparison, was relatively new.
And let’s face it: it’s easy to pick up old habits, to move through life as an independent. But if the people were to enter God’s rest, the promised land, they needed to leave their former lives behind. The Exodus from Egypt must be accomplished both physically and spiritually.
In much the same way, when I received Christ as my Savior, I left my old life in “Egypt” behind me. Yet, periodically, signs of its influence emerge in my life. That old life has to be pruned. I have been grafted into Christ, and have become a part of a new creation. Even so, at times, branches resembling the old life attempt to grow.
My journey remains incomplete. I have yet to cross the “Jordan” into God’s promise. As a result, if the enemy uses the old life to derail my relationship with Christ, tough calls must be made. After all, my loyalty now belongs to Christ, and for this reason, I sometimes must cut all ties to my former life.
And that is exactly what God asked Israel to do in Numbers 31. At first glance, God’s command might appear severe. But in fact, it is an example of what author Sheldon VanAuken so aptly titled, “A Severe Mercy.”
And let’s face it: it’s easy to pick up old habits, to move through life as an independent.
If a couple wishes to forge a successful marriage, they must leave behind many of the behaviors that characterized their single lives. Their commitment to one another becomes first priority and their decisions reflect that.
Israel, however, had played the “adulterer.” They had sought out a pagan god. They had disregarded and disrespected the covenant commitment they had made to Yahweh.
If their relationship with Yahweh were to move forward, pruning must play a vital role. The people would need to cut off completely their ties to Moab. They could not “play the field.”
The context, then, explains why the Moabite people would be destroyed in battle by Israel– the Moabite army as well as its women. Only young women who had never slept with men were allowed to survive. God did not want would not be seduced by Moabite paganism again.
At first glance, it seems a bit severe. But of course, God directed Israel as a nation. And political enemies such as the Moabites who used any means available to destroy Israel could not be trusted.
Since Balaam had failed to curse Israel and since the Moabite king feared battle with Israel, the Moabite tactic changed. They sought to destroy Israel from within, to separate Israel from God.
Israel, therefore, had to separate itself from Moab. There could be no interaction. Israel had to cut off contact with the Moabites and their beautiful “double-agents.”
That’s right. In His grace, God seeks to preserve and protect His relationship with us. That relationship, in God’s estimation, is worth more than anything. After all, He gave His only Son to secure a relationship with you and me.
Yes, sometimes grace appears severe. Pruning is never pleasant. But God guards and protects our relationship with Him.
Of course, that will not mean “going to war” as it did in the case of a nation, Israel. But it may require some hard choices. We are called to throw off the “encumbrances,” the things that stand between us and God (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Some areas of our lives require immediate pruning. Clearly, those things have no place in our new life with Christ…those things are, as the writer of Hebrews says, “the sin that so easily entangles us.”
Moab gained a foothold of influence and control in Israel through Israel’s disobedience to God. And who can forget that Samson fell because he did not put God first?
That’s right. In His grace, God seeks to preserve and protect His relationship with us.
But it isn’t always that obvious. At times, encumbrances appear to be good things. Harmless, in fact.
But if those areas of our lives begin to crowd out our relationship with God, if those relationships or activities encourage us to operate independently from our Savior, pruning will be necessary. God always protects our most important relationship, our union with Him.
And so, we confess our love for God–we place our lives on the altar–but it takes a lifetime to fully understand what it means to walk out that love. Leaving our old, independent self behind, we must daily embrace our relationship with God (Luke 9:23).
Along the way, our old life threatens our union. “Moab” is not without its immediate charms; after all, the deceiver knows our weaknesses. But that path will ultimately destroy you and me.
For this reason, we frequently need a gentle reminder that wherever we go, our Savior goes, too. His Spirit of Grace gently prompts us to put our Savior first.
And because our Savior loves unconditionally, selflessly, and perfectly, it is not a difficult choice to make.
Like Israel, we face and overcome a great many obstacles on our journey. We meet hardship in the “desert.” Enemies attempt to come between us and Abba.
Yet, Yahweh provides for us every step of the way; He guards and protects us. He prunes all that would separate us from Him.
As a result, we live more and more in unity with Him, leaving “Egypt” and “Moab” far behind us.
Indeed, Grace gently prompts us to walk in unity with Him.
“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in Him, rooted and built up in Him…See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ,” (Colossians 2:6-8).