Evil Places

A few years ago, we left the tiny church in our small village that we had been attending. We had serious concerns about many things happening in the church, and we couldn’t stay. In many ways, our stay at that church was one of the painful experiences of our lives. However, while we were there, many questions were stirred up in us, and those questions caused us to seek answers, which has led us to truth, change, and growth. So I think it was good.

As we left the church, we told God that we had no idea what to do next, and we asked Him to please lead us to wherever He wanted us next. Meanwhile, we studied the Jewish Parashah (Scripture portions) as a family each Sunday morning, using the book A Year through the Torah – A Week by Week Journey for Christians by John Parsons, the administrator of my favorite Hebrew4christians website. The Jews have a regular schedule of reading the Scripture, reading portions from the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms each week. Messianic Believers–those who believe Jesus (Yeshua) is their messiah, add portions from the New Testament as well. Jesus followed this very same reading schedule (Luke 24:44). It’s been a tremendous joy and blessing, and we have learned so much truth, and are growing in our faith. We are still doing this as a family. We have never been led elsewhere.

Yesterday was spent retrieving our RV from the campground. Then EJ slept and rested his back while JJ and I emptied the RV. I put stuff away and cleaned the house. It wasn’t until evening that we studied our Parashah for the day, which was from Numbers 19-22:1. It was very relevant and powerful to me.

One significant thing I have learned from our Hebrew studies is the importance God places on complaining. The Jews believe that tsara’at, what we incorrectly call leprosy, is a spiritual disease, not a physical one, because an afflicted person presented himself to a priest, not a doctor. And they believe that tsara’at is caused by lashon hara, which means “evil speech,” which includes complaining and negativity.

In Numbers 20:2-5 the people began to complain:

Now there was no water for the congregation. And they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. And the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the LORD! Why have you brought the assembly of the LORD into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink.”

This led to Moses’s sin in striking the rock, which prevented him and Aaron from entering the Promised Land. In the next chapter, Numbers 21:4-5, the people complain again, and this led to the fiery snakes biting the people and killing many:

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you.

The relevancy of this to me is this: We’ve had difficulties throughout our lives, of course, but in the last year, they have seemed more grievous to me, I have become more fatigued, and I have looked at the negative aspects of our lives rather than the blessings. When I read the Israelites’ complaints in our Scripture portion, I heard my own:

Why did you bring us into this wilderness, that we should die here? Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this evil place? It has no church, no friends, no good things. Only trial and suffering. And there is no refreshment here! We detest this worthless town!”

Oops.

One of the things I have most wanted is God’s direction in my life. I don’t care if we are to stay in this village or move, whether we have plenty or scarcity, whether we suffer or not, but I have told God that I want to know that I am where He wants me to be. If I know I am where He wants us to be, I can rest. One thing I pondered as I read this Scripture portion is that God led His people

through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. (Deut. 8:15-16)

I don’t believe that God always leads through pleasant places. Sometimes He leads us to places we would call “evil”–through difficult experiences, in thirsty and waterless lands, where there are venomous snakes and scorpions–or controlling, unethical pastors, no friends, and great difficulties–to show us truths we couldn’t otherwise imagine, to provide for us in miraculous ways, to humble and test us, so that in the end it might go well with us.

I think we can still make changes in our lives–like talk to the doctor about EJ’s back. Maybe God will lead EJ to a “better” job or us to a different location. Maybe God will have us stay here. Maybe we will end up living in the RV full-time. The important thing, however, is that I need to get my focus back on Him and start trusting more and complaining less. I need to re-remember that God works all things for our good.

One of my favorite Scripture passages is Numbers 9:15-23. It is about moving or staying at God’s direction. It seems appropriate to share it now:

On the day the tabernacle, the tent of the covenant law, was set up, the cloud covered it. From evening till morning the cloud above the tabernacle looked like fire. That is how it continued to be; the cloud covered it, and at night it looked like fire. Whenever the cloud lifted from above the tent, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped. At the LORD’s command the Israelites set out, and at his command they encamped. As long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle, they remained in camp. When the cloud remained over the tabernacle a long time, the Israelites obeyed the LORD’s order and did not set out. Sometimes the cloud was over the tabernacle only a few days; at the LORD’s command they would encamp, and then at his command they would set out. Sometimes the cloud stayed only from evening till morning, and when it lifted in the morning, they set out. Whether by day or by night, whenever the cloud lifted, they set out. Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out. At the LORD’s command they encamped, and at the LORD’s command they set out. They obeyed the LORD’s order, in accordance with his command through Moses.

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