When I was in middle school art class, I made a painting of a starving man in a dismal, gray prison looking hopelessly at the rat eating his last morsel of food. Fresh air and sunlight beamed through the prison bars on a window far above the cells’ cold cement floor. The light fell upon the scene of the rat’s indulgence while the man sat helpless in the dark.
That was many years ago. I’m not even sure if I have that picture any more. But it came to mind while following a prompt to pray through the events unfolding in my reading of Exodus 14.
Moses had just led the sons of Israel out of captivity in Egypt where they had been slaves. They had witnessed plague after plague brought on by God to convince Pharaoh to release them. On the night they fled, it was God’s instruction to paint blood on their doorposts so the angel of death would pass over their houses and clear the way for the exodus. In His mercy and understanding of their conditioned response to armored authority, He even routed them away from the land of the Philistines and took them instead through the wilderness where they would not encounter opposing armies ahead of them.
They had seen God move in their behalf and followed Moses out. God had even raised up a humble leader and not one who used fear and force to lead out this frail and frightened people. God tenderly provided every opportunity to break their chains of oppression while mindful of their traumatized condition. And they physically left Egypt… but their minds were still enslaved.
Freedom lay before them, but it did not take long before Pharaoh went chasing after them. One’s past enslavement tends to do that. As the armies drew near, the sons of Israel became frightened and their knee jerk reaction was to bow to their oppressors instead of the Mighty God who delivered them.
“Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?
Why have you dealt with us in this way, bringing us out of Egypt?” (Exodus 14:11)
They whined to Moses that they would’ve preferred to be left alone to serve the Egyptians. Really? Then why did God call Moses to this task? God was responding to their cries for freedom and positioned someone to lead them (Exodus 3:7). Yet once set free, they complained, “For it would have been BETTER for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” (Exodus 14:12)
That’s a conditioned slave’s mentality. Fear enslaves the mind to doubt even the freedom that led them to the first step out of captivity.
Love casts out fear, but an inability to recognize love working in your behalf keeps you enslaved to fear, even when miles away from that which once enslaved you.
Moses recognized their fear, for their leader cried in response “Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the LORD.” Then he promised the LORD would fight for them while they kept silent. But this was not just about slaves being set free, God was still teaching Moses how to handle his own role in the process of the exodus. So while his attention was upon encouraging the people not to fear and to put their trust in God, God corrected Moses.
“Why are you crying out to Me? Tell the sons of Israel to go forward.” (Exodus 14:15)
It seems God was saying “that’s enough encouragement and prayer for now Moses. Now tell them to pull up their big girl panties and take action.” And I recognized how there always seems to be this critical point in everyone’s exodus story. As I prayed for the release over captive people I’ve known, I’ve also prayed for the courage and discernment to tell them when to move forward. And that is when my old painting came to mind…
Captives have options.
Some sit in prisons with windows above shining light on their food. Not only was there a morsel of food available to the man in my prison painting, but a fat rat had found its way in also. Did that starving man ever try to catch and kill the rat and make a meal out of him? Did he ever try to escape through that window? Granted, it was a dismal prison but the saddest part is his compliance to serve it as a death sentence. He sat there hopeless and resigned to die when provision was right before his eyes. Perhaps that rat was sent to sustain him another day which was the day of his release. But we don’t see this man extending his hand toward the food. Neither do we see the sons of Israel thanking God for His provision of Moses. The slave mentality of Israel looked at Moses like a rat who was stealing their food. Better to die than go forward. And the Lord asked me which is easier to do? To tell those comfortable in their fear to stand and wait for the Lord’s salvation or to tell them to move forward? It’s easy to say “I’ll pray for you,” and those resigned to their enslavement aren’t offended. In fact, they’ll give you more prayer requests. But tell them to move forward and their true taskmaster may be revealed.
In Matthew 9, Jesus tells a paralytic his sins are forgiven in an effort to heal him. But the religious leaders of that day asserted He had no authority to forgive sins. Jesus asked, “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, and walk’? (Matthew 9:4-5) Then He moved from His initial statement of forgiveness of sins to a direct command of “Get up, pick up your bed and go home.”
A person conditioned to slavery hears “your sins are forgiven” but those in authority over their minds debunk it for them and beckon them back. There are many captives in religion. They think they’re free because they made an exodus, but moving ahead in freedom is paralyzing to them. In fear they revert to a desire to serve a familiar master or comply with death itself.
I believe God assigns us to pray for captives, but there comes a time when the one leading prayer hears, “Why are you crying out to Me? Tell the sons of Israel to go forward.”
In the case of Moses, God shifted his attention back to his own role, “As for you, lift up your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, and the sons of Israel shall go through the midst of the sea on dry land.” (Exodus 14:16)
Moses had a role to LEAD. Through the power and provision of God, he created a way for the exodus. But the sons of Israel had a role too. It took trust to walk through the midst of the sea. Trusting God is forward motion, not a resignation to die in the wilderness and not a 180 to run back to your enslavement.
Maybe you’re willing to trust a leader who’s confronted oppression in your behalf. Good for you.
And maybe the fear of death caused you to obey and paint the blood on your door. Good for you.
And maybe you were willing to walk away from something with hope and be led into a wilderness. Good for you.
But when the future became uncertain did you freeze?
Pause. Remember the Power and Provision that led you thus far.
Did you think it was only up to that leader to get you the rest of the way?
Remember, the same God who heard the cries of the sons of Israel raised up one from among them to lead but He also commanded the rest of the sons and daughters to do their part and walk through the midst of the sea.
Keep yourself in God’s love,