How many times will I go back to doing things that have already proven not to be helpful before it occurs to me that perhaps I should not go back that way again? As it turns out, I am not alone in my dilemma. Around 3500 years ago, the Lord explained that very concept to the Israelites.
The King, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.” Deut 17:16 (NIV)
After He delivered His chosen people from Egypt, God knew that there would come a time that they would want to be ruled by a king, so that they would be like “everyone else.” He warned them that even then, in their trying to be like everyone else, they should do it in their own, special, set-aside, holy-people-of-God way. They were not, like everyone else, to fall into the trappings of acquiring status and power symbols and treasure. They were not to trust in the size or strength of their army, with all its horses and accompanying chariots; they were to trust in the Lord. He was their deliverance and their strength.
And above all, they were not to go back to Egypt to get these things. Egypt had been a place of refuge, a place of provision and safety, but it had also been a place of bondage and suffering. The Israelites had come out of Egypt with a collective mentality of slavery. It took years for the Lord to rid them of this attitude and start seeing themselves as God’s Chosen People and a force to be reckoned with among the pagan nations around them. The last thing He wanted was for them to go back to that mentality, no matter how tempting the benefits of trading with that nation appeared.
The frustrating thing about this is that the Lord had already proven to the Israelites that they did not need the horses and chariots of the Egyptians. That army was not as mighty as people supposed. He had swept the entire thing aside into the Red Sea, proving once and for all that even the greatest army on earth was no match for the Almighty God. So He wasn’t asking the Israelites to do something completely crazy by not amassing a cavalry. He was asking them to trust the One who had proven Himself mightier than the even best-equipped form of protection man could devise. And yet even after all that, He knew human nature well enough to know that He still needed to warn the Israelites not to go that way.
In the same way, it seems that every time the Lord sets me free from something in my past, some bad attitude or wrong conception or downright entanglement with sin, after the initial glory of freedom wears off, there will come a point where a situation arises that tempts me to fall back into old habits or thought patterns. That difficult person in my life will do that thing again that always hurts me. That financial situation that was almost resolved will suddenly have a set-back. That promotion I thought was imminent will once again be put aside. Or maybe a combination of traffic, cranky kids and sleep deprivation will align perfectly so that I have A Really Bad Day.
Like the Israelites, when I am faced with these situations, I can chose to not fall back on what I did before. I can choose not to go down that road, but instead to trust the Lord and let him show me a new road.
And like the Israelites, that old road that is tempting me, that old thought pattern or entrenched groove of bad reaction, that stupid, self-destructive habit, really was not the best way to go about life anyway. In the immortal words of Dr. Phil, “How’s that workin’ for ya?” And therein lies the problem, and the reason that the Lord had to deliver me from that in the first place. It wasn’t working for me. It was making me miserable. It was a cold, dark cave of insanely repeating the same action and expecting a different result.
But that road is so easy to follow. It is so easy to go back that way again. It feels comfortable to me. In a cold, dank, dreary, miserable way.
I have come to the conclusion that I need a sign post, or preferably a road block, at the entrance to that road. I need to mentally construct that across that path. A big, neon sign that says “You are not to go back that way again.” And then maybe another one, pointing in the opposite direction, that says, “See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you.” Isaiah 42:9 (NIV)
At any rate, I need to keep reminding myself of the truth. That I have a choice in the way I react. That my misery is not inevitable. And that God has a far, far better way if I will only stop in my tracks and turn to Him instead.