Think about the Jews’ journey from Egypt into Canaan. They had some things in the wilderness that they did not have beforehand, in Egypt; nor after, in Canaan. They didn’t need a pillar of fire by night, and a pillar of smoke by day in Egypt, but the wilderness wasn’t Egypt. God provided them in the wilderness because they needed the warmth and light from the fire in the dark cold of the desert night; and they needed the shade and cool from the smoke during the hot desert days. And because they were just passing through, they were not to set down foundations, so they carried the Ark of the Covenant around on sticks. All these evidences of God’s presence with them were of value because they were relevant.
But, as they encroached on the Jordan River’s edge, poised to cross over into the promised land, it began to set in that Canaan was not like the wilderness.
“So, wait, we won’t need the pillar of smoke and fire anymore?” “We’re going to what? Build a sanctuary with foundations? You mean, like, in the ground? No more carrying the Ark around?”
They were so accustomed to certain things, and doing certain things in a certain way, that they would not cross the river if it meant letting go. Somehow, they seemed to think they’d be “less Jewish” to settle in Canaan without the trappings and traditions with which they came to identify themselves.
I’m reminded of two anecdotes which aptly illustrate this in the present. Some time in 2005, while I was leading a Sabbath school session at my old Adventist church, I was interrupted by a fellow elder, “Brudda, where is your Bible?” I replied, “It’s on my trusty Palm Treo.” He wasn’t satisfied. “Brudda, where’s your quarterly.” I replied the same. But no matter that John 3:16 reads the same whether from a paper page or in bits and bits and liquid crystal, the attachment to the medium trumped the message for this old fellow.
And then, in 2007, I began attending Kanisa Fellowship. One day, as a visitor to our old Bayview location came out of the sanctuary after service, we exchanged “happy Sabbath” greetings in the foyer but then, with pain on her face, she asked “Are you people not Adventist?” I asked what she meant. She said, aghast, “You don’t even use the hymnal.”
It’s not a new thing that people get connected to things by which they come to define themselves. From the Bible days down today, we can still get bent out of shape about it.
God, help us to be, like You, relevant. We’re not in Egypt, nor the wilderness, nor the Caribbean in the 1960s. Is it any wonder Jesus lamented (Luke 16:8) that “the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light”?
Let’s be wise, and do likewise.