“The Ephraimites, armed with the bow,
turned back on the day of battle.
They did not keep God’s covenant,
but refused to walk according to his law.
They forgot his works
and the wonders that he had shown them.
In the sight of their fathers he performed wonders
in the land of Egypt, in the fields of Zoan.
He divided the sea and let them pass through it,
and made the waters stand like a heap.
In the daytime he led them with a cloud,
and all the night with a fiery light.
He split rocks in the wilderness
and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep.
He made streams come out of the rock
and caused waters to flow down like rivers.” (Psalm 78:9-16)
One of the codes of honor among our branches of the military is the simple creed that no soldier gets left behind. Sometimes this is easier said than done, when you consider that thousands of US service personnel have still not had their remains returned from the battlefields of Vietnam and North Korea, among others. The creed speaks to the sense of comraderie and brotherhood, united by a patriotic duty and love for country.
Unfortunately, this creed isn’t universal. Even as far back as the conquest of the Holy Land, as Israel began to claim the promise that God had for a home for His chosen people, the tribe of Ephraim, most likely because of fear of the Philistines that inhabited the land as described in Numbers 13. This act of betrayal was not only a slap in the face of their Hebrew brothers, but it was a wanton disregard and doubt in the covenant of God.
By turning their backs on God’s command to pursue the Promised Land, they turned their back on God Himself. Their doubt in the deliverance of God was borne out of the fact that they had forgotten all the miracles and wonders that God had done for them to bring them out of slavery in Egypt. The “fields of Zoan” was the place near the capital of Egypt at the time of their captivity. It was here that they worked the fields to harvest the straw used in the making of bricks for the building of the Egyptian monuments that were in Zoan, also known as Tanis in the Nile Delta.
The had forgotten all the miracles that God had performed to separate them from the pursuing slavers of the Egyptian Pharoah. They had forgotten how he led them day and night through the barren wilderness, providing water from within the rocks that permeated the Wilderness of Zin (Sin). And God didn’t just bring small springs from those rocks, but He brought forth flowing streams and rushing rivers of water. His blessings that He lavished upon His children were abundantly more than they deserved considering their constant complaining through the desert and expressed desire to return to the chains of slavery in Egypt.
The Christian life, especially in the early stages of growth, will often allegorically mimic this historical exodus out of slavery. As we are no longer enslaved to our sin nature, we struggle through the wilderness trying to make sense of this new life that we are called to. Sometimes we want to slide back into our old life thinking it was so much easier, forgetting that grace has set us free from our worldly passions and lusts that were weighing down our lives. But God Himself, through the power of His Holy Spirit continues to guide us and provide us refreshment along the way, in spite of our questions and grumblings.
All too often, however, we find ourselves at a point of decision – do we fight on, stay put, or turn back? In the case of Ephraim, they chose to stay put, paralyzed by fear and doubt, refusing to advance further for the glory of God and His Kingdom in keeping with His covenant promise.
Don’t miss this – they were still considered a part of Israel and a tribe of the covenant, in spite of their disobedience. They did not return to the slavery of Egypt. They did not advance the Kingdom of God in Israel. They simply stopped. Just as the half-tribe of Manasseh decided to stop short of the Promised Land (Joshua 1:12-15). They stopped short of experiencing the full blessings of the covenant, yet remained a part of the brotherhood of Israel.
In the same way, we can fall short of the experiencing the full blessings of the Christian life when we choose to live the bare minimum. It’s not enough to pray a prayer and get baptized. It’s not enough to attend a weekly service and sit on the sidelines. If you are a part of the brotherhood, you are expected as required of the covenant to fight alongside your brothers and sisters in the faith. We are expected to experience life together. We are expected to participate rather than spectate.
So I ask you today to examine yourselves. Are you content to just sit on the sidelines and partake of the benefits of brotherhood without experiencing the joys of fellowship? Or are you willing to take up your spiritual sword (The Word of God) and fight for truth. Are you willing to walk arm-in-arm with your fellow believers as a unified phalanx ready to do spiritual battle for one another? Are you willing to serve your brother who is struggling to feed his family? Are you willing to comfort your sister whose husband has abandoned her with their children? Are you willing to feed the poor, comfort the widows and orphans, teach the ignorant, and strengthen the weak?
That is our mandate. Anything less is settling for selfishness. Anything less is looking out for yourself instead of advancing and strengthening the Kingdom. Anything less is abandonment of the dictates of the covenant. Anything less is wandering in the wilderness of Sin, wondering why you never experience victory living a life without risk. Anything less is sin.