Our brains have a funny way of distorting past memories in light of present situations. Sometimes we look back on a period of life through romanticized lenses, remembering days gone by as better than they actually were. Usually this is a reaction to particular challenges we face here and now.
This phenomenon isn’t new. Near the end of the divided kingdom era of biblical history, the nation of Judah’s fate looked grim. Like their northern counterpart Israel, Judah would be overrun by a foreign army, and the people would be taken into captivity. As the threat of Judah’s demise grew increasingly imminent, God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah, warning the people to stay put with the assurance that He would deliver them from the Babylonians. The plan couldn’t be simpler – stay where you are, and trust Me to do what you can’t do.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go according to plan. It’s likely numerous factors contributed to the people’s decision to reject God’s Word – factors such as the counterintuitive nature of the command, their pattern of selective obedience, a natural fear of the foreboding enemy, and a warped memory of their nation’s history.
Instead of remaining in Judah and trusting God to work on their behalf, the people decided to make a lengthy journey to Egypt, believing it would provide peace and prosperity. Although escaping from their present reality would’ve been appealing, it seems as if Judah had forgotten a critical part of the past.
God’s people had been slaves in Egypt for several hundred years before He freed them in dramatic fashion. In keeping with His promise to Abraham, He later gave them their own land in which they could thrive as an independent nation. But after centuries of ignoring God’s Word, judgment was on the way. Still, God was willing to postpone judgment if only they would trust and obey. Ironically, instead of waiting for deliverance, the Judeans went back to the place of former captivity. As the ESV Study Bible notes, they “reversed salvation history by returning to Egypt.” Judah’s foolishness is striking, but don’t we do the same thing?
Peter wrote that God called us “out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Paul said that we have been liberated from bondage to sin and are now “slaves of God,” a relationship which produces sanctification and eternal life (Romans 6:22). Sadly, though, we sometimes mimic the folly of our Judean predecessors. Like them, we misremember the pain of the past, and in our quest for relief in the present, we default to what we used to know. It’s like we walk back into the courtroom searching for the handcuffs that were removed when God declared us guiltless once and for all. We exchange light for darkness and freedom for bondage.
The Judeans forfeited their front row seat to what would’ve been another miraculous rescue. Instead, the destiny they thought they could avoid met them decisively in Egypt. When their allies fell to the Babylonians, Judah didn’t stand a chance. Captivity in Babylon was in their near future. By trying to find freedom on their own terms, the Judeans ended up ensnared. The security and peace they craved were available, but not apart from the obedience of faith.
No matter how desperate our situations appear, we serve a God who is both willing and able to work for His glory and our good. The difficulties are opportunities to bank everything on God’s power and faithfulness, not invitations to make it on our own. When life becomes more than we can handle, we either trust God to do what we can’t, or we default to what’s familiar – no matter how destructive. The Judeans made their choice, but today we can make ours. Will we revert to self-sufficiency and end up in bondage? Or will we walk by faith – even on the hard days – without turning back?