A Passover riddle to ponder: when does a haven of safety become a house of slavery?
Along with that riddle, I'll pose one of the most difficult commands for believers in Jesus to get straight: how to be in the world but not of it. It is a challenging paradox. Many of us are either so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good" or else as Hemingway once said, "the world is too much a part of us."
The story of Passover provides an interesting parallel to that paradox and helps to solve the riddle. Egypt represents a divine irony in Scripture. God delivers His servants out of Egypt, yet it was He who sent them there in the first place.
It was part of God's great plan for the Jewish people to sojourn in Egypt. He told Abraham of His plan well in advance. (Genesis 15:13) We know that God allowed Joseph to be sold into slavery in Egypt in order to prepare the way. When famine threatened the lives of Jacob and his children, the Lord had already secured a refuge. That is why Joseph was able to tell his terrified brothers, "But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive" (Genesis 50:20).
Egypt became God's incubator for the nation of Israel. Jacob and his offspring numbered only 70 people when Joseph called for them. Egypt became a haven of safety, and it was in the safety and security of affluent Egypt that Israel grew to be a mighty nation.
Jacob's descendants might have been content to remain in their relative comfort, yet Egypt was not to be the destiny of the Jewish nation. As surely as God had sent them there, God arranged to bring the Jewish people out of Egypt. A pharaoh arose who did not know Joseph, and the haven of safety became a "house of slavery" for Israel.
The suffering of the Jews in Egypt was extreme. Forced labor was the only occupation permitted. When it came to Jewish babies, infanticide was official public policy. The people became desperate and cried out to God, who it seems had been waiting to hear from them, because He was quick to raise up a deliverer.
The identity of the nation of Israel is wrapped up in the story of Passover and how God delivered us "out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be His people, an inheritance…" (Deuteronomy 4:20). Through deliverance from Egypt, Israel was reborn. God sealed His relationship with the Israelites and demonstrated His power to the nations of the world.
For Israel, Egypt was both a haven of safety and house of slavery. The key is the ability to distinguish one from the other. When does a haven of safety become a house of slavery? When you try to stay too long…when you mistake safety for security and comfort distracts you from destiny. In other words, you have to know when to stay and when to get going.
In the Bible, Egypt is a good place to be from. The most common prepositions associated with Egypt in Scripture are "out of." But it took an onslaught of persecution for Israel to recognize that her destiny lay elsewhere. I sometimes wonder if we Christians might require a similar wake-up call. Like the Jewish people in Egypt, many believers in Jesus, especially in the United States, have enjoyed a safe haven for years. The freedoms we enjoy and the prosperity with which we have been blessed have enabled us to grow strong. Much good has been accomplished for God through the free exercise of our faith. Yet I am afraid that we may have forgotten that, like Israel in Egypt, we are but sojourners on this earth. Our destiny lies elsewhere.
Could it be that our haven of safety has become a house of slavery and we haven't realized it yet? God wants His children to be in the world, not of it. He wants us to evangelize the world, not become ensconced in it. He wants us to bear witness to the world that there is salvation only in Messiah Jesus. Have we become so comfortable that we can't hear the call of God, "Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord"? Have we become slaves to the pleasures of this world?
Many churches and Christian ministries today have become what Moishe Rosen has called, "non-prophet organizations." They are so eager to preach from a platform of respectability that they become unwilling to risk offending anyone with the truth. Consequently, they are no longer able to declare with conviction, "thus saith the Lord." Maybe you've heard the aphorism, "God has called us as Christians not only to comfort the afflicted but to afflict the comfortable."
If we become too comfortable, then it is we who will need to be afflicted in order to realize our destiny and move accordingly. If we become enslaved to the perpetuation of our own comfort, how will we bear the reproach of Christ? God forbid that our churches stop being a haven of safety and become a house of slavery. I'm afraid that is what many do become when people are unwilling to shine the gospel light outside of the four walls of their sanctuary.
The struggle against giving in to one's own comfort is not peculiar to local churches. It is universal. I have to confess, we struggle against the very same inclination in Jews For Jesus. Our ministry exists to speak of Christ to the unsaved. Yet we can find many worthwhile ways to promote Jewish evangelism that would not include facing direct rejection by our fellow Jews as we personally invite them to consider Jesus. That is why we need your prayers; it's why we have systems in place to hold one another accountable. Many ministries and missionaries to the Jews who have not had these safeguards have lost their effectiveness. I don't want Jews for Jesus ever to become a "non-prophet organization." We have a commitment to spend the majority of our time and resources sharing the gospel directly with those who don't yet believe. I hope that you will continue to uphold us in this commitment.
Don't forget that Moses had to face the problem that many Christians face today. He faced that problem, and he overcame it. Although he was a Hebrew, he had gained acceptance and acceptability into the highest echelons of Egyptian society. He was comfortably ensconced in Pharaoh's household. Yet God called him out of that haven of safety to be His prophet and the one by whom he would deliver Israel from slavery. "By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt…" (Hebrews 11:24-26). Moses was in Egypt but was not of Egypt. He knew when to come and when to go.
And what shall we say of Yeshua (Jesus)? He, too, found a haven of safety in Egypt. When Herod was seeking our Lord's life, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream. Joseph and his family were to flee from Herod, escape to Egypt and remain there until it was safe to return home. Matthew tells us that this was to fulfill the words of prophecy, "Out of Egypt I called My Son." Once again we see the irony in Scripture. God provided safety for the Savior in Egypt in order that He might provide salvation for everyone in the world, including Egyptians!
Imagine if Miriam (Mary) and Joseph had not responded to the angel's message that it was time to leave Egypt. Imagine if they had balked at the inconvenience of being uprooted or if they did not trust the message that their baby's life was no longer in danger.
Jesus had to leave Egypt in order to bring us salvation. His destiny on this earth was not to hide from His enemies or to use His gifts to make a comfortable living. His life was preserved in Egypt so that He could willingly lay it down. He calls us to follow Him, to come out of our own safe havens to bring the message of salvation to the whole world.
God in His grace might bless us with many comforts, but if we cling to those comforts, they ensnare us…and our safe havens become houses of slavery. God's blessings are not only material. He might provide us with a very special experience to encourage us, to reveal His presence or His will. We should enjoy these experiences, but they, too, can become a prison if we cling to them. After Peter, James and John witnessed the Transfiguration, they were ready to camp out permanently with Jesus, Moses and Elijahïbut their destinies lay elsewhere. God had allowed them to witness this "high point" knowing that they were about to experience a deep and dark valley of sorrow.
We can't always be "safe" but we can always be secure when we follow the path that God has laid before us. And our ultimate safety has been guaranteed by our risen Lord.
May God deliver us from becoming "non-prophet" Christians. May we lay down our "respectability" and, if need be, our lives in obedience to Him. May we remember that we are in the world so that we might bring His message of salvation to the world. And may we refrain from setting our hearts on those things that are temporary. For whatever we may encounter here on earth is not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to come…when our sojourn on earth is ended and we enter the ultimate, unending and altogether glorious safe haven in the very presence of our Savior.