Facing the Unknown: Thoughts on a New Year
As I write this, I have been reflecting on 2017 and the many things that have taken place in my life, the life of my family and my church, and others around me during the past year. The past year contained many blessings, as well as many challenges. As we shortly turn the page and begin a new year, and consequently a new chapter in our lives, I think of so many turning points encountered in the lives of God’s people throughout history as evidenced in the Bible. One particular turning point that comes to mind is found in Exodus 14:10-20.
In this passage, the Bible provides an account of the Israelites on the very verge of escape from a state of slavery in Egypt. This passage is found immediately before the account of the epic Red Sea crossing, and is often overlooked as readers of the Scriptures quickly move into this more memorable event. At this point in the Biblical timeline, the Israelites essentially stood between two possible destinies. The first alternative was a continuation of their past as slaves in Egypt. The second was a choice to follow God into a new future in the promised land. As so often happens in our own lives, the Israelites, faced with this monumental decision, were overcome with fear and began to have second thoughts about their choice to leave Egypt. As undesirable as slavery in Egypt was, it appeared to them far preferable to the certain death they believed they faced at the hands of Pharaoh and his powerful army. “They said to Moses, ‘Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt?’” (Exodus 14:11 ESV). Further, they also knew Egypt – they knew its people, its political, social, and economic customs, and its societal order. If they set foot into the promised land, they were entering a land strange and foreign to them and to what they knew. This new destiny they faced, even with its promise of freedom and blessing, was also accompanied by great fear and uncertainty. The Israelites likely felt they were staring into the gaping abyss of the great unknown.
Yet, as the Israelites faced a pursuing Egyptian army and cried out to Moses in terror, dismay and doubt, Moses responded in faith and encouragement. “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today” (Exodus 14:13 ESV). God had called His people to this new destiny, and if they would follow Him, God would protect and deliver them through the challenges that lay before it (and in it). As the leader called of God to guide His people, Moses had to resist the panic-stricken pleas of the people to return to Egypt and serve their Egyptian masters. Instead, he had to encourage and strengthen their hearts with the truth of God’s power and His faithfulness to them, as well as the calling He had given them. Moses’s position is certainly not an enviable one, as he faced immense challenges from all sides. And yet, in this account, he provides a powerful example of steadfast, godly leadership in the face of incredible opposition.
While I personally wasn’t present at this incredible point in human history, and I’ve never personally been pursued by an ancient Egyptian army, I certainly know the feeling of staring into the unknown and being caught between two alternative destinies. If we’re honest with ourselves, we all do. The first option is to live in the past – to continue with what we know, what we’ve experienced, what we’ve always seen and dealt with before. But that’s not always the path God calls us to follow. Often, He calls us to take the path of the unknown…to walk and live by faith, rather than by familiarity. As we face a new year, we also face new opportunities…and new challenges and the fear which accompanies them. In the process, we, like the Israelites many years ago, may also face a choice between two alternative destinies. May we follow the example of Moses given in this passage by choosing to trust God’s plan and His power to bring that plan to completion, and not give in to the paralyzing fears which so often swirl in our minds. May we choose to embrace the truth that God loves us, has a plan for our lives that is both for our ultimate good and His ultimate glory, and may we choose to follow and trust His guidance through the uncertain and unknown territory which lay ahead.
“The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.” -Psalm 138:8 (ESV)
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11 (ESV)
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” -Proverbs 3:5-6 (ESV)