Please let us pass through your country. We will not go through any field or vineyard, or drink water from any well. We will travel along the King’s Highway and not turn to the right or to the left until we have passed through your territory.” But Edom answered: “You may not pass through here; if you try, we will march out and attack you with the sword.” The Israelites replied: “We will go along the main road, and if we or our livestock drink any of your water, we will pay for it. We only want to pass through on foot—nothing else.” Again they answered: “You may not pass through.” Then Edom came out against them with a large and powerful army. Since Edom refused to let them go through their territory, Israel turned away from them. – Numbers 20:17-21
This story, immediately following the miracle of the water from the rock at Meribah, is a dramatic example of what it looks like to miss out on the blessing that God intended because of an inability to follow faithfully (God provided for the Israelites in the desert but they seem to have forgotten). I am somewhat amazed by the distance we have come from the Exodus God who see me and the provider of hidden wells. The Israelites are ready to follow the “king’s highway” rather than God’s Kingdom. Why would they do this? I think it comes down to a short memory and a dislike of Manna.
The Israelites are trading what they view as the risky and uncertain provision of God for the certainty of an earthly ruler and a “king’s road”. This is the next step in a progression of replacing God’s leadership; first with Moses and Aaron, later the judges, and finally the kings and governments to come. This is part of a “slow fade” from the kingship of God and participation in his kingdom to a complete abandonment and rejection of God when he arrives as Jesus and is crucified. The Israelites were given a choice when Jesus came and asked people to follow him — they chose the Romans over God.
I am reminded of a line from one of my favorite movies “the Kid” with Bruce Willis. The main character has come face to face with his 10-year old self. At one point in the movie Bruce Willis’ character is going through a series of mistakes that he has made, and the younger version will make. The younger version exclaims “when will we stop messing up!” I think we as Christians can join the Israelites in saying the same thing…when will we stop messing up — placing other things and people in a position that is more important than God.
So the hard question is — do I seed control to someone or something other than God? What ways do I trade God’s Kingdom for the earthly certainty and the “King’s road”? I have to admit that the list is long for me, but perhaps the most prominent is actually an intangible force called “busyness”. I allow my schedule and demands on my time to dictate who and what I will do rather than God. I can remember a time recently when I felt God nudging me to take time to talk with a friend who was hurting. I am sorry to say that on that occasion my schedule won and I did not listen to God’s call. I may never know what would have happened — I can only know what happens when I am obedient.
Prayer: God help me to place your kingdom above all else in my life, even when the other roads seems safer and easier.