Back Stories – When you peek between the lines or catch a glimpse of the shadows slipping quietly behind the scenes, there are a lot of people in the Bible—often nameless, faceless people—who play a huge role in the final outcome of the story. Theirs is the back story—those quiet dramas in the background that appear so obscure and trivial at first glance yet put in motion so much.
Lions, Tigers and Bears, Oh My: the Underbelly of Quick Success
“The Lord your God will drive out those nations before you, little by little. You will not be allowed to eliminate them all at once, or the wild animals will multiply around you.” Deuteronomy 7:22
I wonder how often our prayers that ask God for bigger-than-life favor on our efforts (and sooner than later) actually come off as ranting and whining in His ears. We’ve made big plans for our marriage, our kids, our job or our dreams and we’re frustrated that things aren’t happening as fast as we’d prefer. For instance, you spent all that time getting a couple of degrees from college and figure that by thirty years old your salary ought to have at least six digits in front of the decimal point. This fast track quid pro quo attitude is why God prefers to run our lives rather than giving us our photo-shopped desires. We’re too naïve and preoccupied to see how stupid and dangerous our selfish hopes for our personal lives really are.
Speaking of grad school, the nation of Israel had spent 40 years getting a PhD in walking around in circles. The Promised Land now lies sprawled out as far as their eyes can see; just over the glistening waters of the Jordon River. There are some nasty nations with intimidating names occupying the land: Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizites, Hivites, Jebusites. These were people who had cut a deal with the devil centuries earlier. They chose to thumb their nose at the God who made them and instead bowed their knees to evil itself. The stench of their vile lifestyles had reached God’s nostrils. Their wholesale disregard for human life—even the precious lives of their own children—finally determined the dénouement of their existence. They had to go (Leviticus 18:24-25; Ezra 9:10-12). Israel was chosen to administrate their ultimate demise. In the process, she was also going to finally get to claim the land grant God had promised to her patriarch, Abraham, so many years earlier.
But God made an interesting passing statement to Moses as he was telling him how the land grab would ultimately come down. He said although the nations would fold like broken lawn chairs before them, the actual conquering of the land would be done methodically over a prolonged period of years. Then God slipped this reason into the mix: so that the wild animals wouldn’t multiply so rapidly that they couldn’t keep them under control (my paraphrase of Deuteronomy 7:22; Exodus 23:29-30).
Literally, God is referring to wild boars, jackals, leopards, hyenas, mountain lions and bears. We know these types of animals existed in Israel (Judges 14:6, 1 Samuel 17:33-37, 1 Kings 13:23-25). But the presence of all of those challenging nations mentioned above kept these animals from over-populating. God promised to go before Israel and conquer these nations. The deal was simple: as long as Israel kept their trust in the Lord, He would fight their battles for them. None of these nations stood a chance. But there was a threat that lived in the shadows and crevices of the land they were conquering that God knew would be too much for them if Israel was allowed to get the upper hand too soon. He didn’t want the hunters to become the hunted.
These wild animals in the back story of Israel’s conquest of the Promised Land serve as a metaphor for our lives too.
They are the same reason God usually doesn’t grant us our prayer requests for jobs that come easy or payoff early, hassle free marriages, kids without selfish wills, and friends without issues. All of these things we’d prefer to have in our lives have something in common: they don’t require our daily dependence on God. Having to develop wealth or achieve a certain level of prominence the old fashion way—by humble and hard work, living below our means on a budget and saving as we go puts us in a position to not only appreciate wealth and status when and if it finally comes, but know how to handle it. The struggles of love, goofy kids and unstable friends keep us in our Bibles and on our knees. But if everything came easily and quickly (the way too many people would prefer), we don’t realize how many predators would be waiting in the wings to take us out.
Blood feeders like pride, arrogance, entitlement, ease, idleness, self-sufficiency, close-mindedness and elitism love to slip in and devour the hearts of people who have life served to them on Wedgewood opportunities. I’ve seen too many who enjoyed beginners luck end up with winner’s remorse. I’ve also seen too many early retirements lead to divorces and too many silver-spooned kids self-destruct. There’s a reason why God usually allows success to be found at the end of a long and winding road. You’ve got to depend on Him to lead you, trust His maps when the path seems wrong, and keep your hand clenched tightly in His when liars bid you to take their shortcuts.
Trust Him when he says, “But I will not drive them (the hassles of your normal life: like work, love, family and friendships) out in a single year, because the land (your personal life) would become desolate and the wild animals too numerous for you. Little by little I will drive them (the hassles and challenges) out before you, until you have increased enough (matured in Christ) to take possession of the land.” Exodus 23:29-30 (parenthetical statements added).
The good life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Those glowing eyes blinking in its shadows are reason enough to let God decide how much and how soon you’re ready for more.