Bubble-wrapped idols loaded onto the backs of camels being ridden through certain danger and devastation to an uncertain hope. This is the striking image which God, through the prophet Isaiah, gives us of His people fleeing to Egypt for refuge.
The image is laughable until I realize how often I follow the same pattern in my heart. More often than I care to admit, I find my heart fleeing from God’s promises and presence to false hopes and functional gods that seem more promising and tangible.
When we grow weary of unfilled longings for marriage or children or a significant job, when God’s provision of a job or clarity seems to be running later than we would have liked, how easy it is to proverbially load up and head out to the shopping mall or the bar or social media. When painful circumstances or trials or physical suffering won’t let up, it is easy to grow weary in waiting on God and begin to settle for quick fixes.
In Isaiah 30, God boldly exposes both the ridiculous path His children have chosen and the rebellious thought patterns that led them to such a crazy course.
Through a land of hardship and distress, of lions and lionesses, of adders and darting snakes, the envoys carry their riches on donkey’s backs, their treasures on the humps of camels, to that unprofitable nation, to Egypt, whose help is utterly useless. Isaiah 30:6-7.
Why would God’s people go to such dangerous lengths to head to Egypt? Isaiah doesn’t leave us wondering, bur rather exposes the erroneous thought and behavior patterns that led to such a foolish fleeing.
They were unwilling to seek the Lord’s instructions (v9); they no longer wanted to hear what was right, but rather what was smooth, easy and comfortable (v10); they were tired of being confronted with their sin and the holiness of the Lord (v11). They were tired of trusting in that which was unseen.
Egypt was a powerful nation, teeming with wealth and riches, power and prestige. It seems that the draw to the tangible wealth and strength of Egypt was strong enough to erase the memory of centuries of oppression and slavery from which the Lord had so powerfully and miraculously rescued them. Sin makes us stupid.
God’s people grew weary of trusting in a God they could not see with a strength that was not measurable in chariots and horses. This was nothing new; after all, they had used the plunder God had given them on the way out of slavery in Egypt to create a golden calf. A bit later in their national history, they demanded a human king so they could be like the surrounding nations. According to MacClaren’s commentary, “Israel always felt the difficulty of sustaining itself on the height of dependence on the unseen, spiritual power of God.”
Thankfully for us, God did not stop there. Rather, He offers His people a better way, while also pointing them to a much better day.
This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says, “In repentance and rest you will be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it. You said, ‘We will flee on horses.’ Therefore, you will flee…A thousand will flee at the threat of one”…Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore, he will rise up to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him. Isaiah 30:15-16 and 17-18.
I can hear my own stubbornness and stupidity saying to God, “No, I will flee.” We are squeamish people, easily set fleeing by threats and fears, from God to the unprofitable idols of worldly identity, significance or success.
We foolishly flee to false refuges. Meanwhile, God stands patiently pleading and waiting to be our sure refuge, if we would only return to Him and learn to rest in Him again. We can hear the longing tones of a worried parent, pleading that his children come home.
As if knowing that they and we needed to be reminded of the immediate benefits of returning to the Lord as well the eternal benefits of the new heavens and the new earth, God fills Isaiah’s mouth with beautiful images of what will be our inheritance if we learn to take refuge in the Lord.
People of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you…He will also send you rain for the seed you sow in the ground, and the food that comes from the land will be rich and plentiful…The moon will shine like the sun, and the sunlight will be seven times brighter, like the light of seven full days, when the Lord binds up the bruises of his people and heals the wounds he inflicted. Isaiah 30: 19, 23, & 26.
I love how God says we will respond when we see Him and our fleeing to false refuges rightly.
Then you will desecrate your idols overlaid with gold; you will throw them away like a menstrual cloth and say to them, “Away with you!” Isaiah 30: 22.
When the Spirit convicts us of our foolish fleeing, we toss the idols we had packed up in bubble-wrap, we throw them to the ground and run home. We run to return the faithful refuge, the only eternal dwelling place.