Going Back to Egypt: The Impulse Every Community Has

Going Back to Egypt

Did you ever notice in the book of Exodus, that every time the people that Moses was trying to lead into the future that God has prepared for them got scared or didn’t know what to do, their response was always the same…first blame Moses, then start to head back to Egypt.  Egypt was the place of slavery and misery.  Go back to the slavery?  Go back to the idolatry?  That’s crazy thinking.  But maybe for them, the misery they knew seemed better than the unknown that lay ahead of them.  It happens so often that all I can think is that it is a very human response to fear of the unknown. I think a similar thing happens to communities in the midst of spiritual transformation…oh, and by the way, we are ALWAYS in the midst of spiritual transformation.

We become accustomed to being told what to do, to being told every detail of the way forward.  We get comfortable in our institutions with letting the “professionals” handle everything.  We get comfortable in those institutions even when those institutions become highly dysfunctional. We are afraid to just let go and give the reins over to God who we thought we knew, but now realize we can never fully know.  We go forward seeking the promises of God, and then we meet resistance and hardship, and we think that God has forgotten us.  I think part of the reason we get “comfortable” is that we rationalize, like the Israelites did, that we aren’t capable of moving into a future we don’t know or control, and that it’s better to stay stuck than face the uncertainty of the unknown.  And we hear the ancient urge, “Go back to Egypt.”

To make things even tougher, in any transformational environment, communities almost always retain people who have never truly left Egypt to begin with.  They cling to the old way because they benefitted from the old way, and they initiate the whispers of “Go back to Egypt” every time it looks like something is headed for failure.  Their whispers might even be subtly nuanced with, “See, I told you so.  This path will only lead to destruction.  Let’s go back to Egypt.”  And if we aren’t careful to examine their motives, their whispers can marry up with our fears, and before we know it, we forget who initiated the whispers and we start to think that their thoughts are our thoughts.  The truth is that we can never go back.  We are not the same people we were when we left.  They might be because they’ve never given in to growth.  But those of us who have toiled and truly suffered in the wilderness have been changed by it, and we cannot go back.  The only way out of the wilderness is through it.

And for many communities they get concrete feet because they refuse to move forward until they have the perfect plan…every detail figured out.  When Moses led the people into the wilderness, it’s important to notice that there really wasn’t any plan.  There was only a promise, a call, and an opportunity precipitated by a crisis.  There was leader with a vision and heart-burst among the people. We have become so accustomed to needing a plan because we are taught that by our culture that we have forgotten the Biblical story.  In the Bible, as in real life, plans go right out the window at the very first crisis.  And from that point forward what we are doing is developing the situation that is unfolding before us.  We are improvising. We are adapting.  We are overcoming.  We are learning and becoming confident in our ability to do those very things.  In slavery, improvising is a threat to authority.  In the wilderness, it is survival itself.  God has given us a spiritual imagination.  It is God working through that that allows us to not only survive, but to thrive.  We don’t know what to do because in the wilderness, everything is something we’ve never done before…or seen before…or learned to control.  That’s what makes it wilderness to begin with.  It is scary and uncomfortable.  For some people, it is VERY scary.  But that is what the wilderness is.  If it were anything else, it would be something other than the wilderness.

So we all have to learn the skills of “figuring it out”.  Some folks have never had to learn how to do that.  But those skills are learned only by doing it. We have to embrace the reality that there is no other way forward than that.  We are all entrepreneurs now. There is no plan. If you don’t know what to do, take the principles you know, and figure it out.  Improvise.  Adapt.  No one’s going to hand it to you. There is no one out there that knows the answer, because in the wilderness, almost everything you are facing is new.  You can learn from the collective wisdom that has been garnered by your community or other communities on the journey…in fact, the community’s survival is dependent on everyone’s ability to do that.  But there just isn’t a book yet that exactly lays out how to move your faith community into the future that God has prepared for us and is calling us into.  It’s okay to be afraid.  That fear can drive us closer to God…to a greater recognition of our total dependence upon God.  And that fear coupled with God’s deliverance can lead us into a deeper trust in God and God’s promises.  That kind of trust is what God reckoned as righteousness to begin with. Or…that fear can lead us to give in to the whispers of those who never really left Egypt to begin with when they tell us, “Go back to Egypt.”  Don’t give in.  Improvise. Adapt. Figure it out.  And grow into a deep trust in the promises of God.  Jesus Christ, himself, is with you.



  1. Marty Carney Said:

    Thank you, Max, for passing on a little manna along the way for this day…

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