As I write this, I am in the mountains. It is mid morning here and I am not long free of my pajamas. Sitting on the deck of our cabin, I am in perfect intersection between the cool breeze on my back and the warm sun hitting my legs. The rush of the river sets a soothing soundtrack to my repose. There is a sparkle-dance catching my eye caused by the flitting Aspen leaves – little coins in the sunshine flashing their brand of gold. The only thing that diverts my attention from their patterned shadows on the grass is the bunny rabbit feeding on the green (I am not making this up)! And as if that isn’t enough, I have a sweet cup of coffee to trickle a warm trail through my body.
Surely this is shalom. (sha·lom SHäˈlōm,SHə-/ the Hebrew word meaning peace)
(Or the set of Snow White. Should I be listening for singing dwarfs?)
Would that life were always like this…
I try – I really do. Something in me is convinced that shaping my world to feed my delight will bring me rest. There is a chorus in my head that keeps ringing, “If I could only make this right, I would be closer to peace.” Why do the “this-es” never get settled?
I have caught myself once again pretending peace. This moment is peace-giving and it is a gift that I intend to enjoy to the full. But it won’t translate. No, it won’t follow me home where deadlines and busy schedules and people with needs wait to greet me. Where will shalom be then?
I am comforted to know that I am not the only one who pretends peace. In one of the darkest acts in Israel’s story, the whole cast clamors for peace, yet none of their efforts deliver the wholeness, wellbeing and flourishing that is shalom.
In Exodus 1, we find Israel enslaved in Egypt. The people of God are coerced and it is propagated by Pharaoh and the culture of his day. They are mastered by a power they do not want to be under, but cannot seem to escape. Mastery comes from any idea or system that has enough power to influence how we act or think. It is not hard to see that there were a whole lot of people under mastery in that day. And they all reacted differently to the pressure.
Pharaoh seems to be on top of things. He’s king. But when we consider his statement in Exodus 1:9-10, we get a hint of what is pushing him.
“Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.”
He may be on top of his world, but inside, he was threatened. Speculations were ruling his mind. He was mastered by the fear of losing something that he believed made him.
So, he did what any self-respecting caliph would do – clamp down in control. He controlled the Israelites through slavery and their population through murder.
Controlling our world won’t bring us shalom.
The Israelites were in a different position. They did not feel they had any control and maintaining peace in their lives involved going along to get along. They must be good slaves and please the powers that be. When they asked for a break from work to go and worship God, Pharaoh made their work harder. In Exodus 5:5 he says:
“…don’t reduce the quota. They are lazy; that is why they are crying out, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to our God.”
Israel had listened to a voice that named them. It gave them the label “lazy.” Masters tend to speak in terms of identity. They want to tell us who we are, and they do so confidently.
Then, false masters give us a standard to meet – “Make bricks without straw, then you won’t be lazy.” And so, Israel obeyed that voice. They became quota-makers, ever working to meet a standard imposed by the world around them.
Israel was mastered by gratifying the people who they gave the right to define them. That’s no one’s idea of peace.
Pleasing our people won’t bring us shalom.
Finally, Moses chose a third prescription for peace. Although he was a Hebrew, he was adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter and grew up in the palace. He was privileged as an Egyptian, yet his heart kept telling him that he was someone else. When he lashed out in rage and killed an Egyptian foreman, he showed his true feelings. When he is found out:
“Then Moses was afraid and thought, “What I did must have become known.”
When Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian.” Exodus 2:14-15
I believe Moses was confused about who he was and was searching for answers. He wasn’t finding them within the system that now hated him, so he ran.
Moses was hiding.
He was mastered by the confusion of his culture and he felt it left him no options but to exit the scene.
Running from life won’t bring us shalom.
Pharaoh was a driver.
Israel was driven.
Moses was driven away.
We all tend to fall into one of these categories or another. If I had my choice, I would pick driven. At least it sounds noble, maybe I could get some sympathy from it. But I know it’s not the full truth. I am exceedingly gifted at switching back and forth between all of them. A lot of us are.
When we over monitor what we eat for fear of losing control of our weight, we are drivers. When we clamp down on our children for fear of what others will think, yep, we fit the bill. When we manage our look, our friends, our image or our employees to a degree that smacks of domination (but that we call discipline), we are drivers. I think my son would say I am sometimes a driver. Ouch.
When we put on to please, we are driven. We can put on the “right” clothes, face or verbiage to elicit the response we desire. When we work too hard or agree too hardily or give in too readily, we become quota-makers. We are looking for approval in someone’s eye, hoping we have made the grade. I spent a lot of years looking for approval. I get discouraged when it still rears its head sometimes. Shouldn’t I be over that by now?
When we run from life – physically or emotionally – we are the driven away. When we close up tight and refuse to trust anyone, we are hiding. When we justify backing away from friends who have disappointed us, responsibilities that demand from us or truth that divulges our hearts, we can consider ourselves gone AWOL. I am surprised at how many times I am tempted to run.
Little did Moses know that God was setting him up for an exodus of the heart.
Moses made a life of hiding, but God still pursued him. God appeared to him as a burning bush. Moses knew it was no ordinary fire when the shrub was not consumed. When he investigated, he discovered it was no ordinary god who was drawing him.
“God said to Moses, “I am who I am…” Exodus 3:14
Moses encountered I AM – the Existent One, who was and is and is to come. He had only heard of God; now he met Him. And it changed him.
Through the course of their appointment, Moses trusted God, dealt with his fear of engaging life and settled who he was as God’s man. He understood that God knew his name and wanted him for His own. It was transformational.
God also revealed his plan for all His people. He told Moses to say to them:
“I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God.” Exodus 6:7
There would be a clash of masters. For true shalom to begin, God’s people would have to be taken by Him. They would need to forsake false mastery and embrace God alone.
Over the course of my life, the Lord has directed me to His mastery often. After stark revelation of sin, there is always an invitation to forsake the lesser master and embrace Him anew. It is painful and humbling. Sometimes I squirm with excuses or pout in pity, but I never seem to be able to resist His beckoning. I know that goodness, mercy, freedom and peace await me in His presence – as Master.
Shalom begins with changing masters
Have you been taken by the I AM?
Then let wholeness, flourishing, well-being and peace – all that is shalom – begin. No bunnies required!