Mental slavery

“It is a curious but little known fact that the Israelites enslaved in Egypt for four hundred years never once asked to go free. Nowhere in the Hebrew Bible do they say to Pharaoh or Moses or God, ‘Get us out of here!’ All they say, and they say it a lot, and in a lot of different ways, is: Life is hard: we don’t like it.
This may explain why God had to put on such a big show with all those miracles and plagues. If God had simply wanted them free, God could have just made them free. But that wouldn’t have been enough. The slaves themselves had to want to go free. Only by watching all those great signs and portents might they, little by little, begin to realize for themselves that there was a power in the universe even greater than Pharaoh, a power dedicated to freeing slaves.
What had to be broken was not Pharaoh’s will, but the dullness of their own routine, the comfortable reliability of putting up with things the way they were.”

– From “Invisible Lines of Connection: Sacred Stories of the Ordinary” by Rabbi Lawrence Kushner.

How many of us are stuck in the same place, day by day, year by year – a whole lifetime of thinking that things aren’t good enough? We get by, muddle through, but deep down we are miserable. Deep down, we want to be free but we aren’t brave enough to ask for it. Maybe we don’t think we deserve to be free. Maybe we think we are stuck in this room and the only way out is the one way door of death. So we wait for it to come to us, or we rush towards it. We stay in that room not even really alive.

We don’t call out – we don’t ask for help. What we see is what we get.

After Isaac is born, things don’t go well between Hagar and Sarah. She asks Abraham, her husband and the father of both boys, to send Hagar and Ishmael out into the wilderness. This is certain death. He doesn’t want to do it, but God assures him that things will go well. God says nothing to Hagar at this point.

Genesis 21:14-21 (HCSB)

14 Early in the morning Abraham got up, took bread and a waterskin, put them on Hagar’s shoulders, and sent her and the boy away. She left and wandered in the Wilderness of Beer-sheba. 15 When the water in the skin was gone, she left the boy under one of the bushes.16 Then she went and sat down nearby, about a bowshot away, for she said, “I can’t bear to watch the boy die!” So as she sat nearby, she wept loudly. 17 God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What’s wrong, Hagar? Don’t be afraid, for God has heard the voice of the boy from the place where he is. 18 Get up, help the boy up, and support him, for I will make him a great nation.” 19 Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the waterskin and gave the boy a drink. 20 God was with the boy, and he grew; he settled in the wilderness and became an archer. 21 He settled in the Wilderness of Paran, and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.

God heard their cries and answered – and “opened her eyes” (see verse 19) to see a well of water in the desert. This isn’t a spring coming out of a rock. This isn’t a miracle of water in the desert that didn’t exist until just that very moment. This is a normal, everyday well that Hagar didn’t notice until God opened her eyes.

There are wells near you all the time. You just can’t see them, because you don’t ask to see them.

They say that alcoholics and drug addicts won’t benefit from treatment until they get so far down that they ask for help. This seems cruel – we don’t ask people having heart attacks if they want to go to the hospital. We just call an ambulance.

So what is the difference? We have to want to be free – but first we have to know that we are enslaved.

The best part? We have a loving Father who is ready to help us, as soon as we ask.

Hagar and the well

Let’s look at Hagar in the Old Testament. Her son was smacked talking Sarah. In order to have peace, Abraham kicked her out. To throw her out at that time meant certain death.

They were nomadic people camping in the desert. There wasn’t anywhere else she could go. She went out by herself with her son and all she could see was desert. She knew they were done for.

She started crying out to God. He heard her and he opened her eyes. There was a well nearby that she not noticed. It’s not that God had suddenly made the well appear. Rather he opened her eyes so that she could see what was already there. What she needed to survive was right there next to her.

Are our lives like that as well? How many times do we think that we are lost? How many times do we think there is no hope? If we cry out to God, God can open our eyes and show us that what we need is right next to us.

Our eyes are then open to new opportunities and new possibilities. But in order for them to be open we have to hit rock bottom and ask for help. It is kind of like being an alcoholic. Before you’re able to get real help you have to hit the bottom.

Hagar had certainly hit the bottom. She called out to the only one that she knew could help her, and her eyes were opened. That’s the order of things. It isn’t that we see it first. It’s that we feel helpless and hopeless. Then we call out to God. Then our eyes are opened, and only then can we see our way out.

Genesis 21:9-20
9 And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne unto Abraham, mocking. 10 Wherefore she said unto Abraham, Cast out this handmaid and her son. For the son of this handmaid shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac. 11 And the thing was very grievous in Abraham’s sight on account of his son. 12 And God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy handmaid. In all that Sarah saith unto thee, hearken unto her voice. For in Isaac shall thy seed be called. 13 And also of the son of the handmaid will I make a nation, because he is thy seed. 14 And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and took bread and a bottle of water, and gave it unto Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, and gave her the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beer-sheba. 15 And the water in the bottle was spent, and she cast the child under one of the shrubs. 16 And she went, and sat her down over against him a good way off, as it were a bowshot. For she said, Let me not look upon the death of the child. And she sat over against him, and lifted up her voice, and wept. 17 And God heard the voice of the lad. And the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven, and said unto her, What aileth thee, Hagar? Fear not. For God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is. 18 Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him in thy hand. For I will make him a great nation. 19 And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. And she went, and filled the bottle with water, and gave the lad drink. 20 And God was with the lad, and he grew. And he dwelt in the wilderness, and became, as he grew up, an archer. (ASV)

Nothing is an accident

I’ve written before about how the Lord told Abraham that he was going to be the father of many people. Abraham didn’t do things on the Lord’s time, but tried to get things going on his own.

Abraham and Sarah (named Abram and Sarai at that time) were very old. It didn’t look like they were going to have children, so they tried to figure out a way that they were going to fulfill God’s promise that they were going to be the parents of a multitude.

Genesis 16:1-3
Now Sar′ai, Abram’s wife, bore him no children. She had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar; 2 and Sar′ai said to Abram, “Behold now, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my maid; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sar′ai. 3 So, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, Sar′ai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her maid, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife.

It was fourteen years later that the Lord allowed Sarah to become pregnant and give birth to Isaac. Fourteen years! Can you imagine? They were sure that God’s promise was going to happen anytime. They were just getting older and older. It still wasn’t happening. But we forget that God’s ways are not our ways. We forget that God knows everything – and if God says something is going to happen, then it will.

Meanwhile, Ishmael was there. Was he an accident – or part of God’s plan? The Lord has a way of making things NOT happen if they aren’t supposed to happen. Let’s look at two examples.

Genesis 20:1-7
From there Abraham journeyed toward the territory of the Negeb, and dwelt between Kadesh and Shur; and he sojourned in Gerar. 2 And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” And Abim′elech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah. 3 But God came to Abim′elech in a dream by night, and said to him, “Behold, you are a dead man, because of the woman whom you have taken; for she is a man’s wife.” 4 Now Abim′elech had not approached her; so he said, “Lord, wilt thou slay an innocent people? 5 Did he not himself say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.” 6 Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me; therefore I did not let you touch her. 7 Now then restore the man’s wife; for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you, and you shall live. But if you do not restore her, know that you shall surely die, you, and all that are yours.”

God prevented the king from getting into trouble. Abraham said that Sarah was his sister to protect her, but it didn’t work. God stepped in and prevented a problem.

Then we have this story.

Numbers 22:21-35
21 So Balaam rose in the morning, and saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Moab. 22 But God’s anger was kindled because he went; and the angel of the LORD took his stand in the way as his adversary. Now he was riding on the ass, and his two servants were with him. 23 And the ass saw the angel of the LORD standing in the road, with a drawn sword in his hand; and the ass turned aside out of the road, and went into the field; and Balaam struck the ass, to turn her into the road. 24 Then the angel of the LORD stood in a narrow path between the vineyards, with a wall on either side. 25 And when the ass saw the angel of the LORD, she pushed against the wall, and pressed Balaam’s foot against the wall; so he struck her again. 26 Then the angel of the LORD went ahead, and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right or to the left. 27 When the ass saw the angel of the LORD, she lay down under Balaam; and Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he struck the ass with his staff. 28 Then the LORD opened the mouth of the ass, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” 29 And Balaam said to the ass, “Because you have made sport of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you.” 30 And the ass said to Balaam, “Am I not your ass, upon which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Was I ever accustomed to do so to you?” And he said, “No.” 31 Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand; and he bowed his head, and fell on his face. 32 And the angel of the LORD said to him, “Why have you struck your ass these three times? Behold, I have come forth to withstand you, because your way is perverse before me; 33 and the ass saw me, and turned aside before me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, surely just now I would have slain you and let her live.” 34 Then Balaam said to the angel of the LORD, “I have sinned, for I did not know that thou didst stand in the road against me. Now therefore, if it is evil in thy sight, I will go back again.” 35 And the angel of the LORD said to Balaam, “Go with the men; but only the word which I bid you, that shall you speak.” So Balaam went on with the princes of Balak.

In this case, the Lord prevented someone from going the wrong way by sending an angel to stop him.

So if we aren’t supposed to do something, God will get in the way and let us know. Sure, the king could have gone ahead and taken Sarah as his wife. Sure, Balaam could have gotten off the donkey and walked around the angel.

But notice – nothing stopped Abraham from having a child with Hagar. There was no warning, no angel sent. So what looks like a human way of solving a situation is much more than that. God wanted Ishmael to be born, even though he was prophesied to be constantly fighting.

When Hagar found that she was pregnant, she was rude to Sarah, and Sarah kicked her out. This is way out in the desert, with nobody else around. This was a death sentence. Alone, upset, Hagar cried out for help and the Lord sent an angel. The angel told her to return to Sarah and submit to her.

Genesis 16:10-12
10 The angel of the LORD also said to her, “I will so greatly multiply your descendants that they cannot be numbered for multitude.” 11 And the angel of the LORD said to her, “Behold, you are with child, and shall bear a son; you shall call his name Ish′mael; because the LORD has given heed to your affliction. 12 He shall be a wild ass of a man, his hand against every man and every man’s hand against him; and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.”

So even though it doesn’t sound like it is part of God’s plan to have someone constantly fighting – it is. The Lord didn’t send any warning to stop it happening. So we have to accept it.