That is why I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’ Hebrews 3:10
Sheep follow any leader. They are easily distracted. Going astray doesn’t always begin with malicious intent. The shepherd and the rest of the flock might move on while one lone sheep remains behind to enjoy a good meal. Whatever the reason, the outcome is always to his peril. Separation from the shepherd makes him vulnerable to danger. It’s often predators, or starvation, or the accumulation of eighty pounds of wool that make him immobile.
What started out as a beautiful rescue in Egypt, morphed into moments of both ecstasy and tragedy. As the children of Israel despaired, then trusted God, they saw Him move in such stunning ways that it made their enemies tremble. After a Red Sea parted to allow them safe passage, and then proceeded to swallow an Egyptian army into its depths, one would think that a people would hang tight to their Great Shepherd. He led them clearly; a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Never was a shepherd clearer to light the path in front of them.
Despite God’s kindness towards His sheep in an unkind wilderness, they strayed. If I weren’t guilty of the same thing, I’d shake my head in disbelief at their behavior but after a lifetime of mountaintops, how many times have I despaired and then left the path to find more promising pastures? I’ve been distracted. I’ve followed other leaders. I’ve been encumbered by the likes of eighty pounds of wool as the weight of my sin made it hard to move forward. I languished under the wrath of God. I knew the crushing weight of sin that made me long to see the face of a Savior.
God said that He was angry with His people for going astray. His fury was kindled by their infidelity. It didn’t take long for them to complain, to feel entitled, and to build a golden calf. It didn’t take long in their history to ask for God’s resignation as King so that they could crown their own. God was longsuffering. The Great Shepherd sent prophets to woo them back. Because they were blind, He gave specific directions for their return. Sometimes they listened, many more times they didn’t.
For the children of Israel, their sin was covered over by the next sacrifice. For us, the wrath of God was poured out on His Son instead of on us. Our sins were forgiven and eighty pounds of wool were lifted from our shoulders. His Word, both the cloud and the pillar of fire, make the pathway on front of us plain to follow. Jesus promises to lead with a clear voice, to know each of His sheep by name, to nurture intimate relationships so that other voices and other faces will be known as counterfeit. ‘Astray’ begs to be my history, not my future.
As a child of Yours whose heart is full, I love Your voice. You lead me to green pastures and banquet tables in Your presence. I do not want and I need You today as much as yesterday to make my path. Amen