How often have you made promises like that? Usually they come out in the hard times—illness, unemployment, battles. When God seems distant, silent, even uncaring, and we’re desperate for something—anything—to let us know He hasn’t abandoned us.
But the promise made in the desert is always harder to keep in the lush, green meadow. Especially when the message we hear back isn’t quite what we had in mind. When God says to the suddenly-unemployed businessman, “don’t send out anymore resumes.” When He says to the couple desperate for children, “don’t adopt.” When He says to the cancer patient, “don’t try another treatment.”
Not long after Nebuchadnezzar had ransacked Jerusalem and deported the best and the brightest, those who remained sought God’s voice. We’ll do whatever He says, they vowed. It wasn’t an easy promise for the people of Israel, especially in light of what God had usually said through his prophet. And the message that came back was no different than before: Don’t be afraid. Don’t fight. Don’t run away.
But with the Babylonian king still on their doorstep, they didn’t like that message. And they didn’t keep their promise. But God did.
If they had just listened and obeyed, all would have been well. “I will build you up and not pull you down;” God said, “I will plant you, and not pluck you up; for I relent of the disaster that I did to you.” Instead, they ran away to Egypt—and Nebuchadnezzar followed. To borrow a line from The Phantom of the Opera, “disaster beyond your wildest imagination will occur!”
When I was in Liberia several years ago, many of the Christians shared a litany:
In that West African nation ravaged by a 14-year civil war, it was as much a statement of faith as of experienced reality; it didn’t feel like God was good all the time. But sometimes, faith is all we can cling to.
Sometimes, what God says doesn’t make sense. Sometimes, it seems to work against the very thing we want. Those are the times that faith is tested. That’s when faith gets real. That’s when we need to cry out in desperation, faith, and hope: God is good—all the time!