As I read Deuteronomy, especially, I just wept. God taught me what He was teaching the Israelites, and that was precious. When the Israelites’ sons asked them “What is the meaning of the testimonies, the statutes, and the judgments which the LORD our God has commanded you? (Deuteronomy 6:20b),” God commanded the Israelites to tell them that they had been slaves to Pharaoh—as you and I were slaves to sin—and that the Lord defeated Egypt—as Jesus defeated sin—and that God led them out of Egypt with a mighty hand and amidst many miracles—just as God led me out of my old life and into a miraculous new life with Christ.
Recounting such miraculous history is good for my proud heart, because I tend to glory in the Promised Land and forget my humble beginnings as a slave. I like to remember verse six of Deuteronomy 7: “For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth.” But I often forget verses seven and eight: “The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the LORD loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers, the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”
And now we get to the part where I really began to cry. “Do not think in your heart, after the LORD your God has cast them out before you, saying, ‘Because of my righteousness the LORD has brought me in to possess this land’; but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is driving them out from before you. It is not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart that you go in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD your God drives them out from before you, and that He may fulfill the word which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Therefore understand that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stiff-necked people. (Deuteronomy 9:4-6).”
Let me tell you—this Promised Land is a glorious thing. But as I bathe in milk and honey, stuff myself with grapes, and commune with God Almighty, I start to think that I’ve always been honey-scented, that I’ve always had this much vivacity, that I’ve always been this satisfied. In fact, with my milk-white skin, my honey-scented hair, my grape-red mouth, and my loving God, I start to think that I look pretty good. Who wouldn’t love me? Who wouldn’t want to save me—the poor, poor victim—from slavery? God may have saved me, but why wouldn’t He have saved me? Beautiful, lovely, gorgeous, me!
And then I read Deuteronomy 9:4-6. And I cry. Because, all of a sudden, a picture that I try to forget flashes through my mind. It is a sepia-toned depiction of the old me—cloudy eyes, body caked in mud and refuse, a gaunt figure with bones protruding, and matted, wolfish hair. The stench is so strong, I can smell it through the photograph. The attitude is so rebellious, I can detect it in the clench of my fingers, the purse of my lips, and the blackness of my eyes. And suddenly, I remember just how unlovable I was. I remember how I said to God, “Keep your manna! I had it good before you came! I ate—I drank—I made merry!” (see Numbers 11:5-6). I remember that God didn’t save me because of my madonna-like qualities. When everyone else pinched their noses, curled their lips, and turned their backs, God came and bathed me, dressed me, fed me, gave me joy, and gave me a lifelong mission to bring Him glory.
I live in the Promised Land now, but if you ask me, I’ll be quick to recount for you my days in Egypt. They were awful, sad, and despicable—but they bring that much more glory to my God.