One of the things we have a hard time fully convincing ourselves of is that life in Christ is so much better than life in the world. We cling onto the world just as the children of Israel clung onto Egypt throughout the wilderness. In our reading from Deuteronomy 11 Moses tells the new generation that the land they’re about to enter is so much better than anything they remembered, or were told by their parents and grandparents, about Egypt. Notice how the contrast is put in verses 10-11 – “For the land that you are entering to take possession of it is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you sowed your seed and irrigated it, like a garden of vegetables. But the land that you are going over to possess is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water by the rain from heaven”. That’s an interesting contrast. Egypt is a land that doesn’t get much rain, so they had to irrigate it, or as the Hebrew literally says, water it with their feet. Not so the land of promise – a land which drinks water by the rain from heaven. So, in Egypt they needed human ingenuity and labor to survive but God was leading them to a new land where instead they needed to trust that God would provide.
This is the spiritual lesson we also need to learn in order to bring forth fruit in our lives. How do we produce fruit? By human endeavor, the works of the flesh – irrigating or watering using our feet? Or do we trust in the rain from heaven – the influence of the word of God in our lives? It all depends on where our heart is – in Egypt or the Promised Land. Egypt is “like a garden of vegetables” and is ironically quoted (probably unconsciously) by Ahab in 1 Kings 21 when he wanted Naboth’s vineyard saying to him, “Give me your vineyard, that I may have it for a vegetable garden” (v.2). That’s a very ironic connection because Deuteronomy 11:16-17 goes on to explain why God withholds rain – “Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them; then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you, and he will shut up the heavens, so that there will be no rain, and the land will yield no fruit”. Turning aside and serving other gods is exactly what Ahab had done by importing Baal worship into Israel, and as a result it did not rain for the next three and a half years. So, Ahab was quoting from the precise passage which explains why the drought occurred! When we turn to other gods – trusting in the things of the world instead of God – then we’ll experience a spiritual drought in our lives. By the way, Naboths’ name means “fruit” and he was from Jezreel – which means “God sows” – so he stands for those who trust in God to sow in their lives and bring forth the fruit of the spirit.
Do we want the vegetables of Egypt or the fruit of the spirit? Both things sound nutritious. But “the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic” (Num. 11:5) which the people lusted after in the wilderness are only good for the here and now. What will truly sustain us to eternal life is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23), qualities that can only grow by the water which comes from heaven.
One of the works of the flesh mentioned in contrast with the fruit of the spirit is envy (Gal. 5:21), and it’s interesting what Ecclesiastes 4:4 says about that – “Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.” That’s an interesting observation about life in Egypt. We might object to the idea that all our toil and skill in work – watering the land with our feet – comes from envy but think about it. Why do we labor for the things of this world? We look at our neighbors’ houses, cars, way of life, all of which is focused on Egypt, and want the same things, thinking the vegetables of Egypt are going to provide us with the sustenance we need. But where envy is the motivation, just wanting more stuff, then it’s a work of the flesh and our hearts are in Egypt and we’re in a spiritual drought.
We do have to work for a living but let’s take the time to examine our motivations. Are we earning an income to provide enough of a home for our families, so we have a stable environment in order to concentrate our minds on drinking the rain which comes from heaven? Or are we just interested in the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic of a nicer car, bigger house and expensive vacation so we don’t have to envy our neighbors anymore? Are our homes Egyptian or are doing what Deuteronomy 11 goes on to say – “You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth.”
Simi Hills, CA