Abraham did it. Moses did it. Tens of thousands of Israelites did it. They all lived in tents.
I know it is January, but let’s go camping. Too cold? Nah. I have camped - in a tent - once in the winter. It was great. It was also about 40 years ago.
I love to camp. The smoke of a camp fire, cooking over that fire, hiking, taking naps, being awakened by the song of birds and gentle light slowly coming through the tent. Even the patter of rain on a tent sounds great. It is as close to being in the Garden of Eden as you can get. For about a week.
After that I long for my bed, microwave oven, internet connection, and food that doesn’t taste like smoke. And if it has been raining, the romance of the “patter” becomes annoying puddles. The damp goes through everything. I just want a hot shower.
It is no wonder, then, that the ancient Israelites complained about camping. Theirs wasn’t a week in a carefully groomed park with trees providing a canopy of shade, chipmunks providing entertainment, and park employees providing garbage pickup. No, they were in the desert. I can only imagine trying to keep clean, sand-free, and escaping the blazing sun. Food was the same thing, day after day, for forty years. Every once in a while they would pack up and move around a bit. But it was the same dust, same sun, same food. And no internet.
Their camping trip is documented in the books of Exodus and Numbers. We are quick to note their propensity to complain (certainly I never would have). Let’s give these poor people a break. It must have been very stressful. They were trusting a guy they barely knew who claimed to have had some pretty strange experiences with God. He disappears up mountains for extended periods of times and returns only to claim that “God spoke to him.” Yes, this Moses fellow apparently did convince Pharaoh to let them all go, and that “walking between walls of water” was pretty cool. So something special is happening. Does it have to be so mundane? Is there really a bigger picture here or were they doomed to being desert nomads for the rest of their lives?
Life in the desert, and then in the promised land beyond, was full of hazards. One of those was the threat of other nations looking to plunder the vulnerable. What if a powerful nation came against them while they sat in their tents with virtually no self-protect, no city to protect them, no army to put up a defense? When they finally make it into the promised land, how would they stand against those who wanted to take it from them? I have no idea what their daily routine was like but if they had a lot of time on their hands, they probably talked about such things. And talk brings speculation. Speculation creates scenarios. Scenarios can breed fear if they exclude the reality of the ever-present, loving, gracious Creator God. In response to their “scenarios,” He said to them:
“If you go to war in your land against an adversary who opposes you, then you must sound an alarm with the trumpets, and you will be remembered before the LORD your God, and you will be saved from your enemies. Also in the time when you rejoice, such as on your appointed festivals or at the beginnings of your months, you must blow with your trumpets over your burnt offerings and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings, so that they may become a memorial for you before your God: I am the LORD your God." (Num 10:9-10 NET)
Bad times or good times, Israel was to be assured that the LORD was their God. God even gave them an object lesson to re-enforce the point: blow a trumpet. There was nothing magical or spiritual about the trumpet. It was a traditional tool commonly used to summon people. God just gives it some extra meaning: when you blow the trumpet, He will also hear.
What if we substitute being stuck in a tent with being stuck in a home? What if our social contacts are as limited as their food choices? What if the threats against us are not opposing nations but a tiny bug called COVID-19? We can perhaps better identify with Israel’s intimidation and sense of fear. We also understand their angst at being alone in the desert. They were vulnerable. They were isolated.
Their God is our God. Perhaps we need to learn to blow our own trumpets to one another, both as a call for help but also as a reminder that God is attentive to our situation. There is no denying that this lockdown is, at best, annoying. At worst, it is driving us to the edge of our patience, perhaps even into dark places.
For Israel, blowing the trumpet also served as a “memorial.” In other words, it helped embed into their memories the goodness and faithfulness of God. As we (patiently) wait for this pandemic to end, we can be intentional to remember God’s past faithfulness. This isn’t just longing for the “good ol’ days;” this strengthens our perspective for the future. God has not changed.
If God is God - and He is - then we know that this event, like all others in history, have a greater value and purpose. We will not fully understand what they are (that’s why we are #ConvincedByFaith). We will see and experience the faithfulness of God. He alone is God.