ditches in the desert

I’ve been journeying with kings recently. That is, the kings of the old testament. They are a tiresome bunch. For every good king, there are several evil — so much so that the wickedness of one becomes the measure of another. Of course, God’s people have no one to blame but themselves, so insistent they were upon keeping up with the Jones’, so to speak. Why, oh why, do we insisting on having our way?

(Samuel) said, “This is the way the kind of king you’re talking about operates. (Umm … Yikes!) … The day will come when you will cry in desperation because of this king you so much want for yourselves. But don’t expect God to answer.”

But the people wouldn’t listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We will have a king to rule us! Then we’ll be just like all the other nations. Our king will rule us and lead us and fight our battles.” (So …) God told Samuel, “Do what they say. Make them a king.” (1 Samuel 8)

There are some bright spots in the history of kings of Israel and Judah, but they are few and far between. Regardless, I always learn something new in reading their stories. Recently I was captivated by the three kings and Elisha in the desert of Moab (2 Kings 3).

A rather unholy alliance, the three kings got themselves into quite a fix by joining forces. When they struck out to attack the King of Moab, they chose the more difficult approach through the desert. There they were stranded, desperate for water, and easy targets for a counter attack. Then, finally, they recognized their need for divine intervention. Whom shall we call? Elisha!

It’s curious that God’s prophet, Elisha, had traveled along on this invasion. He must have heard God’s call and followed in obedience. It probably didn’t make much sense, in the moment — how often do I hesitate for that same reason? But Elisha was mature enough to act in response to God’s urging. As a result, he was perfectly positioned to be used by God. I hardly think he was surprised when the three kings came tapping on his tent flap, humbly seeking assistance.

Still, it was a bit of a stretch, given the circumstances. Elisha knew full well where evil resided and didn’t want to consort. But he swallowed his distaste long enough to seek the Lord. That was his job, after all, and he did it faithfully. First, he had to clear his head and calm his spirit and listen to God. Then his instructions to the kings were so outlandish they had to be inspired. Who digs dry ditches in the desert?

Elisha said, “As God-of-the-Angel-Armies lives, and before whom I stand ready to serve, if it weren’t for the respect I have for Jehoshaphat king of Judah, I wouldn’t give you the time of day. But considering—bring me a minstrel.” (When a minstrel played, the power of God came on Elisha.)

He then said, “God’s word: Dig ditches all over this valley. Here’s what will happen—you won’t hear the wind, you won’t see the rain, but this valley is going to fill up with water and your army and your animals will drink their fill. This is easy for God to do; he will also hand over Moab to you. You will ravage the country: Knock out its fortifications, level the key villages, clear-cut the orchards, clog the springs, and litter the cultivated fields with stones.”

In the morning—it was at the hour of morning sacrifice—the water had arrived, water pouring in from the west, from Edom, a flash flood filling the valley with water.

I love that Elisha starts by referencing the God of Angel Armies. Oh, what an encouragement! Throughout scripture, God uses angels as messengers, ministers, protectors, and they sometimes form a fearsome force. There’s nothing like an angel army when you are outwitted, outmaneuvered or outnumbered. I can only imagine the three Kings’ relief. But first, they had to dig.

I also love that Elisha reminded the kings how easy it would be for God to fill those ditches to overflowing. What seems impossible to us is so not a big deal to him. Still, we have to do our part. He instructs them to dig ditches in the desert valley. In the searing hot sand, beneath the blazingly bright sun, though they were weak and parched and dying of thirst, through the night, if necessary: Dig, dig, dig!

God delivered on his promises because the people obeyed. It didn’t matter that it didn’t make sense. They had faith to craft the vessel designed to hold his provision. In this case, it was dry, sandy ditches.

Every day for two weeks I’ve been pondering the scenario of the three kings stranded in the desert with Elisha. I’m reminded that receiving God’s provision sometimes depends upon stepping forward in faith to build the framework in which he has chosen to accomplish his plan.

What’s your ditch? An impossible education. An unlikely business. An extended family. A season of suffering or hardship. A difficult journey. A costly investment in the future or in another. No matter, we can count on the God of Angel Armies to do his part when we do ours. Take courage as you dig!

I know who goes before me
I know who stands behind
The God of angel armies
Is always by my side

The one who reigns forever
He is a friend of mine
The God of angel armies
Is always by my side

~ René Morley

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