“We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on You.”
2 Chronicles 20:12
GPS technology hasn’t been with us so long that we can’t remember a time of being lost. On a hike or drive in unfamiliar territory, we came to a bend and did not find what we expected. We thought we knew where we were and where we were headed, only to discover neither was true. That feeling of disorientation sometimes manifested itself in frustration, or even fear. We were not sure whether to sally forth until we found something that looked familiar or retrace our steps to rediscover the point at which our recollection, or our map, relocated our true position.
In the Chronicles of Israel, we find the nation was often disoriented for one of two reasons. Menacing assaults from marauding nations would strike fear into her people. Our text last Sunday catalogued one such episode. But more often than external threats, Israel’s stability was compromised by her misguided allegiances. Alluring promises of strength, wealth, and prestige led the nation to align herself with peoples that eventually led her astray. Even our humble hero of 2 Chronicles 20, King Jehoshaphat, was later chastised and disciplined for a foolish alliance (vv. 35-37).
In fact, though the imperialistic urges of Assyria and Babylon eventually carried the nation away into exile, scripture is clear on the ultimate reason for Israel’s dislocation: infidelity to her God through entanglements with nations who worshipped other so-called deities. Scripture calls those entanglements by a different name—idols. Ezra 5:12, in speaking of the nation’s final stage of exile, puts it bluntly: “Because our fathers had angered the God of heaven, He gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon... who destroyed this house and carried away the people to Babylonia.” Having placed too much of their trust in what could not bring them life, they had lost their way and come upon exile.
This last year has plenty of us reeling for one reason or another. Disorientation is perhaps the most euphemistic way of characterizing our condition. Some of us have been blindsided. Fear tempts us because we, like Jehoshaphat, are under siege from forces outside our control.
Others of us, though, have come to find that we have placed so much importance on what we have lost, or on what we might yet lose, that our entire sense of stability has also come under siege. Forces outside our control threaten us, but it’s because our hearts have made misguided allegiances with wealth, or reputation, or strength that we find ourselves in a lost and fearful frame. Pensions, promotions, prospective fiancées, and projects—they’re all good things worth pursuing—but if they’re lost, and we find ourselves embittered, it’s ultimately because we made an almost Faustian deal with them. Having placed too much of our trust in what could not bring us sustained life, we’ve lost our way and come upon what feels like a kind of exile. Peace and joy are at a great distance, not soon to be rediscovered.
As we said Sunday, this world is magnificently efficient at eliciting anxiety, anger, anguish, and ennui. Any of those can emerge in response to external forces. Usually, however, they’re the result of an internal allegiance we’ve made with some finite thing. We’ve come to hope so deeply in them and define ourselves so much by them, that when they’re taken away we’re lost. No one is exempt from the phenomenon. It’s the experience of CEOs and cashiers, housewives and horticulturists, policemen and point guards—and pastors.
And like Jehoshaphat, we sit there at an impasse and say candidly, “We do not know what to do.”
Whether embroiled in an assault from without, or entangled in an allegiance from within, the way back to life is a matter of worship. We may not know precisely what to do, but, like Jehoshaphat, we must set our sights back on the One who is our peace—the only One capable of securing it: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He himself is our peace.” (Eph. 2:13–14). And He is the only One capable of sustaining it: “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you” (John 14:27).
What allegiances have you perhaps made whose loss, or threatened loss, has you lost? It’s the acute and chronic bouts with anxiety, anger, anguish, and ennui that evidence such an allegiance. As Tim Keller puts it in his book Counterfeit Gods, the way forward is a matter of identifying and replacing your idols by retracing your steps back to the one true God, most clearly seen in His Son, Christ Jesus (Heb. 1:3). Learning to worship Him is the way out of the entangling allegiance.
“Give thanks to the Lord, for His steadfast love endures forever,” the Israelite choir sang on the verge of that remarkable battle in 2 Chronicles 20. The way you know you’ve found your way back to the path to life is when that praise becomes more than just words on a page.