Characters In The Shadows: Freedom Identity

Two posts ago you met Nahshon, leader of the tribe of Judah and Israel’s tribal council, and last week you met his his son, Shalmon.

Reading about the camp and these leaders in the shadows, it’s easy to overlook something else, something bigger, that was happening during the time of these two men. And, before we continue reading about Shalmon’s son (who is, by the way, an extemely interesting person, as you’ll hopefully see soon) I wanted to take a time-out to ponder that “something else.”

Nation

Where were you 400 years ago? Where was your nation in 1613? Did it even exist? Four hundred years is a long, long time. That’s how long Israel spent in Egypt.

One man’s family disappeared from view like a caterpillar spinning into its cocoon. (The Bible has no history, or even genealogies, covering this 400 year period). Then, what disappeared as a caterpillar family emerged from that cocoon as a fully fledged nation.

But what kind of nation? When you mention nations like Spain, China, Brazil or the United States, each one brings a different identity to mind. No two nations are the same, not even close. Nations, even ones less than 400 years old, have distinct personalities — identities — which were forged by their histories, environments and the leaders they produced.

Israel arrived in Egypt with parties all around. One of his sons was the Vice-President of Egypt, and the king actually got into his limousine chariot to come and pay the patriarch a courtesy visit. The family settled in a fruitful land and they prospered like crazy — the Bible’s version of “happily ever after.”

Then things changed. Israel wasn’t a slave family when they moved to Egypt, but slaves they became… through no sin of their own. It was “just circumstances.” They lived in peace, raising their livestock when, next thing you know, they were slaves.

For a very long time. Exactly how long, we don’t know, but at least a couple of generations.

Then, as we know, the Lord rescued them in a way that makes even Hollywood look like amateur hour. All of us have seen a nature program where one animal chases another one for dinner. Our sympathy almost universally goes to the antelope or rabbit, frantically running for its life. “Run, rabbit run!” And we can’t help but break out in a cheer when dinner makes that final leap to safety, and stands there, wide-eyed, panting, nervously looking around for the next threat to its life.

Israel’s escape from Egypt was just as frantic, if not more so.

Can you imagine the scene when the waters covered the Egyptian army, as the nation stood on the banks of the Red Sea, panting and sweating, debating whether to continue running or keep looking?

Identity

What an escape… by a bunch of slaves.

Someone recently told us something interesting: almost all people who win the lottery end up back where they were before they hit the jackpot. And millionaire businessmen who lose it all are millionaires again after about ten years or so.

There’s something in us, some nebulous thing we call “identity” that shapes our values, which in turn shape our decisions, which over time bring about our destiny. Millionaires have something inside of them that made them millionaires and, when you take away their money, that innate something that caused them to be millionaires once will cause them to repeat.

This identity thing runs deep, very deep. It’s hard for us to even put our finger on it, let alone change it. With God all things are possible, of course.

And so it was with Israel. All they knew as an identity was “being a slave.” They weren’t used to owning anything, and they were certainly not used to thinking for themselves.

The miracle of the Red Sea was a physical miracle, but it ushered in so much more. One of the big miracles that happened slowly, over several centuries, was that thing of becoming a nation.

The second miracle was the shedding of a slave identity, and mentality, and putting on the identity of freedom.

Freedom

Freedom is a twofold thing:

  • freedom from something and
  • freedom to do something.

This was new to Israel. God, in His infinite wisdom, sent Moses to Kingdom Training School at the biggest and best run kingdom in the world at the time, and Moses set about instructing the nation on how to live and behave as a nation of free men under God, and not a bunch of hooligan slaves running amok.

Transition

If we look at recent American history, we can see how the generation of the 60s broke away from the values and beliefs of the generation before them. And it seems each successive generation acquires its own unique identity. Terms like Generation X or Y are becoming commonplace.

Israel, likewise, had to transition from Generation Slave to Generation Free Wanderer, to Generation Land Possessor, to Generation Finally Living In Peace (Gen FLIP).

In the genealogy of the tribe of Judah, then, Amminadab was probably from Gen Slave, Nahshon from Gen Free Wanderer and Shalmon from Gen Land Possessor. Being one of Joshua’s two spies, he no doubt was part of the army that settled the land.

And it was Shalmon, then, who probably was the one who staked out the clan’s land around Bethlehem, and did what no generation had done for centuries: build a home.

This is not a trivial thing. Imagine nobody in American having their own home since 1613. Now, for the first time, they were able to have a home of their own. Some they built, but most were already built for them by the Canaanites.

All they had to do was move in.

Settlement

Now you have a mental picture of the peaceful scene in Israel, as the new nation settled into the new land, the land of milk and honey, the land the Lord promised them, a land with cisterns, houses and vineyards all prepared just for them.

This was the first generation that was able to raise their kids in a home of their own. And this generation, Gen FLIP, was the first generation EVER in this new nation that grew up in this new-fangled notion: a parents’ house.

Can you imagine the joy throughout the nation? What a dream come true! Your own property, your own home, your own vineyard, flock of sheep, and orchard.

This, then was the setting for the home Shalmon and Rahab made for their kids. Shalmon was still the leader of the tribe of Judah, and still The Man at the annual Leadership Conference the fledgling nation held.

But he was the first one in the long line of Judah that had a permanent home, in a permanent, promised land, in which they raise a family. His oldest son, Bar-Shalmon, may have been born by the time they moved in, but he was the first generation in the new nation that actually grew up in “our house.”

Next time we’ll see how that turned out for the young man, the next in the royal line of Judah…

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