Forgetting What is Behind
What comes to mind when you think of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness for 40 years? Personally, I become frustrated with them. These people took 40 years to make an 11-day trip, and they complained the whole way. They couldn’t get it together, and an entire generation died in the wilderness before they finished their journey. It’s like a bad road trip. It makes me want to turn around to the back seat and give them some advice.
But then I think about the 400 years they spent as slaves. That’s a long time. If we go back 400 years, the United States didn’t exist, classical music wasn’t a thing, the Pilgrims had just arrived, and the King James Version was a new release.
Imagine your family had been enslaved for 400 years, and now you were going somewhere God had promised your distant ancestor. You had heard of this place, but it seemed more like a legend than anything you actually expected to see. You could dream about the Promised Land, but it was just a distraction from your daily misery. Your mind might wander to the Promised Land, but those chains made sure your body stayed in Egypt. You were born a slave, you lived as a slave, and you would die a slave. Just like your parents, their parents, and so on. Slavery was all anyone knew.
It was like that in America for a while. Human slavery was legal in colonial America and the United States for 244 years. Nearly 150 years later, we still have reminders of slavery. If 244 years of slavery still affects us 150 years later, then imagine how 400 years of slavery saturated the Israelites’ identity.
Thinking about this makes it clear why God took Israel the long way to the Promised Land. It wasn’t enough for Him to get them out of Egypt; He had to get Egypt out of them. They didn’t just need a change of address; they needed a change of heart. They needed a reminder of who God had called them to be. They had to let go of their past to be able to step into the future God prepared for them.
Everyone carries some of their past with them. You can learn from the past. Places you’ve been, decisions you’ve made, things you’ve experienced, and people you’ve known are all part of your past, and they shape your present and future. You’re thankful for things that happened in the past and your testimony is the story of your past. Your past is important.
But some people become so wrapped up in the past that it hinders their progress. If you look behind you too much , you miss what’s happening in front of you. God doesn’t want you constantly looking at the past. Jeremiah 29:11 says He has plans to give you “a future and a hope.” If God cares about your future, you should too.
Paul understood this. He wrote in Philippians 3:13-14 that “forgetting those things which are behind… …I press toward the goal.” Paul moved forward by “forgetting” what was behind him. He let go of his past to step into his God-ordained future. Paul didn’t forget his past. In fact, he wrote about it many times. But he stopped identifying himself based on his history.
Likewise, you and I have to let go of who we used to be. Sometimes that is easier said than done. There are always a few nagging reminders that are difficult to ignore. And you may have to leave the good times behind along with the bad. It’s easy to let go of all your past failures, but your past triumphs and successes might have to go, too. The Israelites didn’t just leave their cruel taskmasters; they also walked away from the empire they had helped build. When you leave Egypt, you leave all of Egypt --the good and the bad.
Think about God’s plans for your future. What dreams has He placed inside you? What vision has He revealed to you? What has He called you to do? If you aren’t living in this Promised Land right now, leave your past and step into the future God has for you. Forget what is behind, press on, and boldly go forward! God has big plans for you!