In her newspaper column on gardening, Jan Riggenbach gives us a good word on how to plant bedding plants. She writes:
Giving new bedding plants some rough treatment at planting time may be the best thing you can do to help them survive in the garden. When I was new to gardening, I tried to set tomatoes, petunias, and other bedding plants in the garden without disturbing their roots at all. Nowadays I am much more ruthless…If the plant has been growing in its pot so long that the roots are circling the bottom, I jab my finger into the bottom of the soil and pull down to untangle the roots…If the whole pot is filled with circling roots, I have to be merciless. I don’t worry if I break some of the roots; that’s better than allowing the roots to continue to circle when the plants are growing in the garden.
I think Riggenbach’s gardening advice about breaking up encircled roots can also be applied to life. Oftentimes, the worst thing that can happen to a person is to continue to live the same life year after year. Such a circling of roots doesn’t lead to health and growth; it leads to stagnation and rut.
Change can be a good thing, a healthy thing. God told Noah to build an ark (Genesis 6:5-22). That was change. He commanded Abram (Abraham) to leave his home in Ur and journey to a land that He would show him (Genesis 12:1-3). That was change. He commanded Moses to leave the safety of Midian, go back to Egypt, and lead the Israelites out of bondage (Exodus 3:1-10). That was change. He commanded Amos to leave Tekoa and go prophesy to the northern kingdom of Israel (Amos 7:14-15). That was change. Jesus commanded Matthew to leave his job as a tax collector and follow Him (Matthew 9:9). That was change. Peter was instructed to eat meat that wasn’t kosher (Acts 10:9-15). That was change. On and on the list of Bible examples goes.
One of my favorite examples comes from the life of Jacob. Through an incredible series of events, Jacob came to the point where he was prepared to load up his large family and his sizable holdings and move the whole show from Canaan to Egypt. He had learned that Joseph, his long-lost son, was now second in command of Egypt and wanted Jacob and the family to join him there.
Charles Spurgeon, the renowned preacher, suggested four possible reasons to explain any hesitation Jacob had concerning that move:
#1: Jacob was 130 years old at this time (Genesis 47:28), and old people don’t like change.
#2. Egypt was a pagan land, one well known for its pantheon of false gods.
#3: Egypt was the subject for bad memories for Jacob’s family. Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham, had once gotten into trouble there (Genesis 12:10-20), and God had forbidden Isaac, Jacob’s father, from going there (Genesis 26:1-6).
#4: Jacob had been warned of future evils. God had told Abraham that his descendants would be strangers in a foreign land and serve the people of that land for 400 years (Genesis 15:13). Assuming that Abraham passed that revelation down to Isaac, and that Isaac passed it down to Jacob, it wouldn’t have taken much deduction for Jacob to figure out that Egypt would be that land.
Still, though, despite these four legitimate reasons for hesitation, Jacob pulled up stakes and made his way to Beersheba. Since Beersheba was pretty much the southern edge of Canaan, that made it the jumping-off point to Egypt. It was also a place that Jacob knew well because he and his family had a long history there. From what we can gather from the Bible’s record, Jacob had spent his childhood years there.
But now we come to the best part of the story. While Jacob was camped at Beersheba, he offered sacrifices to God (Genesis 46:1). That was his way of rededicating himself to God and saying, “Lord, I am about to make a major change in my life, and I want to make sure that this change is Your will.” What a great attitude! Jacob did a lot of things wrong in his life, but he certainly got it right on this occasion.
God must have thought so, too, because He spoke to Jacob that night and said, “I am God, the God of your father, do not fear to go down to Egypt, for I will make of you a great nation there. I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also surely bring you up again; and Joseph will put his hand on your eyes” (Genesis 46:2-4). Let’s take these statements one at a time and examine each of them.
First, God said, “Do not fear to go down to Egypt.” God wouldn’t have said that unless Jacob was somewhat afraid of the change. Yes, Jacob had stepped out in faith by beginning the move, but he certainly hadn’t blown past Beersheba and headed straight on down into Egypt. The fact that he was currently camped at that southernmost part of Canaan proved that he had a bit of trepidation about continuing southward into Egypt.
Second, God said, “I will make of you a great nation in Egypt.” For the record, God did keep this promise. 400 years later, when the Israelites made their exodus out of Egypt, they were some two million strong.
Third, God said, “I will surely go down with you to Egypt, and I will also surely bring you up again.” There are a couple of possible ways to interpret that part about God bringing Jacob up again.. On the one hand, God could have been referring to where Jacob would be buried. When Jacob died in Egypt, a large group made a one-time trip back to Canaan and buried him in the family burial cave. On the other hand, God’s promise could have spoken to the fact that God would one day bring Jacob’s entire nation, the Israelites, up from Egypt and settle them again in Canaan.
Fourth, God said, “And Joseph will put his hand on your eyes.” What a beautiful scene this describes. At Jacob’s death, his beloved son Joseph would be right there to close the eyes on the corpse. What a comfort it was for Jacob to know that he would die with loved ones gathered around him.
Getting back to my opening illustration, what God was doing in all this was breaking up the encircled roots in Jacob’s life. He was replanting Jacob in brand new soil by commanding him to make the greatest change of his life. Certainly it was a scary time for Jacob, even painful, but the change would produce incredible blessings and fruit that simply would not be produced if Jacob stayed where he was.
Perhaps God is dealing with you these days about a major change that He wants you to make. If He is, I encourage you to follow Jacob’s excellent example. Before you officially “take the plunge,” have your time at “Beersheba” by rededicating yourself to God completely and letting Him know that you don’t want to do anything that isn’t His will. Then, if He gives you the assurance and peace that the change is of Him, don’t be afraid to launch out with Him. Don’t let fear of the unknown keep you from your “Egypt” blessings and fruit.
I’ll close with an illustration. A Persian general once presided over the execution of an enemy spy. Interestingly, this general had an unusual procedure for executing prisoners. Putting it simply, he gave each prisoner a choice of two options. The prisoner could either accept death by the sword or walk through a big, black door. After thinking the situation over, the spy chose death by way of the sword. Following the execution, one curious observer asked the general what was beyond the black door. The general answered, “Freedom, but they always prefer the known to the unknown.”