Have you ever experienced this unspoken restlessness at the core of your being – A nervous energy that no matter how much you try to accomplish, it is never enough? It’s like being on a treadmill that drains all your energy from effort, but goes nowhere.
The Israelites in Egypt experienced this exact kind of unease under Pharaoh.
“You are no longer to supply the people with straw for making bricks;
let them go and gather their own straw.”
Exodus 5: 7
I believe that the “bricks without straw” is a picture that speaks of the unnatural, unrealistic way in which we move through this world.
The Egyptians used clay from the river and combined it with straw for stability. Without straw, the clay was weak like the old plaster walls without wire support.
“Bricks without straw” typifies our post-modern culture that is based on endless striving in the pursuing of “more” at the expense of the eternal.
In today’s culture, work and schedules can eclipse family, friends, spouses, and even our religion. Though not as primitive as the Israelites, we’ve traded whips for impossible schedules and lashes for unrealistic demands. Today’s Pharaohs say with covetous eyes, “You can gain the whole world by doing more, spending more, consuming more”, but they never show you what’s really at stake: your soul.
Everywhere you look, so many people are exhausted because of the impossible tasks put on them by the world system of “more”. We have less time and are expected to produce more, less resources but expected to pay more, less rest but expected to carry more. The “more” always promises to satisfy, but inevitably leaves you barren and burned out.
The natural result is one that makes you feel perpetually lazy and like an abject failure because “you are not getting it done” – Or as Walter Brueggemann (to whom I own much in this blog) puts it, you “count bricks in vain from your bed at night”.
Because of Pharaoh’s demands, we become subtly disconnected from our loved ones, exchanging intimacy for more production, and while hoping to appease our beloved with material things, we make the impersonal chasm larger.
Could it be that what is at the core of our drivenness is not just some “Type A” personality quirk, but something much deeper? That deeper part that makes us strive I believe has much to do with the Fall, the curse of earning things by the “sweat of the brow”. Before the Fall, Adam and Eve worked hard keeping the garden, but there was no striving in it. After the Fall, however, it was a different story. The lines between hard work and striving blurred. One line is rooted in how we were created, the other in how the modern Pharaoh system seeks to recreate us.
Many years later, Israel is groaning under this same motivation.
God’s response to the dizzying pace we live is to return to the way we were created – A place where you work hard and expend energy, but then stop and renew, reflect, and re-think. The Bible calls this a Sabbath. When you stop, you are telling “time” that you were created for something more than seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, and years, but for Eternity. Abraham Heschel states,
“The Sabbath is a celebration of the intersection between time & Eternity.
It shows a loving God reaching through Eternity to touch us in time.”
We cannot avoid the Pharaohs of this world and their demands, but we can see them as God’s cattle-prods. God uses the implacable Pharaohs of this world not just to drive us out of Egypt’s system, but to drive Egypt’s system out of us and into His restful arms.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
Matthew 11:28–30 28