Daily Meditations

The Lord’s Prayer (Part II)

As the Jews were called by Moses to escape from the country of Egypt, to follow him in the dark night, to cross the Red Sea, so also is each individual brought into the wilderness, where a new period begins. He is free, but not yet enjoying the glory of the Promised Land, because he has taken with him, out of the land of Egypt, the soul of a slave, the habits of a slave, the temptations of a slave; and the education of a free man takes infinitely more time than the discovery of his enslavement. The spirit of slavery remains very close, and its standards are still there and very potent: a slave has somewhere to rest his head, a slave is assured of food, a slave has a social standing, however low, he is secure because his master is responsible for him. So to be a slave, however painful, humiliating and distressing the situation, is also a form of security, while to become a free person is a state of utter insecurity; we take our destiny into our own hands and it is only when our freedom is rooted in God that we become secure in a new way, and a very different one.

This sense of insecurity is brought out in Samuel, when the Jews asked the prophet to give them a king. For centuries they had been led by God, that is by men who, being saints, knew God’s ways; as Amos says (3: 7), a prophet is one with whom God shares his thoughts. And then in the time of Samuel, the Jews discover that to be under God alone is, in a worldly sense, total insecurity because it depends on saintliness, on dedication, on moral values which are hard to get, and they tum to Samuel and ask him to give them a king, because ‘We want to be like every other nation with the security which every nation has.’

Samuel does not want to agree to what he sees is an apostasy; but God tells him ‘Hearken to the voice of thy people … for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them’ (I Sam 8:9). And a whole picture follows of what their life will be: ‘This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: he will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots … And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks and to be bakers.’ ‘Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us’ (I Sam 8: 19). They want to buy security at the cost of freedom. It is not what God wills for us, and what happens is exactly the reverse of the events of Exodus: God’s will is that the security of slaves is to be forsaken and replaced by the insecurity of free men in the making. This is a difficult situation because while we are in the making we do not yet know how to be free and we do not want to be slaves any more. Remember what happened to the Jews in the wilderness, how often they regretted the time when they were enslaved in Egypt, but fed. How often they complained that now they were without a roof, without food, dependent on the will of God, which they had not yet learned to rely upon completely; for God gives us grace, but leaves it to us to become new creatures.

Like the Jews in Egypt we have spent all our lives as slaves; we are not yet in our souls, in our wills, in our whole selves, real free men: left to our own powers we may fall into temptation. And these words ‘Lead us not into temptation’ – submit us not to the severe test – must remind us of the forty years the Jews spent crossing the short expanse of territory between the land of Egypt and the promised land. They took so long because whenever they turned away from God, their path turned away from the Promised Land. The only way in which we can reach the Promised Land is to follow in the steps of the Lord. Whenever our heart turns back to the land of Egypt, we retrace our steps, we go astray. We have all been set free by the mercy of God, we are all on our way, but who will say that he does not retrace his steps constantly, or turn from the right path? ‘Lead us not into temptation’, let us not fall back into our state of slavery.

~Archbishop Anthony Bloom, Living Prayer