A Road in the Desert

By Dr. Ross L. Riggs

Behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in the dream saying, “Arise and take the Child and His mother, and flee to Egypt and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him. (Matthew 2:13 NASB)

“Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt… and the Lord was with Joseph… But Joseph said to them, do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” (Genesis 39:1, 50:19-20
NASB)
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The route of Abraham’s travels in ancient times would have been nearly identical to the traders’ route that those who purchased Joseph would take to Egypt and later Joseph’s brothers and family would eventually take to Cairo. Centuries later, Joseph, step-father of Jesus, would take the same route when fleeing Herod in Jerusalem.
The point marked on this map with a is the location of current day Bir al-Abed. (See map later in this monograph).

Joseph, the great-grandson of Abraham was taken to Egypt and lived there around 2900 BC. (The Exodus under Moses took place about 2450 BC and King David ruled in Jerusalem 1003 to 970 BC)

Archaeologists believe that a massive volcanic eruption followed by a tsunami of epic proportions wiped out the coastal cities of Sinai in 1500 BC. This would have been during the years of the Judges before the reign of King David. A city in the location of Bir al-Abed during the travels of Joseph and his family would have been destroyed and then, perhaps, rebuilt by the time that Joseph, Mary’s husband would have brought the Messiah to Egypt in the 1st Century AD.

In the 7th Century A.D., Islam began to grow in the areas of Mecca and Medina in the area today known as Saudi Arabia. In the years following Mohammad, Islam spread west along the northern shores of Africa in a bloody campaign by those loyal to Mohammad.

On Friday November 24, 2017 Terrorists attacked the Al Rawda Mosque in Bir al-Abed in northern Sinai. Though not yet claimed, as of this writing, likely the local Islamic State of ISIS is responsible for the attack that killed 235 with more than 100 wounded. Sources claim “it was the worst terrorist attack on civilians in modern Egyptian history. It was well-planned, highly coordinated and aimed at slaughtering as many people as possible.”
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Al Rawda (also spelled in some sources, Al Rouda) is a Sufi mosque, a branch of Islam known for its mystic ways that involve chanting and enchantments meant to draw worshippers closer to a spiritual awareness. Many of the worshippers in Bir al-Abed are workers in a local salt mine.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi vowed that the attack “will not go unpunished” and that Egypt would persevere with its war on terrorism. But he did not specify what new steps might be taken. U.S. President Trump took to his Twitter account and called the crisis a horrible and cowardly terrorist attack on innocent and defenseless worshippers. The world cannot tolerate terrorism” he said on Twitter, “we must defeat them militarily and discredit the extremist ideology that forms the basis of their existence!”

According to sources, the terrorists approached the mosque in four off-road vehicles with at least a dozen terrorists entering the mosque where hundreds were gathered. Very likely they approached the city along highway 40, the same road that had carried travelers and tradesmen and in the centuries before the destruction by a massive volcano and tsunami may have carried the 17-year-old prisoner Joseph who would one-day rule Egypt and generations before that the caravan of his great-grandfather Abraham. That same road carried the body of Joseph’s father, Jacob, back to the Promised Land in a great procession, where he would be buried. Jacob’s directions for his burial are recorded in Genesis 49:30-32.

“…in the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought along with the field from Ephron the Hittite for a burial site. “There they buried Abraham and his wife Sarah, there they buried Isaac and his wife Rebekah, and there I buried Leah – the field and the cave that is in it, purchased from the sons of Heth.”

Over four-hundred years later, when Moses was bringing the nation of Israel, now millions strong back to the Promised Land they would be carrying the bones of Joseph only for another Joseph to travel that way again to bring his wife and toddler step-son, baby Jesus, the Messiah to Egypt for safety.
Jesus Christ, by this time a young boy, after the death of Herod, would have passed along this same area again, returning to Israel perhaps even staying the night in a town on or near the site of Bir al-Abed.

On this Friday in November, just a few weeks before the Christian world celebrates the nativity of our Savior Jesus Christ, terrorists used the this non-descript road in the desert to bring about carnage, bloodshed, tears, pain and death.

They were firing rocket propelled grenades and firing indiscriminately into the crowd. One boy of 14 who had shrapnel and a bullet wound described the carnage. He said “I saw many people on the floor, many dead. I don’t think anyone survived,” he said at a hospital in the Suez Canal city of Ismailia, where around 40 of the wounded were taken, including many children.

The Egyptian army has been battling ISIS-linked militant Islamists in the Sinai four years with limited success. But if the world knows little about this fierce ongoing struggle, that is no accident. The Egyptian government has imposed an almost total media blackout on its efforts to repress what is becoming a deeply embedded insurgency

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Egyptian president al-Sisi claimed that “the attack would only “add to our insistence” on combatting extremists. Addressing the nation later on television, he said Egypt is waging a battle against militancy on behalf of the rest of the world, a declaration he has often made in seeking international support for the fight.”

Egyptian president Abdul Fattah al-Sisi went on Egyptian television Friday evening to declare three days of mourning and denounce the attack, which he called the work of cowards. He vowed to respond with air strikes and “brutal force.”
desert

But the use of such brutal force, which critics say is also indiscriminate, has created greater resentment among Sinai residents. It has also radicalized the local population and generated new recruits for the terrorists – even as most Egyptians reacted with shock and outrage to the assault on a holy mosque during the Muslim day of prayer, a rarity in the deeply religious country.

While no group immediately claimed credit for the attack on the Al Rawda mosque in the town of Bir al-Abed in northern Sinai, the culprits were almost surely the local branch of ISIS, also known as the Islamic State.

It is just a road in the desert, probably the current-day road is one with a heritage that is as old as civilization itself. It has witnessed the dawn of mankind’s growth as a people of the One Creator God, the historic events that took place across it and it witnessed the sons of Abraham trying to survive horrific draught and famine. It witnessed the funeral processions of patriarchs of the Christian faith and the escape and return of the Messiah from Israel to Egypt and the fulfillment of prophecy, “Out of Egypt I have called my Son.”

This map shows that simple road. Notice the red color, the subscript of the source just says, “Travel Not Recommended.” So, when one wants to plot their travel from Cairo to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, there is a bit of a side-trip. That side trip is shown in the next map.5

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You will notice a red line and a blue one. One is the distance to go directly from Cairo to Tel Aviv. The direct route is 395 km and if you travel at 85 km/h it will take you just under 5 hours, depending, of course on how well you swim; so you may want to add some time if you choose to stay on dry land. Because of the violence, however, you will likely have to take the more circuitous route which will take you 9 hours to travel the 756 km. Sounds like the same kind of problem Moses had getting to Israel from Egypt!
There could be close to 300 people dead, men, mostly salt mine workers, women and children all who practice a strange cult version of Islam dead for no other reason than a group of another cult find their worship untenable.

The terrorist lives to strike fear into the hearts of those who just want to live out their lives in relative peace. When Christ returns there will be a time of tribulation on the earth with its purpose to bring back to the faith those who have run away from God, chasing false teachings and empty promises of peace. The violence earlier today was there just for the sake of indulging in terror.

God save us from ourselves and walk beside us along a little-known road in the desert.

 

Ascension to Royalty

“I have a diagnosis: You’ve come down with a case of Ascension to Royalty – osis!”

Rev. Ross L. Riggs, D Min. True North Ministry

From the days of the earliest kingdoms, in lands far across the globe, intrigue, the lust for power, the plotting of unscrupulous persons and often the murder of those who stood in the way of an elevation to the throne were the hallmarks of the ascension to royalty. When Joseph’s brothers, all sons of Jacob, patriarch of Israel, learned of God’s plan to anoint Joseph as ruler, they plotted to kill him; eventually selling him into slavery and telling their aging father that Joseph was dead, mauled by wild animals. Entire families have been decimated to clear the way for a rival to take over the throne.

 

In 2 Chronicles chapter 22 is the story of Ahaziah, Athaliah, Jehosheba and Joash. Ahaziah had been an evil king following in the idol worship by his predecessor, King Ahab. Ahaziah’s kingship was jealously guarded by his mother, Athaliah. When she learned that her son had been killed “…she proceeded to destroy the whole royal family of the house of Judah… But Jehosheba took Joash son of Ahaziah and stole him away from among the royal princes who were about to be murdered and put him and his nurse in a bedroom… He remained hidden with them at the Temple of God for six years while Athaliah ruled the land.”[i]

 

The Roman Empire fared no better. The evil among the ruling class was known across the Roman world. The famous line from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, when the ego maniacal Caesar looks into Brutus’ eyes, even as his lifeblood flows from the stab wound inflicted by Brutus; he says,
“Et tu Brute?”[ii] 

 

“Good” King Henry IV of France around 1600 survived at least 12 assassination attempts until finally succumbing to a stab wound by a fanatical Catholic who believed that Henry was too much a ‘Calvinist’ to hold the throne of France. Even so, Henry’s son succeeded him.

 

In the early period of the Turkish Ottoman Empire (from the 14th through the late 16th centuries), the Ottomans practiced open succession, or what historian Donald Quataert has described as “survival of the fittest” not eldest, son.”[iii] The Turks, though not the only group to use violence as the path to the throne, were certainly known for their brotherly approach to it. The practice of fratricide, first employed by Mehmed II, soon became widespread. Both Murad III and his son Mehmed III had their half-brothers murdered. The killing of all the new sultan’s brothers and half-brothers (which were usually quite numerous) was traditionally done by manual strangling with a silk cord. As the centuries passed, the ritual killing was gradually replaced by lifetime solitary confinement in the kafes (“Golden Cage”) from which escape was impossible.

 

In November of 2008, modern science unraveled the mystery of the murder of one of the last emperors of China. The murder, over one hundred years old in its setting, was ready for a resolution. Mystery writers have been ahead of the curve for some time realizing that if the method of doing the dastardly deed is that of poison, one might expect that it will been orchestrated by a femme fatale. And that appears to be the case in the murder of Guangxu who ascended to the Chinese throne in 1875, around age 4. Because of his youth he was under the watchful eye of his biological aunt, the Empress Dowager Cixi who arranged to adopt him just before he became emperor. Even when Guangxu was in his twenties he remained, to a degree, under the thumb of his driven aunt. As he sought to modernize China, she found a way to have him placed under house-arrest in 1898 where he remained the rest of his life and she, Empress Cixi maintained the throne. In 1908 Cixi knew she was soon to die. Investigators believe that she feared Guangxu would retake the throne on her death, so, it appears; she poisoned him! Former Emperor Guangxu was dead at the age of 36. Empress Cixi, however, committed the murder for naught for within 22 hours, she died at the age of 74. Upon her death, a new emperor was named, and Puyi ascended the throne at the age of 2. Within a very short time the Peoples’ Revolution took place and Communism fell to be the lot of the Chinese people. “The revolution ended with the abdication of the ‘Last Emperor Puyi (who was only six years old) on February 12, 1912, that marked the end of 2,000 years of imperial rule…”[iv] (Note on Puyi’s age added by author)

 

In the United States of America, shortly after the Revolutionary War, a Constitutional Convention worked diligently to lay the foundation for the new Republic. There was pressure for George Washington to become the first king or some other fashion of ruling monarch, which he thankfully turned away. The Office of President of the United States remains, however as close to royalty as can be held in the U.S. with the amount of prestige, honor and standing that is given the person who holds that office. Whether it is the total access of the motorcade or a right to supersede any event in the country by executive privilege, the perks of the position are many. According to a NY Times article in 2011 “some analysts believe that President Obama, who raised and spent about $750 million in the 2008 campaign, will come close to $1 billion in the 2012 campaign…”[v] A November 2012 article reported that Romney and Obama combined to spend $2 billion on the campaign.[vi]

 

Every position of royalty that has ever been filled by some personality, whether obsessed with themselves or serving gallantly on behalf of the people they represent, has commonalities. Each is temporary, finite and restricted by the ruler’s own mortality. There is but one, and only one, who has ever deserved all of the honor and glory of the highest of all royals, ever in time. And it was that one, the single highest of all royalty, the King of kings and the Lord of lords who loved and cared for his people so much that he was willing to give it all up so that he might save them. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Philippi explaining that of Christ Jesus, “Who being in the very nature of God did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in the appearance as a man, humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross. Therefore God exalted him to the highest place, and gave him the name that is above every name.”[vii] The Apostle Paul used the example of Christ to encourage his readers that they should consider Christ’s example and “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interest of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.”[viii]

 

Can you imagine, if just for a moment, what our world, our nation, even our cities would be like if those who hold powerful offices took on the humility of Christ? He loves His people so very much that He was willing to turn His back on every great joy of being the exalted God, Creator and Master of the universe and beyond so that He could reach out to the lowliest of the low and give them His righteousness, to impute upon them His holiness. And He did it all so that each person who accepted His gift could live throughout eternity with Him, enjoying all the abundance of every spiritual blessing!

 

As citizens of our country, our local cities or states, we cannot even get an appointment to speak to most of those in public office much less to have them seek us out, in our home, at our employment (unless they are campaigning en masse for our votes) to learn how they can be of service to us. That brings to mind a term that one does not hear much any longer, public service. There are accounts as to how, as recently as President Lincoln in the 1860’s, the Chief Executive of our nation would hold sessions each week, if not sometimes daily, where his office door was open and, though still in an orderly fashion, citizens could come and present their concerns or questions directly to the president. It was expected that this public servant was there to help them and, more often than not, each received a response if not immediately, within an appropriate amount of time.

 

Sadly, some of our mega-churches in the U.S. and abroad have become so large that it is difficult, if not impossible, to gain time to speak to the senior pastor. Mission organizations have become so modeled after the hierarchy of the world business model that you cannot get an audience with the president or CEO without jumping through several hurdles. Even some in the mission who have some responsibility of supervision or administration have elevated themselves in such a way that even getting a reply to a letter or e-mail is difficult. When Christians have done that in such a way within their organizations, how can it ever be expected that those same folks will do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit and focus on reaching out to the most humble of the lost? Hopefully, the percentages of these folks in organizations are smaller than those who are still there with a desire to help.

There is a child’s television program that features a young cartoon girl whose mother is a doctor.  The child imagines herself a doctor to her stuffed animals that seem to come to life and talk to her as she plays make-believe. In the  process, this young ‘Doc’ will usually come up with an interesting diagnosis for whatever is ailing a given stuffed animal or toy. The diagnosis is then recorded, with the help of her stuffed hippopotamus nurse, into the Big Book of Booboos. Well, when it comes to many in the church today and for some mission agencies, as the cartoon ‘Doc’ would say, “I have a diagnosis: 

            You’ve come down with a case of Ascension to Royalty – osis!”

 

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

A quick view across history, as we have taken here, has shown that selfishness, ambition, malice, ego and just plain ol’ pride has led to the most horrific of results in the worlds wherein the ‘royals’ reside. How awful to consider that rather than living out the example that Christ gave us, some in Christianity have fallen into the trap of what the world sees as power and authority. It comes to light as avarice and a loss of vision for service above self. We must follow the admonition of the Apostle Peter to “Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God so that He may exalt you in due time.”[ix]


[i] II Chronicles 22:10-12 The Life Application Bible (NIV) Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton IL 1991

[vii] Philippians 2:6-9 The Life Application Bible (NIV) Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton IL 1991

[viii] Philippians 2:3-5 The Life Application Bible (NIV) Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton IL 1991

[ix] http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Peter+5%3A6-9&version=NASB

 

 

What We Don’t See

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Most everyone has seen the sketches that are brain teasers that if you look at it one way it is a beautiful young woman wearing a stole and another way it is a haggard old witch with a crooked nose and wart! I don’t know when you look at the photo on this page whether you can see it or not.  You may see it quite clearly or it may make no sense at all. Much of whether you can read it or not is based on your perspective, on your circumstances. Are you standing too close or too far away? Two people could stand in the same spot, one see it the other not. Why? Well, in this particular picture, the word that hopefully is visible to you is JESUS.

Very often, life is just like that. Sometimes it feels like we are in a place where no matter how hard we try, there are those around us – who have authority over us – that cannot see our intentions. For that matter, they don’t care about our intentions or how much we try. It seems as if their mission in life is to make us miserable every single day that we go to work or school, or wherever. We are beaten down every time we try. We do what they ask and it isn’t good enough. All of a sudden, just the thought of this person or seeing them coming toward you is enough to put knots in our stomach and you know that whatever is about to come out of their mouth, will not be good news for you. You begin to believe that no one sees your plight. No one cares. You are this small bug that every day someone is going to try to squash. Pretty miserable thought, huh?

Change your perspective. I shared with someone just recently in this kind of situation that Joseph, who God had told would be king of his people, ended up thrown in a well, waiting to be killed by his own brothers. When you are down in a well there is only one way to look and that is up!

You may not be in a well today. Maybe you are in a pile so deep that everywhere you turn the world is brown! It is time to change your perspective and ‘look up.’

What keeps us in the well or what keeps us in the stress or the deptression is often an issue of ‘what we don’t see.’ As cops we used to enjoy the line, “it’s not the cops you see that you should be worried about… its the one’s you don’t see!” Well, in this instance, you want to be aware of what you are not seeing.

There is the story in the Bible when Elisha, one of God’s prophets was in a house with a friend and they were surrounded by Syrians ready to storm the house – two Israelites surrounded by the Syrian army ready to take them… They had no where to go! Elisha prayed to God to open the eyes of his friend because he could not understand why the prophet was so calm and unworried. When God opened his eyes to what he had not, previously, been able to see; this friend saw God’s armies, with chariots of fire, surrounding the would-be captors. He needed a better perspective. He needed to see what he hadn’t seen. (2 Kings 6:12-20)

My friend, with whom I shared part of this story, is in that kind of position. I mentioned that he may not have access to anyone here that will help or will listen, or even care for that matter. But, he needs to remember that he has immediate, unfettered access to the King of the Universe, the Creator of all things, the Omnipotent – All seeing God and His Son, Christ, with the power of the Holy Spirit residing in his very own heart.

He needs a new persepctive. He needs to look UP. He needs to focus on what he hasn’t been seeing and count on the One who is REALLY in charge… who REALLY DOES care.

It is true that my friend’s circumstances may not change. Joseph’s changed, from the well to Potiphar’s house and luxury then from Potiphar’s house to prison and there he stayed but the Bible says, “But the Lord was with him…” Eventually, God brought him out. He’ll bring you out too; in His way and His time and it will be PERFECT!

In the mean time, in-between time – focus on what we too often don’t see. Focus on JESUS. What can really improve our situation is – what we don’t see.