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Have you ever felt that oppression is your eternal companion and that you will never be rid of it? You might wonder, where is deliverance? You watch other people prosper, buy homes, enjoy good health, have babies. But you are stuck.
My friend has been stuck for several years. When Job’s friends struggled to guess why their once-prosperous associate had lost everything and was now consigned to live on the outskirts of the city in the refuse dump, they determined that such oppression could only be the result of Job’s bad choices.
But that answer is often too convenient. My friend has made no more bad choices than did Job. But, like Job, he is suffering a protracted, agonizing trial from which there seems no apparent end. Nevertheless, the trial will end. By the law of heaven it has to. Someday things will turn, and when they do, the blessings will pour out without restriction. How do I know? I’ve laid my hands upon his head. I know the end score. I just don’t know all the plays that will lead to that victory.
Each of us experiences seasons when we feel that God is distant. We plead to Him for relief while we struggle to remain faithful and faith-filled. In my friend’s moments of despair, I have seen him cry out his allegiance to God in the words of Job: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.”
Here is something I learned that I would share with my friend.
Bezaleel was an Israelite slave who labored on beautifying Pharaoh’s cities. Over the years, he became a skilled artisan in all works of metal, wood, and stone. Nonetheless, I can imagine the years of his hopelessness, laboring day after day with no end in sight. I am certain that Bezaleel wondered about the purpose of his life. Would he ever be able to use his gift as a free man? Had God forsaken him?
I am struck by the fact that the meaning of Bezaleel is "in the shadow or the protection of God." Could it be that God was watching out for him after all? In the darkest moments of his life was Bezaleel being prepared to do a mighty work?
Bezaleel is not a familiar name, but this good man was one of the most important people in the Old Testament. The Lord not only delivered him, along with the Israelites, but the Lord revealed to Moses that Bezaleel was the man to be called to oversee the construction of the tabernacle. “And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, See, I have called by the name Bezaleel…and I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship” (Exodus 31:1-3).
Where had Bezaleel become such a trusted individual and prepared for the honor that the Lord was now placing upon him? In Pharaoh’s mud pits. In the oppression of captivity. Are we grateful that Bezaleel remained faithful? Yes! Bezaleel’s work would become the model for all subsequent Israelite temples and it even has application today.
Consider that Bezaleel’s crowning achievement was to construct the most holy artifact associated with the tabernacle: the Ark of the Covenant.
From prisoner to prince! This is an oft-repeated story in the scriptures. Think of Joseph who was betrayed by his brothers, who sold him as a slave into Egypt where he was cast into prison. Without family or friends, languishing in captivity in a hostile land, Joseph was stripped of everything except his covenant and his God. And he was not disappointed. When deliverance finally came—and it always comes!--Joseph was snatched out and exalted. He went from prisoner to prince.
Isaiah took up the subject of captivity as the seedbed of preparation for greater things (1 Nephi 21:1-5): “The Lord hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name.”
Personalizing this scripture, we might say that the Lord laid a plan for our lives before we were born. But we do not know the plan or the steps the Lord will take to implement it. Isaiah described the Lord’s hiding the plan from us during a polishing period in which He privately and quietly prepares us for a future purpose. No one – ourselves included -- is allowed to see what the Lord is doing or His design for us.
“And he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand hath he hid me, and made me a polished shaft; in his quiver hath he hid me.”
We are stuck for a reason. Widely unaware of what the Lord is making of us, we are oblivious to our true identity and potential. The Lord has hidden us and held us back; to the world our worth is invisible. Notice, however, that this oppressive situation is temporary. In time, the Lord will retrieve us from His sheath as though we were a sharp sword or a polished shaft in His quiver. He has been preparing us to become his secret weapon! Our being “hid” has had purpose after all: “Thou art my servant…in whom I will be glorified.”
But while we were in the “shadow of his hand,” we felt useless: “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for naught and in vain.” Nevertheless, the day will come when “[I will be] glorious in the eyes of the Lord, and my God shall be my strength.” We are blind to the Lord’s purposes and preparation. A perfect plan is being implemented outside our view.
I have helplessly watched my wife endure the difficulties of ten pregnancies. I have been reminded of Jesus’ comforting words about enduring the pain of waiting before the blessing appears. “Your sorrow shall be turned into joy,” He promised. Then likening the waiting period to a woman in the last days of pregnancy. “A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world” (John 16:21).
Every mother understands the meaning here. The final wait for the baby to be born is terribly uncomfortable, and no amount of praying can hurry the process of development. To interrupt the child’s necessary maturation would be dangerous. When the time of delivery finally arrives, the experience can be protracted and agonizing. Throughout the entire process, the mother sacrifices everything to bring forth a new life.
But when the child is born, “she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that [her child] is born into the world!” And so we faithfully wait, not knowing the length of the development process of the blessing that the Lord is most certainly preparing.