Isolated Servants in the Bible
I didn’t see this coming. Did you?
I guess I should have.
In recent years I have followed news stories about SARS, MERS, Ebola and the Measles.
And now COVID-19.
In my wildest imagination, I never dreamed I would be limiting my social gatherings to 10 people at once and working online from home out of an abundance of safety.
Apart from the serious impact the coronavirus can have on our physical health, the anxiety and isolation associated with our response is a valid cause for concern.
The Bible is full of examples of the latter. The causes may vary, but God’s servants regularly faced anxiety and isolation. Consider these examples and how they responded:
Job. I know Job wasn’t persecuted in the traditional way. He was not mistreated for his faith in God, or because He had a message to deliver from God. Instead, he was persecuted by his friends! Of course, I am using the word “friends” loosely. At a time when Job had lost almost everything and was suffering physically, some religious guests came to torment him by accusing him of wrongdoing. Job repeatedly declared his innocence and was eventually blessed by God. His guests were rebuked by God. Job teaches us, even the most faithful servants of God will suffer, and we should not presume we know why.
Joseph was tragically separated from his father Jacob through the treacherous actions of his brothers, who sold him into slavery. Later, he was falsely accused, imprisoned, lied to and abandoned. Eventually, God raised Joseph up to a place of prominence and used him to save others from starvation. How isolated Joseph must have felt in a strange land where one wrong move could cost him his life. Yet, God used Joseph to set the stage for the migration of Jacob’s (Israel) household to the land of Egypt. Over the next 400 years, Jacob’s descendants were reduced to slavery, but through this unfortunate period of hardship they were fashioned into a nation.
Jeremiah was a persecuted prophet. Once, he was beaten and put in stocks at the Upper Gate of Benjamin (Jeremiah 20:2). Jeremiah resented his treatment and considered going on strike as a prophet. But he knew, if he did, the Word of God would burn in his heart and he would be unable to hold it in (Jeremiah 20:9). Jeremiah teaches us it is normal, even for a faithful servant, to be angry about the sacrifices God might ask him to make. He also shows us how our sense of calling pushes us onward, as the thought of denying what God has put in us is more painful than acting on our convictions.
Finally, we come to Isaiah, also known as the “suffering servant.” Isaiah is significant, not just because he was willing to suffer anxiety and isolation to fulfill his ministry, but also because he is a foreshadowing of Christ. “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7). Certainly, no one was ever so isolated as Jesus when he cried out from the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
I am not suggesting the faithful life is a long, dreadful journey of anxiety and isolation. Some callings are more hazardous than others. But we should also not be surprised when these things occur, or when God uses such seasons to do His greatest work. In those moments when we can’t feel God’s presence or see His hand move, He might be doing His greatest work.
For now, the coronavirus situation has left us disoriented, and perhaps anxious and isolated. We might wonder what God is thinking, allowing us to experience so many trials at once. What possible good is there to be gained?
I must admit, I have some similar questions. But I have learned this is a time for building endurance, loving my neighbor and trusting God with things over which I have no control.
There are some things God can only teach us through our trials.
And to be honest, I know a lot of people who have been enduring more than the coronavirus for a very long time.
Perhaps, I just need to watch, listen and learn.
At the present, there isn’t much else I can do.