Tsutomu Yamaguchi prepared to board his train to Nagasaki after a long business trip in Hiroshima. Luggage in hand he felt his pocket for his boarding pass but found nothing. The dreaded realisation he may have lost his ticket prompted his legs to run faster than they ever had before. With only minutes to run back to his temporary office before the train left, Tsutomu sped through the station and pushed through the crowds, running against the clock. As beads of sweat trickled down his forehead he looked up in the sky to discover something far worse than his missing ticket: an atom bomb. Immediately his legs began to run even faster than before, now running in the opposite direction of nuclear threat. The Hiroshima bomb detonated, but Tsutomu survived. Just far enough away from the impact blast, Tsutomu had managed to survive certain death.
The following day, Tsutomu recovered his ticket which may have saved his life, and returned to his usual workplace in Nagasaki. Exhausted he approach his boss and told of his near-death experience, when Tsutomu looked outside the window of his office building. Across the horizon a small dot emerged across the canvas of the sky. A small dot that kept falling faster and faster. The Nagasaki bomb detonated, and Tsutomu survived again.
Tsutomu has been described as both the ‘luckiest’ and the ‘unluckiest’ man in the entire world. Though there are supposedly 70 other people who survived both atomic bombings, the Japanese Government has only recognised Tsutomu with this official status. Whether or not Tsutomu survived by sheer luck or coincidence, had you told him that the only thing he would find in Nagasaki was another atom bomb, he never would have returned home. Yet history shows that the tendency of humanity is to follow a path of known destruction even when told otherwise.
THE DESTRUCTION OF JERUSALEM
The prophet Jeremiah is often referred to as the ‘weeping prophet’, due to the intense emotions expressed in his writings, and his sorrow over the destruction of his nation and capital city. Jeremiah preached against five of the kings of Judah with a common message: repent of your sins or Babylon will destroy Jerusalem. God had waited patiently with his covenant people for hundreds of years and yet they continued to violate the covenant through idolatry, child sacrifice, mistreatment of the poor, widows and orphans, and corruption of the government and priesthood. For centuries God had begged and pleaded with his people to stop their evil actions or else he would be obligated to forcibly put an end to their wickedness. And so, the prophet Jeremiah warned the people of their impending judgment, and no one listened.
Jerusalem was destroyed, the majority of the people were taken into captivity to Babylon, and the rule of the Jewish kings came to an end. Only a small remnant of people remained, but they had no home, no military, no government, and were surrounded on all sides by enemies seeking to finish off the job the Babylonians had started. So, the remnant came to Jeremiah with an idea: run to Egypt. Jeremiah offered to consult God on the matter and the people replied ‘Let the Lord be a true and faithful witness between us, if we do not do according to everything which the Lord your God sends us by you. Whether it is pleasing or displeasing we will obey the voice of the Lord our God . . . (Jer. 42:5,6)
So, what did God have to say about this intrepid idea? God first encouraged the people saying that he would protect and provide for them in Jerusalem, but that if they journeyed to Egypt, they would suffer the very destruction they were hoping to avoid, and in fact had already experienced.
‘If you surely set your faces to enter Egypt, and go to dwell there, then it shall be that the sword which you feared shall overtake you there in the land of Egypt; the famine which of which you were afraid shall follow close after you there in Egypt; and there you shall die.”Jeremiah 42:15,16
God used incredibly strong language here, not in anger or even judgment, but in the same way a parent pleads with their child to not do something they know will harm them. God used incredibly vivid imagery of what would befall them in Egypt, in hopes of discouraging them from their journey.
So how do the people respond to God’s warning? They rebuke Jeremiah and accuse him of lying, kidnap the prophet and take their people into Egypt were shortly they were destroyed by the Babylonians who invaded the Egyptian capital. The very danger they had hoped to avoid they purposely journeyed to (Jer. 44:29,30).
Imagine if Tsutomu had been given inside information that he was lucky to have survived the first bombing, and that the very next day another bomb would drop in Nagasaki. What would drive Tsutomu to intentionally go to Nagasaki, knowing only the same destruction he had already experienced would meet him there? Yet this was the very pattern of the Jews! God had explicitly told them that the same judgment that had been executed on Jerusalem would soon visit Egypt, and yet they purposed in their hearts in utter defiance of God’s wisdom to journey to Egypt regardless. It’s absolute insanity to run directly into the path of an atomic bomb, yet that is what the ancient Jews did, and it’s what we do on a daily basis.
OUR DAILY CHOICES
It’s easy to judge the foolishness of the ancient Jews for knowingly running to a city destined for destruction, and yet if we are honest with ourselves as we search our hearts, we are no different from them. When experiencing temptation in our daily lives, our conscience and understanding of God’s moral law clearly informs us as to what is the right and wrong decision to make. Not only that, but we have recorded both in religious and secular history, the accounts of people who made those decisions and their outcomes, and without fail, sin always leads to negative consequences and death, and God’s law leads to abundant life.
Literally millions of times the same decisions have been made whether or not to gossip and spread rumours about coworkers, unleash harsh words of anger at reckless drivers, to be puffed up by pride and personal achievements, to fall into lust and covet a man or woman who does not belong to you, and the list goes on. Every one of those sinful decisions lead to death and destruction and not once in human history as it ever given a positive outcome. So often we too say ‘Whether it is pleasing or displeasing we will obey the voice of the Lord our God’, but when it comes to make a decision in our lives, suddenly God’s will looks unappealing.
The human heart is driven to rebel against God and is intent on its own self-destruction in spite of the knowledge given of sin leading to death. Human effort alone is unable to save, only an act of God can help us break this vicious cycle of self-imposed doom.
When God first brought out the his covenant people from the land of slavery in Egypt, he gathered them around Mount Sinai and declared ‘I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage’ (Ex. 20:2) and then commanded his people to love their God and to love their neighbour. So also at the cross Jesus saved his covenant people from slavery to sin and now proclaims that because of the mighty act he has performed for his people, they too should walk in a newness of life in accordance with his covenant.
If God has brought you out of the ‘land of Egypt’, then your human effort alone will not be sufficient to keep you out of that land of slavery. Only if you invite God to give you a new heart with this his law written upon it, will you be able to escape the foolishness of sin and avoid destruction. If you have never left the land of Egypt, it is the simplest choice to ask God to save you through the death and resurrection of his son Jesus, and you too can live in abundant life free from sin and death. What would stop you from making that choice today?
By Christopher Petersen