Each time I filled my 50 pound pack I studied the items to be taken. Each t-shirt added weight, every bottle meant extra bulk, and shoes were the kiss of death taking up precious space and weight by the kilo.
Everything I chose would be strapped to my back, every choice evaluated by necessity. Anything that could be was tossed and each of 89 moves in 11 months found a pile of castoffs left behind, belongings no longer a priority as the walks grew longer and the needs more demanding.
When the journey is far and the moves often, you choose what fills your suitcase carefully. Every item must serve a purpose, each parcel add value, and sentiment means little when you must be ready to go at any moment.
But Moses had little concern for use or value, no thought for practical or convenient. Through wilderness wanderings, around long desert roads, across a parted Red Sea and into battles yet to be fought, Moses packed his suitcase full of bones and he carried remnants of death toward the Promised Land.
Moses took the bones of Joseph with him because Joseph had made the Israelites swear an oath. He had said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up with you from this place.”
Moses too must have evaluated his baggage carefully, but when deciding what made the cut, a coffin claimed an unlikely spot at the top of his list. And while certainly Moses was fulfilling the oath his fathers swore to Joseph, this unlikely pallbearer carried death not as a ritual, but in expectation of what was to come.
Because Joseph, he believed in the promise when there was no proof. Joseph, who never saw deliverance with his own eyes, knew that his death was not a deadline. Joseph allowed faith to settle into his very bones, unshakeable despite circumstance that rattled to the core. Joseph bore the promise for his people and bet his burial that God would keep his word. Inheritance, by definition, requires a death and in his, Joseph refused to give up hope and so became a symbol of expectation for generations to come.
His bones no longer carried the stench of death, but became a prophetic declaration that their hearts were set upon the land of promise and they would not rest until God led them home. Each time they laid hand to ash and set feet to dirt through the wilderness way, their bodies declared, “Our God is faithful. He has delivered us from Egypt and freed us from our chains. He will surely fulfill his promise and we will dwell in the promised land.”
There are some bones that are meant to be carried through the wilderness. We look at them and see only remnants of death instead of the promises they bear and we purpose to leave them behind, afraid to be marked by their stench. We try to rid ourselves of their burden, desperate to lighten the load on our backs. We try to dig holes and move on, erecting tombstones for bones we’re tired of carrying. But the smell of death is not on them, they are not meant to be reminders of loss, rather they are the deliverers of inheritance and symbols of our own expectation of what is to come. The bones are a banner that goes before us declaring, “Though he slay me, yet I will trust in him.”
It is easy to fill graves full of dreams, relationships, destinations and plans. To lay to rest those that have done the work of believing in our past. But the work of the wilderness is to remember the promise God spoke into death, to remind ourselves not only of the land but of the resurrection still to come, to keep the hope of previous lifetimes alive in ourselves and in our people, and to carry them to into the land with us. The work of the wilderness is to (one more time) pack our bags with bones and put our feet to the ground, each move one step closer to the fulfillment of promise, and each step prophetically announcing our own belief that our God is faithful. He will not fail.
image credit:: Holly, creative commons