How do we react to God when He gives us instructions we don’t like or don’t understand? For me, I know it’s easy to be a little sloppy in the execution because I’m not sure I’ve bought into the importance. Since I don’t understand the purpose, my heart isn’t really in it. Like pray without ceasing, lift everything up to God – yes, yes, I know it’s about me getting on board with what God wants, but sometimes I have a hard time in my prayer life because I figure He’s going to do what He’s going to do anyway. I don’t fully appreciate all the ways prayer changes me. It’s a mystery how He allows us to be involved in the process and outcome of events here. Am I willing to obey for obedience sake, trusting because that is what He said to do?
The Essenes were an ancient group of people who were meticulous in their obedience. The movement sprang out the Jewish priesthood during the inter-testament period because their fellow priests were not following God. They were also religious scholars devoted to following Adonai. Because the temple practices had become so corrupt they were unable to fulfill their religious duties, so they separated from the Temple and went into the desert.
Many years before, Isaiah had said, ”A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Isaiah 40:3
Knowing this passage, they decided to literally go into the wilderness to live out their faith. The words for straight and righteous come from the same root and so they decided if they lived obediently, it would prepare the way for the Messiah to come. Their desire to obey was so strong that they meticulously scrutinized every little law and took extreme measures to get them right. No matter how inconvenient. Sabbath. Cleanliness laws. Everything.
They needed water for their acts of ritual purity, but not just any water. It had to be living water. Living water was spring or rainwater, uncollected by human hands. Somehow they had to get this still moving water into their community in the middle of the desert. So they carved, by hand, in the hot desert heat, a channel to guide the water to them – inch by inch and foot by foot. Could they have carried the water in buckets from a nearby spring? I’d find good justification to show how God would understand and it didn’t really matter. It’s just more practical. And the end result would have been the same. The water would be there. What did it matter? But they didn’t compromise. Why? They were trying to follow exactly what they believed God had told them to do.
They showed their devotion to God in their obedience and their commitment to the text, the Bible. These are the folks, commonly attributed as the originators of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
When I’m tempted to give a half–hearted display of obedience, because I don’t understand why I should do it, I try to remember their example. They did it God’s way – just because He said so. It was an act of faith. It was an act of worship. And it acknowledged God’s authority as they humbly submitted to Him.
By the way, it was this generation that just preceded the appearance of Jesus. As we noted above, Isaiah said prepare the way and God will come. Coincidence? Maybe. As we anxiously await our Messiah’s return, maybe He’s waiting for some modern day Essenes. Let’s prepare the way and live in obedience. Just because He said so.