Out of the Ashes

Have you ever seen nature footage of a swarm of locusts? It’s terrifying. Moving en masse, they consume any vegetation in their path. Stripping the landscape bare.

In the Old Testament, God keeps warning people- “If you walk away from me, I’ll go to extreme measures to get your attention. Even if it means allowing heartache or short term pain to bring your focus back to me.” A locust plague certainly fits that bill.

In this context God makes this promise in Joel 2:25 “I will give you back what you lost to the swarming locusts.” My mom used to quote this verse to me, but I never really understood it. Something I read today in 1 Samuel frames this for me anew.

It reminds me that some things, important things (for the ancient Israelites their crops equaled money, food and sustainability), are lost… and then later restored. Maybe you’ve experienced the loss of hope, the death of a dream, an aspiration extinguished. And it stings. You don’t know what to do, where to turn.

In this story, the future king of Israel (David) and his men leave their home village of Ziklag for a combat mission. When they return, all that remains of Ziklag is a pile of smoldering ashes. There are no bodies; David’s enemies sacked the town and carried off the women, children, livestock and property. The troops are so distraught they’re on the edge of mutiny. Some are conspiring to kill David.

1 Samuel 30: 6, 8 David was now in great danger because all his men were very bitter about losing their sons and daughters, and they began to talk of stoning him. But David found strength in the Lord his God. 8 Then David asked the Lord, “Should I chase after this band of raiders? Will I catch them?” And the Lord told him, “Yes, go after them. You will surely recover everything that was taken from you!”

Note the two approaches. In their disappointment, some men turn and lash out against David. They think killing him will resolve a measure of their pain. But David’s family is missing too. The people he cares about have been abducted as well. He’s in the same desperate spot. But rather than blaming others, he turns to God and finds a measure of strength he doesn’t have.

Rather than sulking and weeping in the ashes, David asks God for a next step. When he gets clarity on his next move, he jumps on a horse, rallies his troops and starts tracking the raiders responsible for the destruction. Remember, before he hears from God, he honestly doesn’t know if his family is alive or dead. But God says “Get to work. You’ll get everything back.”

And sure enough, David and his men track down and dispatch the attackers. And when the dust of battle settles, David and his men start taking inventory, searching the camp for people, animals and even possessions. And when they’re done, everything is accounted for. Everything.

It’s as if everyone of David’s soldiers had completed missing person’s reports and their lost property insurance forms. And then had to toss them, because they recovered everything that disappeared in the raid. Look at this verse:

1 Samuel 30:19 Nothing was missing: small or great, son or daughter, nor anything else that had been taken. David brought everything back.

Nothing was missing: small or great.
Not one thing.

From people to family pets to favorite record collections, it was all there.
Make no mistake. I’m not saying God promises to reverse every heartache. I am saying that sometimes God gives back what the locusts stole. God knows that just because something is gone now, doesn’t mean it’s lost forever. Sometimes, if we don’t give up, God helps us recover the beauty our nightmares ran off with.

True, some things are gone and we don’t get them back. In other instances, we get some of what was stolen returned, but not all of it. But sometimes, when things are especially dark, when our lives are being threatened in the ashes of Ziklag, God says: Don’t give up. You can’t see it yet, but I’m going to give you back everything. Stop crying. Saddle up. Let me lead you to a place of rescue, recovery and restoration.

Craig Custance