It’s hard for me to imagine something more unpleasant than having a fishhook lodged in my eye.
In Numbers 33, Israel’s journey from Egyptian slavery to the doorstep of the Promised Land is recounted.
These are the stages of the people of Israel, when they went out of the land of Egypt by their companies under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. Moses wrote down their starting places, stage by stage, by command of the LORD, and these are their stages according to their starting places… (33:1-2)
Moses documents forty long years’ worth of starts and stops… Rameses… Succoth… Marah… Elim… the Red Sea… Rephidim… Sinai… Nebo… Moab… and many, many places in between. The children of Israel were closer now to their new God-given home than ever before.
And the LORD spoke to Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you pass over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you and destroy all their figured stones and destroy all their metal images and demolish all their high places. And you shall take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given the land to you to possess it… But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then those of them whom you let remain shall be as barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall trouble you in the land where you dwell.” (33:50-53, 55)
The inhabitants of this land were idolatrous, immoral, ungodly people. To settle among them, tolerate their ways of life, and adapt to their practices would have devastating consequences. Imagine, God warns, barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides–that’s what you can expect if you cozy up next to sin.
We live in a different time, under different circumstances, as citizens of a very different kingdom, but the painful analogy is still worth thinking about. The call to wage war on the battlefield of our own hearts is no less urgent. Listen to Colossians 3:5-9:
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices…
Put sin to death. Wake up and realize that impure gazes are like barbed wire in your eyes. Covetousness is like a branch of thorns lodged in your ribs. Wrath and malice are poisons. Don’t flirt with sexual immorality. Don’t set up camp in the territory of evil desire. Don’t surrender to slander, or rationalize obscene talk, or build your home with lies. Drive those things out of the territory of your heart. Put to death what is earthly in you.
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. (James 1:13-14)
Sin makes promises. It feels good for a little while. It slows us down, encourages us to settle, selling at a bargain the illusion that we’re in control. We can leave, unhindered and unaffected, whenever we want. In fact, it might be worth sacrificing everything to just stay right where we are, in forbidden territory. After all, is it really that big of a deal?
The next time I’m tempted to think like that, I need to remember how incredibly unpleasant it would be to have a fishhook lodged in my eye.