This past week I left this update on my Facebook page: There is no life apart from God. Today I have a story to illustrate what I was thinking. Have you heard of the ancient story of Masada? Masada was a fortress in ancient Israel, during the time of the Romans. I believe that it was built by Herod the Great, to serve as a safe place for him to flea. Later, around 70 a.d., about 1,000 Jews fled to Masada to hide from the Romans. Even though some of the Jews tried to revolt against the Romans, those that fled realized that they did not stand a chance.
So they managed to procure the palace of Masada, which was an ideal place for them to hide out, for years, if needed. There was plenty of water and food storage, plenty of things to do at the palace, and, most important, it was virtually impenetrable. It was built on a cliff and there were just two paths leading up to it; these paths were very steep and precarious, however, and crawling with snakes.
After a while, the Romans learned of the new colony of Jews living in Masada. The Jews at Masada loved their new freedom from Roman rule; though the Romans were not so fond of the idea. So 20,000 soldiers were sent to take back the 1,000 Jews living at Masada.
It was just as hard as they thought it would be. After some unsuccessful attempts, the Romans had to re-group and re-plan. Even with 20,000 soldiers, they still could not manage to scale the cliffs and break into the mighty fortress. After some thinking, they went to work on building a long dirt road up the cliff to the palace. It was a grueling process to build such a massive dirt highway; but, it was the only way to reach the rebels.
The dirt road to Masada took the Romans seven months to complete. Seven months. Can you imagine what it must have been like for those living in the fortress, having to look out your window every day for seven months and see the enemy slowly and relentlessly approaching?
Nonetheless, when the Romans finally made it up to the fortress, instead of being attacked by the Jews, who had seven months to plan, they were met by nothing but silence. Nobody stirred in Masada—there was no war cry, no weapons, no counter attack, and no army. The Romans entered the palace only to find 1,000 bodies. All but a few of the Jews killed themselves, according to the Jewish historian Josephus. Men, women, and children. All were dead.
Their “leader,” Eleazar Ben Yair, had riled them up with a stirring and no doubt cultic speech, telling them that they’d be better off dead than have to be ruled byRome. So they chose death rather than submission.
Ironically, because they loved their freedom so much, they chose the pathway of the least amount of freedom, death. And I can’t even begin to describe the horrible ways in which they died on that plateau in Masada.
“There’s no life apart from God.” Many of us equate God with the Romans and our freedom with Masada. We don’t want to submit to God, to follow his rule in our lives. We prefer the liberty we have in the palace on the rock. We hate the thought of having to submit to God’s ways.
Ironically, not to choose God means to embrace Masada. There is no life apart from God. If he doesn’t rule us, then we have no hope of life, because God is life. Here’s where my analogy breaks down, of course, for God is not like the Romans. God does not have a cruel or unfair reign, like the Romans did.
His kingdom brings life to all of its citizens. To run from his rule means to exit the kingdom of life. God’s rule keeps you on the narrow pathway to life, the road to true freedom, and the portal into happiness. By submitting to God, you are training your soul in the ways of life. All of the other things we submit to actually lead to death; intuitively and/or experientially, we get that.
Some of us are in bondage to so many so-called freedom givers. The more material possessions we have, for example, the more they “have” us. The more sexual freedom we have, the more it keeps us in its chains. The more power we have, the more it corrupts us. There’s just no way out of the fortress.
Scripture contains the heart cry of someone like us who is dying for a Liberator. “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:21-24).
At some point in our lives, we long to be delivered fromMasada.
Our Liberator comes not to destroy us, but to give us life. His dirt road was a crude Roman cross, where he himself was the bridge between heaven and hell. He laid himself down so that we could walk free.
© Samuel Kee, 2011