Just before Christmas, I heard a blurb on the radio that caused me to really reflect on a concept I've had a lot of questions about over the years. I have no idea the point intended by the speaker, but the comment was made that young Jesus was in a very dangerous position, due to Herod's wanting to kill him and being such a wicked man that he would stoop to any evil to accomplish his purpose, i.e., killing all the baby boys under age 2...
This is of course a very familiar story and I've always known Herod was out to kill Jesus, but I saw it in a different light this time around. I know that God has a plan for my life, and I know that He is able to protect me from harm. Where things get fuzzy for me is to what level does God CHOOSE to protect -- after all, He has chosen to allow us free will. So if I pray for protection, but someone else chooses to harm me, will God intervene? CAN He intervene and still allow that other person free will?
Well, looking at this dangerous situation that Jesus Himself was in shed some light on that for me. Obviously, God's plan for Jesus did not include being killed by Herod in His toddlerhood... so that means that Mary and Joseph had nothing to worry about, right? Jesus wasn't truly in any danger because God would protect Him then in order to keep Him alive until the time had come for Him to die. Hmm... but is that really true?
Reflecting on how God chose to protect Jesus from Herod, I gained new insight into how God protects us from harm. God could have simply prevented Herod from killing Jesus through miraculous means -- but to do so would have denied Herod free will. Herod had the choice whether to kill Jesus or not, and God knew what that choice was going to be. Well, that's okay, God can just do a miracle and make Jesus invisible to Herod to protect Him, right? He could... but that's not what He did either.
God told the wisemen to take a different route home, rather than report back to Herod. They listened and obeyed. God told Joseph to take Jesus to Egypt so Herod would not find Him. Joseph listened and obeyed. I've often heard it said that perhaps the gifts from the wisemen supplied the money Joseph and Mary would need for their journey. If this is the case, God provided both the means and the directions to protect His Son from harm. He did not use His omnipotence to perform some amazing miracle -- He used people who would listen and obey.
Why were the wisemen able to hear God's direction? These men had obviously studied God's Word in depth, and trusted God, or they wouldn't have been looking for the star, understanding its meaning, and following it... What about Joseph? We know he heard God speak before, when told that Jesus was indeed God's Son and he should not divorce Mary. We aren't specifically told, but it certainly appears that Joseph too had developed a relationship with God that caused God to choose him to raise His Son in the first place, and enabled Him to hear God's voice and obey without question.
So that brings me to us... if I pray for protection from harm, should I then expect God to act any differently? Should I expect him to make me magically invisible from someone who might prey upon me, or to prevent others from doing things that would negatively affect me? Sure, He CAN do these things... but looking at the example of how He chose to protect His own Son, shouldn't we expect that He will most likely choose the same way of protecting us? Rather than preventing anyone else from sinning against us, or performing some miracle to hide or protect us, it seems from this example that God is most likely to answer our prayers for protection by giving us instructions which will take us or our loved ones out of harm's way if we will listen and obey, as Joseph and the wisemen did.
But like Joseph and the wisemen, we need to be attuned to God's voice. We can't expect to go along our merry way and ignore God except when we need to ask Him for something, and then shoot up a prayer for protection when we get into a dangerous situation and then expect to be able to hear and recognize God's voice directing us on how to get out of it. Only through developing an intimate relationship, speaking to God throughout the day, poring over His Word to hear what He has to say, can we learn to recognize the voice of God, and have faith enough to obey it even when the instructions may seem unusual.