Have you ever heard the term, Stockholm syndrome? It’s a psychological phenomenon in which a captive begins to bond with his/her captor. In extreme cases, the captive may even identify with the captor.
Can you imagine having been violently torn from your life and imprisoned for so long—or having undergone such abuse—that you lose your sense of self and begin to identify with the very people who captured you?
Perhaps you’ve been captured in a less dramatic circumstance. Maybe you submit to an abusive boss because you fear you’ll never find a job that pays as well? Taking abuse day-after-day can make you begin to believe that you’re as worthless or skill-less as he/she says you are. Or perhaps you feel trapped in an abusive or adulterous marriage. Is it hard for you imagine that the LORD can free you from such bondage?
Surely, you and I wouldn’t succumb to Stockholm syndrome, right? I can’t imagine actually wanting to be held captive–can you? We don’t have to imagine it–we have an eyewitness account in Exodus…
God’s Promise to a Hopeless People
After the first time Aaron and Moses spoke to Pharaoh, and asked that he let the Hebrews go worship in the wilderness, Pharaoh ordered that the Hebrew slaves gather their own straw to make bricks—and that their quotas remain the same. When the production dropped, the Hebrew overseers were beaten, and they blamed Moses for their wounds.
“May the Lord look on you and judge you!” [they said,] “You have made us obnoxious to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.” Exodus 5:21
Moses cried out to the Lord on behalf of the beleaguered Israelites, feeling guilty for bring them more pain in an already unbearable situation. So God reminded Moses of the BIGGER picture:
“I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself fully known to them. I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, where they resided as foreigners.” Exodus 6:2-4 (emphasis added)
Yahweh reminded Moses that He was doing greater things now, in the presence of this generation, than He’d ever done in the days of the Patriarchs, and He was about to do even more…
“Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the Lord.’” Exodus 6:6-8 (emphasis added)
Look at all those amazing promises! Surely the Israelites jumped for joy when Moses told them what the Lord had promised—right?
Not so much…
“Moses reported this to the Israelites, but they did not listen to him because of their discouragement and harsh labor.” Exodus 6:9
Israelites in Stockholm
The Israelites had spent four hundred years in Egypt—4-0-0 years. That’s older than the United States. Many had forgotten their ancestors. Some had never heard of Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob. Hebrews were only one of several nationalities of slaves in Egypt—Nubians, Libyans, Hittites and others.
The Israelites who experienced the ten plagues and Yahweh’s miraculous deliverance had never known anything but Egypt, and the distant land called Canaan was a mere dream that their forefathers had yearned for.
Is it any wonder that when Pharaoh’s chariots bore down on them at the Red Sea, and they found themselves flanked by mountains on both sides, they lashed out at Moses—and his God.
“The Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, ‘Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, “Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians”? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!’” Exodus 14:10-12
Yearning for Captivity
Scripture records seven more times that the Israelites spout similar yearnings for Egypt during their initial years of “freedom.” Why? What is it about captivity that can make us turn from God’s power, His freedom, and His care?
Captivity is predictable
When we are a slave—whether in Egypt or to sin—at least we know what to expect. Walking with God requires trust and faith, trusting a God we can’t see with a life out of our control.
Captivity is familiar
We’ve grown accustomed to the patterns and customs of the old life. The promises of freedom, though enticing, are also frightening because they are new and untested.
Captivity is easier
To remain in captivity oftentimes requires less work, less thought, and less emotional effort than gearing up for a new adventure into freedom.
In order to successfully break free of our captors—habits, addictions, sin—we must realize the tendency of our old nature to keep us in chains. Our flesh yearns to stay in bondage, but Jesus died so we could embrace freedom.
The Cross and empty tomb parted our Red Sea. Like the Israelites, we no longer need to fear our captors.
“Moses answered the people, ‘Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”” Exodus 14:13-14
When we become followers of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit dwells within us and makes us a new creation. He empowers us to fight—and win—the battle against our sinful desires.
“The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.” Romans 8:6
Also like the Israelites, our Promised Land awaits—an eternal glory, where there will be no more pain, sickness, or sorrow—but we must fight many battles on this earth until we get there. Let’s not grow weary in the struggle and yearn for our captor as the Israelites did. Let’s remember both God’s promises and His prize as we march on toward the freedom He won for us.
- Avoid 3 ways captivity can make you turn from God’s power, freedom, and care.
- Our flesh yearns to stay in bondage, but Jesus died so we could embrace freedom.
- Like the Israelites, our Promised Land awaits but we must fight many battles to get there.
- What have you allowed to hold you captive in the past and why?