Lost and Found

You would have thought she was carrying The Holy Grail: that’s how my friend treated the return of my season one Lost DVDs.  First prompted by the nail-biting episodes, some had formed groups that would meet to watch the program each week.  My friends were playing catch up.  While most people are not going to be stranded on a desert island, many were drawn to the great questions the series raised, especially during its premier season.  In an unusual way Lost became found.  People were discovering directions for life.[1]

Getting lost or having the wrong directions could mean death in biblical times.  The ease of online maps via internet connections was non-existent.  Modern hotels did not exist.  “Fast” food only applied to how quickly one walked and ate what they brought from home.  The roads themselves were little more than well worn footpaths.  Apart from a few major trade routes, daily travel was quite limited.  Robbers also made a journey perilous: witness Jesus’ Good Samaritan story.[2] It was best to travel in caravans with others.[3]

While travel was much more treacherous in biblical times than today, knowing one’s way—moving from “lost” to “found”—has always been crucial.  While a person could be on their way to the Red Sea or traversing the road back to Jerusalem from exile[4], most often the words referred to one’s course of life.  Believers were to guard their ways so that they would not sin following directions contrary to “ways of darkness” and “crooked paths.”[5] Ezekiel, for instance, consistently warns Israel that God will judge their ways, calling for them to turn from their wicked direction.[6]

The idea of “two ways” was introduced in Deuteronomy[7]: life or death.[8] Yahweh, as Lord over Israel, stipulated that His people follow His way of life.  Moses’ fifth book was written in the form of a suzerain vassal treaty.  The suzerain or king established rules of living for the vassal or servant in the ancient world.  The pattern of responsibilities of Israel as the vassal to Yahweh, the suzerain, is established by the repetition of the phrase “walking in the ways” of the Lord.[9] The first time the phrase is used in Deuteronomy 5:33, the normal Hebrew word order (verb, subject, object) is reversed: “in all the ways which Yahweh your God has commanded you, you shall walk.”  The emphasis is placed on the path one follows.[10]

How one follows, noted by the Hebrew preposition “in,” is important.  “In” can express both the condition of something and its movement toward a goal[11].  “Walking in the ways of God” explains who I am and where I am going.  I am both actively engaged in pursuing God’s ways as well as participating in God’s ways.[12] Notice the 360 degree evaluation.  “Walking in God’s ways” encompasses the person, their place, the intention and objective of one’s action, as well as their moment-by-moment response.  In short, every aspect of a believer’s life is governed by a Heavenly GPS.[13]

A group coming to Mahseh for a few days got lost on the country roads at night.  After multiple phone calls I told them to stay where they were, I would find them, and lead them back to Mahseh Center.  Sometimes directions are not enough to find our way.  If we are lost, we want to be found.[14] If the television series Lost teaches us anything it is that we want answers to our questions, direction for life.  But God does not simply give directions.  He “goes after the one that is lost” until he or she is found[15] and then says, “Come, follow me.”[16]

Dr. Mark Eckel has been a lecturer and writer at Mahseh for over three years.  He has not watched Lost but still owns the first two full seasons on DVD.

[1] See, for instance, Lost and Philosophy: The Island Has Its Reasons (Wiley-Blackwell, 2007).  Twenty-one philosophers discuss the deep, human questions raised by the Lost series.

[2] Luke 10:25-37.

[3] For example, the “wise men” noted via the incarnation story most probably traveled with a sizeable retinue, including servants, which would have made their group much larger than the three figures normally included in Christmas manger scenes.

[4] Numbers 21:4; Isaiah 40:3.

[5] Psalm 39:1; Proverbs 2:12-15.

[6] Ezekiel 7:3, 8; 18:30; 22:31; 33:20 with 3:18; 13:22; 18:23; 33:8, 11.  The New Testament word hodos is used much the same way as derek in the First Testament to describe a pathway.  The unique metaphorical phrasing indicates a direction or manner of life.

[7] The book of Deuteronomy is the fifth most quoted book in the New Testament.  The fact that Jesus quoted exclusively from Moses’ last book to turn back temptation suggests its strength.  Orthodox Jewish homes remind everyone of Deuteronomy’s importance as the shema is affixed to every doorpost.  [William Sanford LaSor, et al. 1982. Old Testament Survey. (Eerdmans): 188.]

[8] Deuteronomy 30:15-16.  “Two ways” dominates the book of Proverbs with a device known as antithetic parallelism.  As one reads Proverbs, one life choice is contrasted to another most often with the word “but.”  Different options include: wisdom versus folly, righteousness versus wickedness, and life versus death.

[9] Deuteronomy 5:33; 8:6, 10:12; 11:22; 13:5; 19:9; 26:17; 28:9; 29:19; 30:16.  See also Joshua 22:5; 1 Kings 2:3; 3:14; 8:58; 11:38; 16:31; 2 Chronicles 6:27, 31.

[10] Of course, one can always walk contrary to the ways of God as pointed out in Leviticus 26:3, 12, 21, 23, 24, 27, 28.

[11] Ronald J. Williams. 1980. Hebrew Syntax: An Outline. (U of Toronto, reprint): 46

[12] E. Kautzsch. 1980. Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar. (Clarendon, reprint): 380.

[13] These ways must be taught (Isaiah 2:3; Micah 4:2) because they bear the name of the Lord (Micah 4:5).  A voice will remind the walker “This is the way; walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21).  Authority is given those who adhere to the path (Zechariah 3:7).

[14] See the three stories Jesus tells about “lost and found” in Luke 15.

[15] Luke 15:4.

[16] Over 50 times in the Gospels, beginning with Matthew 4:19, people are physically following Jesus.

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