portraitofzionUse the following link to download your free copy of Portrait of a Zion Person, the first book in my 7-book Pillars of Zion series. Click here.

Have you ever felt that oppression is your eternal companion and that you will never be rid of it? You might wonder, where is deliverance? You watch other people prosper, buy homes, enjoy good health, have babies. But you are stuck.

My friend has been stuck for several years. When Job’s friends struggled to guess why their once-prosperous associate had lost everything and was now consigned to live on the outskirts of the city in the refuse dump, they determined that such oppression could only be the result of Job’s bad choices.

But that answer is often too convenient. My friend has made no more bad choices than did Job. But, like Job, he is suffering a protracted, agonizing trial from which there seems no apparent end. Nevertheless, the trial will end. By the law of heaven it has to. Someday things will turn, and when they do, the blessings will pour out without restriction. How do I know? I’ve laid my hands upon his head. I know the end score. I just don’t know all the plays that will lead to that victory.

Each of us experiences seasons when we feel that God is distant. We plead to Him for relief while we struggle to remain faithful and faith-filled. In my friend’s moments of despair, I have seen him cry out his allegiance to God in the words of Job: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.”

Here is something I learned that I would share with my friend.

Bezaleel was an Israelite slave who labored on beautifying Pharaoh’s cities. Over the years, he became a skilled artisan in all works of metal, wood, and stone. Nonetheless, I can imagine the years of his hopelessness, laboring day after day with no end in sight. I am certain that Bezaleel wondered about the purpose of his life. Would he ever be able to use his gift as a free man? Had God forsaken him?

I am struck by the fact that the meaning of Bezaleel is “in the shadow or the protection of God.” Could it be that God was watching out for him after all? In the darkest moments of his life was Bezaleel being prepared to do a mighty work?

Bezaleel is not a familiar name, but this good man was one of the most important people in the Old Testament. The Lord not only delivered him, along with the Israelites, but the Lord revealed to Moses that Bezaleel was the man to be called to oversee the construction of the tabernacle. “And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, See, I have called by the name Bezaleel…and I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship” (Exodus 31:1-3).

Where had Bezaleel become such a trusted individual and prepared for the honor that the Lord was now placing upon him? In Pharaoh’s mud pits. In the oppression of captivity. Are we grateful that Bezaleel remained faithful? Yes! Bezaleel’s work would become the model for all subsequent Israelite temples and it even has application today.

Consider that Bezaleel’s crowning achievement was to construct the most holy artifact associated with the tabernacle: the Ark of the Covenant.

From prisoner to prince! This is an oft-repeated story in the scriptures. Think of Joseph who was betrayed by his brothers, who sold him as a slave into Egypt where he was cast into prison. Without family or friends, languishing in captivity in a hostile land, Joseph was stripped of everything except his covenant and his God. And he was not disappointed. When deliverance finally came-and it always comes!–Joseph was snatched out and exalted. He went from prisoner to prince.

Isaiah took up the subject of captivity as the seedbed of preparation for greater things (1 Nephi 21:1-5): “The Lord hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name.”

Personalizing this scripture, we might say that the Lord laid a plan for our lives before we were born. But we do not know the plan or the steps the Lord will take to implement it. Isaiah described the Lord’s hiding the plan from us during a polishing period in which He privately and quietly prepares us for a future purpose. No one – ourselves included — is allowed to see what the Lord is doing or His design for us.

“And he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand hath he hid me, and made me a polished shaft; in his quiver hath he hid me.”

We are stuck for a reason. Widely unaware of what the Lord is making of us, we are oblivious to our true identity and potential. The Lord has hidden us and held us back; to the world our worth is invisible. Notice, however, that this oppressive situation is temporary. In time, the Lord will retrieve us from His sheath as though we were a sharp sword or a polished shaft in His quiver. He has been preparing us to become his secret weapon! Our being “hid” has had purpose after all: “Thou art my servant…in whom I will be glorified.”

But while we were in the “shadow of his hand,” we felt useless: “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for naught and in vain.” Nevertheless, the day will come when “[I will be] glorious in the eyes of the Lord, and my God shall be my strength.” We are blind to the Lord’s purposes and preparation. A perfect plan is being implemented outside our view.

I have helplessly watched my wife endure the difficulties of ten pregnancies. I have been reminded of Jesus’ comforting words about enduring the pain of waiting before the blessing appears. “Your sorrow shall be turned into joy,” He promised. Then likening the waiting period to a woman in the last days of pregnancy. “A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world” (John 16:21).

Every mother understands the meaning here. The final wait for the baby to be born is terribly uncomfortable, and no amount of praying can hurry the process of development. To interrupt the child’s necessary maturation would be dangerous. When the time of delivery finally arrives, the experience can be protracted and agonizing. Throughout the entire process, the mother sacrifices everything to bring forth a new life.

But when the child is born, “she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that [her child] is born into the world!” And so we faithfully wait, not knowing the length of the development process of the blessing that the Lord is most certainly preparing.

Speaking for God, the prophet Malachi (Malachi 3:13-15) chastised us for questioning how the Lord works with us: “Your words have been stout against me, saith the Lord.”

We are shocked by the prophet’s denouncement. After all, haven’t we been trying hard to remain true and do what is right? Incredulously, we ask, “What have we spoken against thee?”

Then the Lord answers, “Ye have said, It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of hosts?”

In other words, we are faltering under the weight of our circumstances and we wonder if our attempts to do right will ever attract the attention of heaven. Does anyone up there know that I am suffering in agony? Does anyone hear my cries? Does anyone care that I have kept my covenants or that I have prayed and fasted to the point of exhaustion or that I have served diligently in my callings or that I have humbled myself and faithfully attended the temple? Why does my life never seem to improve? What do my efforts profit?

Then we look around us and see people prospering who are not living the commandments. “And now we call the proud happy; yea, they that work wickedness are set up; yea, they that tempt God are even delivered.”

How can this be? We see proud, wicked people prospering and apparently happy. We observe the godless being delivered. What about me? Where is my deliverance? Is it vain to believe in and serve God?

Job didn’t enjoy the process of preparation any more than we do. He also experienced reaching out to heaven and temporarily receiving silence in return: “Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him: on the left hand, where he doth work, but I cannot behold him: he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him (Job 23:8-10).”

But Job also understood that what he was going through was seasonal. The furnace associated with the baptism of fire is hot, but “when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold” – stunningly beautiful and infinitely valuable.

The Lord explains our deliverance and value this way: “And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.” Our waiting patiently for the Lord to deliver us from the captivity of our circumstance while He sharpens and polishes us for a greater purpose serves to distinguish us between “the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not” (Malachi 3:17-18).

Like Job, each of us experiences times when we feel that God is distant. We feel that we are being held captive by our miserable conditions from which there is no apparent deliverance. We cry to God, but we don’t perceive that He is listening. Nevertheless, like Joseph, we continue to try to remain faithful to our covenants because they are all we have left. Even then, despite our best efforts to serve God, we feel that our prayers and righteous efforts are vain. Like Bezaleel, we wake up every morning to face the enslavement and distress; we imagine that our life is slipping away and that we are making no progress at all.

That is from our point of view. However, if we could step outside our present circumstance and see through the eyes of God, we might observe that we are being prepared and hid in the quiver of the Lord to one day be drawn out as a polished shaft and called upon to accomplish a mighty work.

You cannot see now, my friend, that the irrevocable law of restoration (Alma 41) is in full effect in your life. This law guarantees that conditions must swing dramatically in the opposite direction. As sure as there is a Deliverer, you will be delivered. You will be snatched out by the powerful hand of God, and He will exalt you from prisoner to prince. Like the travailing woman, you will be delivered from your distress and hold a new life in your arms. Then your sorrow shall be “turned into joy” and you will remember “no more the anguish.”

The captivity season of your life wasn’t wasted after all.

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