3. Dining with God

Wilderness Meditations: 3. Dining with God in the Wilderness

Psa 78:19  they said, “Can God really spread a table in the wilderness?”

Varied Landscapes:  In a natural wilderness food and water are in short supply. It is a strange thing but the Promised Land was a place of great provision and yet also terrain that sometimes went by the name, wilderness. There was land in the north near Dothan they called wilderness (Gen 37:12,22). There was the Desert of Beersheba to the south (Gen 21:14), the desert of Paran, to the south of the land (Gen 21:21), the wilderness of Judea, the land to the west side of the Jordan valley (Mt 3:1). Yes, in many ways a land of contrasts. And isn’t that just how life is, a history of contrasts. Sometimes we go through times of great abundance, and other times they are times of great shortage.

Spiritual Variations: Our trouble is that we tend to only measure these times in terms of material things, but the truth is that there can also be varied times spiritually. There can be times when we know great spiritual blessing and there can be times when the Lord seems miles away and we feel spiritually barren and empty. Another thing to be noted is that the material and the spiritual don’t always run in parallel. We can be materially very well off but spiritually barren (usually without realising it!). Alternatively we can be materially poor but spiritually very rich.

Israel Struggling: they said, “Can God really spread a table in the wilderness?” (Psa 78:19) This was Israel in negative mode, the psalmist recalling how they hadn’t handled the limitations of their time in the wilderness well. Asaph the psalmist recounts how God had been there for Israel prior to their travelling through the desert (not a place to stay forever!) but they had forgotten His blessings, His provisions so far. They had forgotten His miracles of deliverance from Egypt. This of course in now before they reached the land, probably in the Sinai Peninsular wildernesses, a place, as we noted previously designated by God for them to pass through where they would learn a number of things from Him and about Him.

Present Wilderness: Many people have felt their early months of the 2020 Pandemic crisis to have been a wilderness experience for them. Previously, in the West at least, we had freedom and abundance. If we wanted to go out for coffee or shopping, we could. With the lockdown for some three to four months, that was all curtailed. Most shops (except the essentials such a food stores) were shut, restaurants and cafes were shut. Our gymnasiums, health and fitness clubs were shut; all things that made for affluent Western lifestyles were removed. Suddenly we were in a wilderness. But that was just the material side of it all. I believe, without realising it, most of the church has been in a spiritual wilderness. I recently heard a well-known church leader say, “the truth is that we have been deeply ineffectual as churches and denominations. There is very little evidence of the power of God among us and virtually no evidence of the transformation of society because of us.” I thought that was remarkable in its brevity and its accuracy! But it also says we have been in a spiritual wilderness without realising it, long before Covid-19 arrived.

Can it change? That is what the Israelites asked of Moses in the wilderness when they asked about God’s provision. Can God provide for us under these circumstances. This wilderness, these circumstances, are devoid of life, devoid of provision (and we don’t know how long we will be here!) That picture used by Asaph is very graphic isn’t it: “spread a table in the wilderness”. On another occasion they declared, We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic.” (Num 11:5) They had lived fairly well previously (and had not realised it and taken it for granted) even though they had been slaves. Now they are complaining because they cannot see how God could provide such abundance in a wilderness! By definition, a wilderness or desert is a place of limitation and shortage. The challenge they experienced is the same one we experience. Every difficulty brings a challenge with it: can I trust God in this time to provide for me, care for me, protect me – however long it continues?

Jehovah Jireh: How often we delight in hearing the teaching – Jehovah Jireh, the God who provides (Gen 22:14) – but we hear it in good times and so now, is it still true in the wilderness? Of course it is! We may be in a time of diminishing resources, fewer things available to us, but that doesn’t matter when God is with you. He knows our need: “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” (Mt 6:31,32) How are we to respond? The Message version puts it well: “Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.” (Mt 6:33) That is the truth and with an uncertain economic future we may need to hold on to that more than we’ve ever done before. Perhaps this is a time when we’ll learn the truth and reality of Jesus’ promise here.

Be Encouraged: In the meantime, Isaiah cried out, “To the testimony!” (Isa 8:20 NKJV) i.e. remember your testimony, remember what God has done for you so far, let that be an anchor for you! Struggling? Remember what God has done for you so far. Praise Him for it and watch your spirit rise.  

Snapshots: Day 161

Snapshots: Day 161

The Snapshot: That man is our close relative; he is one of our guardian-redeemers.” (Ruth 2:20) As Ruth shares with Naomi, the older woman shares something more of her culture. In the families in Israel under the Law, when the husband died, the responsibility for the widow fell on the next of kin, (Deut 25:5) though he had the right not to marry her (see 25:7-10). There are the signs here of a possibility but not a guarantee. The circumstances may look favorable sometimes but we can never force the will of God. Holding our futures lightly before the Lord is wisdom. “Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him to help you do it, and he will.” (Psa 37:5 Living Bible). It may look right and good, but ask His guidance and, having taken it, leave it with Him to bring the best for us.

Further Consideration: The Law of the Redeemer is first seen in Lev 25:23-29 and applied specifically to God’s people in the Promised Land, for when someone fell on hard times, and was all about redeeming the land which was to be kept in the family. Much of the rest of that chapter was about making that happen, including when a family had to sell themselves into service.

As we have noted above, in Deut 25 that was extended to cover the situation involving widows. This picture was extended in New Testament times to explain what Christ has done for us (see 1 Peter 1:17-21 and Gal 3:13,14).

There is a recognition in this provision of God in Leviticus and Deuteronomy that in this fallen world, things can go wrong: businesses can fail, husbands can die. In order to make sure that the Land remained in the hands of His chosen people, the law of redemption was instituted and so any would-be purchaser of the land of another – who is selling it because he has fallen on hard times – had to realize he is merely a temporary steward of the land until the Year of Jubilee when it is to be returned to the original family (Lev 25:10).

When it came to a widow, to ensure both her protection and her provision, there was instituted in the Law this opportunity for a brother to marry her. With no government financial net to catch her, she could easily find herself without any means of support and become destitute and thus starve. The role of the Law was to say to the family of the husband who has died, the responsibility for caring for her for the rest of her life is now on you, and the only way that can be guaranteed is if one of you marries her. Arranged marriages may not go down well with many today, but they have a remarkable success rate sometimes.

This protective net of the Law was now there to protect and provide for Ruth and therefore also Naomi.

Snapshots: Day 122

Snapshots: Day 122

The Snapshot: “Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on ahead of the people.” (Josh 3:6) The ark of the covenant usually dwelt in the heart of the Tabernacle, the place of God’s dwelling, but when Israel were on the move it always went ahead. When it came to entering the Promised Land and crossing the Jordan it was those carrying the ark who stepped into the water first and then it miraculously divided. Do we want to see miracles return to the life of the church (as Jesus’ instructed – Mt 11:5, Jn 14:12, Mt 28:20)? Then ensure Jesus goes first, ensure we are ‘following’ him, watching him and then doing what he wants to do (Jn 5:19). The Son is the head of the church (Eph 4:15) so let’s ensure we are a responsive body that follows.

Further Consideration: “Letting Jesus go ahead sounds the most simple description of being a disciple. I mean, it was the only thing the first disciples were called to do – follow me. Where Lord? That doesn’t matter, I’ll show you, just follow me. And he went ahead. Lord, what do you call us to do? That doesn’t matter, you’ll know when the time comes and you find someone or some situation before you that I’ve led you to, just follow me and watch me, sense what I want to do – through you – and do it. It will be that simple, just follow me.

But I’m scared about what you might ask me to do. For example you asked Peter to walk on water. Child, realize there was only one Peter and only one instance of walking on the water. Peter could handle that so I told him to come and he did. None of the others asked and so I called none of them to do it. I know what you are capable of doing – yes, with my enabling – and I know the encouragement you personally need to step up and step out to do such things, but they will be things that are unique to you because I know what you and I can do together.

But I don’t know how to heal people, deliver demoniacs or perform miracles. No, but I do and all I ask of you is your heart and your voice when it comes to it; I will provide the power that brings the change. That’s what I did with my disciples, that’s what I will do with you if you want me to. But of course I want you to! Do you, do you really, do you really want to experience the uncertainties of stepping out in faith and possibly failing?

But, Lord, that’s just it, I’m afraid of failing, of not hearing you properly, of being presumptuous and going ahead of you. That’s all right, Peter often did, but he learned. I am pleased when you reach out in faith and if the time is not yet right, don’t worry, you are still learning and I am still pleased. The more you try, the more you will learn to be sensitive to me. Just trust me to turn up when the time is right, learn to let me go ahead and, yes, follow me.    

5. Taking the Land (2)

Struggles of Israel Meditations: 5. Taking the Land (2)

Deut 7:17-19    You may say to yourselves, “These nations are stronger than we are. How can we drive them out?” 18 But do not be afraid of them; remember well what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt. 19 You saw with your own eyes the great trials, the signs and wonders, the mighty hand and outstretched arm, with which the Lord your God brought you out. The Lord your God will do the same to all the peoples you now fear.

Purpose:  Having laid out some of the outline material to be considered as we think about Israel taking the Promised Land, now we will add some Biblical content to get us well and truly grounded in the Bible. What is fascinating is that most of this material comes in the instructions from the Lord early on in the Exodus process. Later on, forty years later, Moses will reiterate these things when they are on the Plains of Moab about to enter the land, and before him going to die. These things make up the content of Deuteronomy. We’ll divide this study into two parts: first the Lord’s instructions at the outset and then the outworking.

Part 1: The Lord’ Instructions:

God’s Intent:  “I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.” (Ex 3:8) There it was laid out early in the first conversation between the Lord and Moses at the burning bush. “Then the Lord said to Moses, “Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt and go up to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.” (Ex 33:1) So it was time to leave Sinai and go and take this land.

A Gradual Removal: “But I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals too numerous for you.” (Ex 23:29) There on Mount Sinai, immediately following the giving of the Law, comes the Lord’s intentions and explanations. To prevent the empty land being overrun by wild animals, the clearance will need to be gradual.

To be Driven Out: “Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land. “I will establish your borders from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, and from the desert to the Euphrates River. I will give into your hands the people who live in the land, and you will drive them out before you.” (Ex 23:30,31) As He continues He shows it will be a combined operation, involving both Him and them.

Remain Distinct: “Do not let them live in your land or they will cause you to sin against me, because the worship of their gods will certainly be a snare to you.”  (Ex 23:33) “Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land where you are going, or they will be a snare among you.” (Ex 34:12) Moses will eventually reiterate these instructions again and again, perhaps summarized as, ‘Whatever you do, remain distinct from these peoples for you are God’s holy people, and if you don’t it will be your downfall, so make sure it doesn’t happen.’

A Forty-Year Aside: What is sad is that between these instructions and Moses affirmations of them in Deuteronomy, there is this forty year gap because when they arrived at the Land and Moses sent in twelve spies, ten of them came back with such negative reports that it put off the rest of Israel who refused to enter. As a result they spent the next forty years in the wilderness while everyone who was over 20 at that point died off leaving only the new younger generation (the oldest of whom would then be sixty) to enter the Land. (see Deut 1:19-46)

Part 2: The Outworking

Failures: The book of Joshua gives us the account of how Israel took the Land but we have to wait until the beginning of Judges to see how that finally worked out.

“The Benjamites, however, did not drive out the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem; to this day the Jebusites live there with the Benjamites.” (Jud 1:21) The first of the ‘failure references’.

“But Manasseh did not drive out the people of Beth Shan or Taanach or Dor or Ibleam or Megiddo and their surrounding settlements, for the Canaanites were determined to live in that land.” (Jud 1:27)

“When Israel became strong, they pressed the Canaanites into forced labor but never drove them out completely. (Jud 1:28)

“Nor did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites living in Gezer, but the Canaanites continued to live there among them.” (Jud 1:29)

“Neither did Zebulun drive out the Canaanites living in Kitron or Nahalol, so these Canaanites lived among them, but Zebulun did subject them to forced labour.” (Jud 1:30)

 Nor did Asher drive out those living in … 32 The Asherites lived among the Canaanite inhabitants of the land because they did not drive them out.” (Jud 1:31,32)

“Neither did Naphtali drive out those living in Beth Shemesh or Beth Anath; but the Naphtalites too lived among the Canaanite inhabitants of the land.” (Jud 1:33)

“The Amorites confined the Danites to the hill country, not allowing them to come down into the plain.” (Jud 1:34)

Was the writer of Judges making a point? In those verses in chapter one, seven of the twelve tribe names are identified as having failed to drive out the Canaanites. Now it is a strange thing but the big picture is that they did take the land BUT not completely: “So Joshua took the entire land, just as the Lord had directed Moses, and he gave it as an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal divisions. Then the land had rest from war.” (Josh 11:23)

The Result:  The trouble is, when you tolerate a wrong, it will eventually bounce back on you or undermine you and so within a relatively short time we find, “After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. 11 Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. 12 They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They aroused the Lord’s anger 13 because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths.” (Jud 2:10-13)

What then follows is the first of many identical cycles throughout the whole of Judges: Israel turn from the Lord, the Lord lifts off His hand of protection over them, enemies come in and oppress them, Israel cry out to the Lord, and the Lord raises up a deliverer. It happens again and again. Why? Because the source of their undermining was still there right under their feet the whole time,  pagan, idol-worshipping peoples who led foolish Israel to follow their idols.   I have said previously that I believe the Lord created Israel for three reasons. The second reason was to reveal the sinfulness of mankind, even in a nation that had known incredible blessings from the Lord. A sub-lesson might be that a character of sinfulness is the ability to forget so quickly the blessings of the Lord and to turn away from Him to human ungodly ways. The truth is that we are no different from what we have seen here of Israel, and this only goes to show even more clearly how we all need the salvation that only Jesus can bring to us – and to hang on to it!

But why? Continuing to ponder on why this was as it was, this failure after their successes that we saw in the previous study when they travelled up the east side of the Dead Sea, one cannot help but wonder about each of those failure verses above where just one tribe was mentioned. Previously Gad and Reuben had incurred Moses’ displeasure by wanting to settle in the land to the east. “Then Moses said to them, “If you will do this—if you will arm yourselves before the Lord for battle 21 and if all of you who are armed cross over the Jordan before the Lord until he has driven his enemies out before him— 22 then when the land is subdued before the Lord, you may return and be free from your obligation to the Lord and to Israel. And this land will be your possession before the Lord.” (Num 32:20-22) The clear implication is that all the warriors of Israel need to move together to clear the Land. Instead, it appears that they split up, each tribe working to clear its own allotted area. One cannot help but wonder if they had moved as a body sweeping the land clean, if they would not have been more successful? Perhaps there is a lesson here for the ‘body of Christ’ today.

And Us? Lessons to be learnt? Surely the most powerful lesson from these accounts is that partial obedience is in fact disobedience and partial obedience leaves the door open for the enemy to come in and cause upset at some future date. It is that simple and that serious!

Snapshots: Day 65

Snapshots: Day 65

The Snapshot: “In the desert the whole community grumbled.” (Ex 16:2) A desert, a place of dryness, brings out the worst in us. How do we overcome that? Remember three things. First, the glory that got you here, the goodness of God that saved you out of ‘Egypt’ (the world). Second, the duration of this desert experience; it is supposed to be temporary. Don’t accept it as a permanent experience; expect and seek for better. Third, remember the goal, there is a better day ahead, a ‘Promised Land’, in the days to come here on earth and in the promised eternity that is our inheritance. Don’t let the enemy have cause to rejoice when he witnesses the children of God acting as less than those children. Bonus: fourth, remember who you are!

Further Consideration: Let’s consider in some more detail the three ways of overcoming the negative feelings that can arrive when we are going through a ‘desert experience’. But’s let’s be honest first of all and acknowledge that such an experience is normal. The teaching that the various experiences of Israel also act as ‘types’ of the experiences of believers, has us now in the Promised Land, a place where we inherit the goodness of the Lord and have to battle to remove the old inhabitants who still have a habit of rising up (e.g. anger?) Yet the truth is that even in the Promised Land Israel went through times of drought that made for desert-like conditions. Each of us will experience all of these things and, as we said above, they tend to bring out the worst in us – which is why the Lord allows them, so the work of sanctification can continue, a joint activity between Him and us.

So, first, remember where you came from, the facts of your new birth. That reminds us we are supernatural works of God and He is the One who now has plans and purposes for the long-term of our lives.

Second, this is a temporary experience and although it seems temporarily dry and barren, the Lord has not left you (declare the truth of Heb 13:5) and His grace is still available in this time of difficulty.

Third, the outworking of this time is a new day where we have learnt afresh the Lord’s grace and goodness and have come through into a place where light and love flow again.

But perhaps we should add a fourth thing: see this time of dryness as a testing time, a trial, an exam to be passed. Perhaps we have brought it on ourselves but it is still a time to learn lessons. The Lord has certainly allowed it; it is still a time to learn lessons. In other words, and you may consider this a fifth thing, we should view such a time positively. “Consider it pure joy… whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces…” (Jas 1:2) James adds perseverance but there may be many more benefits.

Snapshots: Day 50

Snapshots: Day 50

The Snapshot: “I will bring you to the land…”  (Ex 6:8) When God says He will do things we so often jump to the conclusion that He means now, this minute, but His reiteration to Moses that He will take His people into the Promised Land first came to Abram, then Isaac and then Jacob. It first came over four hundred years back! He had warned Abram that it would take that time. Our problem is that we only read parts of scripture and rarely get the big picture which means we jump to wrong conclusions – God is not here, He’s changed His mind, He doesn’t love me anymore, He’s given up on me. All lies from the enemy. He is using the time to change you in the circumstances, so look again and rejoice.

Further Consideration: From the moment the Lord called Abram and the die was set for establishing a relationship with this family and then later with this nation, ‘the land’ was always a feature of His promises to the Patriarchs: “Go from your country….to the land I will show you,” (Gen 12:1) and then, “To your offspring I will give this land,.” (Gen 12:7) then, “All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever…. walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you,” (Gen 13:15,17) and, “He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it,” (Gen 15:7) then, “your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there…. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here,” (Gen 15:13,16) etc. until eventually, to Moses, “I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites.” (Ex 3:8)

‘The land’ was to be the place, the environment, in which the Lord would have dealings with Israel, revealing Himself to the world through them until eventually it would be the ‘God-zone’, prepared over the centuries, into which His Son would come and be revealed and become the Redeemer of the world.

Did the enemy realise the significance of all this? Probably not, and yet the fact that God was declaring this was His will for the Hebrews made the enemy stir up against them through Pharaoh. The battle isn’t merely to deliver them out of Egypt, as wonderful as that was, but was to deliver them into the new land, the land He has decreed will be theirs forever. Yet, as He warned, it would be ‘future generations’ who would receive it – the present generation. The time has arrived. It’s time to get them out to get them in, and however much Pharaoh might object, it WILL happen! Two lands, one to be left, one to be taken.

16. Redeeming Israel – the Promised Land

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 16. Redeeming Israel – the Promised Land

Ex 6:6-8 ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring 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.’”

 Redemption and the Covenant: In the previous study we considered the fact of the Exodus as an act of redemption. Now we focus more tightly on the wider act of the Exodus for, in the verses above, we see the Lord revealing a two-part plan: a) to deliver Israel out of the slavery of Egypt, and b) delivering them into the freedom of the Promised Land.  He also reveals that this will come about by ‘mighty acts of judgment’ – which we come to know as the ten plagues, and then the destruction of Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea – and then He will enter into a new relationship with them as a people: “I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God.” (6:7) At mount Sinai He speaks about that as a “covenant”, a legal binding agreement.

Awareness and Cooperation: Now the question arises, why does this word ‘covenant’ arise so many times in the Bible? For instance, it is first used with Noah (Gen 6:18 – basically you build an ark, I’ll flood the world but will save you) then Gen 9:9-17 not to flood the world again. Next came the covenant with Abram (Gen 15:18 on) and with Isaac (Gen 17:21) and at various times God referred back to His promise to Abram. Now we have ‘covenant’ arising again but this time it is with the newly constituted nation, Israel, at Mount Sinai, to be a ‘treasured possession’. Now here is my question. We know from seven New Testament references that God’s plan of salvation through Jesus was formulated by the Godhead, before the foundation of the world. Now that plan was going to be operated, if I may put it like this, through the ‘environment’ that was the nation of Israel. So if this plan was in the mind of God from the outset and all the things we are observing are a part of that big over-arching plan, why did the Lord bother to announce it; He was going to do it anyway? The answer has to be because He wanted them and us to be aware of it and in being aware, be an active part of it, cooperating with Him in it all the way along.

Land and People: It is clear from the Lord’s original declaration in Ex 6:6-8 that His plan involves a) them as a people (Ex 6:6,7) and b) Canaan as the land He had promised to the Patriarchs (Ex 6:7,8). For us today that is expressed as a) the Church, the redeemed community of God’s people, and b) the kingdom of God, wherever and whenever and however His will is expressed on the earth through us today. People and purpose. The Promised Land was to be the environment in which Israel existed and revealed their relationship with God. Today we do not have a physical land because the ‘kingdom of God’ is revealed anywhere in the world where the people of God express the reign of God.

God’s Purpose for the Taking of the Land: It is clear from the Lord’s declarations that His intent in respect of the Promised Land also included bringing judgment on the inhabitants, the Canaanites. As the other aspect of it was to give Israel a home of their own, it meant that He wanted to use Israel to bring that judgment on the Canaanites.

Understanding the Judgment on Canaan: Now there is often so much mis-information, ignorance or even confusion about this, that we need to deal with it here. First of all, when we consider God’s instructions to Israel and His statements about His own involvement, we find there are 31 references to the Canaanites being DRIVEN OUT, and only 4 references to them being DESTROYED and only 4 to them being WIPED OUT. God’s overall purpose was that the Land be cleared of the Canaanites and their pagan practices, and that achieved by driving out those pagan inhabitants, so only if they resisted in battle would they need to be overcome and destroyed.

Possibilities: Now those pagan practices could be removed (and that is the objective of the judgment that is Israel on them) by a) the people leaving the Land (hence ‘driven out’) or b) they submit to Israel and become part of Israel – and that we see happening in respect of Rahab (see Josh 2) and the Gibeonites (see Josh 9). When God said He would drive them out, it is clear He means a) using fear (e.g. Deut 2:25, 11:25, Josh 2:9,11, 5:1) and b) using Israel themselves.

Failure & Discipline! Now when you study what actually happened, you realise a) Israel failed to do what they were commanded to do, AND b) the Lord accommodated their failure into His overall plan! This becomes clear when we move on into the book of Judges. Their failure is first recorded in Jud 1:27-36 and He holds them to account over this (see 2:3 which echoes Num 33:55 and is seen in Josh 23:13.) The warning had been clearly given that if they failed to clear the land of its people then, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live,” (Num 33:55) God had fulfilled His covenant with Abram etc. (see Ex 33:1, Numb 14:23, 32:11, Deut 1:35, 10:11, 31:20,21,23. 34:4, Josh 1:6) and Israel should have trusted Him but didn’t. That was their failure which was now seen in their failure to completely clear the Land. Now He declares, “I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left when he died. I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the Lord and walk in it as their ancestors did.”  (Jud 2:21.22)

God’s Persistence: We will see the outworking of this in the next study but what is amazing is that, as can be seen in the way the people grumble leaving Egypt, the way they grumble in the desert on the way to Sinai, the way they turn away so quickly at Sinai, the way they grumble on the way from Sinai to the Land, and their refusal to enter the Land, CONSTANTLY they fail to apprehend the wonder of the Lord’s presence with them and trust Him, and CONSTANTLY they fail to be obedient to Him. Now in Ex 19:5, one of our starter verses above, “if you obey me fully,” is the crucial condition required of Israel but, as we’ve just seen, they fail to do that again and again.  So what is amazing is God’s determination in working this through with Israel. One way or another His is going to redeem them and bring them through to the place where they will indeed be a light to the nations.

Lessons for Us? We must, as we’ve said before, never be casual about sin and never settle for a path that leads us away from receiving all that the Lord has on His heart for us. It is important that we do not live our lives based on our emotions that will go up and down. Growing ‘in Christ’ means we come to rely on the truths of the Gospel, the things we are considering here. However, there are in all this, two things that are really encouraging.

Redeemed from godlessness: The first is that the Lord will not give up on us just because we make a mess of life. In fact the truth is that many of us came to Christ because we realized what a mess we were making of life on our own, and we recognized our godlessness – yet on our own we were incapable of changing that. It was when we called out to Him that we found He was there for us and all of our mess didn’t matter. He died to redeem us from our mess.

Redeemed from the failures: The second thing is that although we may continue to get it wrong, and we continue to ‘trip over our feet’, the Lord is there constantly working to get us through to the end where we can come confidently face to face with Him in eternity. Yes, this account of Israel entering the Promised Land and yet not fully taking it, so often epitomizes our lives. We’ve entered the new life in the kingdom of the Son (Col 1:13) and yet how imperfectly we live it sometimes. But not only does the Lord not give up on us, He perseveres in His project which is to change us and see us through to the end, and that is where discipline comes. He will, like Israel in the imperfectly taken land, use the things we tolerate – against us – to help change us! Those things we think are OK, so we don’t get to sort them out, He will use to discipline us until we see what is going on and take steps to completely remove them from our lives. This process is life-long, and it is what theologians call sanctification.

89. Clearing the Way

Meditations in Exodus: 89.  Clearing the Way

Num 20:14,17,18  Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom, saying… Please let us pass through your country. We will not go through any field or vineyard, or drink water from any well. We will travel along the king’s highway and not turn to the right or to the left until we have passed through your territory….. But Edom answered: “You may not pass through here; if you try, we will march out and attack you with the sword.”

We have endeavoured in this lengthy series to cover the whole of the story of the Exodus from the deliverance from Egypt to arriving at the border of he Promised Land. Now the final outcome shows that actually some of the land to the east of the Dead Sea and the Jordan river were given to the tribes of Gad and Reuben (see Num 32) and so technically they are about to enter the land that was to be theirs and so as we are in a transition stage, we will only cover it in basic outline form.

Kadesh Barnea, you will see from a map was in the far south of the Land, which is where Israel return to after the thirty eight years of wilderness wandering. To keep the story short we will simply summarise what follows:

  • To move north towards the Land they had to skirt Edom but the king of Edom refused them entry (20:18) and the Lord forbade them attack (Deut 2) so they moved south east and in the process…..
  • Aaron died on Mount Hor (20:22-29). They then skirted Edom and going north were attacked by the king of Arad (21:1-3) who they defeated.
  • There was then yet another time of grumbling and when a plague of snakes broke out against Israel, Moses provided salvation through a bronze snake (21:4-9).
  • As they approached the land of the Amorites that king refused them entry and fought them but was defeated by them (21:21-26).
  • The same thing happened as they travelled further north and they defeated the king of Bashan (21:33-35).
  • This brought them to the Plains of Moab, across the Jordan from Jericho. To the east were the Midianites who had heard all that had happened and were fearful and so follows the bizarre story of Balak who hired the seer Balaam to curse Israel. Every time he went to do this he encountered the Lord and ended up blessing Israel, much to the displeasure of Balak (Ch.22-24).
  • Failing in this, Balaam advised Balak to get his women to seduce the Israelite men to overcome them and lead them into idolatry, which is what happened (Ch.25), and God’s judgment on them was only averted when Phineas stepped in (25:6-18), although many still died by plague and the Lord decreed that Midian were to be destroyed (see ch.31).
  • This is followed by settling Reuben and Gad in the land east of the Jordan, subject to their soldiers continuing to help the rest take the rest of the Land (Ch.32). This is really the last historical incident recorded in Numbers.
  • Moses actual death is recorded, as we have noted previously, in Deut 34 which concludes the book of Deuteronomy and the Pentateuch.

Thus we have observed the final historical events involving Israel as they come to the end of this forty year period of deliverance from Egypt and their travels until the point in time where they arrive on the Plains of Moab to the east of the Jordan, opposite Jericho, and prepare to actually enter the Land. They have arrived! We will in one final study recap all we have seen of their travels but for the moment we might ask ourselves what these final events, recorded above, say to us?

In the previous study we noted Moses’ failure in respect of the water from the rock but also noted that this did not stop him remaining fully active in his final year(s) as he led the people up to the point where there were to cross the Jordan and enter the Land. We usually think of Joshua as the great general who led Israel into the Land, but actually Moses had led them in the first stages. He had been their leader and seen them through the lands to the south and then east of the Dead Sea and he had been the one leading them to defeat Arad, then the Amorites and then Bashan and eventually the Midianites. i.e. he had led them through their first four battles, helping them gradually gain confidence in being a fighting force. He had had to overcome the spiritual battle over Balaam’s deception and he had had to preside over various administrative issues about ownership and settling the Land.

There is a portion of a psalm that we should perhaps consider at this point: The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The LORD is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.”  (Psa 92:12-15)  This is the challenge for the believer in old age, and Moses sets an example for us to follow, being the perfect illustration of what this psalm says. For those of us of more mature years, will this be us? The writer to the Hebrews testifies, “Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house.” (Heb 3:5) Will the same thing be able to be said of us when we are gone, that we have been a faithful servant of the Lord, who kept on to the very end? May it be so.

23. The ‘Rest’ God has for us

Meditations in Hebrews 4:    23.  The ‘Rest’ God has for us

Heb 4:1   Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.

In chapters 3 and 4 the word ‘rest’ comes up ten times, twice in chapter 3 and 8 times in chapter 4. We need to understand what it means. However, the explanation is spread out over the next eleven verses so we are going to have to do a large passage study, which unravels as the writer goes on. But be warned, this is, in our opinion, one of the most complex arguments in this book and it will take some thinking through. We will, however, do all we can to work through it to explain it clearly and then at the end, produce a summary of our findings.  Now as we come to these verses, I know I usually use the NIV but in this instance that version is, I believe, confusing and commentators and interpreters have struggled with it, so I am going to use the ESV which I think is more straight forward.

The ‘Therefore’ links us with the previous chapter that he ended with this reminder of what had gone on after the Exodus from Egypt. The ‘rest’ referred to in 3:11 and 3:18 was clearly the Promised Land which, through lack of faith, that earlier generation failed to take.

So now our writer starts with a warning which he assumes at the outset we will understand: “Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it.”  (v.1) Now I warned just now that this is a difficult argument to follow so let’s put out front what the writer is going to prove from the Old Testament Scriptures, that “entering his rest” has its origins at the end of the days of Creation, but was a term used to apply to Israel entering the Promised Land, BUT ALSO at any other subsequent time when God challenges and calls us.

Let’s just assume to start with that this ‘rest’ is in general terms ‘God’s goal for each one of us’. When ‘rest’ is used as ‘the goal of our salvation’, he tells us that the promise is still there, that it IS possible to enter a similar state that God entered when He finished Creation, so, says our writer, don’t miss the goal.

In case we haven’t understood the jump between the OT and NT goals, he links that Goal with the Gospel:  “For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.” (v.2) The ‘us’ is us who are now Christians and the ‘they’ refers to the Israelites under Moses. The implication is that they were told there was a land that God had for them, but it needed taking by faith. The only trouble was that they didn’t have that faith. There is a subtle indirect warning behind this, for us not to be casual about the Gospel. Be careful that you haven’t fully received it, is what he is saying.

Now in verse 3 he first reassures us because we have believed, and reminds us (by way of warning) what happened to those in the OT who didn’t believe: “For we who have believed enter that rest, (so we’re OK, in contrast with them) as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath,  ‘They shall not enter my rest’”, (even though that ‘rest’ existed from after the Creation) although his works were finished from the foundation of the world.” i.e. God’s rest – His own goal achieved, Creation and rest – existed thereafter and He is telling us that we too can enter into that experience of rest if we come to Him by faith.

The words, “my rest” he referred to in the quote back in 3:11 and now here in 4:3 suggest that it is as if the Promised Land isn’t the only thing God means when he speaks about us not entering HIS rest. When he writes, “And yet,” it’s as if the writer means, “But don’t forget the Creation story where God finished His work and then rested,”  and so he goes on to speak of that, “For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.”  (citing Gen 2:2)  That was God’s rest, the completion of Creation. God had done His part. When he now refers back to that warning of Psa 95: “And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.” (v.5) it was simply to remind us that although God has a rest (a position of having achieved His goal of Creation and thus now being able to relax, so to speak) that particular group of unbelieving people did not enter into it. That’s what the prophetic warning was in that Psalm.

The ESV arrangement  of verses 6 and 7 show us a “this-then argument” i.e. IF one group of people failed to enter THEN God sets up a new way of thinking about it: “Since therefore (IF) it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, (THEN) again he appoints a certain day, “Today”, saying through David so long afterwards, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

The Message Version explains it well: “God keeps renewing the promise and setting the date as today, just as he did in David’s psalm, centuries later than the original invitation: Today, please listen,  don’t turn a deaf ear . . .”  or as the Easy to Read Version puts it, “So God planned another special day. It is called “today.” He spoke about that day through David a long time later using the words we quoted before: “If you hear God’s voice today, don’t be stubborn.” i.e. merely because that one group of people failed to enter into the ‘rest’ God had for them, that was not the end of the story. God applies the word again and again in history so it can apply numerous times, just as he did in that Psalm of David’s.

Do you see what the writer is saying? It seems complicated but is, in reality, very simple. The warning came first of all to those Israelites to enter the ‘rest’ God had planned for them, the Promised Land, but when they failed to do that, it didn’t annul the fact that after the Creation God rested and used that ‘rest’ as an illustration of what everyone who came to Him by faith could experience – rest, in a completed world, with all of God’s provision! The goal of God’s plans from before the beginning of time, is a ‘rest’ that means being at peace with God and at rest in His will, with all that He now has available for us.

There is more to come but we’ll leave it until the next one. There has been a lot to take in and you may need to reread the whole of the study to catch it. (We will do a recap in the next study) The outworking of all this?  God has an experience that He wants for all of His children, all those who will come to Him by faith, an experience whereby we can be at complete rest in the knowledge that we have received the end goal of God’s plans – His salvation through Jesus Christ that reconciles us to Him, so no more striving, no more worry, no more wondering, ‘Am I good enough for God?’  As Jesus said on the Cross, “It is finished!”  Hallelujah!

49. Desert & Promised Land

Part 6: The Road to Sinai

Meditations in Exodus: 49. Desert & Promised Land

Ex 15:22   Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water.

And so we move into a new phase in the life of Israel. They have been delivered from Egypt and Pharaoh has been dealt with so he will not come after them again. Now, as we have already seen, Israel are being led by the presence of God in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. When the cloud moves they move, when the cloud stands still, they stand still. It is, if you like, a picture of the life of the Christian being led by the Spirit.

Now the moment we say that, we need to introduce the subject of ‘types’ in the Old Testament. Types in the Old Testament mean pictures from the Old Testament history that reveal something of the truths and reality of New Testament experience. Rom 15:4 tells us that the Old Testament writing were written for our instruction and encouragement. In the New Testament, we find it constantly refers to the Old Testament and often indicates that the Old Testament showed pictures that speak of things to come in the New. Wherever possible we should look for Types where the Bible expressly indicates one, but sometimes we may assume a Type where it is so clear that one can be considered. So, before we rush on to observe Israel’s journey through the wilderness, it might be helpful to see these ‘types’ or analogies in the bigger picture.

Egypt is seen as a picture of the world and of our life before Christ.  “World” in Scripture has three different meanings:   i) the planet on which we live,  ii) the people on the earth, iii) the system of godless attitudes held by the majority of people. It is this last meaning that we consider here. Egypt or our unsaved lives is where the people are in slavery, ruled by a tyrant (1:8,9 / 1 Jn5:19 ) where the people want to be free but are unable to deliver themselves.

The Desert or the Wilderness is seen as the start of the redeemed life. It is entered through the Passover, a picture of Jesus dying for us. It is a place of learning to trust God and that is what all the immediate studies will be about. It is a place where God guides but we have to learn to trust Him to overcome every difficulty.  It was supposed to be a limited experience and they were supposed to pass through it and enter the land. We too are called to go on to maturity (see Heb 6:11-14/ Eph 4:13-15).

The Promised Land is, if you like, the second phase of the Christian life where we now trust God and see that it is a place of receiving our inheritance from Him.  It was God’s promised inheritance for Israel (see Gal 4:7 / 2 Pet I :4 / Mt 25:34) and it was to be a place of natural abundant provision (see Eph 1:7,18).  It was also a place of battles to take the inheritance from the unbelieving, godless, occupiers of the land (see Eph 6:12 ) but the victory was assured for them in accordance with God’s promise Josh 1:3-5 (see 1 Cor 15:57 / Rom 8:37 / Rom 16:20 / 1 Cor 15:25 ) and that was obtained as they obeyed his instructions (see Jn 15:5/ Jn 14:12.15)

Before we leave these particular ‘analogies’ can we emphasise the difference between the Wilderness and the Promised Land, for they often confuse Christians. They are both places of learning and obedience and they are both places of God’s provision. The Wilderness experience, we will see, takes God’s people through a number of trials or testings all to do with daily provision and the key lesson to be learnt is to TRUST this loving God that He is for us and WILL provide for us everything we need. There are no exams for this and there is no set time for this; it is simply a learning process that we have to go through, and sadly many Christians never seem to leave the wilderness and get to the place of simply RECEIVING all the goodness of God that He has for us that just has to be taken.

So, we have been delivered out of the ‘world’ (Egypt) and are transiting to the Promised Land through a world that is not always comfortable. This phase begins, Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur.” (v.22a) The fact that Moses is mentioned as the leader doesn’t detract from the fact that it is God leading them as we noted above, but Moses is still simply His figurehead at the head of this people. At first sight this might seem bad news that God (and Moses) is leading this people into the desert on the Sinai Peninsular, a distinctly inhospitable part of the world but there are two reasons for this.

First, as we saw in Study no,45, God did not want them to go due north because that would have meant war with the belligerent Philistines and Israel were not yet ready for war. Second, the desert affords Israel the opportunity to learn many thing about their deliverer. So far they have only seen God as the bringer of judgments; now they need to learn that He is also the provider of their daily needs. He is not just a warrior but a loving father who looks after His children.

So they are led into the desert. What does that remind you of? Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert” (Mt 4:1) God’s training and, yes, God’s victories, are often won in the desert, the dry and arid place, the place where you feel all alone. There is nothing romantic about the desert: “For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water.” (v.22b) It is a place of shortages, a place of limitations, a hostile place – but God is still there with us and in that dry, arid, hostile place, He will reveal Himself as our provider, our carer, the One who not only delivered us out of Egypt but the One who will walk every step of this life with us, being there for us all the time.

So if you feel like you are in a desert – you probably are, but it is a place of learning and a place of trusting and a place of God providing. It is also a place where our limitations are revealed, our imperfections shown up and we realize afresh that we are here by God’s grace and mercy, not because of our endeavors, our cleverness, our brightness, but because a lamb was slain for us. Do you feel excited by all the lessons that are about to come? If not, let me reassure you that God IS love and everything He allows in this desert experience is for your good and for your maturing and for the blessing of His world. Are we ready? Then let us begin.