The Longer Way

“God did not lead them by the land of the Philistines, although that was nearest”

Exodus 13:17

Having such a great task ahead, one would expect that the shortest route would be the best. Moses had the task of moving more than two million people with their belongings and livestock from Egypt to the land given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob by its Owner. The shortest route would not have taken very long. If God’s objective was solely to get the people of Israel into the land, that is what He may have done but He had a greater objective. It is an objective He has for us as well. The people who would enter the Promised Land must be people who believed and trusted God and who would therefore obey Him.

The shortest way into the presence of the Lord for us is to die but God has a greater objective and for that there will be detours. Throughout the Bible we see that professed faith in God and Jesus Christ will be tested. The tests will either prove our faith genuine or false. If proven false it gives opportunity to have a change of heart to a genuine faith in the Lord. If proven genuine it is strengthened in readiness for the next test.

Do our tests cause us to draw near to God or turn us away from Him? When many of Jesus’ disciples were turning away from following Him, Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?” But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that you are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:67-69). Like Peter, those who know Jesus for who He is and what He has done will not turn away from following Him when tested. They know there is no other way to experience eternal life except through Jesus Christ.

We may sometimes be a little displeased with God for the testing and the longer way, but the testing is so that we will know Him more and be more sure of our faith in Him. Relationships grow stronger when tested. God is preparing us to enter His presence. The longer routes of life are for the purpose of proving and growing our faith in Him. We know that everything we experience is for our good and God’s glory (Romans 8:28). Can you confidently say with John that you know that you have eternal life (1 John 5:11-13) and that your joy is full (John 15:11; 16:24; 1 John 1:4)?

Awesome Majesty

“On this one will I look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word” Isaiah 66:2

About twenty years ago I was in the co-pilot’s seat of a light plane flown by an MAF pilot. We were flying from Bokondini to Wamena in the central highlands of Papua, Indonesia. I knew nothing of how to fly the plane and it was my first light plane flight in the region. Fortunately there was no need of a co-pilot’s services and any uneasiness on the part of my friends on board was relieved!

For several days previously, we had been unable to fly due to smoke and fog. Now, we were soaring between huge steep mountains with cavernous gorges kilometres deep. We were awestruck at the scale. We might say that we trembled at the beauty and scale of what we were beholding.

Twice in Isaiah sixty six the Lord refers to trembling at His word (v 2 & 5). He does not mean the kind of trembling that demons experience (James 2:19). Theirs is a trembling of fear of God’s impending wrath and judgment that is hanging over their heads. The “tremble” in Isaiah is one that arises from being awestruck at the beauty, wisdom and holy magnificence of the Lord. In colloquial terms, we might say it is the “WOW factor”.

Who will stand in awe of the Lord and tremble, not from fear of wrath or judgment, but in seeing the greatness of His beauty, wisdom and majesty? The Lord tells us that it is the one who is poor in spirit and of a contrite spirit. In Isaiah 57:15 the Lord says that He dwells with the one who is of a contrite and humble spirit. The Psalmist writes, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart – These, O God, You will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). The “poor in spirit” in Isaiah equates with the first Beatitude in Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” That is, those who know that they are spiritually bankrupt with regard to righteousness.

Sometimes when we are out walking, riding, driving or flying, we see some amazing scenery and are moved in awe of great beauty. This, however, is only a subdued emotion compared with that of the tremble we may experience as the Lord allows us glimpses of Himself through His word and the experiences of life we have as we walk with Him. The next corner in our lives that we turn or the next page of the Bible that we read, may be the means by which He reveals Himself to us with more of His beauty, wisdom and awesome majesty and holiness.

We cannot demand that the Lord reveal Himself; but we can put ourselves in the right place so that, when He chooses, we will have the right spirit of heart that causes us to tremble in delight at His presence.

The Right Place

“I have commanded the ravens to feed you there” 1 Kings 17:4

Had Elijah gone anywhere else the ravens would not have found him but King Ahab’s men might have. The Lord could have protected Elijah even in Ahab’s palace had He chosen to do so but Elijah’s absence would give Ahab opportunity to consider his position before God without Elijah being in his face.

It is good for us to consider, from time to time, whether we are where the Lord wants us to be or whether He may be directing us elsewhere. Quite likely we will discover that we are where He wants us to be but even if that is so we won’t have that assurance unless we ask. The reason we do not ask may be because we are comfortable where we are or that it just does not cross our minds to check?

Elijah was faced with possible death from Ahab if he did not move away so he was well motivated to hear where the Lord would have him go. We shouldn’t need to wait until we feel threatened before we seek the Lord’s counsel or confirmation. Such threats might be loss of employment, unmet needs, difficult neighbours or schooling for children.

In Acts 8 we read how the Lord took Philip away from a thriving evangelistic ministry in Samaria to the desert to meet one man. Philip might have argued with the Lord about the wisdom of such a move and his friends might also have discouraged him but he obeyed the Lord.

Rather than remain in doubt, we can, from time to time, ask the Lord if we are where He wants us to be and doing what He wants us to do. Of course we will only do this if He is indeed Lord in our hearts and we are willing to do whatever He asks. There is always joy and peace in knowing that we are where the Lord wants us to be. When we are he will provide all we need.

Had Elijah thought he knew a better place there could have been quite a different outcome. Elijah was a man not a superhero. God did great things through Elijah, not because he was greater than other men, but because he took the word of the Lord literally and went to the place and did what he was asked by the Lord.

In the context of the evangelist Philip (Acts 8), but equally applying to Elijah and us, Vance Havner writes, “Philip ‘arose and went … and behold.’ He who said, ‘Go ye therefore …’ has said ‘Lo, I am with you.’ As you obey, you may not see the why of it, but you shall see the who. He who says ‘Go’ goes along.”

Where the Lord sends us He goes with us and will provide for us there. Elijah knew this theoretically at first but because he acted upon it he experienced it first hand and his faith in the Lord grew and was proven.

In His Presence

“From everyone who gives it willingly with his heart you shall take My offering” (Exodus 25:2)

From the beginning to the end of the Bible we notice that God wants to dwell with the crown of His creation – man. At Christmas time we readily quote and sing one particular name of the Lord Jesus Christ and its meaning: Emmanuel, God with us. The purpose of the incarnation was to open the way for God to dwell with man. At Easter we remember how this was accomplished and directs our attention forward to the day when it will be an absolute reality.

Israel had a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night as witness of God’s presence. The next step was to have Israel build a portable sanctuary where God would dwell with the people as they travelled in the wilderness.

One can only wonder at what Moses thought of the Lord’s directive to obtain all the materials, including much gold and silver, from the people of Israel. They were a tribe of slaves who had left Egypt kicking, screaming and complaining at every obstacle. Would they have the materials and, if they did, could they be extracted from their hands? Also, the materials could only be received from those who give it willingly with their heart. Moses was not to use guilt or duty to provoke giving and people were not to give for self-esteem or the praise of men.

What would provoke the people of Israel to willingly give their gold, silver and other materials for the sanctuary? The answer is given in verse eight; “Let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. Only the people who valued the Lord being physically present with them would be moved to give willingly from the heart. Anyone who preferred gold and silver could keep it but they would not have a sense of God’s presence.

We should remember that Israel had these materials because they were given to them by the Egyptians as they left Egypt. The Egyptians gave the materials to them because of the fear of the Lord that came upon them. God gave them the materials and now He asks for a portion so that He may have a physical presence with them.

No one has given anything to the Lord unless they understand that all they have has been given to them by Him. Their response is to give as He directs with a glad and willing heart. If the motive is anything else then it will not result in a sense of God’s presence. A sense of duty performed or self-satisfaction is no substitute for giving with a willing heart and it will not have the desired outcome of God’s presence.

Paul writes that the churches of Macedonia gave “according to their ability, yes and beyond their ability, they were freely willing, imploring us with much urgency that we should receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. And not only as we had hoped, but they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God” (2 Corinthians 8:3-5).

The people of Israel did this, even giving more than required, and the sanctuary was built and God dwelt among them. When we give from the heart desiring God Himself He will manifest Himself to us and we shall know His presence now and be confident of His physical presence in the resurrection when He creates all things new.