God Goes Before
Well, we are certainly in new and uncharted territory. We have been navigating the mitigation efforts, flattening the curve, and becoming Zoom meeting experts. Some don't leave the house without a mask and we have tinkered with the best homemade DIY version of hand sanitizer we could muster from the internet experts. As talk of going back to life as we once knew it is circulating around the globe, many are trying to figure out exactly what that looks like, and if it is even possible. Will life as we knew it just two months ago ever be the same? While some are desperate for life to return to normal, others are finding that normal is no longer possible. What is ahead of us as a country, a people, and followers of Jesus?
When you step into new frontiers, there is a point of no turning back. Once you've crossed that line and the decision is made, you stand in the land of all things new. It looks like freedom but it feels like fear. Maybe it is both. It is the tension that Neo faced after he took the red pill in The Matrix. It is that moment of "things are about to get real" and Lucky Day draws a line in the sand and declares, “Who’s with me?” And it is certainly the point when Moses holds up his staff before the Red Sea and watches close to two million of his own walk out from a life of slavery to see what this Promised Land is all about.
It is no understatement to say that Egypt is the land of plenty, thanks to the Nile River. The Nile is everything. From the Nile flows all life. It was a famine in Canaan four thousand years ago that brought the family of Jacob to Egypt in the first place. If you were to fly over over Egypt today, there is this strip of green and fertile beauty that flanks the Nile River on either side. Once you get past the 30 miles of life outside of that range, all you see is desolation and nothingness. I got a sense of this when I was in Egypt last year. With one foot I stood in the land of plenty while with the other foot I was touching the wilderness that extended hundreds of miles in front of me.
If the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, then so does the circular journey of forty years.
When you don't know WHAT is before you, sometimes you have to trust WHO is before you.
This would be the story between God and His people, and I would argue this is our story too. We are at a point in time where we need to trust the God Who goes before us.
"The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” (Deuteronomy 31:8)
"And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night." (Exodus 13:21)
He is not only before us, but hems us in from behind as well.
"Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel." (Exodus 14:19-20)
"For you shall not go out in haste, and you shall not go in flight, for the Lord will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rear guard." (Isaiah 52:12)
"You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it." (Psalm 139:5-6)
Throughout Israel's history, this message of the God Who goes before was one that needed to be retold for every passing generation, with whatever unknown that was in front of them. Whether they were entering the wilderness or the promised land, into battle or the end of the age, God goes before.
"The Lord your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as He did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the Lord your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place." (Deuteronomy 1:30)
"Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen. You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron." (Psalm 77:19-20)
We are prone to fear. When we are even more uncertain, when we can't see Him or feel Him right in front of us, we panic and quickly look for a substitute to go before us. Our solutions rarely give us the peace and assurance we were seeking. This one didn't end too well.
"When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” (Exodus 32:1)
A verse that I often read at memorial services is from Ecclesiastes 7:1, "A good name is better than fine perfume, and the day of death better than the day of birth." There is a peace in knowing the day a soul comes into their final rest, knowing all the storms and battles are behind them and a good life was lived. Maybe it is my more pessimistic side that looks at a newborn baby and thinks, "Who knows what is ahead for this new soul? What trials and difficulties will they have to encounter before them?"
For the Israelites, to trust an invisible God saying, "Leave behind all of your comfort and all of your provision and enter into the nothingness," the onlookers must have thought they had spent one too many days laying bricks in the hot Egyptian sun. Corrie Ten Boom said, "Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God." For the Israelites, this was the God that just performed powerful miracles against their foes in Egypt. But what would this God look like in the vast space before them? As we enter a new normal, as life goes forward, whatever it looks like, may we trust in the One Who still goes before us today.