Hindrances to experiencing the fullness of His presence.
The history of the nation of Israel speaks loudly to us from the pages of the Bible even though many people don’t find much significance today in the Old Testament books. They are part of the Bible for a specific purpose. God delivered the Israelites with a mighty hand from the power of Pharaoh because He saw their great affliction. In the same way, God delivered us from the power of sin so we can serve Him freely and without fear. Yet, what were the Israelites saved to? Once they miraculously crossed the Red Sea on foot as God split the water before their very eyes, they were called into a close walk with God that would eventually lead into His perfect rest in the Land of Canaan. Most of them failed to enter the Promised Land of God’s rest and died in the wilderness. I believe the experiences of the nation of Israel serve as powerful road markers for us on our journey to experiencing the fullness of God’s presence, which is rest for our weary and heavy souls. He calls us all to rest, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30 ESV).
Many Christians fail to enter this rest because they are not careful to walk closely with God so they miss out on the fullness of God’s presence in their lives. The Israelites’ behavior will show us why they did not enter the Promised Land in order to experience God’s very best for their lives. Our lives are much the same way, a perilous journey into the vast wilderness of the world. The way we relate to God determines our relationship with Him and whether or not we will accept His invitation to enter His promised rest. We owe our entire being to God because He freed us from slavery to sin through the precious blood of Jesus Christ! He is our Deliverer and He deserves our respect and obedience. On our own journey through life’s wilderness, God will test us greatly but each test is an opportunity to experience His power and nearness. Let’s journey with the Israelites and look closely at what hindered them from entering God’s rest.
First, they complained.
Then Moses made Israel set out from the Red Sea, and they went into the wilderness of Shur. They went three days in the wilderness and found no water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; therefore it was named Marah. And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” And he cried to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a log, and he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet. There the Lord made for them a statute and a rule, and there he tested them, saying, “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the Lord your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, your healer.” Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees, and they encamped there by the water (Exodus 15:22-30). Sometimes, the events in our lives seem very bitter, yet God is allowing them in order to test us. Will we trust that God has a good plan for our lives and that He is enough for every need? Will we listen to His voice or to the voice of our flesh that demands instant gratification? God was planning to make the bitter water sweet so it would become drinkable. He is our healer. How beautiful that, after this episode, they found an oasis in the middle of the desert. He knows how tiresome our trek through life can be and wants to refresh us. He is our Living Water and Our Shade from the heat!
And the people complained in the hearing of the Lord about their misfortunes, and when the Lord heard it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp. Then the people cried out to Moses, and Moses prayed to the Lord, and the fire died down. So the name of that place was called Taberah, because the fire of the Lord burned among them. Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its appearance like that of bdellium. The people went about and gathered it and ground it in handmills or beat it in mortars and boiled it in pots and made cakes of it. And the taste of it was like the taste of cakes baked with oil. When the dew fell upon the camp in the night, the manna fell with it (Numbers 11:1-9). Even though their complaining angered God, He gave them bread from heaven. Yet, His punishment had severe consequences. Every time we speak against God, something dies. We need to trust that He is our Daily Sustenance. He calls us to gratitude and submission to His Will. God knows what’s best for us at every stage of our spiritual journey.
Second, they rebelled.
Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt” (Numbers 14:1-4). Moses was the one God appointed to bring the Israelites into the Promised Land. He stands on the pages of Scripture as a shadow of our true Leader into God’s rest, Jesus Christ. When we rebel against God’s ways as He leads us through the wilderness of our spiritual pilgrimage and we want to do things our way, we have the same attitude of utter rebellion towards God.
Third, they were idolatrous.
When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.” And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play (Exodus 32:1-6). While Moses was on the mountain with God, the people grew impatient. They wanted a God that would be more convenient for them, so they made a god of their liking. How often do we do this when we do not honor God as holy and submit to Him even in the things we don’t like. It’s easy to judge Aaron for making the calf but how often have we ourselves failed to give God the worship He deserves even when His ways don’t make sense to us?
Fourth, they were faithless.
Then the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.” So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.” (Numbers 13:31-33). The obstacles that stand in the way of the fullness of God’s presence in our lives seem insurmountable. This is how the Israelites felt when the spies brought back a bad report of the Land of Canaan. It is faithlessness that causes us to shrink back from the giants that stand between us and the promise of God’s rest. However, God overcame every obstacle for them and brought the few that were faithful into His Promised Land.
Fifth, they were not completely humble.
Who would’ve thought that Moses, their meek leader through the many long wilderness years, would not enter the Promised Land? This stands as a powerful warning to us that we are to walk in complete obedience before God in order to receive the promise of His great rest. He recalled with great sorrow, “And I pleaded with the Lord at that time, saying, ‘O Lord God, you have only begun to show your servant your greatness and your mighty hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do such works and mighty acts as yours? Please let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon.’ But the Lord was angry with me because of you and would not listen to me. And the Lord said to me, ‘Enough from you; do not speak to me of this matter again. Go up to the top of Pisgah and lift up your eyes westward and northward and southward and eastward, and look at it with your eyes, for you shall not go over this Jordan (Deuteronomy 3:23-27). As we take on the yoke of Christ and learn to be humble like He is, we will find rest from the heavy burden of the self. We are called to a life of absolute abandon as we seek to obey God in all things. As we walk closely with Him, we will be led triumphantly into the fullness of His presence and will drink deeply of His rest! God, help us overcome every obstacle in Your Name!!!