During a recent trip to North-East Victoria, my wife and I visited a little town called Chiltern. The main street of this quaint community looks like a set from a ‘wild west’ movie. I half expected to turn around and see Ned Kelly come riding into town with both guns blazing. Rummaging through a jumble of books in one of the numerous Antique and Collectible stores, I came across a rare and out-of-print title, ‘In the steps of Moses the Lawgiver’. The book was written in 1937 by English novelist and essayist, Louis Golding.
Born in Manchester into a Ukrainian-Jewish family, Golding wanted to retrace the journey of the children of Israel from Egypt to the Promised Land, as commemorated every year at Pesach. The book is fascinating, not the least because of its timing – written on the very eve of World War Two and the holocaust of European Jewry.
Reading the book reminded me of the enormity of what God and Moses did – the equivalent of moving half the population of Melbourne to Queensland, on foot. Even given Moses’ experience as an Egyptian General in the Ethiopian war, there had to be a supernatural element involved in the transportation of so many people and animals on such a long journey, through difficult and dangerous terrain, in the presence of predictably hostile enemies.
The Book of Exodus gives us an insight into the nature of this supernatural element: in some places it is called ‘the pillar of fire’, in other places it is referred to as ‘the cloud of glory’. In chapter 33, it is described as ‘the Presence’.
And He said, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Then he said to Him, “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here. For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found grace in Your sight, except You go with us? So we shall be separate, Your people and I, from all the people who are upon the face of the earth” (Exodus 33:14-16).
Indeed, ‘the Presence’, or as it reads in Hebrew, HaPaneh, ‘the Face’, was pivotal to Israel’s journey, as Numbers chapter nine indicates:
Whenever the cloud was taken up from above the tabernacle, after that the children of Israel would journey; and in the place where the cloud settled, there the children of Israel would pitch their tents … as long as the cloud stayed above the tabernacle they remained encamped … whether it was two days, a month, or a year that the cloud remained above the tabernacle, the children of Israel would remain encamped and not journey; but when it was taken up, they would journey (Numbers 9:17,22).
The fire and the cloud were more than symbols; they were actual manifestations of God’s presence in the midst of the camp. And in his presence, sicknesses were healed, dangers were averted, and physical needs were supplied. Reviewing their remarkable journey, Moses said, “These forty years the Lord your God has been with you; you have lacked nothing” (Deut. 2:7). Even their garments did not wear out, and their feet did not blister (Deut. 8:4). Jewish tailors and shoe manufacturers might be good, but they’re not that good! Clearly, some miraculous power was at work.
After forty years of journeying and encamping, a new generation of Israelites finally stood at the threshold of the Promised Land. Conscious that he was about to leave them and pass on to be with the Lord, Moses preached one last sermon. It must have been a good one because it lasted for a whole month!
In this sermon, Moses reiterates the terms of the covenant: “If you are obedient, God will bless you…” Moreover, he reminds them that God’s presence is central to everything they are and everything they ever will be as a people. And in colourful language, he asserts their utter dependence on the Lord:
“Do not be terrified, or afraid of them. The Lord your God, who goes before you, He will fight for you, according to all He did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness where you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a man carries his son, in all the way that you went until you came to this place … The Lord your God went in the way before you to search out a place for you to pitch your tents, to show you the way you should go, in the fire by night and in the cloud by day” (Deut. 1:29-33).
“The Lord carried you,” Moses said, “as a man carries his son.” Many years ago, when my son was a little boy, I would hoist him up and carry him on my shoulders. (If I tried to do that now, it would probably kill me, as he weighs about 100kg). He would sit up there, laughing and waving his arms around, feeling that he was on top of the world. Sitting on my shoulders elevated him both physically and emotionally. It changed his perspective and made him feel bigger than he actually was.
A generation earlier, when Moses sent spies into the land to bring back a situation report, they declared, “The inhabitants are like giants and we are like grasshoppers.” But the Lord said, “I’m going to pick up this little grasshopper and put it on my shoulder.” All of a sudden the little grasshopper had become a giant, and from this elevated position he could look down upon his enemies.
Moses also used the phrase ‘the everlasting arms’ to denote the ‘lifting up of God’. In blessing the tribe of Asher, he said, ““The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms; He will thrust out the enemy from before you, and will say, ‘Destroy!’” (Deut. 33:27). The ‘everlasting arm of God’ is not a safety net, designed to catch us if we fall; rather, it is a reference to the active support and positive uplift of Spirit in our lives.
David experienced the ‘lifting up of God’ on many occasions during his long and illustrious career. He declared, “The Lord shall set me high upon a rock, and my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me … I will extol You, O Lord, for You have lifted me up” (Psalm 27:5-6; 30:1).
Isaiah also alluded to the ‘lifting up of God’ and indicated that it was not an isolated phenomenon, but a regular occurrence based on covenant relationship.
But you, Israel, are My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the descendants of Abraham My friend. You whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest regions, and said to you, “You are My servant, I have chosen you and have not cast you away: Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:9-10).
Listen to Me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been upheld by Me from birth, who have been carried from the womb: even to your old age, I am He, and even to gray hairs I will carry you! I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you (Isaiah 46:3-4).
The ‘lifting up of God’ is not just an experience that is reserved for new believers or young Christians. God says, “I will uphold you from birth to old age; I will carry you from the cradle to the grave!” Isaiah declared, “Those who wait on the Lord shall mount up with wings like eagles” (Isa. 40:31). Indeed, the Holy Spirit is the wind beneath our wings.
The Holy Spirit is the presence of God in our lives. He is the pillar of fire and cloud that goes before us and encamps all around us. Although he never leaves us or forsakes us, we need to follow him as closely as the children of Israel followed the pillar of fire and cloud in the wilderness.
He is the one who lifts us higher and makes us taller than we have ever been before; He is the one who turns grasshoppers into giants, and the vanquished into overcomers. Our relationship with the Holy Spirit is the key to our success as we journey from ‘Egypt’ to the ‘Promised Land’ – it is pivotal to everything that happens in our lives from ‘birth’ to ‘old age’.
When, by the grace of God, we reach the end of our journey, we will look back and say, “Thank God for the Holy Spirit. He taught me. He guided me. He counselled me. He corrected me. He was my advocate. He was comforter. He was my inspiration. He was with me at the beginning, He was with me at the end, and He was with me at every point along the way.”
The apostle James encouraged his readers to look to God, rather than man, for exaltation. He said, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up” (James 4:10). ‘Humbling yourselves’ means to depend on God. It’s the New Testament equivalent of Proverbs 3:5-6; “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.”
We have a tendency to depend on human resources, whether our own or other people’s. But people have a habit of letting us down. Sometimes we even let ourselves down! Joseph experienced this firsthand in Egypt. He thought his ticket out of prison was the butler, the baker, and the candlestick-maker, but they let him down. People forgot about him, but the Lord remembered him. And in the fullness of time, the Lord reached down, lifted Joseph out of the depths of the prison, and set him in the highest position of authority and power in all Egypt, subject only to Pharaoh himself!
A dream of exaltation
Last night I went to bed, and while I slept, I had a vivid and compelling dream. I can still feel the effects of it as I write these words. I dreamed that I was swimming in a large pool. Strictly speaking, I was just marking time, treading water, not really going anywhere. Suddenly I became aware of two orcas (whales), either side of me, shooting up from the bottom of the pool. As the whales shot to the surface, they caught my outstretched arms and catapulted me into the air.
In our dream state, our bodies cannot differentiate between what is real and what is imaginary. We experience the same rush of adrenaline, the same outbreak of sweat, the same palpitation of the heart as if it was happening to us in real life. In the dream I could actually feel the sense of exhilaration as I was propelled out of the water. I could feel myself flying through the air, and in the dream I called out to my wife, “Heather, look at this!” Then I fell back into the pool and resumed treading water. Suddenly the two whales shot up from the depths of the pool, caught me by the arms, catapulted me into the air, and I found myself soaring once again.
When I awoke, my heart was pounding with excitement. I could still feel the thrill of being ‘lifted up’ by a power greater than my own. I could still feel the exhilaration of being airborne. And I immediately understood the meaning of the dream and the message that God was trying to send me.
God was saying, “My son, I am with you; I will support you; I will lift you up. Just like those two whales, my power will come suddenly and unexpectedly from a place that you cannot see and do not know, and raise you higher than you have ever been raised before.”
It’s true! God is your source and he will lift you up. Stop looking to your boss, or your friend, or your pastor. Promotion comes from the Lord (Psalm 75:6-7). Trust in him and he will exalt you to inherit the land!