Travelin’ Tuesdays: Is the Lord Among Us or Not?

In trying to process my current traveling/living abroad situation, I’ve noticed how very often God leads people out of what’s familiar and comfortable in the Bible. People travel around a lot in Bible stories, in both the Old and New Testaments, and these stories have been encouraging and convicting in both my literal travels this year and in the way I trust God with my plans for the future.

So I’ve decided to start a regular series here on the blog that, at least for now, I will be calling “Travelin’ Tuesdays”. We’ll look at someone’s Biblical travels and think about how this relates to our journeys as well. I’m looking forward to seeing where this “goes”. And I’ll try to keep the travel-related puns to a minimum. To see other posts in the series, look for posts in the category “Travelin Tuesdays”.

Picture by Moyan Brenn on Flickr

Picture by Moyan Brenn on Flickr

Probably the best known Hebrew travel story would be that 40 year forced march that shaped so much of the Israelite history.

As the story goes, the Israelites were finally able to escape the captivity in Egypt and headed towards the promised land, but they didn’t trust that God would help them to defeat the giants in the land he promised them (this after the Passover and the parting of the Red Sea), even uttering such timeless questions as, “Is the Lord among us or not?” (Exodus 17:7). So God punished them to wander in the wilderness until a whole generation died, which turned out to be 40 years.

During that time, God provided impressively for their needs, sending miraculous food and water in the desert for them.  And most of what is recorded of Israelite history during that time explains that during their travels, God literally taught them how to live. The ten commandments (as well as a LOT of more specific commands) were given during this time, as well as very specific instructions for how to build the tabernacle. God decided to use this time of travel to shape His people into who they would be, to teach them how best to live life. Isn’t that how travel is? By wandering, we see the diversity of what he has made and learn what is most important to us.

The Israelites grumbled and questioned a lot, and it is recorded for all posterity in the Pentateuch. One of my favorite recorded questions to God comes from Moses himself, in Exodus 33:12-14

Moses said to the Lord, “See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’  Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” And he said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

Moses and I are kindred spirits. He reminds God (somewhat snidely, if I do say so) that he is leading His people, and that Moses doesn’t know where he is going or what he is doing. He is asking, ultimately, a practical question. They are in a land they do not know, and while they have now learned to trust God to provide for their physical needs, they’re still lost.

And God’s only answer? “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

I am sure that was not a satisfactory answer for Moses. He knows that God’s presence will go with him, but he wants to KNOW, to lead well, to plan ahead, to do a good job. I think that’s why God didn’t just say “My presence will go with you.” That would have answered Moses’ question- a simple, “You don’t need to know where you’re going because I know.” But God added something to the end there: “… and I will give you rest.”

Not just that he would provide, but that Moses needs to chill out. Not only that the way will be clear, but that worry has no place in the way he will lead.

Moses eventually died in the wilderness, and finally, finally, in Joshua chapter 5 the Israelites are able to enter the promised land. 40 years later. They had, certainly, come to depend on and trust the provision of quail and manna, the provision of the spirit of God. But when they finally arrived in Canaan, “the manna ceased” (Joshua 5:12).

Sometimes, I feel like Moses and I want to know where I’m going. Travel without direction or long term plan can be exhausting and stressful. And I know that God has the same answer for me that he had for Moses: “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Could there be a more comforting and frustrating promise?

But sometimes in my travels, I find myself getting comfortable, settling in somewhere. Getting used to the ways God has provided for me and will provide for me. I finally feel rest, and then God changes how he provides. The manna dries up. Why? The Bible said the manna stopped the day after they ate the produce of the land. God was providing in a new way, telling them to get comfortable in something new, to trust His presence even after achieving the Promised Land.

In your travels today, I pray that you will have your promised rest and that you will trust God’s provision even when it isn’t in the way you have come to expect. Because, friends, the Lord is among us.

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