We Will Move...When the Cloud Moves: Part Eight

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Part Eight:  The Cloud Provided a Constant Sense of Security

I really struggle with insecurity.  It is super-easy for me to take things personally, to see obstacles as specific threats against me personally, and to find myself wading through a slough of despondency after a series of failures or dumb mistakes.  Too much of my life is represented by that game of pegs I play at the local Cracker Barrel restaurant.  According to the wooden triangle, I’m supposed use the pegs to jump each other, removing the “jumped” peg, and in the end only leave one peg.  If I eave one peg the wood triangle says I’m a genius.  If I leave two pegs I’m pretty smart.  If I leave three, I’m “just plain dumb.”  And when I leave four or more, it calls me an “ignoramus.”  I think that’s Latin for, you’re an idiot.

Now to be sure, there’ve been a couple of times when I played the game that I’ve left just one.  But you can pretty well guess what the problem was, right?  I didn’t remember how I did it!  And so, while I gloat in my genius moments, much of my efforts leave me feeling like an insecure idiot.  Hopefully you’re not like me, but if you are you might be able to relate to that inner sense of irritation and massive sense of insecurity and even attack on your identity in Christ when you play like an ignoramus!  Maybe it’s just me, though.

My life feels very much like that stinking peg game!  So many of the same mistakes made over and over again eventually leaves one feeling like an idiotic ignoramus over and over again.  These failures have a way of slowly but incessantly chipping away at a feeling of security and identity in Christ.  One would think that I would have learned by now and would get it right more often than not.  It does seem to be getting better.  I’ve often thought that perhaps I’m just a “late bloomer” or something.  My mom did tell me quite frequently growing up that she wondered if I had peanut butter for brains!

There’s nothing like a firm, solid, concrete, immovable, mountainous sense of security, though.  I want to feel like Mount Everest, and I want the temptations and trials to feel like BB’s against my exploding height of strength and spiritual mass.  Somehow though, I get the picture from passages like Hebrews 4 that they didn’t feel like that for even Jesus.  Nevertheless, it is HIS success over sin that counts for me before the Father…and thankfully, not my own.  My security lies in what HE has done for me, in who HE is for me, and in what HE is doing in me and through me.  That’s my Paul says in Ephesians 1 that my salvation and redemption is the praise of HIS glorious grace…and not to my performance or failures.

During times of discipline from God, seasons of difficult consequences, and especially in all periods of waiting in transition, we are fair game for the Satan’s attacks.  It is during these times that he knows we are especially easy targets for temptations to idolatry, lying, and foolish decisions of desperation.  This is precisely what the forty years in the wilderness in the Old Testament are intended to show us as New Testament people today. 

What the Israelites failed to do in their wilderness experience, Jesus Christ succeeded in doing for His people today.  In his substitutionary forty days in the wilderness, He was tempted by Satan in the very same areas as Israel (Matt. 4:1 ff.).  Israel was tempted with concerns about food, and so was Jesus.  Israel was tempted with concerns about protection in the wilderness, and so was Jesus.  Israel was tempted with concerns about the promised land, and so was Jesus.

In the Old Testament wilderness experience, the cloud provided a constant sense of security for Israel, which made their fears appropriately look foolish and unnecessary.  The very first appearance of the cloud in Israel is seen at the Red Sea incident.  Exodus 13:18 tells us that, “God led them in a round-about way through the wilderness toward the Red Sea.  Thus the Israelites left Egypt like an army ready for battle.” 

I love that!  Just earlier we see the truth about their situation.  The easiest route to get to the Promised Land was the road running through Philistine territory. But God wouldn’t lead them that route because He said, “If the people are faced with a battle, they might change their minds and return to Egypt” (v. 17).  So here we have a people, who are not an army ready for battle, being positioned by God as an army ready for battle.  Yet the whole story is about God as the One who is about to do battle and not His tired and weak people.  The rest of the narrative is too good to simply summarize here.

The Israelites left Succoth and camped at Etham on the edge of the wilderness.  The Lord went ahead of them.  He guided them during the day with a pillar of cloud, and he provided light at night with a pillar of fire.  This allowed them to travel by day or night.  And the Lord did not remove the pillar of cloud or pillar of fire from its place in front of the people.

Then the Lord gave these instructions to Moses: “Order the Israelites to turn back and camp by Pi-hahiroth between Midgol and the sea.  Camp there along the shore, across from Baal-zephon.  Then Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are confused.  They are trapped in the wilderness!’  Once again I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will chase after you.  I have planned this in order to display my glory through Pharaoh and his whole army.  After this the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord!”  So the Israelites camped there as they were told.

When word reached the king of Egypt that the Israelites had fled, Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds. "What have we done, letting all those Israelite slaves get away?" they asked.  So Pharaoh harnessed his chariot and called up his troops.   He took with him 600 of Egypt's best chariots, along with the rest of the chariots of Egypt, each with its commander.   The LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, so he chased after the people of Israel, who had left with fists raised in defiance.  The Egyptians chased after them with all the forces in Pharaoh's army—all his horses and chariots, his charioteers, and his troops. The Egyptians caught up with the people of Israel as they were camped beside the shore near Pi-hahiroth, across from Baal-zephon.
As Pharaoh approached, the people of Israel looked up and panicked when they saw the Egyptians overtaking them. They cried out to the LORD, and they said to Moses, "Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness? Weren't there enough graves for us in Egypt? What have you done to us? Why did you make us leave Egypt?  Didn't we tell you this would happen while we were still in Egypt? We said, 'Leave us alone! Let us be slaves to the Egyptians. It's better to be a slave in Egypt than a corpse in the wilderness!'"  But Moses told the people, "Don't be afraid. Just stand still and watch the LORD rescue you today. The Egyptians you see today will never be seen again.   The LORD himself will fight for you. Just stay calm."

Then the LORD said to Moses, "Why are you crying out to me? Tell the people to get moving!  Pick up your staff and raise your hand over the sea. Divide the water so the Israelites can walk through the middle of the sea on dry ground.  And I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they will charge in after the Israelites. My great glory will be displayed through Pharaoh and his troops, his chariots, and his charioteers.   When my glory is displayed through them, all Egypt will see my glory and know that I am the LORD!"

Then the angel of God, who had been leading the people of Israel, moved to the rear of the camp. The pillar of cloud also moved from the front and stood behind them.  The cloud settled between the Egyptian and Israelite camps. As darkness fell, the cloud turned to fire, lighting up the night. But the Egyptians and Israelites did not approach each other all night.

You know the rest of the story.  Things did not turn out very well for Pharaoh and his army.  Things turned out incredible for Israel.   I simply want to emphasize the one of the first appearances of the cloud, the presence and glory of God, in this story.  And in this part of the story the cloud is leading them and protecting them.  Understanding how this leading and protecting work together is crucial, especially for me at this vulnerable season in my family’s life.

The cloud led the children of Israel away from one battle they could not win.  Going north would have meant a battle with the Philistines.  And after hundreds of years conditioned by slavery, they were in no shape to fight.  So God led them away from a battle that would discourage them and send them running for their lives back to Egypt. 

Yet God also wanted them permanently removed from Egypt, with hardly a chance of going back.  So while He was leading them away from one battle they could not win, He was leading them toward another battle they could not win.  Things get sort of confusing at this point, if you’re somebody who pays even the slightest bit of attention to the story here.  What’s the difference between one battle they could not win and another battle they could not win?  Upon further meditation on the text, there are two obvious features of the story that jump out at me. 

First, simply put, God wanted to waste the Egyptian army.  He could not have done that if He led them north, because then, in a fearful flight away from the Philistines, they would have run right back into the arms of the enslaving Egyptians.  This was all a part of God’s plan from the very beginning.  “I have planned this in order to display my glory through Pharaoh and his whole army.  After this the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord!” (14:4, emphasis mine).  I love Moses’ communication to a fearful people upon seeing Pharaoh’s army on the horizon.  “Don’t be afraid.  Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today.  The Egyptians you see today will never be seen again.  The Lord HIMSELF will fight for you.  Just stay calm” (14:13, emphasis mine).  God’s whole point behind this strange path to the Promised Land was to utterly destroy the Egyptian army.  Period.

Second, God set them up to display HIS glory, HIS strength, HIS might, HIS power.  This whole ordeal was all about HIM.  God led His people to place where there would be no mistake, either among them or other nations from that day forward, that God was the One fighting for His people…that ALL His enemies would end up just like Pharaoh’s army…that NO army or weapon formed against Israel would succeed.  God was out to make a name for HIMSELF!  This was HIS reputation at stake here. 

The cloud was an important player in the story, because it was God Himself.  As the story goes, the cloud normally traveled out in front of Israel, leading them.  But in this story we see something that was never repeated again in their history.  For the first and only time in their history the cloud moved to the rear of the nation.  It moved there to separate them from the Egyptian army, and to keep the night lit up so both groups could see what the other was doing.  The cloud had such an ominous presence that, in light of the previous happenings to Pharaoh and his people, they knew this was something having to do with their God.  So he played it smart and didn’t make a move to rush through the cloud and attack Israel.  For all he knew they would have been disintegrated or electrocuted! 

The cloud stayed behind all two-plus million of these people as they walked across the dry seabed of the Red Sea.  It followed the last person across the Sea and stayed there continuing to separate the two nations.  The presence of God acted as a constant sense of security to each Israelite, for as each one no doubt looked behind them at some point in the walk across the sea, they would have seen the cloud of fire behind them protecting them from Pharaoh.  And it was on the other side of the sea, as the cloud settled between Israel in the wilderness and Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea, that,

Just before dawn the Lord looked down on the Egyptian army from the pillar of fire and cloud, and he threw their forces into total confusion  He twisted their chariot wheels, making their chariots difficult to drive.  ‘Let’s get out of here – away from these Israelites!’ the Egyptians shouted.  ‘The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt!’” (14:24-25).

I can’t let my heart or family miss this important feature of the story.  In the settling and waiting period of my transition, God is interested in absolutely securing my protection…for my good and for His glory.  God has set His cloud in front of me, providing constant and unmistakable leadership, a constant sense of direction, a constant sermon of His mercy, and a constant sense of security.  Yet He is not only in front of me.  He is also behind me.  He stands permanently settled between me and the forces of darkness, between myself and Satan’s armies.   Like David said in Psalm 139:5, “You go before me and you follow me,” and like Isaiah said in 58:8, “the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind…” God is dedicated to my security and protection, especially in transition.

God is designing and orchestrating the events of my life so that however they happen and turn out no one will have doubt as to how it all could have worked out.  He wants it all to play out so that He is the only one who is obviously leading.  God doesn’t want anyone mistaking His leadership and protection for mere coincidence in my life.  There’s no such thing as happenstance or luck.  When God is leading and protecting His people, He will make sure that He gets the glory and that me and my family are secured. 

It’s crucial to see the link between these two features.  My good and His glory go hand-in-hand.  God will never act in such a way that puts His glory ahead of my good, simply because my good is how God shows His glory to the world.  Such a statement may seem shocking at first.  But the sheer truth of the matter is that my good and my outcome, my being led and provided for and protected in and through my transition is inextricably linked to God glorifying Himself and building His reputation.  No doubt this is where our God separates Himself from the gods of other religions.  Those gods make a horrid name for themselves as brutish deities who need to be constantly pacified with absurd offerings in order to even remotely act on behalf of the people whom they supposedly represent.  But not our God.

When I doubt God’s good ness to me, I also doubt His desire to glorify Himself.  When I believe and am freshly and deeply convinced that God’s primary aim is to glorify Himself in the universe, I am instantly brought to believe and embrace that He is good, and that He is good to me personally.  This leads me to believe that He will always keep me secure.  He will protect me.  He will always be a place of safety where I can go.  The Psalms are filled with sort of talk as David, Moses, Asaph and others sing to the infinite God of absolute safety and security.

When the cloud was present, God was present.  When God was present, provision and protection were present.  When provision and protection are present, doubt is dispelled, fear is dissolved, despair is destroyed, and discouragement is devastated.  My task in this transition…really my only task…is to focus and refocus myself each day, throughout each day, on the truth that the cloud is always there.  God will never leave me or forsake me.  He will be with me always, even to the end of the world, whatever that may look like.

Read the entire series here in one document.

About the Author: Rob is a entrepreneur in Statesboro, GA, where he envisions and pursues missional-shaped business for the kingdom. He and his wife Sherri have been married for 18 years and together have three sons and a daughter. Rob believes the mission of the gospel is summed up in four simple phrases: know God, obey Jesus, make disciples, and plant churches. This is the pursuit of his life, as well as the point of his blog.

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