Pursuing God’s promise and following the path to Canaan requires commitment. A commitment is defined as “an engagement or obligation that restricts freedom of action.” God tests our commitment to his promise, commandments, and plans through difficulty. In our difficulty, his intention is to develop our character, increase our knowledge, enhance our skills, reveal our talents, change our habits and redefine our thought patterns and routines. The difficulty, above all, is designed to bring us closer to him so that we know who he is and who we are in him. At the end of God’s testing, if we are trained by it, we will be transformed into an Israelite: one who has struggled with God.
This is the second post in a series titled “A Love That Shows Us The Way”, a series based on Moses’ walk with God that examines his relationship with God, the people of Israel and his purpose. In my last post, I saw that when we pursue God’s purpose for our lives through communication, action, and confidence, He responds with reassurances, miracles, and plans. Today, I will consider the role of commitment.
If you’re just joining this series, I was inspired by Moses’ emotional breakdown in Numbers 11, where he asked God to kill him. In each article, I will compare the Moses who parted the Red Sea in Exodus 14 with the Moses who asked God to kill him in Numbers 11. By looking at a number of passages in Exodus and Numbers, I will strive to better understand what caused Moses to fall apart with the goal of learning how we can survive the desert and reach Canaan.
This series is the foundation of my upcoming book: A Love That Shows Us The Way.
The Book of Numbers is powerful and has important lessons concerning how God wants to give us what he has ascribed to us.
Believe, Worship, Sacrifice & Flee
The Israelites teach us that, if we are in bondage in any area of our lives, we can escape just as they did: believe, worship, sacrifice, and flee.
Commitment seems impossible when you are in bondage. Be it a mindset, an addiction or a person, when something has you in bondage it will not let you go easily. And, when you have other things to consider, like work and pressing obligations, committing to getting set free isn’t easy. There are some things we can learn about commitment in the midst of adversity from the Israelites to help us in our walk with God to Canaan so that we can grow and develop in disciplined commitment to his promise and plan for our lives. In Egypt, God appeared to Moses out of a desire to make good on the promise of freedom and Canaan that he had previously made. He didn’t expect much from the Israelites but they had to demonstrate that they were committed to his plan. So, what can we learn from the Israelites about the role of commitment in possessing God’s promises?
The first level of commitment began in Egypt. I call this level: Leave Slavery. After God charged Moses with leading the Israelites out of Egypt, it was up to Moses and Aaron, his older brother, to convince the people to leave. God instructed Moses to go to the elders to tell them everything that God had commanded (Exodus 3:16-18). When Moses went to them, the people believed God, bowed down and worshiped. This is where their commitment began; the Israelites believed in God’s promise to set them free from slavery and they worshiped him. Believing and worshipping were the first steps to committing to God’s promise and they are our first step in committing to God’s promises when we find ourselves in bondage.
After they believed and worshiped, Moses went to Pharaoh to tell him to let the Israelites go free as God had commanded him. In return, pharaoh punished them by taking away the straw that they required for making bricks thereby making their work harder (Exodus 5:9). The Israelites became angry with Moses as a result of pharaoh’s punishment so they didn’t listen when Moses told them of God’s promise of Canaan because of their “discouragement and cruel bondage” (Ex. 6:9). This teaches us that once we begin to believe and worship God our obstacles will immediately increase as we start to pursue what God has for us. The things that have kept us in bondage will fight against our belief and worship in order to keep us bound.
After this, Moses went to Pharaoh 12 times to let the Israelites go free. Then, God gave the Israelites his first requirement: the Passover. God told the Israelites to sacrifice a lamb or a goat for each household so that he would not strike down their firstborn (Ex. 12). They did so and when God struck down the firstborn throughout Egypt, the Israelites were left untouched. The Egyptians were in such fear that they set the Israelites free. This teaches us that when the obstacles to our freedom increase we must sacrifice as a sign to God that we agree with his promise and that we want him to set us apart so that he can set us free only as he knows how.
Finally, the Israelites fled from slavery. When they departed Egypt, the Israelites plundered the Egyptians – they carried with them the gold of the land (12:36); they were armed for battle (13:18); and, they carried the bones of Joseph just as he had instructed (13:19). However, they lost their confidence when they saw the Egyptians chasing them. Exodus 14 begins with the Israelites “marching out boldly”; however, when the Israelites saw the Egyptians coming after them, they became terrified, cried out, and turned against Moses. It reads:
10 As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord.
11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?
12 Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”
Despite their fear and faithlessness at this moment, God brought them out of the land and the Israelites crossed over the Red Sea on dry ground. Then, they committed themselves to the promise of God for their future. This was the same promise that God gave to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: Canaan. Exodus 14:31 reads:
And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.
This verse captures the triumphant moment after God freed the Israelites from slavery by giving Moses the power to part the Red Sea. They trusted God. Finally. So, if we want to get out of Egypt we must do what the Egyptians did: believe, worship, sacrifice and flee.
In the desert: listen, obey, change.
“At least 60% of the adult body is made of it and every living cell in the body needs it to keep functioning. Water acts as a lubricant for our joints, regulates our body temperature through sweating and respiration, and helps to flush waste.”
Can you imagine being in the desert with no water after the almighty God has just set you free from slavery? If you’re like me, you might be thinking: can’t the almighty put a Hilton in the middle of the desert? They were probably thinking: Why doesn’t God display his power like he did before? God was doing something different: he was showing a different aspect of his nature with the goal of testing their commitment. So, when God provided water for them in Exodus 15 he added to their required commitments and said:
26 “If you listen carefully to the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you.”
God began to lay out requirements for their relationship with him. He asked them to listen and obey. Then, in Exodus 16 they complained about food so God sent manna from the sky. As a condition of the manna, God told Moses that the manna would be his way of testing the Israelites:
4 “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. 5 On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.”
First, note that the food and the water had conditions. When God gave the water he asked them to listen and obey and when he gave manna he told Moses that he would test their ability to follow instructions. In short, he would see if they were actually committed to him and he would punish disobedience with the diseases he sent on the Egyptians.
Second, whereas in Egypt God performed grand signs and miracles through Moses, in the desert, God wanted to test the Israelites commitment through the absence of signs. The lack of water and food in the desert along with the Sabbath tells us that God wants us to rely on him in the desert. When we commit to him, we are committing to the maker of all things and he wants us to trust that he will provide everything that we need.
Third, in the desert, the Israelites had to learn a new way of life – one that would keep them free. This meant that they had to listen to Moses, obey his teachings and change.
In the desert, God wants to know: can we listen, follow instructions and uphold our commitments to him by disciplining ourselves in dire circumstances?
We learn from the Israelites that staying committed means that we must remember that commitment restricts freedom of action. In this, we must embrace the desert and quickly and consistently obey all that he has for us to learn. God still expected the Israelites to believe, worship, sacrifice and flee but now they were fleeing from the bondage that was in their hearts rather than the Egyptians. They would accomplish this by learning the new commands and decrees, listening and obeying.
God has to do his part.
12 The Lord said to Moses, ‘Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone with the law and commandments I have written for their instruction.’
After some time, however, the Israelites complained that Moses was taking too long. In Exodus 32, reads:
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.”
God was getting ready to seal his commitment to them in the desert with the 10 commandments. God had given oral commands through Moses but now, for the first time in Bible history, God was about to put something in writing. From Adam to Joseph, God had never put his agreements with people in writing. He was ready to make it official! We could see this as a good thing or a sign of, as Aaron once put it, how the Israelites were “prone … to evil”. Either way, before God could send Moses back down with the commands they had already corrupted Aaron, made a new god and they were already worshipping it when Moses came back.
The Israelites wanted a new God; a God that they could make with what they had. They did not want a God who did not act as they expected. They rejected the God who set them free, just as Eve rejected the God who gave her the Garden of Eden, because of what they did not know: the time. They were wondering: What was Moses doing? Why was God taking so long? Though they had committed to God, they decided that they would do as they pleased in his “absence” not realizing that this God was among them watching and testing them.
When God saw them worshipping the golden calf that Aaron made for them, he was ready to destroy them. He said to Moses:
“Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. 8 They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’
9 “I have seen these people,” the Lord said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. 10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”
This test of the Israelites’ commitment demonstrates that, in the desert, commitment means trusting and waiting for God to show up. We have to believe that God is trustworthy. Trust can be defined as:
“firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.”
When we put our trust in God, we commit to his plan for our lives. If God said Canaan, then he meant Canaan. He is reliable, true, able and strong. He will do it. In response to his promise, we must wait to demonstrate our trust in him. Waiting is an odd action but the best thing to do when we are waiting on God is the exact opposite of what the Israelites did. The Israelites used their idle time to build a new idol to replace God. To ensure that we do not become like them when we are waiting we must use that time to know God even better. Reading the word, praying to God, and serving the body of Christ are all ways to develop a deeper relationship with God.
This must be added to the first two commitment practices. As we wait, we continue to believe, worship, sacrifice and flee as we did in Egypt. This practice continues to remove slavery from our hearts. And, we continue to listen, obey and change. We can reference what God told us to do, practice it in obedience and allow God to change us.
We live in an unfaithful society. I realize that these teachings are challenging but I believe that if we can hold on to these truths the Holy Spirit will help us to be committed to God at each stage of our journey towards the promised land. God is worth it – he’s faithful and there is nothing that God will withhold from those who love him.