(In 2017, I wrote this series for the 40 days prior to Easter to prepare our hearts and minds for the significance of Jesus’ resurrection. I’m reposting the series now for the 40 days after Easter to encourage us to follow through, living in the risen Savior and King.)
“I would follow them anywhere.” Maybe you’ve known a leader who earned that level of trust: a parent, spouse, coach, or boss who was tested in the fire of sudden tragedy or long hardships. You saw what’s really in their heart, and you were committed to them because you knew they were committed to you. Maybe you’re picturing them in your mind right now. You has a history together.
Real faith always rests on a real history together – often a rough history that only turned out well because of someone’s loving leadership. When others fought for themselves, they fought for you. When most would have given up on you and gone looking for someone more promising, they didn’t. When even you thought they should have left, they stayed to protect you, to help you heal, to forgive you, strengthen you, train you and connect you with others who would help, too. They had good plans for you, even when you didn’t want any part of it. They were a true leader.
That’s the type of leader God is: loving, wise, consistent, tender and strong, patient and relentless for the good of His people. But His methods and timing are often strange to us.
Consider chapter 33 in the book of Numbers. There we see a brief reference to each place where the Lord had led the Israelites from Egypt all the way to the Promised Land. Let’s review just a few to understand some of His reasons for leading as He does.
In verses 3-4, we’re reminded that the Lord led the Israelites out of Egypt – but only after so infuriating Pharaoh that he and the rest of the Egyptians chased after them to kill them. Isn’t it often true that after the Lord saves us, we have a greater struggle against sins? Before, sin so owned us that we could do nothing but pull at our chains and ache. We were helpless. When the Lord frees us to follow Him, we have a new strength and desire. But we also tend to struggle with leaving the past that we know and following Him into an unknown future. The Israelites had no weapons, training or strength to face the Egyptians. Yet, those times of our extreme weakness are when we most clearly see His power. God’s leading out of slavery today can be just as intense and just as opportune to see His glorious care in our weakness.
In verse 6, we read that He led them to camp on the edge of the desert. Behind them they could still see houses, food supplies, maybe even old friends. Ahead of them was only sand and that great pillar of Cloud by day and Fire by night: signs of God Himself. Still, when we’re in transition and under stress, we tend to look backwards. So why would He lead them there to pause even for a moment? The why of His reasoning is always to trust in Him for His glory, and the how of their hope is His presence, His protection, His provision, and His purpose: to take us from slavery in sin to Life in Christ.
Verses 8-15 reminds us that God led them through literal waves of water to a source of bitter water that they couldn’t drink and then miraculously healed that water; He led them on an exhausting three-day journey to another desert place and from there to an oasis so lavish that it could sustain 70 palm trees; He stopped by another water source and then led them to another desert where the Israelites were ready to kill Moses. Then God enabled him to bring water from a rock and led them to another desert.
Was God teasing them? No. He was training them to trust Him. Deuteronomy 8 clearly teaches us that He causes His people to hunger physically in order to feed us spiritually. His ultimate goal is not simply to get us to the Promised Land but to build our faith and obedience on the way. That testing is exactly what resulted in the many self-centered Israelites turning away from Him on the way and the faithful few trusting Him more and more.
In verses 37-39, we see that the Lord led them to a mountain and called Aaron to die there – only 5 months into their 40 year desert journey. How were they going to make it if their key leaders started dying so soon? I tend to think that the timing of this sad event was to remind them that human leaders were never to be their hope. God is our hope. Only He will never leave because only He is perfect and eternal.
And from verses 50-56, He reminds them of the message that their parents had ignored 40 years earlier: following His lead will mean our total dedication that will result in His overflowing blessing, but straying from His lead will mean total destruction. And their hope was not in their will power or observing religious rules. Their hope was in the promise of God’s grace to forgive them of their sins completely, though they didn’t yet see how in light of the never-ending sacrifices for their many sins.
In 1 Corninthians 5:7-8, the Apostle Paul tells us that Jesus came to be the perfect Passover Lamb who was willingly led to be sacrificed in our place, perfectly and completely purchasing our freedom from slavery. In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul teaches us that it was Jesus pre-incarnate (before He came in human form) who led them and fed them through that desert. And in 1 Corinthians 15:20-23, the Apostle teaches us that it is Jesus who is the firstfruits of the resurrection, securing the lead to our future with Him in paradise.
Jesus leads His people from death, through a wilderness of trial and trust, and into His promise.
So the next time you hear this familiar hymn calling you to a new future, remember the Savior’s history of love. “Take up thy cross and follow me,” I heard my Master say. “I gave me life to ransom thee, surrender your all today.” Wherever He leads I’ll go, wherever He leads I’ll go. I’ll follow my Christ who loves me so, wherever He leads I’ll go.