Following God into Unknown Places
"Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people." (Exodus 13:22)
January 7, 2018
We are exactly 7 days into 2018. Ahead of us is 358 days. All of us are starting at the same time and with the same amount of time. All of us are facing unknown places and an unknown year, 2018. That's true for all of us- despite how much experience you may have gained from living life, despite your age, and despite your level of education. When it comes to the unknowns of living life, we are probably equal in most things. No one has an advantage.
In today's Scripture, the Israelites are traveling as a nation into unknown places. For some 400 plus years they have been living in bondage in Egypt. God has freed them. God has delivered them out of bondage-lock, stock, and barrel. But despite their guns, personal items, and other things, they are out in "No man's" land. They are in unknown territory.
Though the place in the desert was unknown to them, it was not unknown to Almighty God. Clearly, God knew all about the place. He chose to lead them from one unknown place to another. He even chose a circuitous route for them to travel to the second unknown place. He didn't choose to lead them on the shorter route to the second unknown place. His reason for choosing the circuitous route was he knew how they thought. "If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt." 18 So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea.[a]
Hearing God's decision to take the Israelites the long way instead of the short way which was through the land where the nation of the Philistines resided may sound harsh. But God knew these folks like the back of his hand, so to speak. God knows us too. We have a history of returning to things that have been awful to our well-being. Yet people return to them. You have seen it with your own eyes too.
Also, God never departed from them in those unknown places. His presence was in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. "By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. 22 Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people." (Exodus 13:21-22)
Now, I have heard many people read and preach about the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire in Exodus. Yet, I find the way God chose to make his presence known spell bounding. Imagine a cloud present in the sky on all days even when there is an abundance of sunshine and a clear sky. Imagine a pillar of fire so bright in the light it displays that a whole nation is able to see so well in the dark of night that they can see how to travel in the desert. When I think of traveling in the desert day or night it's frightening. You have to watch for a lot of unfriendly creatures: snakes, loud sounding creatures that seem to come alive to their maximum at night. What made the traveling by day or night was the fact that Almighty God's presence was with them every step of the way.
To some extent I think of the year, 2018, ahead of us like our traveling into and through unknown places. We've never traveled through 2018. In that sense, it's unknown to us. The schools we send and drop off our children are unknown places to us. We pay high taxes for our schools. We may attend or have attended PTA meetings and various school events, yet we don't really know the dangers within the confines of our schools. The neighborhoods where we live are to a large extent unknown places to us. We don't know the types and number of deviants that live near us and maybe even next door to us. Our country too is like an unknown place. We cannot predict by any measure of standard what is going to happen between our country and North Korea or Iran and the US or some other country. All of these places are like unknown places to us. Yet we have got to encounter them to get through 2018.
So, we are somewhat like the Israelites traveling to unknown places. It's just that we are on the road now, in 2018. The one thing we have in common with the Israelites is that God is doing the leading. That makes all the difference in the world. God led them and God is leading us into and through the unknowns. God knows us and God knew them. God knows the best route for us as he knew for them.
The next thing we have in common with them is that God is present with us. No longer in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. God is present with us now as Emmanuel-God with us. God lives with us. He goes with us. He walks with us and talks with us along the narrow ways and all other ways.
Finally, God is able to lead us all the way. He has already conquered all of the unknowns in this life. There is nothing we can face or deal with in 2018 that God does not know about and how to handle it. What's your unknown for 2018? Think about what's your unknown in 2018! Show your hand if you have an unknown facing you in 2018! I will not call on you to tell us your unknown. I just want you to know for you self that you too have unknowns to face in 2018.
I have an unknown for 2018. Unless Almighty God changes my plans, I will not be here preaching a sermon next year this time. I will be on an unknown road. One that I have not traveled. But the thing that I believe is that God will lead me all the way. Even when I am no longer standing before you preaching as I have for the last 40-plus years, I believe with all my heart that things will work out because God is the best and only leader for going into and through unknown places, times, and things.
I encourage you to rely on God to lead you through the unknown places, things, and 2018. God is a mighty good leader. Amen.