This issue of The Lookout presents the second of a three-part study series based on the book of Genesis. The theme of the study is “God With You,” highlighting God’s faithfulness to his children in instances of failure (Adam and Eve), in seasons of blessing (Jacob), in periods of oppression (Joseph), and in times of abandonment (Hagar and Ishmael).
It’s comforting to know that God is with us no matter the circumstance. Even when our senses would convince us otherwise, we can be confident that God is always near and that he cares about us. He is with us.
He is also before us. By this I mean that God often moves ahead of his children, working in advance to prepare the way for them—to make provision, to provide protection, and to give direction. I’ve often wondered how many times in my life God has gone out before me to provide, protect, and direct—and I was completely oblivious to it. I simply enjoyed the benefits of his advance work.
On other occasions, God has gone out before me in clearly discernable ways. I’ve been able to see plainly how he has moved people, orchestrated circumstances, and provided resources that have blessed me and equipped me for service.
In this sense, mine is one small life story in a long line of life stories. God has been going before his people to prepare the way for them for as long as he has had a people.
Take King David and the armies of Israel, for example.
Second Samuel 5 describes how soon after David ascended to the throne, the Philistines launched a military strike against Israel in the Valley of Rephaim. David inquired of the Lord before going into battle, God gave him the green light, and the forces of Israel prevailed. But the Philistines rallied their troops and rose up once more against the people of God. Here’s what happened next.
And the Philistines came up yet again and spread out in the Valley of Rephaim. And when David inquired of the Lord, he said, “You shall not go up; go around to their rear, and come against them opposite the balsam trees. And when you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees, then rouse yourself, for then the Lord has gone out before you to strike down the army of the Philistines.” And David did as the Lord commanded him, and struck down the Philistines from Geba to Gezer (vv. 22-25, ESV).
For a second time, David squared off against the same enemy in the same location. God could have given David the same marching orders as before, but he chose a different tack, perhaps to remind Israel that their battles weren’t won by human effort alone, but by God’s power. David and his troops were to follow a different strategy in this skirmish. They were to listen for a sound that would clearly indicate God had gone out before them to defeat the Philistines. Once again God gave Israel the victory.
Now let’s consider how this principle can work in a specific area of our lives, in our struggle against temptation and sin.
No one likes to fight battles alone, especially when help is readily available. That’s true in the natural world and it’s true in the spiritual realm. And yet often we fight our spiritual battles as if we have been left to our own defenses. Perhaps we forget that “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NIV).
Can you imagine the confidence that must have washed over David and his men when they heard the sound of God going out in front of them to strike the Philistine army? We may not hear audible sounds during our spiritual battles, but we can have a similar confidence that God is going before us to prepare a way of escape and lead us to victory.
When David heard the sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees he was to “rouse himself” (that is, move quickly). He was to go on the offensive. So must we. Christians need not cower in the face of temptation. We’re facing a defeated enemy. His only hope is to deceive us into believing he has power he doesn’t possess. As we face our spiritual struggles, let’s follow the Lord as he goes before us, knowing that with God on our side, we are more powerful than Satan ever could hope to be.