My aunt was deathly afraid of snakes. Alive, dead or fake – it didn’t matter. You can imagine how much fun a kid can have with that. Most of us don’t like snakes but our fear changes when we hear it’s only a toy. What makes it change? Perspective.
When we don’t have perspective, we can only judge things as they appear in the moment. Perspective requires context. Within that context is past, present and future. All three play a vital role in God’s providence – His ability to adjust circumstances to coincide with future plans.
Our eldest, Cory, went to a Bible College where getting tattoos was the fad. He has always wanted to fit in, so, obviously, he wanted a tattoo. We weren’t so keen on it but one weekend he came home and there it was, carefully hidden across his upper back, under his shirt. Knowing we’d lost the battle and this one wasn’t the last, I told him to think ahead and realize it could present problems down the road. I said don’t get any tattoos you can’t cover up if necessary.
Having his first wife’s name emblazoned across this upper arm didn’t set well with Hannah. But more so, when he applied for his job at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, the first rule was no visible tattoos. He could have tattoos but had to be able to cover them up with a long sleeve shirt. He could, so he got the job.
Most of what goes on connects to the context of past, present and future. Decisions we made years ago may affect us today. Decisions we make today can affect tomorrow. They all connect.
To understand context, consider the Story of the Exodus. What had been intended as a sojourn to help Jacob’s family survive the famine, ended up as a 400-year settlement.
Now, as you can imagine, whatever customs or beliefs they had as a people, were, by now, indistinguishable from what Jacob’s original family came with. Egypt was a land of many gods. And even as careful as you might be to maintain a separation that would keep you from polluting your life with idolatry, compromise was inevitable. God had to get them out. But when?
God gave Moses time to transform. Heb 11:24-26 By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward.
He needed to discover the context to God’s call.
In The Servant Leadership of Moses: “Moses chose to align himself with the God of Israel, thereby becoming associated with an entire nation of people who, though deeply flawed and at times downright wicked, were, in Moses’ eyes, children of a greater promise.”
Moses was given perspective. This people’s past, present and future all came together in him. The timing of all history was focused on this one particular man leading them out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. God’s 400-year timer had gone off.
At Sinai, when Moses went up the mountain to receive the tablets of the Law from God, the people made the golden calf. God’s anger burned fiercely at this regression back into Egyptian idolatry. Ex 32:9-10 The LORD said to Moses, "I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation."
Could God have done that? Make a great nation from Moses? Yes. But would He? No. His promises were connected to this people and their heritage going back to Abraham. What did Moses do? He reminded God of those promises: Ex 32:13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, 'I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.'"
Did God need reminding? No. Did Moses? Yes. Because God was testing Moses’ ability to keep things in context. Moses needed to hear himself say: 2Tim 2:13 If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.
Exactly the statement we need burned into our memory. When we find ourselves challenged by some failure, crisis or turmoil – a regret from the past or a doctor describing a dark future – we need to know what remains constant.
What did this moment do? It solidified that God’s Providence was at work, and would be at work in any and all situations, through any and all people, to accomplish His purpose with this particular nation.
What would have happened if God had done what He threatened? The whole timing of His schedule would have been thrown off. Remember, this was planned from the very beginning, not made up as we went along. God would have had to invent another beginning and a new time schedule. And all the people He had lined up to intersect with His plan down the road would have to be rearranged to make everything happen at the right time. God is working a plan that has specific time considerations built in.
So, the first challenge was accepting that God was working out His plans through this particular people. Another challenge was following God’s specific orders concerning the implements that would shape them, the primary being the Tabernacle. It would be the place where God would dwell with His people, meet with them and receive their sacrifices. It was also the training center for how to be the people of God.
Ex 25:8-9 Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them. According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, just so, you shall construct it.
Ex 25:1-7 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, Tell the sons of Israel to raise a contribution for Me; from every man whose heart moves him you shall raise My contribution. This is the contribution which you are to raise from them: gold, silver and bronze, blue, purple and scarlet material, fine linen, goat hair, rams' skins dyed red, porpoise skins, acacia wood, oil for lighting, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, onyx stones and setting stones for the ephod and for the breastpiece.
Where did they get all this stuff out in the middle of the desert? There was no Dollar Store across the street. Ex 12:35-36 Now the sons of Israel had done according to the word of Moses, for they had requested from the Egyptians articles of silver and articles of gold, and clothing; and the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have their request. Thus they plundered the Egyptians.
Remember, God’s working from a context. He planned ahead for the contribution for the Tabernacle through the Egyptians. Because He already had its design in mind, He knew what items they would specifically need to match that design.
Ex 26:30 Then you shall erect the tabernacle according to its plan which you have been shown in the mountain.
Ex 39:32 Thus all the work of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting was completed; and the sons of Israel did according to all that the LORD had commanded Moses; so they did.
Ex 40:9 Then you shall take the anointing oil and anoint the tabernacle and all that is in it, and shall consecrate it and all its furnishings; and it shall be holy.
God had a definite plan for everything connected with the Tabernacle. When all was completed, and the Tabernacle presented to God, He moved inside.
Ex 40:33-35 Moses erected the court all around the tabernacle and the altar, and hung up the veil for the gateway of the court. Thus Moses finished the work. Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.
This tent structure was now a holy meeting place for God and His people. It was the defining monument of Israel – the one place on earth where God would be acknowledged and from where He would carry out His divine work in behalf of His people. The people now knew where God was. That regardless of what may be going on around them, because of the Tabernacle, they had evidence God was with them.
This Tabernacle remained a part of Israel for the next 480 years. And, like the people, the Tabernacle had a context. This structure connected with a plan made in the past, acknowledged in the present but extended into the future.
Then David came along. Without knowing that plan, without having any perspective of what God was intending, David looked at the Tabernacle one day and compared it to his house. He decided he wanted to replace the tent with a palace more representative of the greatness of God.
Question: Did David just come up with the idea or did God give him the thought? Greater question: Did God add it to the plan or was it already in it from the beginning?
If you know the story, you’ll remember God told David he could not build the Temple but his son, Solomon, could. David then worked the rest of his life to gather much of the materials Solomon would need. You’ll also remember that David bought the actual plot of ground for the Temple from Araunah the Jebusite.
After it was completed, in response to Solomon’s dedication prayer, 1Kings 9:3-5 The LORD said to him, "I have heard your prayer and your supplication, which you have made before Me; I have consecrated this house which you have built by putting My name there forever, and My eyes and My heart will be there perpetually.
Perpetually means forever. God’s intentions expressed were that He would abide with His people through His Temple. But that Temple is no longer there. And God would never make a forever promise without a context – past, present and future.
What did He have in mind? We’ve read the book. We know what’s coming. Something that David and Solomon had no idea of. God’s promise to perpetually dwell in His Temple, to write His name there with the focus of His eyes and heart being in that Temple forever would ultimately be fulfilled in us – His people.
1Cor 3:16 Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?
2Cor 6:16 Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, "I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM; AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE.
For us to understand God dwelling in and among His people, we needed a context that included an actual Temple in Jerusalem. Because of that context and that that context includes us, we are forever connected to the past, present and future of God’s personal involvement in our lives. But where we will experience that connection is in the present.
- Providence requires context – knowing the past, present and the future.
- When God is working out His purposes that context is always kept in consideration.
- Something that happened in our past can affect our lives in the present but cannot prevent Him from fulfilling His purpose in the future.
- We celebrate what God did in the past; we anticipate what He will do in the future, but we trust Him for what He is doing in the present.