They have heard that you, O LORD, are in the midst of this people. For you, O LORD, are seen face to face, and your cloud stands over them and you go before them, in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night (Numbers 14:14).
With the approach of Spring, we entered the annual cycle of the biblical appointed times (mo’adim) of the LORD. At Passover we commemorate the mighty redemption wrought by God—first for Israel in Egypt, and then in Jerusalem for all humanity, with the sacrifice of the paschal Lamb of God.
After Passover, we count the forty-nine days of the barley sheaf offering (omer). When you come into the land that I give you and reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest, and he shall wave the sheaf before the LORD (Leviticus 23:10–11). And we anticipate the fiftieth day when we celebrate the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost (Shavu’ot).
On this day we joyously remember the awesome revelation of the Torah, written by the Spirit of God and given to the children of Israel at Mt Sinai, joined with the outpouring of that same Spirit upon Jesus’ followers assembled at the House of the LORD on Mt Zion.
This transition period of forty-nine days provides an opportune time to reflect upon some of the lessons that Passover can teach us as followers of the Rabbi from Nazareth, even as we await the empowerment that attends Pentecost. After all, the Torah contains valuable lessons that were affirmed and advanced in the life and teachings of Jesus.
Though the lessons are many, here are three that are timely for us to consider.
Lesson One: God “passes over” so that His redeemed people can “go forth."
The common Christian orientation to redemption is that we are saved in order to go to heaven. The biblical orientation by contrast is that we are saved in order to serve. Salvation is a gift of God’s grace but also a summons to His service. We are called out of darkness into God’s marvelous light in order to go forth into the world as priests under His kingship.
Of course redemption has profound implications for life in the world to come. But the biblical focus is on this world and God’s purposes for it. We are redeemed in order to live redemptively as agents of the advancing Kingdom of God in the earth!
Lesson Two: How do we get to the Promised Land? Answer: We walk there.
The old gospel songs notwithstanding, the Promised Land is not heaven. (There are no giants to conquer nor enemies to overcome in heaven.) Rather it is that divinely appointed place in this world where the redeemed of the Lord find the fullness of shalom—of peace, productivity and prosperity—in the presence and service of their God.
One does not get to that promised place riding on a ‘magic carpet’, whether of drugs or psychic experiences or by esoteric knowledge or philosophical proficiency. Proper beliefs, though necessary, are not alone sufficient to get you there.
No, as the writer of Hebrews emphasizes, we get to the “Promised Land” by walking there. It’s a walk of faith, a pilgrimage characterized by obedience and faithfulness, resulting in ever-increasing moral maturity and spiritual completeness. In other words, we must emulate the example of Jesus, our Teacher, and follow in his footsteps as the Pioneer and Perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:1–2).
Lesson Three: As we “go forth” in faith God goes before us in faithfulness.
Like a good shepherd in the ancient Near East, the LORD walks ahead of the sheep, and they follow as they hear his voice. In the context of Israel’s journey through the wilderness, Moses declares: For you, O LORD, are seen face to face, and your cloud stands over them and you go before them, in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night.
The Hebrew text literally reads You walked before them. An ancient Jewish commentary on this verse adds, “One leg was as a pillar of cloud and the other, a pillar of fire.”
We can go forth into the world as the redeemed of the LORD, confident that He will meet us there, leading us on the journey and empowering us for His service. Even today we hear the Shepherd of Israel’s voice calling: “Follow me!” (in Hebrew, “Lekh acharai!” literally “Walk after me!”). Passover teaches us that, like Abraham, we must “arise and go forth.”
Getting from Passover to the Promised Land—the journey from redemption to sanctification—requires our Redeemer’s guidance, empowerment, and instruction. We gladly trust, obey, and follow the God of our Passover and Pentecost. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).
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