the Winepress

Promises or Pigsah?

On the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus was talking to Moses and Elijah, “who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:31) In the realm of the Spirit, Moses reached the Promised Land. In the flesh, he was only able to look out over it. He could see it, but he would not be walking there. Why? Because he got annoyed.

I have to say that when I read this at the end of Deuteronomy, I tend to think, “That’s a bit harsh, Lord, after all that he had done!” But “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required.” (Luke 12:48) We read the story of the waters of Meribah  in Numbers 20: God told Moses to speak to the rock to provide water, but he hit it with his staff instead. So “Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe Me, to hallow Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.” (v.12) The word used in the text is qadash, which means to consecrate and set apart as holy. God required Moses to reveal the holiness and the wonder of their provider to Israel; instead of which what Moses revealed was the authority vested in him as a leader and the power that flowed through the staff that he carried. Moses led in the flesh and not in the spirit. He let his emotions rule his decision and not the word of God.

Moses learnt a hard lesson here, but his lesson can teach us a lot. His anger and frustration at the faithlessness of the Israelites interfered with his relationship with God and obscured the importance of the specific words that God had given him: “Speak to the rock…” Instead of obeying the instruction, doing something he had never done before and glorifying God, he stayed in the familiar territory of ‘This is what I do to get water from rocks’ and glorified himself. He acted in annoyance and not in faith, reacting to the emotions of the people instead of responding to the word of God. In doing so he not only cancelled his ticket into the Promised Land, but he missed the prophetic picture that would have been left to God’s people, of water (the Holy Spirit) pouring from the Rock (Jesus) in response to spoken words (relationship with Him).

How often do we let our annoyance keep us out of the promised land? We don’t have a physical border to cross; we have a spiritual one. Our promised land is the  land of promises, the place where God’s promises are fulfilled in our lives. We know that in Christ “all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen” (2 Cor 1:20), but so often we can find ourselves believing that we won’t really see the truth of this until the next round, in glory. But I don’t think that this is all that  God wants for us. I think He wants us to be walking in the Land like Joshua, not merely looking at it from afar like Moses. Of course there is a whole world of sin that we could plunge into if we decided to turn our backs on the Lord, but I’m looking here at something that could, for some of us, be an answer to the question: “Why am I standing here on Pigsah, knowing the promises are for me, but not walking in them now?”

Annoyance seems harmless enough, doesn’t it. We have different levels, different triggers. (If you don’t have any, you’re further down the road than I am!) It could just be that shelf you can’t get straight, or that needle that you keep on dropping. It could be that child who keeps asking for sweets in the supermarket. Or it could be that spouse who doesn’t agree with you about something you want to do.  But the trigger is always the same: annoyance is an emotion that arises when someone or something isn’t doing what we think they should be doing. Annoyance is a glove over the pointing finger of blame a finger which God expressly speaks about in Isaiah 58 9-10:

“If you take away the yoke from your midst,
The pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness
If you extend your soul to the hungry
And satisfy the afflicted soul,
Then your light shall dawn in the darkness,
And your darkness shall be as the noonday.

Annoyance and blame have no place in the New Creation, because “from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer.” (2 Cor 5:16). For us, the old has passed away and we are new creations, but to walk in the promises of the new creation God requires us to also see each other in its light. Even if your flesh does something that offends my flesh, my spirit sees your spirit as made perfect in Christ, because:

“You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.” (Hebrews 12: 22-24)

That seems clear to me. If I am annoyed with you, I am judging you; and if God the judge of all sees your spirit as made perfect through the new covenant mediated by the blood of Jesus, I am , while I judge and blame you in my annoyance, excluding myself from the “general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven” and so from the promises of blessing that are our inheritance while we are on the Earth – not just when we’ve left it.  No wonder Jesus warns us to keep short accounts in the forgiveness book.

One might ask at this point what needles and shelves have to do with forgiveness and judgement? I think the answer is that it’s a question of cultivating godly emotional responses to whatever is going on around us. If I allow myself to lose patience with a shelf or a needle, how much more might I lose patience with you? Impatience is a bedfellow of annoyance, because it’s when my patience runs out that I get annoyed. Patience, also translated as “longsuffering”, is an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit described in Gal 5: 22-23, which develops in us when we have “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (v.24). Patience (longsuffering) is an expression of Agape love, because “Love suffers long and is kind” (1 Cor 13:4). The Holy Spirit desires to grow patience in me, but every time I lose my temper with something that is not going according to plan I am stamping on the seedlings.

Moses focussed on the Israelites instead of God, and as a result he got no further than Pigsah. If we want to walk in “the heavenly Jerusalem,” we need to learn to look at God instead of at our “Israelites”, whatever they may be. When Jesus gave John His messages for the seven churches in the Book of Revelation, He was talking about what they needed to address in the present, and what He promised if they overcame their weaknesses. To the church at Sardis, He said:

“Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.” (Rev. 3:3-4)

Like Moses at Meribah, many of the Christians at Sardis were no longer walking in the words that they had heard. Because of this, Jesus told them that although they had a reputation for being “a live church” they were dead; “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.” (Rev 3:1) We cannot walk in Life unless we are walking in the Words of Life. For the few at Sardis who were, Jesus promised that they would walk with Him in white. This has to be one of the clearest descriptions in the New Testament of what it means to walk in the land of our promises, “the heavenly Jerusalem.” So next time you lose your rag, remember it’s much more than a rag: it’s your garment of white that you’ve defiled. Pick it up, bring it to Jesus to wash it clean, and put it on again, quickly.

The quest for the Presence of God

%d bloggers like this: