In an extraordinary passage in Exodus, after the Israelites have fashioned a golden calf, God tells Moses, (Ex. 33:1) “Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt, and go up to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ 2 I will send an angel before you and drive out the Canaanites. 3 Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.”
So they were promised their hearts’ desire, but not God’s presence or protection
But Moses says: “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.
Which pleases God who answers, 14 “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest. I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”
(Upon which, Moses, seizing the moment, cheekily increases his ask, “Now show me your glory.”)
* * *
I first lingered on this passage about ten years ago during a Beth Moore Bible study. I came late, and stood at the back of the room, as Beth, on the DVD, was reading out this passage.
My Promised Land then would have been literary success with the book I was then trying to write–with much difficulty as the girls were 6 and 2.
Did I want to enter my Promised Land even if God was not with me?
I had not thought about it before. I said, bravely, “Lord, I do not want to enter my Promised Land, if you do not go with me.”
And got tearful, because I was not sure if I meant it. I wanted my promised land so badly you see. Just the thought of never entering it made me tearful.
* * *
Fast forward eleven years. My promised land, I am afraid, still involves writing. It is the great love and interest of my life.
But do I want to enter any writing-related promised land without God? Absolutely not. Couldn’t contemplate it. I wouldn’t survive the work, the stress, the demands.
I would lack wisdom and direction. I might make up my own directions, and then second-guess them. How much better to get them from God!
I would miss having little rest breaks, and checking in with God. I would miss the flashes of intuition, wisdom, inspiration, guidance that come from prayer.
* * *
Ten years ago when I said, “Lord, I do not want to enter the Promised Land without you,” I felt so noble. But I wasn’t kidding God. He knew that my heart’s desire was really the Promised Land of literary success.
In fact, I didn’t even kid myself. Tears rolled down my cheeks, as I stood at the back of the room saying, “Lord, I do not want to enter the Promised Land without you,” because the thought of not entering my promised land, with or without God, was too sad to contemplate.
I clearly need more time in the desert to learn to put God first.
Now I, of course , do care more for God than for my promised land, because I know that I would not be able to do the promised land without him. The milk would curdle, the honey cloy.
But, luckily, he says to those who want his presence more than the Promised Land, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest. I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”