This is our God - The Presence of God (2)
Malcolm Horlock, Cardiff, Wales
This second article deals with the subject of the presence of God with His people, together with some of the practical implications of God's presence- both universal and special.
The first article concluded in the course of considering the manifestation of God's presence in special ways on earth. We looked then at (i) the fact that God dwelt in a particular way in the land of Israel, and (ii) the way in which His presence was associated, in Old Testament days, with the cloud, the ark of the covenant, the tabernacle and the temple. We are now to consider that:
(iii) The presence of God with His People was a token of His gracious favour. For "wherein shall it be known here", Moses argued, "that I and thy people have found grace in thy sight? It is not in that thou goest with us?", Exod. 33. 16; cf. Deut. 4. 7. Because the Gentiles did not enjoy these special manifestations of God's presence, they were described as those "afar off, Acts 2. 39; Eph. 2. 13, 17.
Also, because He is the God of righteousness He is said to be "far from the wicked", Prov. 15. 29. In God's own time the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven to inflict vengeance on those who neither know God nor obey His gospel. The penalty to be paid by such will be "everlasting destruction" as they are banished "from the presence of the Lord", 2 Thess. 1. 7-9; cf. Isa 2. 10, 19, 21 LXX.
We delight to appropriate to ourselves many of the promises which God made to Israel in the O.T. We read of God's presence going before them, Deut. 9. 3, and behind them, Isa. 52. 12. We are told that His shadow and feathers covered them, Psa. 91. 1,4, and His everlasting arms were beneath them, Deut. 33, 27. The Lord speaks of being round about them, Psa. 125. 2; Zech. 2. 5, and yet in their midst, Deut. 23. 14; Zeph. 3,15, 17, and among them, Deut. 7. 21. In every way God is with his people!
Israelcould treasure the divine undertaking that "in all places where I record my name I will come unto thee", Exod. 20.24. The Rabbis could treasure their belief that "if two sit together and the words of the Law (are spoken) between them, the Shekinah rests between them", Pirke Aboth iii. 2, 3. How then ought we to treasure our Saviour's personal promise that "where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them", Matt. 18. 20.
Though God dwells still in unapproachable light, 1 Tim. 6.16, yet He deigns to dwell among His people also, 2 Cor. 6. 16.
The Lord Jesus has undertaken to be with His servants as they fulfil the Great Commission, Matt. 28. 18-20. He has all power (lit. authority) at His disposal; we have all nations to disciple! Take heart - He is with us! Earlier He had warned His apostles that, as One who took part in flesh and blood, He would not always be with them, 26.11. But now the risen Lord promised to be with them always, 28. 20. This last word is literally "all the days" (cf. Psa. 27. 4; 128. 5 LXX) and denotes that which is continuous and without break. It contrasts, therefore, with the period immediately following His resurrection when the disciples experienced His presence only at intervals during a set period: "through (during) forty days He was seen of them", Acts 1. 3 lit.
Every believer is entitled to claim the promise, "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee", Heb. 13. 5. It is a very full promise indeed, utilising no less than five Greek negative words. To register its true force would require some such translation as "By no means will I leave you nor by any means will I forsake you" or "In no wise will I leave you nor in any wise will I forsake you".
The apostle Paul proved the truth of this promise when, at his first defence before the Emperor Nero, none of the brethren was prepared to take his place with him. They all "forsook" him. Yet he could record that "the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me", 2 Tim. 4. 16-17. He who was once forsaken by both men and God will never forsake us!
Practical implications. The doctrine of God's presence has many practical applications to the believer's life. The following are just some of these:
(a) We ought to treasure God's promise to be with us at all times and in all places. Christian young people leaving home for the first time can legitimately appropriate to themselves God's promise to Jacob in similar circumstances, "behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest", Gen. 28. 15. Jacob subsequently proved that God was true to His word, 35. 3. Note that God added to the promise of His presence the promise of His protection - and that "in all places"; cf 2 Chron. 16. 9. Indeed, God's presence usually carries with it additional favours; such as blessing, Gen. 26. 3, strength, Isa. 41. 10, deliverance, Jer. 1. 8, and salvation, Jer. 30. 11.
God undertakes to be with His people in the most extreme circumstances; "When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee (cf. Exod. 14. 22) ... when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned (cf. Dan. 3. 25)", Isa. 43. 2. Note that fire and water are a proverbial reference to all kinds of danger, Psa. 66. 12. We rejoice that our God is not the God of the mountains only: He is with His people in the valleys too, 1 Kings 20. 28.
Micah the Ephraimite complained to the marauding Danites who made off with his household gods, "Ye have taken away my gods ... what have I more?", Judges 18. 24. May we treasure the presence of the living God even more than Micah did the presence of his dead ones.
The availability of God's presence should lead us to pray more often.Our God is never more than a prayer away. He is never absent on a journey; cntr. 1 Kings 18. 28. Wherever we are, it can be said, "if from thence thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find Him", Deut. 4. 29. Take heart - God's servants have prayed effectively in the presence of a king, Neh. 2.4, and in the stomach of a fish, Jon. 2. 1.
God's abiding presence with us should make us content.It is more than enough to compensate for the lack (or loss, Heb. 10. 34) of earthly possessions, "Let your manner of life be without the love of money, being content with your present circumstances; for He has said, I will never leave you, neither will I forsake you", Heb 13. 5 lit. An intelligent trust in God's promise is the secret of true, carefree contentment; cf Phil. 4. 11-12.
The assurance of God's presence should inspire us with courage and spur us on to action and service for Him.Hear the words of God to Joshua, "Be strong and of good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee withersoever thou goest", Josh. 1. 9. To his namesake God spoke some 900 years later, "Be strong, O Joshua ... and all ye people ... saith the Lord, and work: for I am with you", Haggai 2. 4. That is, God was still with His saints in times of relative weakness, such as those of Haggai. Note that 2 Chronicles ends as it began - with a reference to God's presence, 1.1; 36. 23. Whether in Solomon's day of great things or the remnant's day of small things God was with His people!
If we are to enjoy the presence of God, we must obey His commands, putting away from us all known evil and pursuing that which is good.Before Jacob returned to Bethel (where he had previously known God's presence), he commanded his household to put away all false gods and to cleanse themselves, Gen. 35. 1-2. That is, they buried the remnants of the old life before they entered God's presence. When Israel suffered a humiliating defeat on account of Achan's sin, the Lord told Joshua, "neither will I be with you any more, except ye destroy the accursed from among you", Josh. 7.12. Well did the prophet plead, "Seek good, and not evil... and so the Lord, the God of hosts, shall be with you", Amos 5. 14. Let us take heed: such things were written for our instruction, Rom. 15. 4. See too John 14. 23.
The knowledge of God's presence should influence the way in which we behave.Nathan pointed out to David that the "evil" of his adultery and of Uriah's murder was done in the sight (i.e. presence) of God, 2 Sam. 12. 9. David later acknowledged the same himself, Psa. 51.4. An awareness of God's presence would affect our conduct dramatically.
Many will have heard of the atheist who told his daughter to write the words, "God is nowhere". By a simple error of spacing, she actually wrote, "God is now here". Alas, so many of us profess to believe that "God is now here" but act as if we believed that "God is nowhere"!
The special manifestation of God's presence in the local church (the present day house of God) requires us to take care how we conduct ourselves there, 1 Tim. 3. 15. What awe and reverence Jacob felt when he discovered himself to be at the house of God, Gen. 28. 17. May the Lord give us grace to take seriously His promise to be among His people when they are gathered together in His name.