Behind the Ranges: Horeb
You may remember lines on the theme ‘behind the ranges’ that I quoted last week from a poem by Rudyard Kipling, in the context of seeking for the hidden treasure of God, and how the Holy Spirit who is poured on us is with us to help us – because we can discover the treasure of God only at a mind-level unless the Holy Spirit is there to really open up something of God to us. I want to continue with that theme and will probably do so for the next few weeks.
We looked ‘behind the ranges’ last week at Moses and the burning bush. We are still at the life of Moses and one of the times that he went up the mountain of Sinai – one of the very obvious ranges. Moses was up that mountain on several occasions, and there he met with God. He had found God in the burning bush, he’d found Him in Egypt, in the miracles, plagues and deliverance, but increasingly if you follow the life of Moses you find a concentration on God, and rather than a diminution of his hunger for God, it grows and grows until ultimately he pleads with God to show him His glory. We know that God does that and hides him in the cleft of the rock.
But first God calls him again to come up mount Sinai. In the New Testament we read that Moses had exceedingly feared and quaked as he climbed the mountain of Sinai (Hebrews 12:21). Sometimes it must have been just like climbing a burning volcano. On this later occasion the people have sinned, Moses has pleaded very successfully for them, and God calls him to come again into the mountain, where He will again give him the law to be written on tablets of stone. He says: ‘No one else may come with you. In fact no one is to appear anywhere on the mountain,’ but Moses has to go up. And so we read in Exodus chapter 34:
Then the Lord came down in a cloud and stood there with him;
What a lovely verse – we could just concentrate on that for a long time!
and he called out His own name, Yahweh. The Lord passed in front of Moses, calling out:
Yahweh! The Lord! God of compassion and mercy!
I am slow to anger
and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.
I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations.
I forgive iniquity, rebellion and sin.
But I do not excuse the guilty.
I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion and sin. These words must have been music to the ears of Moses. He had asked that his own name would be blotted out rather than that the people would be blotted out for their sin in worshipping the golden calf. And now he is hearing God. He is on that mountain that’s been on fire on occasion with the coming of God. The first words that God speaks to him are perhaps unexpected. But, you see, the Holy Spirit is showing Moses more and more of the hidden treasure, the hidden deeps of the nature of God. And God speaks to him immediately: a God of compassion and mercy … slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.
There are running throughout the Bible – and indeed we will find if we seek for God there is running throughout His revelation to us – these two strands: the holiness of God that is completely other, and the unfailing love and compassion. The two are married. The love is so precious because He is so holy, and the holiness would be unbearable except for the love and compassion that brings forgiveness for iniquity. How we need that God! And to us also that revelation will increase if we seek for more of Him and are not content until both these strands are deeply embedded in our spirits.
Sinai happened fifty days after Passover, and the day of Pentecost is on the anniversary of the coming of God on Sinai. And we see in the coming of the Holy Spirit, poured out from on high, that fire is the immediate sign: the tongue of fire upon every head and a tongue of fire given to Peter very obviously as he rises and he preaches. The message to his hearers is not a soft one. It is an accusation of their guilt: he calls them the murderers of the Son of God; but it is also a message of forgiveness. It is so like the revelation that came on Sinai: the holiness, the fire, the all-consuming power, but the compassion and the forgiveness.
We see that strand tremendously revealed in the life of Peter. And it’s a hallmark of Pentecost. It opened the door to salvation, forgiveness and a knowledge of the God of all grace and all compassion. In Peter, who so courageously and wonderfully opened the kingdom of God with his sermon, there flows a tremendous vein of gentleness and compassion, something that I don’t think we would have associated with Peter before Pentecost. Something has happened in him. The Holy Spirit is revealing and imprinting in his spirit something of the very nature of God. And Peter is one who, especially in the beginning of the book of Acts, is very deeply used in healing. It he who with John is there to see the healing of the man at the gate of the temple. ‘Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ, rise up and walk.’ In Peter’s epistles we find this strain of the gentleness and the compassion. He tells them to love each other deeply. It’s he who speaks of the preciousness of Christ: the chief cornerstone, rejected, but to us who know him He is precious. And we echo that: He is precious.
Come and find more of that preciousness. We can skim over these truths. We find something of them initially at our salvation, but there are hidden deeps, hidden treasures. I know that some of you are not finding life easy just now. I know that some are in need of physical healing, some in need of healing in your mind, in your spirit. The God of all compassion is with us; He’s here in this moment. Why not open your heart, open your mind, open your spirit? Say: ‘Lord, give me some of that hidden treasure. Maybe that’s why You’ve let me come this way of trial and difficulty, that I might be forced to seek in the deep mine for the deep treasure and find the nature of God revealed through Jesus Christ by the power of the outpoured Spirit.’
Encounter with God
The start of what I want to say comes from part of a New Year promise:
I will pour out My Spirit upon you. (Joel 2:28, adapted)
I think that in spite of the present circumstances many of us have found how true that is, and He has poured out on the unsaved in saving power and in baptizing power and in healing and other ways. For this we are very grateful. And it’s a verse that comes to my mind again and again, with the sense that God means it. I will pour out of My Spirit upon you. The promise is upon all flesh, and upon people in different conditions. But I’m speaking tonight particularly to those who have already found Christ as Saviour, and those who are hungry to really know God’s ways and follow His calling. The call of God on Moses is described in the following verses, which in my Bible have the lovely title of The Call of the Rescuer:
One day Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian. He led the flock far into the wilderness and came to Sinai, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the middle of a bush. Moses stared in amazement. Though the bush was engulfed in flames, it didn’t burn up. ‘This is amazing,’ Moses said to himself. ‘Why isn’t that bush burning up? I must go see it.’
When the Lord saw Moses coming to take a closer look, God called to him from the middle of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’
‘Here I am!’ Moses replied. ‘Do not come any closer,’ the Lord warned. ‘Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground. I am the God of your father – the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ When Moses heard this, he covered his face because he was afraid to look at God. (Exodus 3:1–6)
God spoke to him of knowing the suffering of his people in Egypt, and he said to Moses:
Now go, for I am sending you to Pharaoh. You must lead my people Israel out of Egypt. (Exodus 3:10)
And you might say: Well, where exactly is the connection with that verse, I will pour out My Spirit?
In the days leading up to Pentecost, the disciples of Christ were waiting and seeking for the coming of the Holy Spirit. He had told them to wait until the Spirit was poured out from on high. And so they waited, and so they sought, until He came. And for us, we need to wait on Him, and we need to seek for Him. He that seeketh findeth … Ask, and it shall be given to you … Knock, and it shall be opened.
The call of God comes to us to seek. His treasures are often hidden treasures that don’t just fall readily into our hands. We have to show the desire for them, and the desire for the Holy Spirit to be outpoured, to reveal to us the hidden treasure. The following lines of a poem by Rudyard Kipling are quoted at the beginning of the book Behind the Ranges, which tells of Fraser of Lisuland, a very powerful missionary:
‘Something hidden. Go and find it. Go and look behind the Ranges –
Something lost behind the Ranges. Lost and waiting for you. Go!’
God took care to hide that country till He judged His people ready,
Then He chose me for His Whisper, and I’ve found it, and it's yours!
Something lost behind the ranges, something hidden. The Bible does speak of the hidden riches of God in secret places that He will open to us. That is lovely poetic language, ‘behind the ranges’ – but it made me think of some of these meeting places in Scripture where God meets His own and His Holy Spirit is actually outpoured on people as they meet with God. And the first one that came to my mind was this encounter with God that Moses had at mount Sinai, where he was to meet God again and again. But on this occasion he’s in the wilderness, on his own so far as we know, when he sees the bush that burns and is not consumed. He discovers that really it is God who is in the bush, and that is why it is burning. He meets with God. We don’t know if he had really met with God before then. It may be his first real encounter, and it has a profound and life-changing effect upon him.
He discovers first of all something of the holiness of God. He was hungry to serve God. He was hungry to be of service to his people, and that all seemed to have gone wrong. But now the plan of God is coming into action, and it’s beginning where it has to begin: with an encounter with God. We can quickly try to rush into action for God – which is very worthy, to want to work for Him, to serve Him – but fundamentally there has to come again and again in our lives an encounter with God. We have to be hungry for that. Moses learned a hunger for God that grew as the years passed, and the story of his life shows that. And he discovered first of all that God is holy. God said to him: ‘Moses, take the shoes off from your feet, for this is holy ground.’ The ground where God is is holy. That word holy hasn’t occurred in the Bible until now, and after this it is frequently used as a description of God Himself. The same root word is used in other semitic religions to depict something that is wholly other, but only of our God does it depict One who is morally righteous and good, and holy in that sense: other, different, but righteous. I think there would come over Moses’ spirit a trembling and an awe, and yet a strange delight that gripped him from that hour on.
God spoke to Moses, and in spite of that awareness of a holy God, Moses is inclined to dispute with God when He says: ‘Moses, you go. You go to Pharaoh. I’m sending you to rescue My people.’ The old Moses had said: ‘I want to rescue them,’ and he thought he knew how to do it, but that plan had all gone awry. Now he has no confidence in himself, and he has to become very dependent on that God with whom he is meeting, until eventually he agrees to go to Pharaoh, and he goes again and again.
It made me think of Christ, of whom we read that though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience through the things that He suffered. But Christ was never disobedient. Christ was one with the Father, but clothed in our flesh, walking our way. I spoke last week of the incredible identification of Christ with us as He walked amongst us. So in His flesh He learned obedience through the things that He suffered. He was willing, without any argument. And Moses became willing. He’s very like us: he yielded eventually. How much better to yield immediately – as I think he learned again and again through the subsequent months and years of his life. He found that hidden treasure ‘behind the ranges’ of mount Sinai. I don’t know if he was up the mountain at all, or just at the foot of it in the wilderness, but he was there. And he discovered God.
Is there an answering thrill in your spirit? There is in mine: the sense that God has promised to pour out His Spirit, and He’s calling: Go and seek for the treasure … Something hidden, go and find it … lost and waiting for you: go! … God took care to hide that country till He judged His people ready, Then He chose me for His Whisper, and I’ve found it, and it’s yours!
Do you hear that whisper in your own spirit? Go and find it. Though it’s not so easy when we’re not at church all the time – a little bit now, which has been a delight – he says: ‘I’ll meet you in your wilderness; I’ll meet you where you are. But go and look for it. Look for the treasure.’ You’ll find the holiness. You’ll find the encounter with God that awes your spirit, that sears you for time and for eternity, till God fills your horizon, fills the empty spaces. I know that some of you feel the loneliness of this time of isolation and lockdown, but I know that there is a living God who satisfies to the deeps every lonely place within. And indeed there is a lonely place that nothing else will ever satisfy: no human company. Treasure, there in God. Go and seek Him. During these coming weeks, please God, He will pour out His Spirit, and we’ll find more and more of the hidden treasure.
I want to say just a little on the very wide subject of our Inheritance.
By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. (Hebrews 11:8)
We are familiar with this thought of the call of God on Abraham, and we probably dwell more on the idea of him being called and not knowing where he was going than we do in thinking on the inheritance that he was going to receive. That was a tremendous inheritance, and he died in faith that it would come to pass after his death. He believed there was an inheritance there beyond what he had already realized in God. And it is an inheritance that is saved for us. It’s something that God has for us in the future, but also now. Sometimes Christians have been teased and criticized for thinking of the future and ‘pie in the sky when you die’, and Satan is so clever in how he distorts the truth and makes ridicule of something tremendous, wonderful and life-changing, as we realize when we stop and think of the inheritance that is ours in Christ Jesus. He said: I go to prepare a place for you … Father, that they may behold Your glory, that they may be with Me where I am … In My Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. He has prepared for us a city and a wonderful inheritance that is beyond our understanding. It’s related to the peace of God, it’s related to the glory of God; it is where Christ is, for where Jesus Christ is, that is heaven to our souls and shall be for time and for eternity.
Peter speaks of this inheritance in a passage that in my Bible is entitled The Hope of Eternal Life:
All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance – an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see. (1 Peter 1:3–5)
What has brought me to this meditation about the Inheritance is a personal situation during which I felt God bring the passages to me a week or two ago. For some time past we have realized that it would be wise to move house. We loved the place where we were, but due to health considerations particularly, and also to the ageing process that one doesn’t think about in earlier days, we felt it really was the best thing to do. But it was very hard to find anything at all suitable for us in the small area where we wanted to be and where the church is located, and we had more or less put it to the side when the house that we have now bought came on the market, and in a very short time (about two weeks) it was ours, our own was sold, and we moved in a few days ago.
As I thought about the whole situation and became aware of what had happened, I felt it was quite miraculous how certain things had worked out, and I had absolutely no doubt that God had provided for us. This is the bit that I find exceedingly moving: though I had seen God provide for other people in many ways, I knew the difficulties that we were facing, and it actually seemed quite a dark tunnel. I hadn’t really heard very much from God on our own particular difficulties (I’d heard from Him on many other matters). And when this happened, with the suddenness that often characterizes events when God moves, I have been overwhelmed with the sense of His goodness, His kindness, and simply His light: the light had come on in a very dark tunnel, and really He’d been there all the time, and He had stored up the right place for us.
It made me think all the more of the heavenly inheritance. I thought, if God has taken care of three of His children out of millions and millions, and has provided for us something that exactly fits our needs with a lot over (He’s an abundant giver, isn’t He? And lots of things are a bonus) – if He’s taken such care to provide this for us on earth, what care is He taking at this moment in heaven to prepare an inheritance there, the heavenly dwelling place? And much as I love where we are now, if He said to me: ‘You are to come home tonight to heaven,’ I would say: ‘Amen!’ But what care, what preparation, must there have been?
It caused me to think again of these verses in Peter - a favourite part of mine, because God spoke to me terribly clearly, a number of years ago, these very verses. It was at a time when I had lost various of those close to me in my family, and in quite quick succession – which made me feel that for me it was just round the corner, and it would soon be my turn to be going home to be with Christ. A few years had passed, and I always had this feeling. It wasn’t in my mind; it was almost like an inner felt assumption, and yet my mind didn’t really think that. And I remember one Saturday night going home after the meeting and sitting alone in my lounge, when I turned to my daily reading Bible and it opened at these verses in Peter. If ever God spoke to me, I felt Him speak to me that night. And I pass it on to you, because it’s not for me alone (obviously), but it’s for all those who love Christ Jesus and wait for His appearing. He said: All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ … We live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance – an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay.
We can have an earthly inheritance, and it might have disappeared before we’re actually due to inherit – all sorts of unexpected changes happen in life. But our inheritance in heaven, the beauty, the joy and the perfection, the knowledge of God that shall be ours there, the dwelling place with Him: it’s priceless, and it’s being kept in heaven, it’s pure and undefiled and it won’t decay – and it’s real, it’s there, it’s waiting. No matter how difficult life might be for you just now, God is preparing that inheritance, and one day, sudden in a moment, the change will have happened, and we’ll be there with Him. And it’s being kept safe for us. But more than that, He says: And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be be revealed on the last day for all to see. He’s protecting you. He’s protecting you from the enemy; He’s protecting you from every arrow that the enemy sends; He’s protecting you from all the unhappiness – and should I say also all the distraction that can come into our lives through joy. He’s protecting us so that we’re ready for the inheritance that He is keeping safe for us. And He says:
So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. (I Peter 1:6)
The people to whom Peter was writing were enduring trials beyond anything that we are enduring. The following verse continues:
These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold – though your faith is far more precious than mere gold … and it will bring to you praise and glory and honour (1 Peter 1:7)
To you – but also to Christ. And there is wonderful joy ahead.
Another verse that really spoke to me during last week I will leave with you. I wasn’t reading it at the time, but as I was praying it came into my mind with a tremendous sense of power and certainty:
Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. (Malachi 3:10)
We often, I think, concentrate on the first part of that verse: Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, and that can sometimes bring a sense of condemnation or trepidation: ‘O God, what more have I to bring? Am I lacking in something? … Oh, if I don’t get blessed, it’s my fault.’
This is not just about personal blessing, though we are included in it, but it’s the second half of the verse that has been really living for me: I will open the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it – or a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in. ‘Try Me: put Me to the test. There is blessing in the cup, there is blessing still in the vine, and it shall overflow. Prove Me now,’ says God. ‘See if I will not open the windows of heaven and pour you out a blessing that there shall not be room enough to contain.’
In these very present days some of us are returning as congregations to church. Next Sunday night we’ll have a meeting here again in Greenock with limited numbers and all the restrictions. Many of us are returning to church if we can, others are not, and online services are continuing as well as those in the church. And I have just such a sense that the heavens are waiting to pour out blessing upon us all: in our homes, through the online activity, in our services, and in our churches - O blessed, blessed house of God! I know we don’t worship the building, but we worship God in the building, and our building in Greenock, hallowed for over a hundred years, is very precious, because He is here, and He will be here. But He’ll be here with us and at home, wherever you are, wherever you will be over the next weeks, drinking in the blessing, expecting it: See if I will not open the windows of heaven and pour you out a blessing. Anticipate it. In these days of real difficulty and gloom and uncertainty, there is an inheritance secure, and we begin to realize it here on this earth, and long for others to receive it also.
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