The Invitation of Voice & Presence: The Call to Come Near & the Transformation of Relationships

Today’s selected reading continues in the Old Testament book of Exodus as it was written and recorded by Moses the servant of the Lord. More specifically, today’s passage is found in chapters twenty-three through twenty-five of this Old Testament book. THE REVELATION OF CHARACTER! THE REVELATION OF NATURE! THE LAW AND STATUTES OF A CHOSEN PEOPLE! THE LORD DRAWS NEAR AND THE PEOPLE WITHDRAW! FEAR GRIPS THE HEART OF THE PEOPLE BEFORE AND IN THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD THEIR GOD! I HAVE TALKED WITH YOU FROM HEAVEN! CIVIL LAWS REGARDING SERVANTS AND SLAVES! LAWS REGARDING YOUR NEIGHBOR! I’M CONCERNED WITH HOW YOU TREAT YOUR BROTHER! I’M CONCERNED WITH HOW YOU TREAT YOUR NEIGHBOR! I’M CONCERNED WITH STEWARDSHIP AND HOW YOU TREAT THE POSSESSIONS OF OTHERS! I CARE ABOUT THE POOR AND AFFLICTED IN YOUR LAND! THE FATHERLESS AND THE WIDOW BELONG TO ME AND ARE MY PEOPLE! THE POOR AND AFFLICTED DESERVE JUST AS MUCH RESPECT AS YOU DO! THE SABBATH DAY OF THE WEEK! THE SABBATH YEAR OF YEARS! THREE TIMES TO CELEBRATE THE FEASTS OF THE LORD! THREE TIMES APPEARING BEFORE THE LORD! THE ANGEL OF THE LORD GOES BEFORE YOU! EATING AND DRINKING IN THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD! THE WILLINGNESS OF THE HEART TO PRESENT AN OFFERING TO THE LORD! PREPARING TO WORSHIP THE LORD! THE ARK OF THE COVENANT! THE TABLE OF SHEWBREAD! THE GOLDEN LAMPSTAND! When you come to this particular portion of Scripture you will find the Lord continuing to speak to Moses from the midst of the thick cloud and darkness which had descended upon the top of mount Horeb which was in the wilderness of Sinai. In order to truly understand what takes place within these chapters it is absolutely necessary to first begin in the nineteenth chapter, for it is in this chapter where we find the Lord speaking unto Moses and instructing him to prepare and make ready the people of Israel for His arrival among them in their midst. I am convinced it is necessary to pause for a moment right here and think about the tremendous reality of the Lord speaking unto Moses and instructing him to make ready, to prepare and to sanctify the people of Israel against the third day, for it would be on the third day He would descend upon the mountain and would manifest Himself unto and among them. PREPARE TO MEET THE LORD YOUR GOD! What completely and utterly fascinates me about this passage of Scripture is that the Lord actually spoke unto Moses and instructed him to sanctify and make ready a people for His arrival and for His descent before and among them in their midst in the wilderness of Sinai. Having already experienced the drowning and destruction of their enemies in the Red Sea, having experienced the bitter waters of Marah made sweet, having experienced the provision of bread from heaven, having defeated the children of Amalek who had marched out against them, and having drank from the water which the Lord brought forth from the midst of the rock there at Horeb. Having experienced each of these realities the LORD was now preparing for something completely different—something unlike anything the children of Israel had experienced up to and until that point in their journey before and with Him.

As you come to the nineteenth chapter of the Old Testament book of Exodus you will find the Lord calling for and requiring the people to be sanctified in order that they might be ready for the arrival and appearance of the LORD God who redeemed and brought them out of the house of bondage and out of their slavery in the land of Egypt. What’s worth noting is that up until this point the children of Israel had witnessed and beheld experiences with the power and might of the LORD God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, however, they had yet to experience Him for who He truly was. Up until the time they came to the mountain of God there in the wilderness of Sinai the children of Israel only had encounters and experiences with the glorious strength and awesome might of the living God, and yet they had not actually experienced Him, nor even heard His voice speaking unto them. This is actually quite significant and important, for with this reality we are brought face to face with the reality that it is one thing to have experiences and encounters with the power and might of the living God, and yet never have any true encounters with His voice or His presence. There are countless men and women who boast and brag about encounters with the tremendous strength, might and power of the living God, and yet you won’t find them speaking to—much less boasting about the encounters they had with the presence and voice of the Lord their God. I am completely and utterly convinced that it is one thing to witness and behold the power and might of the Lord our God, yet it is something else altogether to experience His voice, His presence and His person. Up to the time the children of Israel had come unto the mountain of God in the wilderness they had beheld his judgments in the land of Egypt, they had witnessed His power against their enemies at the Red Sea, and they had experienced His provision in the wilderness. For three months the children of Israel had experienced the provision of the Lord, which not only included bitter waters made sweet and water flowing from a rock in the wilderness, but also bread coming down from heaven. Please don’t miss and please don’t sight of this awesome and incredible reality, for that which we find the Lord doing is not preparing the people to experience His power, nor even His strength and might, but preparing them to experience His voice and presence. I am completely and utterly convinced that it is one thing to experience the power, the might and the strength of the living God in our midst, and yet it something else entirely to experience His voice, His person and His presence. What’s more, is that it is one thing to know God according to His glorious power and strength in our midst, but it is something else completely to know God according to His voice, according to His person and according to His presence.

I am sitting here today and I can’t help but think about and consider the awesome and incredible reality that when you come to the nineteenth chapter of the book of Exodus—while it is true that there was a thick darkness that came down upon and enveloped the mountain, and while it was true that the mountain did quake violently, and while it was true that there were thunderings and lightnings that flashed and boomed before and all around the children of Israel—that was not the main reason for the Lord descending upon the mountain. In fact, I can’t help but draw a strong and powerful connection between what we find in the nineteenth chapter of the Old Testament book of Exodus and the nineteenth chapter of the Old Testament book of First Kings. If you turn and direct your attention to the nineteenth chapter of the Old Testament book of First Kings you will find Elijah having just witnessed fire come down from heaven in the sight of all Israel at the top of mount Carmel as it not only consumed the sacrifice, but also the altar, the water around the altar, and even the dust and dirt around the altar. What’s more, is that you will find Elijah calling for the slaughter of the false prophets which sat at Jezebel’s table, and even praying earnestly seven times for rain to come upon the land of Israel. After the seventh time praying the servant of Elijah beheld a cloud the size of a man’s fist ascending and appearing on the horizon—a sign that it was about to downpour within and upon the land. On top of this we find Elijah being endowed with supernatural speed and strength to be able to run down the mountain and to outrun Ahab’s chariot down the mountain there in the northern kingdom of Israel. By the time you come to the nineteenth chapter of the Old Testament book of First Kings you will find Ahab rehearsing in the ears and presence of Jezebel everything that had happened at Carmel, to which Jezebel proceeded to threaten to make the life of Elijah like the lives of those prophets whom he had slain there at Carmel. Jezebel’s threat had such an impact and affect on Elijah that he fled from the presence of Jezebel into the wilderness in order to escape for his life. If you being reading with and from the third verse of this particular chapter you will find that Elijah arose, went for his life, and came to Beer-Sheba which belonged to Judah. Having left his servant there Elijah went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree. Despairing of and for his life Elijah request for himself that he might die and declared that it was enough, and asked the Lord to take his life, for he was no better than his fathers. Scripture records how as Elijah lay and slept under the juniper tree an angel touched him and instructed him to rise and eat. Having eaten the cake which had been baked on the coals and drank the water by his head he laid down yet again. The angel of the Lord came a second time and instructed Elijah to eat and drink, for the journey he was about to take was too great for him—a journey which would take him forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God. Consider if you will the account of Elijah in the wilderness and at Horeb the mount of God in the midst of the wilderness:

“And he came thither unto a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said unto him, What doest thou here, Elijah? And he said, I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away. And he said, Go forth, and Stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: and after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that He wrapped his face in his mantel, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9-13).

Now you might be wondering why I would incorporate the account of Elijah at Horeb the mount of God in the wilderness, however, if you read this narrative and account you will discover some striking similarities between that which Elijah experienced at Horeb the mount of God in the wilderness and what the children of Israel experienced. It would be there at Horeb the mount of God in the wilderness Elijah would experience a wind which would rend the mountain and break in pieces the rocks before the Lord, however, the Lord was not in the wind. Immediately following the wind there would be a great earthquake, however, the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire either. Following the fire came a still small voice, and it was so, when Elijah heard the still small voice that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. It is necessary that we pay close and careful attention to this encounter which Elijah experienced in the wilderness at Horeb, for although Elijah experience a great and strong wind, although Elijah experienced an earthquake, and although Elijah experienced a fire, the Lord was not in any of those manifestations or experiences. It wasn’t until Elijah heard the still small voice that He immediately recognized the presence and person of the living God there at Horeb in the wilderness and he came to the entrance of the cave to stand before the Lord with his mantle wrapped around his face. This is significant, for it would be one thing to read the encounter the children of Israel had at Horeb in the wilderness and to get excited about the thunder, the lightning, the thick clouds, the darkness, the fire and the smoke, and yet all these were but secondary experiences and encounters to the main attraction. In all reality, the main and underlying attraction and focus there at Horeb in the wilderness was not the external manifestations of the fire, the smoke, the thunder, the lightning, and that which could be seen and heard, but rather the voice of the living God speaking forth from atop the mountain and from the midst of the thick darkness and clouds. The Lord was not in the strong wind, nor was the Lord in the earthquake, nor was the Lord in the fire which Elijah experienced at Horeb the mount of God in the wilderness, and it wasn’t until Elijah heard the voice that he came forth from the midst of the cave and stood before the Lord. At Horeb the mount of God there in the wilderness the voice and presence of the LORD God of the Hebrews—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—was the main and underlying reason the Lord brought the children of Israel out of the house of bondage and into the wilderness, for it would be there in the midst of the wilderness and there at the mountain of God the Lord would not only manifest His presence, but would also speak directly to and unto His people. What’s more, is that if you think about it—if the ultimate purpose and objective of the Lord was to bring the children of Israel into the land of Canaan right from the land of Egypt, He would have brought them up through the land of the Philistines and straight into the land where their fathers and ancestors dwelt as strangers and pilgrims.

When you come to these chapters found within the Old Testament book of Exodus you will find an incredible transition taking place within the book, for the children of Israel had now journeyed for three months in the wilderness and had come unto Horeb the mount of God. Forty years earlier Moses led the flicks of Jethro his father in law to this very mountain and it was here where the Lord God of his fathers appeared to him from the midst of the burning bush. What we find here is the Lord again appearing at Horeb the mount of God—the difference being the fact that the living God is now not simply revealing Himself unto Moses alone in the midst of a burning bush, but is now appearing and making Himself known unto the children of Israel there at the mount. After three months of journeying through the wilderness the Lord has finally brought the children of Israel to the place of revelation and manifestation in order that He might speak directly unto them. I firmly believe that it would be incredibly easy to get caught up in the external manifestations of nature which surrounded the living God descending upon the mountain and to completely miss the awesome reality that the main and underlying reality here at the mountain was not found in the manifestations or nature which appeared before the children of Israel, but rather the voice which spoke to them from the midst of the thick clouds and darkness and from the midst of the fire which burned upon the mountain. It is absolutely necessary that we recognize and pay close attention to the fact that what we have within these chapters is the living God of the Hebrews revealing and making Himself known in their midst in order that He might speak directly unto them. ITS ALL ABOUT THE VOICE! ITS ALL ABOUT THE PRESENCE! I sit here this morning and I can’t help but be incredibly gripped and captivated with and by the fact that when and as we study these chapters we must come to terms with the fact that the LORD didn’t appear unto the children of Israel that He might demonstrate His power through these external forces and manifestations of nature. What we find in these chapters is the living God appearing unto the children of Israel in order that He might speak directly unto them. After witnessing and beholding His awesome and glorious power and strength in the land of Egypt, and after demonstrating His wonderful strength at the Red Sea by not only parting the waters but also drowning their enemies in the midst of the sea, the living God wanted to transition the children of Israel beyond demonstrations of His might and demonstrations of His power and to bring them into the place of true revelation—revelation that comes not from external displays of power but rather from a personal experience and encounter with the voice. This is in fact what was so incredibly wonderful and powerful about the encounter Elijah experiences atop the same mountain the wilderness for having seen the power and might of the living God displayed through fire from heaven, and even the abundance of rain, Elijah would find God—not in the strong wind, not in the fire, and not in the earthquake, but rather in the still small voice. Oh more often than not we find God—not in the external demonstrations and manifestations of His power and might, but in the gentleness of His voice.

WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU CANT FIND GOD WHERE YOU WOULD NORMALLY FIND HIM? WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU CANT FIND GOD WHERE YOU HAVE FOUND HIM BEFORE? WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU CANT FIND GOD THE WAY YOU USED TO FIND AND EXPERIENCE HIM? Upon reading the words which are written within these chapters we must come to terms with the fact that when the children of Israel come unto the mountain of God in the wilderness—He did not desire to reveal Himself unto them as He had done in Egypt, nor even at the Red Sea. The children of Israel had witnessed and beheld the revelation and manifestation of the living God through His judgments upon the land of Egypt and even upon their enemies at the Red Sea, and yet what they were experiencing now was the living God revealing Himself unto them through the voice rather than through power. I feel the great need to pause right here and declare to you who would be reading these words that if you’re only experience with the living God is with demonstrations and manifestations of His power and His might and there is absolutely no experience with His voice and His presence then your relationship and experience with Him is incredibly shallow. Now you might think within yourself and ask me how I can say this since undoubtedly the presence of the living God is found within the demonstrations of His power and His might. To this I would wholeheartedly respond by declaring that you are absolutely right when you speak of His presence being manifested in the midst of demonstrations and shows of His power and might. Where the rubber meets the road is when you think about and encounter the reality that you can witness and experience the demonstrations and manifestations of the power of God and yet the living God is not in the fire, nor is He in the earthquake, nor is He in the wind. Far too often we look for—and even expect to find the living God in external demonstrations and manifestations of His power and might and we completely neglect and ignore the fact that He is more often than not experienced the greatest in the still small voice. It was true that the living God was found in the midst of the still small voice which spoke unto Elijah at Horeb, and it is also true that the living God was found in the thunderous voice that spoke from the top of the mountain and from the midst of the cloud. In both cases we must understand and come face to face with the fact that the living God is felt and experienced the most when He speaks to us—whether it’s through the still small voice, or whether it’s through the thunderous voice that spoke from the top of Horeb. Oh how many times have we looked for and expected to find and experience the living God and have missed Him because we have been looking for Him in the midst of external demonstrations and displays of power rather than the beauty of His voice which not only indicates that He is near but also invites us to come near. Oh that we would recognize that more often than not it’s the voice that invites us to draw near and invites us to come close, and it is through the voice we find ourselves truly enjoying and experiencing relationship and fellowship with the living God. THE INVITATION OF THE VOICE! COME UP HERE! COME NEAR UNTO ME!

The more I read and the more I consider the words which are found within this particular portion of Scripture the more I can’t help but be astonished with and by the invitation of the voice, and how there is within this passage of Scripture the wonderful and undeniable invitation of the voice as with the hearing of the voice of God comes the invitation to draw near. This reality is most aptly demonstrated in verses eighteen through twenty-three, for within these verses we find the children of Israel beholding and looking upon the thunders, the lightnings, and hearing the noise of the trumpet, as well as the mountain smoking, and upon witnessing and beholding these sights and sounds, they removed and stood afar off. Not only do we find the children of Israel withdrawing and standing afar off, but we find them speaking unto Moses and asking Him to speak with them and they would hear them, but they didn’t want God speaking unto them, lest they perish. If and as you read these verses you will notice a strong and stark contrast between the people who withdrew and stood afar off and Moses who drew near and dared approach the living God. Of course we know and understand that the living God had set bounds and borders around the mountain that the children of Israel not break through to gaze upon the Lord their God, but there was still an invitation to draw near and to experience the God who was close unto them. THE GOD WHO IS CLOSE! What we find and what we witness within these chapters is a God who is both near and close, and a God who is willing to speak directly with His people. Beyond the external demonstrations and manifestations of His power and might which He displayed in the midst of the land of Egypt the living God now desired to draw near and draw close unto the children of Israel that He might speak directly unto them. You will recall from the narrative of the children of Israel in the land of Egypt, and even at the Red Sea that the Lord God did not speak directly unto the children of Israel. What you find within those chapters is the Lord revealing His might and His power and strength in the midst of the land and at the Red Sea, however, the Lord God did not speak directly unto them—at least not the way He did at Horeb in the wilderness when He spoke unto them from the midst of the thick cloud and darkness which descended upon the top of the mountain. What we have and what we find within these chapters is a wonderful and tremendous invitation that comes only with and through the voice of the living God which speaks unto us. There is not a doubt in my mind that the invitation of the voice is what draws near to us and which calls us to come near unto the living God. The people of Israel, however, stood afar off and would not hear God speak to them, and would not draw near for fear of the thunders, the lightnings, the noise of the trumpet, and the sound and sight of the mountain quaking violently because of the presence of God upon it. If we are going to truly understand and recognize that which the Spirit desires to reveal unto us within these chapters we must understand and acknowledge the fact that there was an invitation that appeared and manifested itself within the voice of the living God which spoke directly unto the children of Israel there in the wilderness.

With all of this being said we must recognize and understand the fact that what we find within these chapters begins with the words the living God spoke unto Moses atop the mountain of God in the wilderness, which began with the declaration of the Decalogue or Ten Commandments, which Moses received atop the mountain. There is within these chapters the invitation of the voice and a call to draw near, however, in addition to this reality we also encounter and come face to face with the awesome and incredible reality that when the living God actually began speaking unto Moses and the children of Israel He did so by emphatically declaring “I AM THE LORD THY GOD, WHICH HAVE BROUGHT THEE OUT OF THE LAND OF EGYPT, OUT OF THE HOUSE OF BONDAGE” (Emphasis mine). This reality and concept of the Lord God of the Hebrews declaring Himself to be the Lord thy God is actually quite significant for it is within this declaration that the Lord is we find the undeniable reality that because the Lord their God is they were called to be. BECAUSE I AM YOU SHOULD BE! BECAUSE I AM, YOU NEED TO BE! That which you find within verses one through seventeen of the tenth chapter brings us face to face that with the revelation of the living God which proceed from His voice speaking unto them comes the invitation—not only to draw near, but also the invitation to be like Him. If we are truly honest with ourselves and with the living God who appeared unto Moses and the children of Israel on this day, we must recognize and understand that the commands He gave unto the children of Israel was not merely a set of commands, nor was it a set of standards and regulations which they were to adhere to, but it was a revelation of the character of the living God Himself. What’s more, is that not only was this an invitation of the character of the living God, but it was also an invitation to live and become just like the living God among themselves, as well as in the midst of the nations. As you read the words which are found within this chapter you must understand and acknowledge the fact that not only did the Lord reveal Himself according to His character and nature, but the living God also revealed Himself according to that which pleased Him—that which He asked of His people. There is within the Ten Commandments a set of standards and commandments concerning our relationship with the living God, but also commandments which concern our relationship with our brother and neighbor. This is precisely why during Jesus’ day emphasis was placed on the greatest commandment being to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind and with all our strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. The entirety of the Ten Commandments hinges upon the reality of our relationship with the living God, as well as our relationship with our neighbor. When the living God finally does begin to speak unto the children of Israel from the midst of the thick clouds and form the midst of the clouds and smoke He spoke unto them—not only inviting them to draw near and come close to Him, but he also invited them to know Him and His character, and to live their lives according to that nature and character.

The words which we find within these chapters is absolutely and incredibly unique and powerful, for it is within these chapters that we encounter and come face to face with the invitation of the voice, as well as the invitation of character and nature as the living God revealed Himself unto the children of Israel—not merely through external manifestations of fire, and thunders, and lightnings, and smoke, and thick darkness, and clouds, but through His voice which was speaking directly unto them. They had witnessed and beheld His power and might in the land of Egypt and at the Red Sea, and now the Lord was transitioning them to the place of voice and presence, for it would be that place of presence and voice that would be the greatest demonstration and manifestation within their hearts and lives. It’s worth noting and should be noted that when the Lord began speaking unto the children of Israel He began speaking unto them according to His nature and character, as He not only declared Himself to be the Lord their God who brought them up out of the land of Egypt, but He also declared that He was a jealous God who desired their worship, their faithfulness, their worship, their obedience, and their loyalty. The living God began speaking unto them by emphatically commanding and instructing them to have no other gods before Him, not to make unto themselves any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, nor even to bow themselves down before them to serve them, for He was the Lord their God who was a jealous God. Make no mistake about it when reading the words found within these chapters—the Lord was very interested in their relationship with Him, as well as their relationship with others. As you read and study the words which are found within these chapters you must come face to face with the reality that not only was the living God concerned and jealous for their relationship with Him, but He was also jealous concerning their relationship with others—their neighbors, their brothers, their sisters, their families, and even their enemies. We must not miss and lose sight of this absolutely tremendous and incredible reality, for as you continue reading the words found within these chapters you will encounter the awesome and incredible truth that the Lord began speaking unto them concerning their relationship with Him, but He would continue speaking unto them concerning their relationship with their neighbors. Oh that we would comprehend this, for the single greatest expressions within our lives is not only how we respond to the living God, but also how we relate to those before and around us. Let me pause for a moment and ask you point blank how you respond to the living God who has invited you unto Himself—and not only how you respond to the living God, but also how you relate to your neighbors, and even your enemies in the midst of this generation. When you read the words which are found within these chapters are you immediately convicted because of the status and nature of your relationship with the living God, as well as your relationship with your neighbor, and even your enemies? These chapters prove and demonstrate that the living God was not only concerned with our relationship with Him, but the living God was also concerned with our relationship with neighbors, as well as with our enemies.

I sit here this morning and I can’t help but find myself being confronted with the question whether or not we are willing to allow the living God to be sovereign over our relationships with others. I can’t help but come face to face with the question whether or not we are truly willing to allow the living God to be sovereign over our relationships with our neighbors, as well as our relationship with our enemies. If you turn and direct your attention to the New Testament you will find that Jesus drew no distinction between our neighbors and our enemies and demanded that we treat both the same way—and not only treat both the same way, but also love them equally. If and as you read the words which are found within these chapters you will find the Lord speaking unto the children of Israel—not only concerning their relationship with those among themselves within the nation of Israel, but also with the strangers who dwelt among them, the poor and afflicted who dwelt among them, and even the orphans and the widows who dwelt among them. THE FORGOTTEN PEOPLE! I think sometimes we forget that there is indeed a forgotten people which the Lord cares for just as much as us ourselves, and which He is fiercely dedicated to. We tend to live our lives with such a narrow minded way of thinking as we tend to focus on ourselves and on those who are like us, and we rarely pay any attention to a forgotten group of people who live and dwell among us. If you read the words which are found within these chapters you will find that as much and as surely as the Lord was concerned with the relationship the children of Israel enjoyed and experienced with each other, there was another group of people in the midst of and within a people whom the Lord was incredibly and extremely zealous for. If you come to the twenty-first verse of the twenty-second chapter you will find the living God speaking unto the children of Israel concerning a people which existed among them and within their borders—a people whom the Lord was incredibly zealous and passionate for. Consider if you will the following words which are found within these verses as you encounter and come face to face with this forgotten group of people within a people whom the Lord cares for just as much as you and just as much as those before and around you:

“Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt. Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child. If thou afflict them in any wise, and they cry at all unto me, I will surely hear their cry; and my wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless” (Exodus 22:21-24).

IF and as you continue reading within these chapters you will come to the ninth verse of the twenty-third chapter in which you will find the Lord speaking unto the children of Israel and declaring unto them that they ought not to oppress a stranger, for they know the heart of a stranger, seeing they were strangers in the land of Egypt (Exodus 23:9). As you continue reading within these chapters you will find the Lord speaking unto the children of Israel concerning a sabbath of years, as well as a sabbath of days, and how the sabbath of years is directly and intrinsically linked to a people among the people of God which are largely marginalized and forgotten. Would it shock and surprise you to think about and consider the fact your rest is directly linked and connected to the refreshment of others? Would it shock and surprise you to think about and consider the fact that your rest and allowing the land to remain fallow and untouched for an entire year has absolutely nothing to do with you at all, but rather has everything to do with the forgotten people in your midst? The more I read and the more I study the words which are found within these chapters the more I can’t help but come face to face with the awesome and incredible truth that there is a forgotten people among us which the Lord cares deeply for, and our rest and how we treat the land and our possessions directly impacts and affects them. The question I can’t help but ask myself and wonder is what our nation and land would look like if we implemented the Shemitah or sabbath year in our midst, and if we worked for six years, and yet in the seventh year we allowed ourselves, our land and our possessions to remain fallow and at rest for an entire year. What would happen if we allowed ourselves to exercise the year of sabbath in order that through our rest those before and around us might be refreshed and find strength for their physical bodies and souls? Consider if you will the words which are found within the twenty-third chapter beginning with the tenth verse and continuing through to the thirteenth verse:

“And six years thou shalt sow thy land, and shalt gather in the fruits thereof: but the seventh year thou shalt let it rest and lie still; that the poor of thy people may eat: and what they leave the beasts of the field shall eat. In like manner thou shalt deal with thy vineyard, and with thy oliveryard. Six days thou shalt do thy work, and on the seventh day thou shalt rest: that thine ox and thine ass may rest, and the son of thy handmaid, and the stranger, may be refreshed. And in all things that I have said unto you be circumspect: and make no mention of the name of other gods, neither let it be heard out of thy mouth” (Exodus 23:10-13).

When and as we read the words which are found within these chapters we must recognize and understand that as surely and as much as the Lord is interested in and concerned with our relationship with Him, He is also as much concerned with our relationship with others—our relationships with our neighbors, our relationship with the strangers among us, our relationship with the poor and the afflicted among us, and even our relationship with the orphan and the widow among us. I can’t help but be reminded of the words which are found within the first New Testament epistle written by the apostle John, for within this epistle he presents the question regarding how we can declare that we love God whom we cannot see and yet hate our brother whom we do see. In other words, our relationship with our brother and how we treat our relationship with others is intrinsically linked and bound in our relationship with the living God. I fully recognize and realize that we don’t want to think about and consider this reality, and yet the truth of the matter is that we cannot love the Lord our God whom we cannot see if we hate our brother whom we do see. Oh, try and try as we may to declare and profess our love for the living God—if we cannot, if we will not, and if we do not love our brother and our neighbor whom we do see, we cannot truly love the Lord our God whom we cannot see. Make absolutely no mistake about it—the Lord our God is very much concerned with our relationship with our neighbor and with those who dwell among us, and the Lord does indeed have a people in the earth who I would dare say are and have been largely marginalized and forgotten about. When revealing Himself unto the children of Israel the Lord demonstrated and revealed the fact that they weren’t the only people in the land, for within the land which He was giving unto them as an inheritance there were the poor and the afflicted, there were the orphan and the widow, and there were even strangers among them in their midst. Oh we must recognize and pay careful attention to this particular reality, for it shines a tremendous light on how we treat and how we respond—not merely unto our neighbor, and not merely unto our brother and sister, but how we respond to another group of people which the Lord our God has placed among us within the land. Here is a question which I can’t help but wonder and ask when reading these chapters—What if the living God placed the poor and the afflicted among us in the land in order to test us and how we might treat them? What if the living God placed the orphan and the widow among us in the land in order to invite us to look beyond ourselves and to care for those other than ourselves? It is very easy to get caught up in our own world and to look out for our own interests, however, what if the Lord allows the poor and the afflicted, what if the Lord allows strangers, and what if the Lord allows orphans and widows to remain among us within the land as an invitation to live beyond ourselves and to exercise His character and His nature among them in this generation? We dare not, we ought not and must not miss the incredible reality of this matter, for it has the ability to radically and dramatically alter the entire course of our lives. Oh that we would be willing to carefully examine and thoroughly examine our hearts and our lives and truly take a look at how we relate to and how we treat this forgotten group of people among us within the land—this forgotten people who are essentially and undeniably a people within a people. A PEOPLE WITHIN A PEOPLE! THE PEOPLE WITHIN A PEOPLE!

There is an incredible and unmistakable reality of the Lord’s concern—not only for our relationship with Him, but also with our relationship with our neighbors, and when He reveals Himself unto His people He goes to great lengths to speak to them concerning their treatment of each other—and not only their treatment of each other, but also how they treat that which belongs to their neighbor. There is an undeniable reality and manifestation within these chapters concerning our care and concern beyond ourselves, and a care that extends to our neighbors and that which belongs to our neighbors. It is absolutely necessary and imperative that we recognize and understand this absolutely astonishing reality, for within these chapters—not only do we encounter the Lord speaking of our relationship with Him, but the Lord also speaks to our relationship with our neighbors and those who dwell and live among us within the land. I can’t help but find myself absolutely and incredibly challenged when reading the words found within these chapters as I come face to face with the awesome and incredible reality that the Lord isn’t only concerned with our relationship with Him, but He is concerned with our relationship with others, for He knows and understands that the two are intrinsically linked and connected with each other. The Lord knows that it is not only important how we treat and how we relate to Him, but also how we treat and relate to others among us. If you turn and direct your attention to the New Testament gospels of the Lord Jesus Christ you will find that Jesus had a great deal to say concerning our treatment of our enemies and those who persecuted and reviled us, but He also had a great deal to say about our neighbors and our brothers and sisters. What’s more is that we must understand that Jesus never drew a decisive and dividing line in the sand between our neighbors and our enemies and demanded that we treat both the same way without any partiality or favoritism. If we are being honest with ourselves this is perhaps one of the hardest things to do—to treat those before and around us without partiality and without favoritism. In fact, I would dare say that it is incredibly dangerous, and perhaps even rebellious in the sight of the living God to treat those around us with partiality and favoritism—regardless of whether they be neighbors or enemies alike. There is an incredible danger in showing favoritism and partiality in our treatment of others. I would invite you to consider the words which our Lord Jesus the Christ spoke when delivering His famous Sermon on the Mount as you begin reading with and from the thirty-eighth verse of the fifth chapter:

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But Is ay unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.k For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? DO not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:38-48).

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