It is an intriguing part of the Bible where God is so frustrated with the Israelites that He tells Moses He will send them into the Promised Land behind an Angel that will drive out the Canaanites. God says He will not go with them because He might get angry with them and destroy them on the way.
If you were Moses, what decision would you make? Would you go without God and receive the blessing or stay in the wilderness with God?
This story comes from Exodus 33. We read about God being so angry with the Israelites that He would send them into the blessing of the Promise Land with an angel and He would not go with them. God said that if he went with them, he would probably consume or destroy them all as they were disobedient and frustrating.
33 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Depart and go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your descendants, I will give it.’ 2 And I will send My Angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanite and the Amorite and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite. 3 Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not go up in your midst, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” Exodus 33:1-3
Have you ever considered that you are heading down a slippery slope of destruction when you pursue the blessings outside a relationship with God? Could the chasing of the benefit take you from His presence? Not only through chasing the blessings would you go alone, but no longer be in His presence or protection. You might have a relationship, career, investment, hobby, and the list goes on that you are pursuing outside your relationship with G d. Are you talking to God about the thing you are actively seeking? If you found God was not in it, would you stop chasing after it?
What is the biggest desire in your heart? What blessing do you desire at the moment? Is it your family, marriage, career, finance or something else? Have you spent so much time pursuing this that slowly the time you spent with God has reduced as a consequence? Do you think more about this desire than talking with and being in the presence of God? In Psalms 37, King David writes:
Delight yourself also in the Lord, And He shall give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4.
The blessings must come as we find our relationship with Jesus more important than anything else in our lives. They must come as we delight in Him. We would say no to even the blessing that we find the most important to us if it came between us and our relationship with God or if we saw it as more important than our relationship with Him.
I have had an experience where I had a desire for a relationship with a person, and it was more important than anything else in my life… even God. As I worked through this with God, I discovered the person was an idol, and I spent my whole life trying to keep this relationship. It almost destroyed me, And then one day, I realized that my relationship was one in which the person was an idol in my life. I had to repent, ask God to forgive me, and let go of this. I thought the desires of my heart had to be actively pursued by me and found that this was destructive. After letting go, I looked back and saw that God could not give me the desires of my heart until I came to Him and pursued intimacy first When the most important thing in my life was my relationship with God, then things started to change. Now, I have been given the desires of my heart and more. God is amazing!
For the Israelites, after all the wandering in the desert, heading into the promised land sounded like a dream. They looked fondly back at Egypt, even though they were slaves and treated very badly. They saw the work through how much they were blessed and even though God provided them with food, water and clothes that did not wear out (and rest from their enemies) they grumbled constantly and sought the blessings God promised them BUT did not pursue their relationship with God or seek after a relationship with God. If God did not bless them… they grumbled? That is what Moses did, and they communicated to God through Moses. They did not want a personal relationship but just the blessings God gave.
When we look at Psalm 73, we get a picture of how Asaph, a lover of God, struggled when watching the evil and wicked be blessed while he was struggling. He asked, "Was it really worth pursuing God if you could be blessed being wicked?" In his case, on the outside, they appeared more blessed than those who loved God and were righteous.
The psalm starts with him having a focus on others.
1-5 No doubt about it! God is good—
good to good people, good to the good-hearted.
But I nearly missed it,
missed seeing his goodness.
I was looking the other way,
looking up to the people
At the top,
envying the wicked who have it made,
Who have nothing to worry about,
not a care in the whole wide world. Psalm 73: 1-5 MSG
We can be so busy looking at other people and their blessings that we can forget who these people are and their lifestyles. Asaph continues…
Pretentious with arrogance,
they wear the latest fashions in violence,
Pampered and overfed,
decked out in silk bows of silliness.
They jeer, using words to kill;
they bully their way with words.
They’re full of hot air,
loudmouths disturbing the peace.
People actually listen to them—can you believe it?
Like thirsty puppies, they lap up their words.
Psalm 73: 6-10 MSG
Asaph then starts to complain about God and that He is unaware and does not care. He lets the wicked get away with so much!
What’s going on here? Is God out to lunch?
Nobody’s tending the store.
The wicked get by with everything;
they have it made, piling up riches.
I’ve been stupid to play by the rules;
what has it gotten me?
A long run of bad luck, that’s what—
a slap in the face every time I walk out the door.
Psalm 73:11-14 MSG
Asaph got a headache when he started to work it out. He would have continued thinking about this until ….
If I’d have given in and talked like this,
I would have betrayed your dear children.
Still, when I tried to figure it out,
all I got was a splitting headache . . .
Until I entered the sanctuary of God.
Then I saw the whole picture:
The slippery road you’ve put them on,
with a final crash in a ditch of delusions.
In the blink of an eye, disaster!
A blind curve in the dark, and—nightmare!
We wake up and rub our eyes. . . . Nothing.
There’s nothing to them. And there never was.
Asaph finally understood when he went to the House of God and entered God's presence. Then he understood what was going on. He saw the blessings were temporary, and in the long term, he understood they would suffer the consequence of sin and become no more. When he saw things from outside his relationship with God, he became bitter and consumed with envy, but when God took his hand and was in God's presence, God blessed him through his relationship.
When I was beleaguered and bitter,
totally consumed by envy,
I was totally ignorant, a dumb ox
in your very presence.
I’m still in your presence,
but you’ve taken my hand.
You wisely and tenderly lead me,
and then you bless me. Psalm 73:21-24
Asaph ended the psalm by acknowledging that it is not the blessing but the relationship that he has with God that is most important. In the presence of God, everything has perspective and makes sense. God's blessings naturally flow as we walk in an intimate relationship with Him.
You’re all I want in heaven!
You’re all I want on earth!
When my skin sags and my bones get brittle,
God is rock-firm and faithful.
Look! Those who left you are falling apart!
Deserters, they’ll never be heard from again.
But I’m in the very presence of God—
oh, how refreshing it is!
I’ve made Lord God my home.
God, I’m telling the world what you do! Psalm 73:25-28
Asaph starts by watching the evildoers and becomes envious of what they have. However, he ends by realizing that it is not the blessings but the relationship with God that is most important. He found that he was refreshed and blessed as he walked in an intimate relationship with God. He also knew that he was secure in the long term as his eternal destiny was with his Heavenly Father.
Today, walk into God's sanctuary. Enter His presence and find the perspective that He gives that shows the truth. Enjoy developing intimacy with God because you love His company, not because you want anything more from Him. He knows you and the desires of your heart. As you get to know Him more, trust that you no longer have to seek blessings but that He will give you more than you expect.