“Now, on the day that the tabernacle was erected, the cloud covered the tabernacle, the tent of the testimony, and, in the evening, it was like the appearance of fire, over the tabernacle, until morning. So it was continuously; the cloud would cover it, by day, and the pillar of fire, by night. And, whenever the cloud was lifted from over the tent, afterward, the sons of Israel would then set out; and in the place where the cloud settled down, there the sons of Israel would camp. At the command of the Lord, the sons of Israel would set out; and at the command of the Lord, they would camp; as long as the cloud settled over the tabernacle, they remained camped. Even when the cloud lingered over the tabernacle for many days, the sons of Israel would keep the Lord’s charge and not set out. If sometimes the cloud remained a few days over the tabernacle, according to the command of the Lord, they remained camped. Then, according to the command of the Lord, they set out. Whether it was two days, a month or a year that the cloud lingered over the tabernacle, staying above it, the sons of Israel remained camped and did not set out; but, when it was lifted, they did set out. At the command of the Lord, they camped; and, at the command of the Lord, they set out. They kept the Lord’s charge, according to the command of the Lord, through Moses” (9:15-23).
Because we stand on this side of the cross, in New Testament revelation, we can critically examine the actions and attitudes of those in the Old Testament, especially Israel. From all that we read that they saw and, at least partially understood, we almost shake our heads at their unbelief (Hebrews 3:17-19). Their walk with Jehovah God was one of almost total sight. God’s guidance was more of an empirical walk; God’s actions were immediately perceptible. In the text of this lesson, Moses declared that, whenever God wanted Israel to move, He simply moved the cloud that stood over the tabernacle. It was relatively simple, then, for Israel to follow God’s directions and to know what God wanted. They just looked for the cloud to move and then they followed. If they desired to have a judgment or be informed of the precepts of the law, they went to Moses or the priests. The law gave them regulation for practically everything they were to do. They could know precisely how and when God was to be served.
How different for us, on this side of the cross. Paul commands that we “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). God not only changed the rules, He changed the way He makes His revelation known. He does not appear with clouds, or upon mountains, or send directions by ruggedly dressed prophets, out of the wilderness. This is perhaps the greatest problem we struggle with in our lives. How do I determine what God’s will is for my life? With this rather broad question, several others spring up. At least four other questions, in regard to the will of God, need to be asked and the answers attempted:
Perhaps I have raised more questions than we can find sufficient answers to; but, this lesson will attempt to answer three major questions:
Our text, Numbers 9:15-23, simply reveals what God’s instructions were for Israel for that specific wilderness experience. After the forty years of wanderings were over, God ceased to use that heavenly sign for Israel’s direction. One will, in fact, discover that all Old Testament signs were specific in their intended use and not general declarations for everyone to follow (cf. Hebrews 1:1, 2). Many authors try to use Gideon and his fleece as a normative example for asking for a sign. Some books I consulted, in studying for this lesson, even suggested that Christians “put out a fleece” today. However, a closer study of Gideon’s unique situation reveals that his experience was more sight-oriented than faith-directed. Gideon asked for two fleece signs from a lack of faith, rather than for specific direction of God’s will in his life. He was a timid judge, rather than a faith-seeking follower of Jehovah God.
What about the New Testament? Are examples in the New Testament normative? The recorded number of cases, where one
received direct guidance from God in the New Testament, is not sufficient to say that it was a normal or daily
experience for the ordinary Christian, of the first century. Only fifteen or twenty instances of direct personal
guidance, from God, occur in the New Testament. For example, three Christians outside of Paul and Peter, two of the
Lord’s apostles, come to my mind, as having experienced direct revelation on God’s will for their lives. Those three
recipients were Philip, Ananias, and Cornelius. Each one of these men found himself at a strategic historical point
in the spread of the kingdom of God. Philip brought the Samaritans to Christ (Acts 8). He was sent also to the
Ethiopian (Acts 8). Ananias was sent to baptize Saul of Tarsus, by special revelation (Acts 9). Cornelius was the
first Roman converted to the kingdom and this conversion was a milestone for racial integration and proved the gospel
was for all men (Acts 10). All of these examples were for kingdom results and not for the ordinary affairs of life.
The examples cited are not comprehensive. Guidance was only given for a handful of decisions. God’s individual will,
for the believer’s life, is not covered in the New Testament examples given. All of these decisions had some direct
bearing on the gospel of Christ. We would have to conclude, then, that the supernatural, direct revelation is not God’s
ordinary means of communication, today. Yet the examples, from Acts, are clear instances of supernatural revelation.
II. What does the will of God entail for us?
Having the right attitude, about the will of God, is often a struggle for many who seek it. Do we really want to know what His will is, for our lives? I am afraid, many times, we do not. The subject is often approached as one preacher stated it: “The will of God is like cod-liver oil; no doubt, good for you, but oh, it isn’t good.” Whenever we try to find songs to sing, that speak of the will of God, they are often found under headings of “Resignation,” “Submission,” “Trial,” or “Discipline.” We have come to believe that God’s will is opposite of pleasure. Should we ever surrender to the will of God, we expect that we will have a miserable life! The Bible teaches just the opposite. True joy, peace, and fulfillment are found, not in our selfishness, but in doing the will of God.
To answer the question, ‘’How many wills does God have?’’, it is necessary to state that God has three wills: His sovereign will, His moral will, and His permissive will. Let us look at them separately.
God’s sovereign will is that will, through which, His ultimate purposes and eternal plans will be carried out without violating man’s free choices. For example, God would not allow Satan to completely destroy man when the sinful world was flooded. Noah “found favor” in the Lord’s sight (Genesis 6:8) and the righteous seed line of Genesis 3:15 was continued. In Daniel 4:32, God removed, for a time, a prideful king to prove that He, and not Nebuchadnezzar, ruled in the affairs of men. In Acts 2:23, Peter declared that the actions of the mob, in crucifying Jesus, was not the plan of the Jews; although, they had plotted for months to do so; but, was, by God’s own predetermination and action, done without violating the free choice of anyone. Paul later called it God’s eternal purpose (Ephesians 3:10, 11). Paul also declared that God continues to keep the order of the universe going by His sovereign will (Colossians 1:17).
God also has a moral will. In behavioral terms, this is the character of God. He declared, in both the Old and New Testaments, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44, 45; 1 Peter 1:16). God allowed man to choose whom he would imitate - his Creator or the creation. The majority chose the latter (Romans 1:18-27).
God also has a permissive will. God’s expressed will is that all men be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). However, God has to
let man choose which way he will follow (Acts 14:16). God does not expressly desire that people have accidents or
murder and maim each other; but, He must permit free will to reign.
III. How do I find God’s will for my life?
God gives us divine principles to guide our lives; but, He does not go to absurdities in His directions. The Way of Wisdom has the following story.
The first supper:
Adam was hungry. He had had a long, challenging day, naming animals. His afternoon nap had been refreshing, and his post-siesta introduction to Eve was exhilarating, to say the least. But as the sun began to set on their first day, Adam discovered that he had worked up an appetite. “I think we should eat,” he said to Eve. “Let’s call the evening meal ‘supper.’”
“Oh, you’re so decisive, Adam,” replied Eve admiringly. “I like that in a man. And ‘supper’ has a nice ring to it. I guess all the excitement of being created has made me hungry, too.”
As they discussed how they should proceed, they decided that Adam would gather fruit from the garden, and Eve would prepare it for their meal. Adam set about his task and soon returned with a basket full of ripe fruit. He gave it to Eve and went to soak his feet in the soothing current of the Pishon River, until supper was ready. He had been reviewing the animals’ names, for about five minutes, when he heard his wife’s troubled voice.
“Adam, could you help me for a moment?”
“What seems to be the problem, dear?” he replied.
“I’m not sure which of these lovely fruits I should prepare for supper. I’ve prayed for guidance from the Lord; but I’m not really sure what He wants me to do. I certainly don’t want to miss His will, on my very first decision. Would you go to the Lord and ask Him what I should do about supper?”
Adam’s hunger was intensifying; but he understood Eve’s dilemma. So he left her, to go speak with the Lord. Shortly, he returned. He appeared perplexed.
“Well?” probed Eve.
“He didn’t really answer your question,” he answered.
“What do you mean? Didn’t He say anything?”
“Oh, yes,” replied Adam. “But He just repeated what He said earlier today during the garden tour: ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat.’ I assure you. Eve, I steered clear of the forbidden tree.”
“But that doesn’t solve my problem,” said Eve. “What should I prepare for tonight?”
From the rumbling in his stomach, Adam was discovering that lions and tigers are not the only things that growl. So he said, “I’ve never seen such crisp, juicy apples. I feel a sense of peace about them. Why don’t you prepare them for supper? Maybe, while you’re getting them ready, you’ll experience the same peace I have.”
“All right, Adam,” she agreed. “I guess you’ve had more experience at making decisions than I have. I appreciate your leadership. I’ll call you when supper is ready.”
“OK,” replied Adam, relieved. “I’ll get back to my easy-bank.” Adam was only halfway to the river when he heard Eve’s call. He was so hungry that he jogged back to the clearing, where she was working. But his anticipation evaporated when he saw her face. “More problems?” he asked.
“Adam, I just can’t decide what I should do with these apples. I could slice them, dice them, mash them, bake them in a pie, a cobbler, fritters, or dumplings. Or we could just polish them and eat them raw. I really want to be your helper; but I also want to be certain of the Lord’s will on this decision. Would you be a dear and go just one more time to the Lord, with my problem?”
Since he didn’t have any better solution himself, Adam did as Eve requested. When he returned, he said, “I got the same answer as before: ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat.’” Adam and Eve were both silent for a moment. Then Adam said, “You know, Eve, the Lord made that statement, as though it ought to fully answer my question. I’m sure He could have told me what to eat and how to eat it; but I think He wants us to make those decisions. It was the same way with the animals today. He just left their names up to me.”
Eve was incredulous. “Do you mean that it doesn’t matter which of these fruits we have for supper? Are you telling me that I can’t miss God’s will in this decision?”
Adam explained: “The only way, you could do that, is to pick some fruit from the forbidden tree. But all of these fruits are all right. Why, I suppose we could eat all of them.” Adam snapped his fingers and exclaimed, “Say, that’s a great idea! Let’s have fruit salad for supper!”
Eve hesitated. “What’s a salad?”
God’s will is made known with certain boundaries, but within those boundaries, freedom of movement is allowed. Two
examples serve to illustrate this point. In Romans 14 Paul says that differing lifestyles may exist between brethren.
One may choose to eat only vegetables; the other may think meats are fine. Both are the Lord’s servants and each
other’s, so why argue (1 Corinthians 8-9). Paul says that certain decisions, regarding influence and evangelism, will
have to be made according to the manner in which the circumstances present themselves. It will ultimately be up to
the individual to decide which path he will travel. This is not to suggest, in either case, that a good conscience is
our only guide. Our goals need to be biblically lawful. They cannot, for example, be outside the realm of God’s moral
will (Ephesians 5:1-14). This means that all of the major decisions we make in our lives, such as, our mate for life,
our job, and our entertainment, cannot be outside the boundaries of God’s moral will. That moral will is fully
revealed in Scripture for us (2 Timothy 3:16, 17). We should also seek wisdom in determining even the lawful things
that we can do. Often we are presented with several good and moral choices, each of which could bring happiness and
glory to God. Which would be the best choice? A number of passages declare that we should ask and use wisdom from
above (Ephesians 5:15-17; James 1:5, 6; 3:13-18). Closely tied to wisdom, is prayer (James 4:2). Someone has wisely
written, “Prayer is like a clean windshield when you are seeking God’s will. It allows you to see the road and the
sign ahead without distortion or distraction.” Paul says that God helps us in our search for doing His will through
His personal indwelling (Philippians 2:13). He allows us to trust in Him. Every act of obedience is proof of God’s
personal involvement in our lives (Romans 8:5-8). I demonstrate faith when I consciously obey what I understand of
God’s moral will and seek to apply the principles of God’s Word to my decisions. I express trust when I take God
seriously, at His word, and when I understand that God intends that decisions, within the area of freedom, are to be
made by me. This is in response to His moral guidance.
Questions still remain and the search, for a more perfect understanding of how God works in our lives, continues. One lesson, on this subject, will not cover all that needs to be known.
The challenge, God has for us, is obedience to His sovereign and moral will. He, then, will work in our lives and within our freedom of choice, trying to guide us, in the very best walk we can make of life. In your freedom of choice, how are you responding to the will of God?