Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Out and Back


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by Dennis Pollock

As you read the Bible frequently you will begin to notice patterns in the way God works with His people. Although God is very creative and deals with each of us uniquely as individuals, still there are certain basic patterns that He often follows. In this teaching I want to share with you one of those patterns, which I call "out and back." The pattern is this: God takes an individual out of their familiar and comfortable surroundings, puts them in entirely new and not so comfortable circumstances, works on them there for a season, and then sends them back where they came from.

We will begin with the patriarch Jacob. In his youth Jacob enjoyed the blessings and privilege of being the son of one of the richest men of the Middle East. God had blessed his father Isaac greatly, and Jacob's future looked bright. Not only was he from a family of means, but God's favor and calling were on his life. In Romans we read, "for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), it was said to her, 'The older (Esau) shall serve the younger (Jacob)'" (Romans 9:11,12). One might suppose that with God's favor and calling upon him, Jacob must have been a model of virtue and unselfishness. Such was not the case, In his youth Jacob was devious, cunning, and always looking out for his own interests. He does not appear a likeable character. He bartered for the firstborn inheritance from his brother Esau for a bowl of stew, and then deceived his father Isaac into blessing him by taking advantage of the old man's blindness.

At this point his brother Esau was livid and ready to kill him. The Bible tells us:

When his mother, Rebekah, heard this, she intervened: So she sent and called Jacob her younger son, and said to him, "Surely your brother Esau comforts himself concerning you by intending to kill you. Now therefore, my son, obey my voice: arise, flee to my brother Laban in Haran. And stay with him a few days, until your brother's fury turns away.  (Gen 27:42-44)

Everything was about to change for young Jacob. He was at one of those pivotal points in his life, where the familiar would give way to the unfamiliar, and his comfort zone was about to be rudely ripped from him. It was time for Jacob to grow up and be shaped into a vessel that would bring glory to God. Jacob flees to a place called Padan Aram, where he meets his uncle, Laban, Rebekah's brother. Laban proves to be far more devious and of a lower character than Jacob. Jacob spends the next twenty years working for this man, facing constant deception. The spoiled rich kid is now facing a whole new world!

Finally, 2 wives, 12 sons, and twenty years later, God gives Jacob the green light to leave and go back home. He leaves secretly, and when Laban catches up to him, he rebukes him harshly for leaving without telling anyone. Jacob tells him: "These twenty years I have been with you; your ewes and your female goats have not miscarried their young, and I have not eaten the rams of your flock. That which was torn by beasts I did not bring to you; I bore the loss of it. You required it from my hand, whether stolen by day or stolen by night. There I was! In the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night, and my sleep departed from my eyes. Thus I have been in your house twenty years; I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flock, and you have changed my wages ten times."  (Gen 31:38-41).

It has not been a lot of fun for Jacob. Yet despite all the deception and painful times Jacob has been growing steadily richer and richer. He left home with only a staff in his hand and now he is on his way back as a wealthy man. But Jacob's greatest riches are not the cows and sheep and camels that accompany him; the true riches are the character, maturity, and walk with God that have been developed in him over these long, trying years. He left home a cunning and proud youth; he returns a seasoned, mature man. A work was accomplished in him that could never have happened had he continued in the comfortable and secure home he had with Mom and Dad. When he meets an angel on the way later on, they wrestle and Jacob has his named changed from Jacob - Deceiver to Israel - "Prince with God." God had done His work well.

David

Another man who benefitted by God's "out and back" program was David, the shepherd turned king. As a young man David was employed in Saul's service, first as a musician, and then later as a captain in Saul's army. We read, "And David behaved wisely in all his ways, and the LORD was with him" (1 Samuel 18:14). Earlier he had been anointed by Samuel the prophet, and told that he would be the king of Israel. His future seemed settled, and everything appeared to be moving along as it should. As a young army captain David was successful, popular, and was quickly gaining the respect of all of Israel.

Suddenly God's providence upset David's comfortable life. Saul became so jealous David had to flee for his life and live out in the wilderness of Judea. The Scriptures tell us: "David therefore departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam. So when his brothers and all his father's house heard it, they went down there to him. And everyone who was in distress, everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him. So he became captain over them" (1 Samuel 22:1,2). What an unexpected change of lifestyle! David had been blindsided by the providence of a loving God who wisely saw He could do far more in David's life having him living "on the run" from Saul for the next seven years than as the golden boy of Israel. The comfortable and familiar was gone, and this new life was fraught with danger and challenges.

David was being given a full boat scholarship to Wilderness University where he would major in leadership. And look at the men he was initially given to work with: "And everyone who was in distress, everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him." Not exactly the cream of the crop. God seemed to feel, "If you can lead these guys, you can lead anyone." After spending years as an outcast and the leader of a band of raiders, Israel enters into a tremendous battle with the Philistines. King Saul is killed, and shortly afterwards David is accepted back in Israel, as the new king of Judah, the southern portion of Israel. After seven more years he assumes the kingship over all of Israel.

David had gone out – and now he was back. But the David that returned was not the same man that had left. Maturity had replaced youthful immaturity, wisdom had had been developed, and leadership skills honed to a razor's age. David was now ready to assume leadership of God's people in what would be considered the beginning of the apex of Israel's greatness as a nation.  The calling of God had been upon him from his youth, but the man who became king was no longer an inexperienced youth, but a seasoned warrior and leader. Out and back. God had once again done very fine work.
Israel

Most Christians know that the children of Israel were brought into the promised land of Canaan by Joshua, after 40 years in the wilderness. But what we don't always remember is that they had been in that land before, back in the days of the patriarchs. This is where Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob raised their families. Joseph is sold by his brothers as a slave, ends up ruling in Egypt under Pharaoh, and then invites the entire family to join him. The people of Israel will spend over 400 years in Egypt, most of that time as slaves. Finally God speaks to a former prince in Egypt named Moses, who is now living as a shepherd far from Egypt, and tells him to go and demand that Pharaoh let Israel go. A great conflict arises between Moses and Pharaoh, and God sends plague after plague upon Egypt until at last the Egyptian leader literally drives them out of the land.

After leaving Egypt and spending forty years in the wilderness, the Israelites finally get to the promised land – the very land their ancestors had lived in long ago. Once again we see the principle of out and back. Israel crossed the Jordan and ended up in the place Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had called home. But the Israelites coming back were far different than those who left. They had come to Egypt as one family of 70 people; they were now returning to Canaan as a nation numbering millions of people. Their time in Egypt had been hard, but it had been the means by which God had hardened them, matured them, and multiplied them. Also they had been isolated in Egypt. As slaves there was no prospect of intermarriage with the surrounding peoples – something that surely would have been a problem had they remained in Canaan from the start. Egypt had been like a womb and Israel a baby. They had been safely nourished and protected until the time of their birth. The plagues sent upon Egypt served as contractions, forcing the mama to expel the baby. And once out, they were sent back to the land from which they had come. Out and back.

The Point of it all

Usually when we end up where we started we tend to think we haven't accomplished anything. If you are lost in the woods and walk for hours only to end up at the same place you were when you first realized you were lost, you are in trouble. You haven't made any progress at all! But in spiritual matters, this is definitely not the case. All of our examples came back to where they began far more powerful and imminently more useful in the hands of God.

God is big on the preparation and development of His children. This is huge in His sight. It usually isn't so much that way in our eyes. We are more interested in comfort and prosperity. If we are doing well, if our income is abundant, if our life feels secure, the last thing we want is change. Most of us have times in our lives where we would like to hit the pause button and freeze things just the way they are. But if God's hand in on us, He will never allow that to happen. He will allow us our comfort zones for a season, but in His time He will blow His winds of change upon our lives, and force us into new challenges, new dangers, and new opportunities for growth.

The goal of life is not security and comfort; it is faith and obedience. And when we are born again through faith in Jesus Christ, we can be sure He will be a faithful Shepherd. To follow Jesus Christ is to be willing embrace the new seasons He brings into our lives. Sometimes the approach of some seasons terrify us, and we long to hang onto the old, familiar, comfortable place we have been enjoying. We see this new season as a distraction, a turning from the main path. But what we see as detours may well be the road chosen for us before we were born. And leaving the main path does not mean we will never see it again. What we must realize is that whenever God wants to pour new wine into our lives, He has to shape us as new wineskins. And this means change and sometimes times of difficulty, with new dangers and new challenges.

Jesus Christ is our wise and faithful Shepherd. He is the One who leads us through the valleys of the shadow of death and brings us to the place of still waters. He will be with us on the highway and on the divine detours. Let us choose to follow our Lord Jesus from season to season and from glory to glory. One day He will lead us right on up into the Father's presence. As the old hymn says, "Cares all past, home at last, ever to rejoice."


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