Go Forward!

Dr. Brian Allison

History bears witness to the fact that the words: 'Go forward' comprise aggressive military language. What is presupposed with the declaration of these words is that there is an enemy to be conquered, and that the troops are to advance hard on it in order to conquer.

Gebhard Legerecht von Blucher (1742-1819), the Prussian general who fought against the Napolean French Revolutionary army, won a decisive victory in the "Battle of the Nations" at Leipzig in 1813. While his men were advancing, he cautiously encouraged, "Ever forward, but slowly." Interestingly enough, a few years prior to this battle, Joseph Rouget de Lisle (1760-1836), an engineer officer of the French Revolutionary army, as well as an author and composer, had written the song La Marseillaise (1792), which eventually became the French national anthem. Part of the anthem reads, "Forward sons of France, the day of glory has come!...To arms, citizens! Line up in battalions! Let us march on! And let the impure blood [of our enemies] drench our fields."

Lord Alfred Tennyson's well-known poem, "The Charge of the Light Brigade" (1854) poetically chronicles the dismal and tragic defeat of the British at the hands of the Russians in the Battle of Balaklava during the Crimean War. He writes: "Forward, the Light Brigade!"

Was there a man dismayed?

Someone had blundered.

Theirs not to make reply,

Theirs not to reason why,

Theirs but to do and die.

Cannon to right of them,

Cannon to left of them,

Cannon in front of them

Volleyed and thundered.

Into the jaws of death,

Into the mouth of hell

Rode the six hundred.

"Forward; go forward!" - aggressive military language. This language should be a watchword for the Church. We should go forward. We should endeavour to conquer the spiritual enemies of the Church in the name of the Jesus Christ. We should seek to extend God's Kingdom. We should attempt to retrieve the spiritual territory which has been taken by various dark spiritual forces. We should strive to make the captives of Satan, the servants of the Lord - "Go forward!"

God gives a strange word

These inspiring words are found in Exodus 14. Concerning the historical setting, Pharaoh, in exasperation, permitted the nation of Israel to leave the land of Egypt. The nation went out boldly. They went out prosperously. They were to enter into the wilderness and travel to Mount Sinai, and there meet with God. In leaving triumphantly from the land of Egypt, God directed and led His people. Now as the nation moved into the wilderness, traveling toward Mount Sinai, something initially strange happened. God changed their course and gave them a new, but unusual, course. We read, "Now the LORD spoke to Moses saying, 'Tell the sons of Israel to turn back and camp before Pihahiroth, between Migdol and the sea; you shall camp in front of Baalzephon, opposite it, by the sea'" (Ex. 14:1,2). What a strange word that God commanded of Israel; no longer were they to move in an easterly direction toward the land of Canaan, the promised land, but they were to move in a different direction, leading to a dead end. With this new course, they were boxed in, sandwiched between the sea and the mountains. Now the practical point is this. We are to follow God's Word, God's direction, God's leading, even when it seems unusual, unnecessary, or unpopular. God has His wise and holy purposes, and though initially His leading seems strange and may not make much sense to us, He does have His reasons for such a leading.

I remember a number of years ago that I was in a state of 'ministry limbo'. I had just left a pastorate and I was seeking the Lord for direction. The Lord led my wife and I to a little Missionary and Alliance Church. On a typical Sunday morning, the attendance would be about 20 to 25 people. Why, I thought, would the Lord lead me to such a small and struggling work like that? I realized that God wanted my life to intersect with the lives of some of the believers in that congregation. Initially, God's leading, His direction, really seemed strange to me. I felt like I was in the wilderness, and yet God had His purposes and His reasons for leading us to that little work.

What about you? Maybe God has given you a word, a spiritual word, as you have been meditating on the Bible and giving yourself to prayer, and He has made it clear to you, for instance, that you are to enter some Christian service or ministry. Your initial reaction may have been "Woo! Hang on! Lord do you know how old (or if the case may be, how young) I am? Do you know my current financial commitments and obligations?" Hence, God's word came to you with a sense of strangeness. Often God speaks that way. Or maybe God has led you into a particular relationship, and He has revealed to you that you should develop it, but your initial response may have been, "Lord, I do not understand that. We are different people, we have different personalities, different temperaments, different backgrounds, different family histories." Initially when that word came to you, God's leading may have seemed rather unusual, utterly strange. Again, it may be that God has made clear to you that you need to change your job and you may have said, "But Lord I have been working here for 18 years and things are very secure;" yet the Lord has definitely impressed upon your heart that it is time to change. God is pleased to come and give us direction and leading, giving us a word that initially may seem strange. Our response to that strange word should simply be belief and obedience because God has His wise and holy purposes, and so it was with Israel.

God had a purpose and reason for leading Israel down a dead end. We read that the Lord said, "'For Pharaoh will say of the sons of Israel, "They are wandering aimlessly in the land; the wilderness has shut them in." Thus I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and he will chase after them; and I will be honored through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.' And they did so" (Ex. 14:3,4). God led Israel into a very difficult circumstance for the reason of destroying the Egyptians and for the purpose of glorifying His name. Generally speaking, God orders human history in order that His name may be exalted and glorified. What may be strange and unusual to our minds is often used of God in order that He may be magnified and that people may know that He is God.

So Pharaoh and the Egyptians pursued Israel because God planned it that way. Maybe you have a creditor breathing down your neck right now, or maybe you are enduring an unexpected illness, or maybe you have been recently notified of a possible transfer. Again, God orders human history, on both the national and the individual levels, and He orders it that His name might be glorified.

God allows crises to come

Israel was seemingly in a life-threatening situation. They apparently were going to be wiped out; and it was God who allowed it. We need to think about that fact for a moment. God is pleased not only to lead us, but to lead us into crisis situations. Yet, in crisis situations, the divine strings and levers are orchestrating everything that comes to pass. Do you believe that? Do you believe in the sovereignty of God? It is God who is working behind the scenes, ordering all that comes to pass, even the crisis situations. He has His purposes and they will be achieved. He allows us to be boxed in. He allows us to go through distressful, and even backbreaking, situations. God is pleased to lead us into these crisis situations in order to ultimately manifest His glory through His marvelous provision and the display of His matchless power. He allows us to come to the end of our resources because that is the arena in which He is pleased to reveal His goodness so that we might praise Him. For instance, my first year of marriage was a very difficult one. I married after my first year of Seminary, with two years remaining in my full-time studies. My wife had just recently secured a full-time job in order to support us; we had just recently moved into an apartment...then she became sick, and for some four and a half months she was hospitalized. That was a very trying situation. Why did that happen to us? Who allowed it? God allowed it, and as I reflect on that trying time in our lives, do you know why He allowed it to happen? He allowed it, in part, to break me in order to spiritually mature me and make me more effective in His service. God has His spiritual designs for our personal suffering. That may be one reason why the Lord has allowed suffering in your life. Maybe you need to be spiritually broken. Maybe you need to come to the end of yourself, to the end of your self-sufficiency and self-reliance, and to be prostrate on the floor, realizing your desperate need of God and crying out to Him for help and deliverance. I still do not know how my wife and I survived that very trying time in our lives, but during that time, all our bills were met, all our needs were satisfied. God graciously provided. Money came in from the most unexpected sources; and God provided it so that we might praise Him. That is His way. God is in charge even though all is caving in, even though the odds are stacked against us; and in that context, He delights in manifesting His glory.

God fights for His people

We read further, "And as Pharaoh drew near, the sons of Israel looked and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they became very frightened; and so the sons of Israel cried out to the Lord" (Ex. 14:10). Do you not find Israel's behaviour rather surprising? Israel had witnessed all the miraculous workings of God, all the marvelous signs and wonders, yet when Israel fell upon seemingly hard times, they apparently forgot all that God had previously done. Now Israel's reaction is typical. Is this behaviour true of you? How many times has God come to your aid? How many times has God helped you? How many times has God delivered you? How many times in the 11th hour has God come through for you? Yet when you are faced with another difficult situation, you have still fallen emotionally apart. You forget the past blessings, you panic, you become desperate, just like Israel.

Israel panicked, and in their panic-stricken state, they became confused and lost perspective. So we read, "Then they said to Moses, 'Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness. Why have you dealt with us in this way, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the word that we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, "Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians"? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness" (Ex. 14:11,12). Nonsense! What Israel said here was a distortion; it was a lie. Israel did not say to Moses that he should not bother them; that they were comfortable. No, the earlier account in the book of Exodus reveals, at most, that Israel did not listen to Moses, and not because of Moses or his speech, but because of their despondency and their cruel bondage under Egyptian oppression. So in their panic-stricken state, they blamed Moses and distorted the facts. They engaged in self-justification; they lied.

Panic effects people in that way. It causes people to be confused and to lose perspective. Yet, notice how Moses handled this ugly situation; he was unflappable. He responded like a true leader. His antidote to the complaint and murmur of this people, who had become somewhat religiously insane, was the instilling of trust and confidence in God. He shifted the focus from themselves and their circumstances to the Lord. The Scripture says, "But Moses said to the people, 'Do not fear [get a hold of yourselves]! Stand by and see the salvation of the Lord which He will accomplish for you today; the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever'" (Ex. 14:13). So Moses directed Israel's attention to God. In effect, Moses said, "God has not changed. He is the God of power and glory and might, and He will deliver you from danger today. You wait and see." In that trusting confidence, Moses further said, "The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent" (Ex. 14:14). How many times do you run around like a chicken with its head cut off when you find yourself boxed in; for instance, when the bills are pouring in and you have no money. You run here and there looking for answers or help, and life becomes hectic and crazy. You desperately try to figure out how you will get out of another jam, relying on your own thinking, your own resources, and your own ingenuity. In that panic, desperation, and turmoil, Christian believer, you need to remember: "The Lord will fight for you, be quiet. Be still and know that He is God."

God will fight for you my Christian friend, but it will mean that you will have to get out of the way, and let God be God. It means that you will have to be silent and let God reveal His power. It means that you will have to give up your independence; you will have to give up your self-reliance; you will have to humble yourself before Him. You will have to sincerely confess that you need Him, and that you cannot succeed on your own.

God commands: Go forward

Now notice what the Scriptures further say, "Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Why are you crying out to Me? Tell the sons of Israel to go forward'" (Ex. 14:15). How ridiculous this command must have initially sounded. What lay before Israel was a sea, a deep one, and perhaps some of the Israelites could not swim; yet God commanded, "Go forward!"

We need to trust in the God of the impossible. God can make a way out of no way, to the end that His name might be glorified. My Christian friend, you may be faced with that great sea before you, a great obstacle, a great hindrance, and God will say to you, "Go forward!" Your response maybe, "But, Lord, there is a great sea before me. I do not know if I can handle this situation; I do not know if I can tackle this obstacle," and God will continue to say, "Go forward." And you may retort, "Lord, are you sure? Do you really know what you are talking about?" And He will just repeat, "Go forward!" God will test you at the point of faith to see whether you really trust Him to make a way out of no way. God made a way out of no way for Israel by parting the Red Sea so that they could cross on dry ground as they went forward.

Maybe God is saying to you today, "I want you to make a career change. Go forward!" or "I want you to pursue that relationship. Go forward!" or "I want you to engage in that ministry opportunity. Go forward!" or "I want you to make that financial investment. Go forward!" or "I want you to further your education. Go forward!" or "I want you to change your family environment. Go forward!" or "I want you now to seek spiritual help. Go forward!" I do not know what God may be saying to you, but He will make it very plain to you if you are open and willing.

Now if you are to go forward, you will need courage. It takes courage to advance. Lack of courage is the reason why some people stay where they are. Some years ago there was an ocean liner that was wrecked on a dangerous reef off the coast of New England. The coast guard was called in to provide aid and to retrieve the survivors. The captain of the coast guard unit was an experienced seaman. He understood his job well. However, his crew consisted of inexperienced young men. It is reported that one of those young men turned in fear to the captain and warned, "Captain, the wind is off the shore, and the tide is moving out. If we go out, we may never come back." To which the captain immediately responded, "Launch the boat. We have to go out. We do not have to come back." He knew what duty and loyalty called him to do, and, in courage, he did it. I encourage you, my Christian friend, to go forward courageously - go forward in your personal, family, social, work, and church life.

The last word is for my non-Christian friend. Most of your life you have been going backwards, and I now want to encourage you to go forward - right into the arms of Jesus. It is time to make that crucial decision to accept Jesus Christ as your Saviour and Lord. You may be saying, "I have gone too far backwards. I am too sinful. I have blown it too much. I do not think that God wants me. I do not think that I am worthy of God." The issue is not your merit or worthiness, my friend. The issue is Christ's merit and worthiness. Having lived an obedient and perfect life, He died a sufficient and efficacious death for sinners. If you believe that He died for you, then He will save you and grant you eternal life. I want to encourage you to go forward into the arms of Jesus, having turned away from, and having left behind, your old life. Will you not go forward today?