As I celebrate Drew’s 8th birthday today, I can’t help but think of the dark days I experienced after his birth. The following is an excerpt from the Isaiah 58 study I wrote, which explains how I view those dark days now.
I sat cross-legged in bed, head in my hands, in emotional anguish, trying to make sense of my new life. My son had just been born and life was not what I expected. I was battling what I now see as undiagnosed postpartum depression. I tried to pray but for the life of me, I had no idea where God was. It was like he vanished at the very moment I needed him the most.
You see, when Matt and I didn’t conceive right away, I took to careful study of each barren woman in the Bible who eventually conceived. I wrote out prayers for my child based on Scripture. I had no doubt I would be a mother and this child would live to serve God. One night when I was especially down – after a friend had just told me she was pregnant – I felt God whisper, “Don’t worry, Jill, it will only be a few more months.” This being one of the few times my spirit clearly heard God’s voice verbatim, I did in fact conceive in three months. I went into this motherhood thing knowing God was guiding me. I was going to raise this child to honor and serve him. I was following Jesus in this mommy thing all the way.
But then Drew was born. He was colicky and I was unprepared. The darkness I sunk into enveloped me. Why I felt like God left me at this most vulnerable, sad part of my life I couldn’t understand.
Sometimes it feels like God leaves us. The truth is he never leaves us, but have you ever considered that he might move? Today we’re going to see how sometimes God moves. God never left me in those dark days. But I’m convinced he moved. He moved behind me, protecting me from an unknown enemy – most likely pride. My brokenness after Drew was born enabled my preconceived notions of how I’d do this godly mom thing to shatter. Within that brokenness, in a few months I was able to move forward once the darkness lifted along with my postpartum hormones and Drew’s settled tummy. I was able to follow Jesus in my motherhood down a very imperfect, yet humble path I wouldn’t have treaded had God not moved.
Today we’re going to explore this concept of God moving as we study the phrase “the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.”
Isaiah 58:8 – Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Glory, used in the Old Testament numerous times to refer to God himself, means “splendor, honor, wealth.” Glory is the essence of God himself. It was the one thing Moses desired to see when he said, “Please show me your glory.” (Ex. 33:18) It was the glory of the Lord that filled the tabernacle in the form of a cloud so the people saw their God’s presence (Ex. 40:34-38).
This word literally means “to store, gather, harvest.” Most frequently in the Old Testament it is used when people are gathered together. In a battle situation, it means a gathering together at a certain place to present a united defense or attack.
I was having trouble wrapping my mind around this in the context of verse 8. So I decided to look up a critical passage in the life of Israel. This passage gives a little more insight into verse 8.
Look at Israel’s exodus from the Egyptians in Exodus 13:21 – 14:22. After you have read the passage, reread verses 13:21 and 14:19-20.
Picture this scene. The pillar of cloud by day and fire by night leads the Israelites into unknown territory. The Israelites had never been out of Egypt before, and their trust is solely in the guidance of this cloud and fire. The cloud and fire, according to 13:21 is the Lord himself.
After the Lord leads the Israelites to the Red Sea, where it appears they are at a dead end, you see something counterintuitive. In 14:19, the pillar of cloud moves and goes behind them. Here the Israelites are, desperately dependent on the guidance of the cloud and fire, and it moves. Suddenly their visible guidance is gone.
But the Lord didn’t move and leave them without instructions. What does 14:15 say that God had already instructed them to do?
The Israelites already had their instructions: go forward. But how? The Red Sea hadn’t parted yet. Think about that moment:
- They had their instructions but no way to carry it out
- Their visible guidance had left them
Exodus 14:19 says that the pillar of cloud moved behind them. If we compare this to Exodus 40:34, we could make the assumption that the cloud represented God’s glory. When the Lord moved behind the Israelites, he became their rear guard. Thus, the glory of the Lord was their rear guard.
Still not quite wrapping my head around this entire rear guard concept, I decided to ask my friend and Army Captain Eric to explain a little more in detail the function of a rear guard in a battle situation:
[The rear guard’s role is] simply to guard the rear flank. Leaders in front usually only check status if the objective is to the front. If the rear is attacked the leaders can adjust the main effort to a support role of the rear guard. [This] then makes the rear guard the main effort, but traditionally it is used to squash surprise attacks on the main effort to ensure the main effort is not taken by surprise or unguarded. [It is] a protection force.
In today’s vernacular, and to borrow the words of a dear friend as we were discussing this passage, when the glory of the Lord is our rear guard, he’s got our back!
Just when the Israelites thought that God had left them, they looked behind them to realize he was protecting them against an attack from behind. He was ensuring that the main effort would go forward without hindrance. When morning came and Moses stretched his hand over the sea and the Lord parted the waters, the Israelites remembered their instructions and marched forward. Though they didn’t have the visible guide that they had previously, they had their instructions.
Has there been a time in your life when you had what you thought were clear instructions from the Lord and then it seemed that he vanished before you were able to carry them out?
Sometimes God moves. He moves to the rear to protect you from an unknown enemy (in my case, it was the pride I felt in myself as a future mother). Sometimes he moves so we will exercise faith to carry out the instructions he laid out for us. As long as our righteousness – Jesus – and his mission are before us, we know we are headed in the right direction. We might have to sit and wait for God to part the waters (and behold his glory in the meantime), but we know our marching orders once he does.
Do you think that God has led you to a place right now and is giving you marching orders? If so, are you prepared should he move and the guidance isn’t as clear as it once was? What will help you remain committed to your instructions?