Four Stages in the Life of the Lord's People
Reading: Exodus 14.
It is our thought to begin with the end of this chapter, and go on
to the end of the book. What is in view, as illustrated by the book
of Exodus, is the stages of the life of the Lord's people. We shall
suggest four stages in the progress of the life of the people of the
Lord, as seen from the end of chapter 14 onwards. We shall draw very
simple lessons from the Word here, leaving out a very great deal;
perhaps only noting one thing about each of these four stages.
1. The Red Sea to Sinai
Without dealing with any of the detail, we notice that the first
stage, from the Red Sea to Sinai, was peculiarly marked by a series
of needs arising, and needs being wonderfully met.
The first need was that of deliverance from a pursuing enemy, and
with the end of chapter 14 you have the pursuing Egyptians
overwhelmed in the Sea leading to the great song of redemption on
the part of God's people.
Then there are other various needs arising. The bitter waters; the
experience of bitterness, so early coming into the experience of the
people of God, changed in a marvellous way, and very swiftly, to
sweetness. It seems that, no sooner had they tasted of bitterness,
the bitterness was changed to sweetness. It was not a long-drawn-out
experience; it was but a taste of bitterness, and then wonderfully
and instantly the bitterness changed for sweetness.
The next thing was hunger; and immediately God provided the Manna.
Then thirst again; thirst of a deeper kind; thirst of a more
enduring character. The waters of Marah represent just a temporary
experience, but now they have come to the serious situation that
water is essential to life, without which there is no living, and
again, wonderfully and instantly, water is given from the smitten
Instantly Amalek comes out to withstand progress, and the first
experience of an active enemy, an active adversary to spiritual
progress, is entered into. Again marvellously Amalek is overthrown
and routed out, and the people are delivered.
So you have a series of acute needs arising, and an almost instant
stepping in of God in a wonderful way to meet those needs. It
represents a clearly defined phase and period of spiritual life, and
it is the first phase. How true to history this is. Have not most of
us had this experience, that when we were first brought to the Lord,
the Lord marked that stage of our Christian life by wonderful
answers to prayer, wonderful responses, where it seemed that a need
arose and the Lord was at hand. We only had to turn to Him, and He
was there. The first stage of the Christian life was full of
romance, full of wonder, all so clearly marked by the grace of God.
That has been the experience of so many. It is that experience which
led a certain hymn writer to pen a familiar hymn:
"Where is the blessedness I knew when first I saw the
It is a reflection upon an experience at the beginning of the
Christian life which has now disappeared, and a longing to have that
wonderful time all over again. It is just the first stage, and it is
marked by swift, wonderful, amazing touches of the hand of God.
There was a balance being kept by the Lord, so clearly that the
lesson was hardly discernible. What it was the Lord was seeking to
teach and lay down as a foundation thing for life by that means, was
not very thoroughly learned. Afterwards perhaps we pick it up and
see it, but not always at the time.
Where is the soul-refreshing view of Jesus and His word?"
What does this period, this phase, from the Red Sea to Sinai mean?
The Lord is saying, on the one hand, by permitting these experiences
to arise, these difficulties, these needs to come about, "I want you
to come to see that this earth has nothing for you but bitterness,
dissatisfaction and heart-hunger"; this earth can never bring the
deep, settled satisfaction of God's own life to the believer. The
believer has come out into a realm where this earth can no longer
satisfy. This earth is a place of unsatisfied longings, of conflict
and adversity, of bitterness and sorrow, when once you have come out
to be the Lord's. Now it is the Lord Himself Who is your
satisfaction. You will find that, while here there is a state of
bitterness, knowing the Lord means that in the midst of the
bitterness there can be sweetness. Here there may be starvation, but
the Lord can be your sustenance, your provision. Here there may be a
deep-seated longing for life. The Lord only is your life. This earth
can do nothing. Here there is conflict, an adversary, but the Lord
is your victory in conflict.
It is a very simple lesson, but that is the balance which the Lord
keeps so marvellously in this first stage, and it is just marked by
that instant grace of God, seeking to teach the lesson that now the
Lord has brought you out to Himself, and you will discover as never
before how needy you are, and what the real situation is here in
this earth. But you will also discover what the Lord can be to His
own. And so, in the first stage of the spiritual life from above, it
seems as though the Lord is more to you than He ever is afterwards.
That is, there is a way in which you see it as you may not see it
afterwards. Although the reality becomes very much deeper afterward,
you just do not see it.
It is like the blossom on the trees in spring. The blossom is so
beautiful, it is all so wonderful to look at, you just feast your
eyes upon it. And then the winds of March come, and all the blossom
goes, and you say: "Where is the blessedness I knew...?" Well, the
blossom has got to go before you can get the fruit, and when the
fruit comes later you say: The blossom was very beautiful, I enjoyed
it, the blossom days were great days, but I think things have gone
deeper now. You will not live so much on the surface, you are
getting the inner fruit; but it is a real experience of the
spiritual life. It seems so often that the Lord deals with you and
me on the outside of things in spiritual infancy. It is marked by
the grace which is seeking to show that the earth can give no
satisfaction, and the Lord Himself has determined to be the
satisfaction of those who have come out from the world to be His
2. The Erection of the Tabernacle
The second stage is at Sinai, and especially connected with the
tabernacle. Here at Sinai a revelation has been given of God's
House, God's thought concerning His people, that they are to be not
just a congregation but a family, not just a crowd but an ordered
spiritual household. That revelation comes, and then the Lord calls
all of them into fellowship and cooperation with Himself in
constituting that. So that at Sinai you find all the people are
called into fellowship and cooperation to provide the wherewithal
for God's House, for the tabernacle. This thing has been laid upon
them, and they go back to their tents to see what they can discover
there in their own lives which can contribute towards this full
thought of God for His House. Now the question is not just one of
knowing how to live the Christian life, and finding that the Lord
answers your prayers when you are in need. That is the infant stage.
Now the question is one of cooperation with God in service. So they
came to have a taste of the blessings of service, and the Lord
blessed them in that work for Him. They were, the Word says again
and again: "...of a willing heart", and they were having such
a good time in the work of the Lord that at length they had brought
more than enough, and they had to be restrained. The atmosphere is
one of having great joy in the work of the Lord, in working together
with God concerning His House. It is a taste of what it means to be
in fellowship with God in a great purpose, a great work, a great
divine thought, and to be in that and to know the joy of that.
3. Wandering in the Wilderness
Then there comes a third stage. That stage is from Sinai through the
years of wandering in the wilderness. Whether it be actually or
literally a long period or not, when you are in it, if it is only a
day or two, it seems the longest. The very nature of it gives it a
sense of eternity. The very meaning of it seems to make it never
What is the meaning of this third stage? (Mark you, it is progress.
It does not seem like it, but it is a phase of the progress, unfortunately necessary). What is it? It is the period in
which all that God cannot accept in His people is being brought out
to the light. It is as though God had said: "You are Mine; I am with
you; I am wanting to be your all; and I want to have you in the
full, joyous fellowship with Me in My purpose. But, having
given you a taste of that, having won your hearts for that, having
given you a vision of that, having allowed you just to have some
little experience of that, it is now necessary for Me to show you
that to live in all the deep meaning of that continuously, there is
something to be done. It is not living in the emotional, external,
superficial pleasure of it, but the deep meaning of it, which is
deeper than emotion." Then there is something to be done by way of
getting rid of all that which belongs to you by nature. It will not do to
take up the blessings of God in the flesh; it will not do to take up
the work of God in the flesh. To get rid of the flesh God must
expose the flesh to us, let us know what our own flesh is like. And
so there comes that period which seems to be the longest of all, in
which we are discovering that, after all, there is such a lot of
evil in our own hearts, and a lot of that which is contrary to God.
The fact that the Lord has blessed does not mean that the Lord now
is not willing to bless and will not bless, either in spiritual
experience between ourselves and the Lord, or in service, but it
means that the Lord is seeking to make a way whereby all His purpose
and thought for us can have the deepest root in us.
It is equally true in experience that when people begin to take hold
of the blessings of the Lord, the answers to prayer that the Lord
has given, and rejoice in them in the flesh and make a great thing
of them, as though they were the supreme things, or when
they begin to take hold of the work of the Lord and the success of
the work of the Lord, and make everything of the success, counting
heads and so on, it is not long before the spiritual life shows
itself to be very shallow. The disciples were in danger of something
like that when they came back from their first taste of the work of
the Lord apart from Him. They said: "Even the demons are subject
unto us." This is a natural rejoicing in the blessings of the
Lord, and the Lord said: "...rejoice not, that the spirits are
subject unto you...". In other words He was saying: Do not make a
great deal of the success of your work; your glorying must be that
your names are written in heaven.
The Lord has to take this third step with His people, in which He
uncovers the depths of the human heart, even of His own. This is not
to bring them under condemnation, because they are in Christ, and
there is no condemnation, but to bring them to the place where they
will recognise what that Red Sea meant. It also brings them to the
counterpart of the Red Sea, the Jordan, the whole of the old man.
The Red Sea is the judgement side of things. The Jordan represents
the resurrection side of things. There is no hope in the Red Sea,
but there is hope in Jordan. Jordan is something in which there is a
work wrought which represents something more than the judgement of
our sins. It represents our coming through to resurrection union
with the Lord Jesus. In Israel's case there were forty years between the two, but in spiritual experience
these two things are brought right up together, and you recognise
that they are only two sides of one thing. One is judgement and
death, as having been wrought by God. The other is your faith
acceptance of that, to come out into a place of life.
The third stage is a very difficult, and trying, and sometimes seems
a very long-drawn-out stage, and we are discovering that, although
we are gloriously saved, in ourselves, that is, in our flesh, dwells
no good thing. No man had a more glorious conversion than Paul, and
perhaps few men, if any, had any more terrible exposure of the
worthlessness of themselves after their conversion than Paul.
Do you notice where that third stage ends? It ends with the uplifted
serpent in the wilderness. That is very significant when you move to
John's Gospel, chapter 3. You remember that Nicodemus - a very
religious man, a very upright man, so far as the law of Sinai was
concerned - had been living under the regime of Sinai for a long
time, perhaps all his life, and then the Lord said to Nicodemus: "As
Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness...", and He was
saying, in effect: Nicodemus, you have come to Sinai, but you will
have to come to Calvary, to the place where all the curse is wrought
out, even in the case of a religious man, for there is no good even
in the religious flesh. The third stage of exposing of the flesh,
even in a saved people, ended with the serpent lifted up, and that
is very significant. A very important part of our Christian life is
the coming to know that, in our flesh, even as Christians, as
Christian workers, dwells no good thing. We shall never come to
Jordan, and never come through to the land, until we have come
Do not feel discouraged. Do not feel that everything has gone wrong
when the Lord begins to do that. So many, when the Lord begins to
expose the worthlessness of their own life, even as children of God,
begin to feel, or allow the enemy to suggest, that after all they
are not saved at all; everything has gone wrong and the Lord is
against them. The Lord is not against you, but He is against your
flesh all the way through. We have to bring our flesh to the place
where, having seen that there is no good in it, it is
repudiated. Then we shall come to the place of the fourth stage.
4. Definite, Final Movement Towards the Land
This is the stage where, Jordan having seen the voluntary laying
aside of the exposed flesh, we go over into the land. It is not
until we get a taste of the land, begin to know something of what
spiritual life is; we have to know something of what it means to
have the Lord working by us, and not our working for the Lord; to
know what it is to have the Lord in command of things; to know what
victory is; and to become partakers of more of the real fulness of
Christ. We should be able to value our past history since we came
out of Egypt. When we come into the land we see the wilderness in
quite a different light. While we were in the wilderness, all we
were able to think of was discipline, judgement, being emptied,
broken, poured out. We wondered what God was after. There was a
battle even to believe that the Lord was interested in us at all.
Now we get through, and begin to taste of possessions, of Christ,
the Land, and we can look back and say it was all right. That was
necessary unto this. We should never have come to this position,
this spiritual wealth, this spiritual knowledge and understanding if
the Lord had not dealt with us as He did deal with us in the
breaking and the emptying. We are able to appreciate it when we get
there, but not before.
You know quite well your most cherished possession is a deep, real,
inward spiritual knowledge of the Lord, it is something deeper than
thought, emotion, argument or words. You have come to possess the
Lord. You have a life between yourself and the Lord which is a very
real life. It does not mean that now you can explain everything,
interpret everything, but you know the Lord. People may ask you for
an explanation, and you will have to say: "I cannot explain it, I
cannot put it into words, I cannot argue it out, but I know, and
this that I have of the Lord inwardly is more to me than anything
else. I know the meaning now of an opened heaven. I know what it is
to have spiritual revelation of God through His Word. I am learning
more and more of the fulness of Christ". You know that is more to
you than anything in this universe, and you know, as well as you
know that you have a being, that that was never possible until the
Lord brought you to Jordan, and broke you, smashed you, emptied you,
poured you out, and you said: "Oh yes, I understand that wilderness!
I know it was quite right!"
It is another stage of things, in the light of which you understand
the difficult times through which you went in the leading of God.
Now you are moving to the land. You have not compassed all the land
yet, but you are moving on.
In which stage should we put ourselves? It may be some are in the
present enjoyment of the initial blessings of the Christian life,
and their danger is to say: "You people may talk about a lot of
wonderful, deep things and I do not know what you are talking about;
I am perfectly satisfied with what I have". We rejoice in all that
you are enjoying of the Lord, as in the first stage of the spiritual
life. We would not discourage you for a moment by saying that the
blossom will blow off sooner or later, but we want to tell you that
there are stages.
It may be that some are in the second stage, and they are knowing
blessing in the service of the Lord. They know a great joy in seeing
what the Lord is after, and being actively at work with Him in it.
This experience is not marked too much by difficulty. It is a good
stage to be in, but it is inevitable that sooner or later you will
pass into the third stage.
This is where the Lord begins to show you old Adam still in you, and
that that old Adam has first to be recognised before it can be
repudiated. And then sooner or later you come to Jordan, quite
willingly, and say: "Jordan is a very necessary thing for me; I must
die; there is nothing for me but to die". When you come there, and
accept death in union with Christ, you are in a very hopeful place.
Death is not despair when it is recognised in that realm. When the
Lord Jesus died He took our old man away, and made a way whereby you
and I can go out, and Christ becomes the new Man - all the Lord
Jesus. It may be, then, that some are at the third stage, having a
bad time of exposing, breaking, emptying, and you are wondering if
there will be anything left. You are wondering if all the joy of
service is gone, and all the real joy of spiritual life has
disappeared for ever. It is an important, necessary phase.
There is something beyond that, and the day will come when you will
begin to taste of the positive side, and you will say: "Now I
understand why it was I went through that darkness; it was
necessary; it has led to this". The fourth stage is that of beginning
to know that heavenly life with the Lord Jesus. It is only a
beginning, for it goes on for all eternity. There is no end to that
stage. It begins here, and goes on hereafter, and you will discover
as you go on more and more of the riches of Christ.
This word is just to help you to recognise the movements of the life
of the child of God from one stage to another, to perhaps interpret
your own experience and encourage you to go on to God's full end.
The Lord help us all to do so.
Edited and supplied by the Golden Candlestick Trust.