Of all my favorite names for my Savior, probably just about my favorite would be Immanuel. Such a deep meaning found in such few words: God with us. When he took on a human body and stepped into this world, he forever changed the world, both seen and unseen.
But what do we mean when we say that name? Specifically what do we mean when we say that God is “with us”? Well, we know that he lives inside us, is permanently connected to us, and forever identifies with us. That never changes for believers, and is utterly independent of your performance.
But there’s another sense in which he might or might not be "with" us. If we’re doing something in disobedience to him, he’s obviously not going to put his stamp of approval on us. Even if it’s not intrinsically sinful (like adultery), we might be trying to accomplish his plan with our own methods. In that case, the kindest gift he can give us is a magnificent failure before we get too far.
That brings us to today’s passage, which I believe relates to the second of the religious sites which the Lord mentions in vs. 5: Beersheba. This was the place that Abraham met King Abimelech, where the king said of him “God is with you in everything you do.” Years later Abraham’s son Isaac stayed there, and the Lord told him “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham.” Abimelech (probably another king with the same name or title) recognized the same truth about Isaac: “We saw clearly that the Lord was with you.” And finally Jacob—near the end of his life as he passed thru Beersheba to go to Egypt—was told by the Lord “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down to Egypt with you. . .”
Thus visitors to Beersheba associated with that place the promise that the Lord would be with their ancestors. And naturally they believed that the God of Israel would be with them as well. They assumed that the righteousness of their ancestors carried over to them, especially since they faithfully visited the shrines.
But what did the God of Israel say about this? “Seek me and live. . . do not journey to Beersheba.” Their religious pilgrimages were worse than worthless, since they didn’t have a right relationship with the God who appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
If you want the Lord to be “with” you in the sense of smiling on you and yours, there are conditions on this. We must seek him. That means hating and shunning evil and loving and seeking good. And in the context of this chapter, it means we treat others well. As best as we’re able, we work for justice for the oppressed in society. And in our personal relationships, from our “inner circle” and working outwards, we treat others with love and compassion and in truth.
There was a very deep problem in how these people viewed things. They assumed that the Lord would be with them because of their ancestors and because of their religious rituals. Well, he’d be “with” them all right. He'd be in their midst, just not in the way they expected. He’d be “with” them in just the same way as he passed through the midst of Egypt, and this time he wouldn’t be “passing over” them like before.
When I say I want his presence more in my life, do I really mean it? Really?
Yes, Lord, I want more of your presence in my life. No matter what it costs me. I’m coming near to you now, and I ask that you do the same.