When God makes a promise there is always that space of time that exists between God speaking the promise to us and the promise becoming a reality. Sometimes that space of time is a moment and sometimes it can be a lifetime. How are we supposed to live in the “until times”of life when the promise is still in process?
Recently, I was reading through the Book of Joshua. This great book about courage and conquest always speaks to me. As I read Joshua I came to chapter 8 where Joshua and the nation of Israel were about to conquer the city of Ai. Their first attempt ended in failure because of the greed of one man so this was their second go at it and they wanted to get it right.
A verse describing the battle shares an interesting insight, "Joshua kept holding out his spear until everyone who had lived in Ai was completely destroyed.” Something struck me about the word “until.” The battle raged on successfully as long as Joshua held out his spear, “until everyone who lived in Ai was completely destroyed. Those are heavy words. People were dying. And entire city was being destroyed. It was a gruesome day.
Had Joshua not held out his spear there would have been no victory for Israel. Simply holding out a spear in Joshua's day, or having a modern day commander point his pistol in the direction of the fight is dramatic looking but it really is only a gesture. There was something more taking place that day than just a gesture. Miracles take place from the postures God has us assume in the seasons called “until time.” In each “until time” there is an assignment for those who are waiting. Our cooperation with God links us with His planned victory.
I did a search on the word “until” in a Bible program I have and it is used hundreds of times - 483 times to be exact. The word “until” was used in conjunction with winning battles, believing for God's promises, staying on track in ministry and simply living life. I selected out a few of those verses to help illustrate what happens in these “until times.”
In Genesis 8 the dove Noah released to search for dry land flew back and forth until the floodwaters on the earth had evaporated. This “until time” required the earth to get ready to receive the survivors of the flood. Noah, his family, and the animals, all wanted to get out of the Ark, but it was still too early. “Until times” teach us the value of waiting on God. His timing will always provide us with a place to live and survive. A muddy world is a premature world that can bog you down and get you killed if you launch out too early.
In Exodus 17 Aaron and Hur held up Moses' arms until the Amalekites were defeated. Arms down and they would lose. Arms up and they would win. Moses' arms eventually stayed up and they won the battle. In battles we need help. In the “until times” we learn the value of faithful friends who stick with us in the fight and hold our arms up. These are the people who are there to celebrate the victory with us because they remained faithful to us in the battle.
In Exodus 33 Moses was hid in the cleft of the rock as the Lord covered Moses with His hand until the presence of God passed him by. The hand of God covered the man of God so he could survive the glory of God. In these experiences we learn to stay in the places of spiritual safety God has assigned for us.
In Numbers 32 we are told that an entire generation wandered in the wilderness until the unbelieving ones died off. It took forty years! Unbelief had to die off for the promise to be seen. Unbelief only sees giants. Belief sees God standing over giants. In the wilderness wanderings attitudes had to be checked daily to make sure they aligned with the promise. In this ‚”until time” God's people learned that the smallest element of unbelief has to be confronted early or it will lead to death.
In Joshua 3 as the priests stepped out over the waters of the Jordan River at flood-stage and the waters parted when their feet touched the foaming torrent. God stacked up the water and the ground became dry and remained dry until all the people passed through. It must have been nerve-wracking to look up at a wall of water suspended in an other-worldly form. A reality surfaced that day, if they wanted to get to the promise they would have to trust God to hold back the flood while they crossed over. They learned a new level of trust in the “until time.”
In the Battle of Jericho (Joshua 6) the children of Israel were told to remain silent until the seventh day and then they were told to yell with all their might. At the yell the walls of the city fell down. When you seem to have the upper hand in a battle, as Israel did that day ‚they vastly out-numbered the people of Jericho - it is easy to rush the process with human confidence and move ahead in your own strength and not wait for the miracle. The more it seems we can do things in our own strength the easier it is to yell on day three instead of waiting for day seven. This “until time” developed a patience to trust God's plan.
In Joshua 10 the Lord caused the sun to stand still and he extended the day until the nation of Israel defeated its enemies in a prolonged battle. In this extended day God asked Israel to continue fighting in a time of day that was normally reserved for other things like the family evening activities, eating and sleep. This “until time” was an unusual day that God provided where all the rules and time frames went out the window. In this “until time” they knew they had one shot at obedience and stayed in the fight until it was done.
A starving widow was told by Elijah in I Kings 17 to use the last of her food to cook the prophet a meal. Because of her obedience she was told that there would always be a miraculous provision of oil and flour in her containers until the rains came and the crops grew once again to bring an end to the famine. The “until time” for this widow included waking up each day and walking over to empty containers from the night before and expecting a new provision for a new day.
In Luke chapter 15 the shepherd left the 99 sheep safe in the sheep pen and went out searching until he found a single lost sheep. This “until time” allowed the 99 sheep to see God care for them while He also rescued one of their own. Both the 99, and the one rescued, learned they could trust God to do multiple things at the same time. He cares for the group and as well as the individual.
During the wedding feast at Cana (John 2) one of the guests complimented Jesus for saving the best wine until the last - the wine that was miraculously made from water. This “until time” taught the disciples that God does better things later in the program when our natural resources have all run out. They learned to live in the expectation that the best was yet to come.
In John 8 Jesus talked to a woman caught in the act of adultery who was dragged into His presence by a bunch of men who wanted her dead for her sin. Jesus asked her accusers to throw the first stone and then they began to leave, one by one, until only Jesus was left with her. Her “until time” brought her face to face with what a real man should be, not the one she was sleeping with or the ones who felt assigned to destroy her. Her “until time” was a place of revelation where she learned how to honor herself as a woman.
Jesus told His disciples in Acts 1 not to leave Jerusalem until the Father had sent the gift of the Spirit. The Spirit's power was required in order to be God's witness to the world. There was an assignment ahead of the church that would require supernatural power. This empowering by God would heal the sick and raise the dead. It would require the disciples to live each day in a dependence upon the presence and power of God to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth.
In I Corinthians 11 Paul reminded the church that every time they eat the bread and drink the cup they would be announcing the Lord's death until He comes again. Each time the church receives communion we remember that Someone died so that many could live. These “until times” help us learn to not fear death because Jesus has conquered its power.
Paul instructed a young pastor in I Timothy 4 to focus on reading the Scriptures, encouraging believers and teaching them until Paul made a return visit. Ministry can be a grind. You wonder sometimes what you are supposed to do in those “until times.” Until the church gets a certain size. Until so and so hears God. Until a new season unfolds. Until a certain healing is experienced. Paul told Timothy to stay with the basics of his calling and the rest of it would all work out.
Paul wrote a second letter to this same struggling shepherd and said in II Timothy 1 that he was confident that God was able to guard what he had entrusted to him until the day of His return. Paul was trying to jump start the fire in this young pastor's calling. In this “until time” Timothy learned that God has to keep things of value in His possession because in our hands they become fragile. This “until time” for Timothy meant learning to live in the grip of God and not in the grip of personal fear.
Peter told a persecuted church in I Peter 1 that God was protecting them by His power until they received their salvation which would be revealed on the last day. They painfully and sacrificially learned that the fear of martyrdom would come to them in their “until times”, but when the temporary pain was past the endless reward of eternity would embrace them forever.
These people who lived in the “until times” were not super-heroes. They are people just like us who were interacting with God in faith. The most profound thing many of them did was to simply obey and continue obeying the last thing God said to them until the “until time” brought them to the promise. Maybe that is what we are supposed to do in the “until time” - simply obey the last thing we heard God say.