Numbers 20:14-21 “God’s Guidance: Red Light/ Green Light” Sept. 8, 2013
When you were a kid, did you ever play the game “Red Light/ Green Light”? In that game, one person plays the “stop light” and the rest try to touch him/her. At the start, all the children form a line about 15 feet away from the stop light. The stop light faces away from the line of kids and says “green light”. At this point the kids are allowed to move towards the stoplight. At any point, the stop light may say “red light!” and turn around. If any of the kids are caught moving after this has occurred, they are out. Play resumes when the stop light turns back around and says “green light”. The stop light wins if all the kids are out before anyone is able to touch him/her. Otherwise, the first player to touch the stop light wins the game and earns the right to be “stop light” for the next game.
But it’s no game when you try to move ahead in life and you keep getting red lights! Red lights are those closed doors, where nothing seems to be open to you: no job opportunities, no medical solution to your health issues, no opportunity to share the gospel, etc. Green lights, on the other hand, are apparent open doors, when you have a number of options to choose from, and you don’t know which one is God’s will: rent or buy a house? Who to marry? When to retire?
How do you know how God is guiding you? What role do “red lights” and “green lights” play in making decisions? That is, how much weight should we put on circumstances in knowing what to do? If a job is available, should you take it? If a door for ministry seems closed, should you try harder? Let’s look at three situations in the Bible that shed some light on this matter.
1. A Continuous Red Light May Be God Telling You to Take an Alternative Route.
In Numbers 20:14-21, Moses and Israel were experiencing a continuous “red light” response from the people of Moab.
14 Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom, saying: “your brother Israel”
Here he stresses their kinship (Edom, from Esau)
“You know about all the hardships that have come upon us….The Egyptians mistreated us…”
Now Moses appeals to their sympathies.
“we cried out to the LORD, he heard our cry and sent an angel and brought us out of Egypt.”
He points to God’s hand upon them.
“Now we are here at Kadesh, a town on the edge of your territory. 17 Please let us pass through your country. We will not go through any field or vineyard, or drink water from any well. We will travel along the king’s highway and not turn to the right or to the left until we have passed through your territory.”
Moses assures them that they will not be inconvenienced at all; it won’t cost them anything;
“Just let us pass through and then we’ll be gone. We won’t be a burden at all.”
18 But Edom answered: “You may not pass through here; if you try, we will march out and attack you with the sword.” Not only is Moses’ request denied; Israel is threatened if they try it!
19 The Israelites replied: “We will go along the main road, and if we or our livestock drink any of your water, we will pay for it. We only want to pass through on foot—nothing else.”
Israel tries again, repeating some of what they said before, and adding that they will pay for anything their livestock drink! Very generous!
20 Again they (Edom) answered: “You may not pass through.”
Moses and Israel are turned down again… without any explanation or chance of an appeal.
“Then Edom came out against them with a large and powerful army.”
21 “Since Edom refused to let them go through their territory, Israel turned away from them.”
How frustrating! Moses made a simple request; he covered all the possible objections; he was polite and offered to pay for any expenses incurred because of Israel travelling through… and he was turned down… repeatedly.. and even threatened with harm if Israel tried to move forward.
It was one continuous “red light” after another for Moses and Israel.
They might have been saying to one another: “What’s going on Lord? Why don’t You open their hearts to let us through? Why all of this extra bother, when it would be so easy if we could just slip through? Aren’t You sovereign over the nations and the rulers of the world?”
God’s Word doesn’t tell us why, but Israel accepted the red light that God sent them and sought an alternative route. We read in Deut. 2:8 “So we went on past our brothers the descendants of Esau…” and then in Judges 11:18 “…they traveled through the desert, skirted the lands of Edom and Moab….”
So they didn’t try to force their way through Edom, but took it as God’s will that they needed to go around Edom instead of going through it. They looked for a back door, when the front door was locked and bolted tight.
Did you ever get stuck at a literal red light that stayed red forever? That happened to me one time in Upper Darby. I was on a little side road, waiting at a traffic light for 2 minutes, 3 minutes….. and then I realized that the light only turned green if there was a car waiting there, and I was too far beyond that spot in the road to activate the light. So I had to go backwards so that I could go forward.
Red lights from God may be His way of showing us that we need to trust Him more or sacrifice something we hold dearly. Example of being unemployed and running out of money; so I need to depend more on the Lord and perhaps take a lower paying job for now.
A Continuous Red Light May Be God Telling You to Take an Alternative Route.
2. Many Red Lights May Be God Wanting You to See a Distant Green Light.
Acts 16:6-10 “Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. 7 When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. 8 So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. 9 During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”
Paul and his missionary companions first try to head south-west, toward Colossae, but the Holy Spirit blocked that path to them. Then they tried going north, to Bithynia, but that route was also blocked by the Spirit of Jesus. (I’m guessing that this was frustrating for them. Think about the times when you sought the Lord’s will and all you got were red lights.)
Since they were coming from the east, and the southern and northern routes were denied them, they took the only other pathway: they went west toward Troas, on the coast. So far the Lord’s guidance had been many red lights. But in Troas the Lord gave Paul a vision of a man from Macedonia, begging him for help. Macedonian was part of Greece, so this would be a call to come from Asia to Europe, for the first time, to preach the Gospel on this continent.
Notice what happened the next morning: v. 10 “After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”
That word “concluding” is a Greek word (symbibazo) meaning “to bring together” or “to put together in one’s mind.” That means that the morning after Paul received this vision from the Lord, he didn’t simply announce that they were moving across the sea; rather, it means that Paul discussed the matter with his companions, and that together they thought about the ways in which God had prevented them from going south and north, and how this was probably God’s way of moving them westward, even across the sea, to Europe.
These red lights and one green light reminded them that the Holy Spirit was it charge of the operation, and that He is in charge of our lives and our future. When the Lord says “red light” it simply means that when he finally says “green light,” we will recognize that His plans, His ways, and his timing will prove to be far wiser and more wonderful that anything we could come up with on our own. By the way, the gospel would later come to Asia (Acts 19) and Bithynia (1 Peter 1:1); it just wasn’t time for it now.
Notice how the Lord uses “red lights and green lights” to guide His people:
1. First came the two red lights/ closed doors which barred their way both into Asia and Bithynia, and led them to Troas, whose harbor faced west toward Macedonia.
2. This was followed by a night vision calling Paul to help. Was this a green light to go to Greece with the gospel?
3. Well, Paul and his companions discussed these circumstances (and surely prayed about them), and put two and two together, both the red lights and the green light, and they concluded that indeed, God was leading them to help the people of Macedonia with the gospel of Jesus.
James Boice: “Negative guidance keeps us from where we are not called in order that in God’s time we might come to where God is calling us. When God closes doors, it is not because He has nothing for us to do; it is to keep us from getting into a situation to which we are not called in order that we might be directed to a situation to which we are called.”
So God’s guidance can be rational (as we are called to think about our circumstances)
And God’s guidance can be not only personal, but corporate (as Paul’s companions wrestled together in discerning God’s will). [Example of the young man who tells an unsuspecting young woman: “God told me to marry you!” and she replied: “Well, he hasn’t told me that!”]
Let me share with you my experience as a young Christian, at the Urbana Missions Conference at the Univ. of Illinois, with 18,000 other people. I was convinced that God wanted me to drop out of my engineering program at Rutgers, and switch to a Bible College, and go a mission trip that summer. But every attempt at moving in this direction was blocked. It was one red light after another. I went back to the dorm room I was staying in, and God clearly said to me, “Stay where you are!” When I went back to Rutgers for the next semester, God gave me amazing open doors for the gospel for the next two weeks: everyday people were coming up to me in the dorm and in my classed and asking me about Jesus Christ!
Indeed, the history of missions is filled with red lights and green lights:
David Livingstone tried to go to China, but God sent him to Africa instead.
William Carey planned to go to Polynesia in the South Seas, but God guided him to go to India.
Adonirum Judson went to India first, but was driven to Burma.
God often leads us on the one hand though prohibition and restraint, and on the other hand through permission and constraint. We need to trust God for His guidance and rejoice equally in the red and green lights he sends our way.
Remember: Many Red Lights May Be God Wanting You to See a Distant Green Light.
3. A Clear Green Light from God Trumps All Other Red Lights.
When God gives you a very clear and specific green light to do something, then you need to move in that direction, and not allow any red lights from Satan, your flesh, or other to derail you.
Think about the Green Light that God the Father gave to His Son on earth, in moving Him clearly toward the cross and to a sacrificial, atoning death in Jerusalem. Satan tried to persuade him off course with clever temptations, even quoting scripture (Mt. 4). His closest friends tried to prevent him from moving ahead; but Jesus moved straight ahead, doing the will of His Father.
Matt. 16:21-22 “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem (God’s green light) and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
Peter puts up a red light: He takes Jesus aside and begins to rebuke Him: “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” Later Peter uses his sword to defend Jesus when He is being arrested (Lk. 22:49-51), but Jesus rebukes Peter, for Jesus must follow the Green Light the Father has given Him to go to the cross.
Hebrews 12:2 “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
John Piper: God gives will give you grace so that you can either (1) wait for God where you are in the place of obedience, (with a red light) or (2) so that you can persevere at the pace He allows on the road of obedience (with a green light)
God gives grace so that you can wait in His place, or you can go at His pace.