I have developed a new habit. That is not to roll out of my bed as soon as I wake up, but to lie-in until I hear something from God for that day. God has been gracious. Most of the days when I wait in bed to hear his voice for the day, I do hear him as he puts a thought, a phrase or a prayer in my heart. On one morning last week as I was waiting he put this sentence in to my mind: 'I will never forsake you or leave you.'
I looked up this verse in my Bible App; I was astonished. That sentence comes in slightly different forms in four places in the Bible! So, I decided to study all its occurrences. So, here is what I found.
The first occurrence I found was in Deuteronomy 31:6. Moses encourages the people who are about to enter the promised land that their God 'will not leave you or forsake you.' In verses 1-5 he has narrated the story of God's leading of them and the victory he has given them in the past. Then comes this aphorism: 'He will not leave you or forsake you.'
Moses might have drawn this truth from his own experience of life. As a little baby his mother left him in a small box among the reeds in the Nile river. A hippo might have tipped the box over or a crocodile might have swallowed the baby for lunch. But he was safe until the Pharaoh's daughter found him and adapted him. Though his sister Miriam was watching him from a distance, it was God who took care of him.
In his attempts to combat the Egyptians who beat up his fellow country men who were slaves in Egypt, this was true. God was with him in his battles. During the time when exiled himself to the Sinai desert leaving the comforts of the Egyptian court and became a shepherd, the Lord was still with him and never forsook him. That was true even when he had to lead for 40 years a rebellious bunch of former slaves too.
Moses passes over a truth that he learned from the harsh experience of life to the people ready to take possession of the promised land.
In the second occurrence the speaker is God addressing Joshua. He is going to take the people across the Jordan. He has to lead them in battles to take possession of the promised land. In Joshua 1:5 he repeats the same words with a slight modification with an additional piece of information. God adds, 'Just as I was with Moses.' The complete sentence reads: 'Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you' (Josh 1:5).
Joshua has witnessed Moses's epic life. How he handled difficulties in his life. He knows the secret of Moses's success; God was with him. Now, he has reason to believe in the assurance that God gives him. Just as God was with Moses, he will be with him as well as he takes up the challenge to lead the people to conquer the land.
I also found a third occurrence of this assurance in David's words to his son Solomon (1 Chron 28:20). David is handing over the kingdom to Solomon with the instruction to build the temple. He has consolidated an empire, planned the details of the Temple worship and collected the material for the construction of the temple. 'Then David said to Solomon his son, “Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the Lord God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished.'
It is remarkable that David relates this truth of God's abiding presence and leading to another truth. That is the God he is talking about is the 'Lord God, even my God.' He has drawn this truth from his personal experience of God who never left him in his times of trouble.
He has been a fugitive king. Saul the king and his father-in-law chased him all around the Judaean hill country. Many times his life was in peril. However, God was with him throughout. He had learned that lesson. He is passing it over to his son, that the same God who guided him will guide his son in the mammoth task of building the temple of the Lord.
Finally, a stumbled upon another occurrence of this statement in the New Testament. That is in Hebrews 13:5. 'Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you."' This is unique.
The Hebrew Christians addressed here have gone through so much of trouble. They had lost their property. They have been through harassments and imprisonments. Their circumstances have driven them to yearn for some comforts that money can buy. It is usual in such austere circumstances to want some financial security.
The writer encourages them in such situations to cling on to this promise so that they can overcome the temptation to love money. God will never leave or forsake us when we don't have enough to go around. Even in such trying circumstances he will be with us.
Faced with challenges that you think are unsurmountable? Lack courage to move on? Thinking that the task ahead is impossible? Feeling disappointed that you don't have enough in your wallet for another day? Rise up and lift your head with the confidence in God's promise that he will never leave or forsake us when circumstances turn hostile.