Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah
We are singing hymn #598 (from the 1990 Trinity Hymnal) this Sunday, a hymn that picks up on the theme of the Exodus as a way of talking about the Christian life. “No other Old Testament motif is as crucial to understand. No other event is so basic to the fabric of both Testaments.” (Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, ed. Leland Ryken et al.) The New Testament continuously presents this life as essentially a pilgrimage, a journey from deliverance out of bondage on our way to our promised home. This theme is one of the primary themes of the Lord’s Supper, which shows us Jesus’ sustaining life-force as that which feeds and nourishes us on this pilgrimage until He comes again. 1 Corinthians 10 is just one of many passages connecting the experience of the Israelites in the wilderness to the life of the New Testament Christian.
In verse one, the hymn-writer expresses his dependence on God for everything. “I am weak but Thou art mighty; hold me with Thy powerful hand.” Our native pride constantly urges us to think, even under the guise of service to God, that He somehow needs us, that we should do something glorious and important in His service. But God doesn’t need us. We need Him. In Isaiah 46 God powerfully illustrates the difference between the gods of the pagans and the God of the Bible. The pagans carry their gods from place to place. But God carries His people and puts them where He will. He carried the Israelites from Egypt to Canaan, not dependent on their mighty deeds at all. All they needed to do was trust Him.
He picks up the theme of the manna in the wilderness in the last line. God fed them in the wilderness, and He feeds us today. More important than the bread on our table is the spiritual bread from heaven, the true Bread that gives us life, Jesus Christ. The bread of the Lord’s Table is the bread of the Passover which symbolized the sustenance of God on their journey to the Promised Land. God would keep them fed on their journey, not with the milk and honey of luxury they would have in Canaan, but with what they needed to make it there. We likewise have a promise, not that we will live lives of luxury and pleasure- that will come in time. But we will be sustained by the power of God until we make it home.
The hymnist refers to the “crystal fountain,” the miraculous provision of water in the desert, water from the rock which was Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4), and the pillar of cloud and fire which guided them, all ways that God sustained and preserved them in their time in the wilderness. He fills us with His Spirit and gives us His Word to guide us. The believer who trusts God will, like the hymnist, earnestly pray for and be thankful for the guidance and direction of the Lord in his life. That guidance and help from the Lord will continue until the end, until the “verge of Jordan”, when we cross into His promised rest forever, to praise and worship Him as He deserves for all eternity.