Top Ten Biblical Vacations
Well, Summer is upon us, and that means (for many, at least) the chance to get out of our normal routine and surroundings and to take some time to rest and reorient. Some have elaborate vacations to far-away lands, others just a day trip to a local state park, or even a ‘staycation’ at home. Throughout the Bible, God’s people have found great strength and insight in times outside of their normal routine and surroundings. While calling most of these stories and trips ‘vacations’ is a bit of a stretch (especially #10), they can be very instructive and inspiring as we take our own time away from our ‘normal’ routines. (Scripture quotations are from Common Bible: Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1973 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)
10. The People of Israel- The Wilderness (Numbers 13)
Okay, so I told you #10 was going to be a stretch! As you may remember, In the book of Exodus, God rescued his people out of slavery in the land of Egypt, and brought them to Mt. Sinai and gave them the law. In the book of Numbers (or the much more compelling Hebrew title: “The Wilderness”) the people journey to the promised land of Canaan which was well… promised, to their ancestor Abram/Abraham (see #9). By chapter 13, they have arrived at the Jordan River on the border of Canaan, and twelve spies are sent into the land to check it out (one from each tribe). All the spies report back that it is indeed a great land, flowing with milk and honey (which is apparently a good thing). They all agree that there are a lot of other people in the land as well and that most of them are protected by walled cities. Some of these cities are also protected by giants, report the spies. Where the spies disagreed, however, was the interpretation of these facts. Ten of the spies report that invading the Promised Land is a doomed exercise and that they would be better off just turning back and returning to Egypt. Two spies, on the other hand, Caleb and Joshua, say that the Lord of Hosts is with them and that God has already promised this land to them and their ancestors, so God will give them victory. Unfortunately, most of the people believe the ten spies, which does not make God very happy. Moses pleads with God on behalf of the people, even though they are unbelieving and rebellious. God relents by giving the people a vacation (more like a time-out) in the wilderness, for a whopping forty years. During that time, all of the original generation who refused to go into Canaan (all except Caleb and Joshua) die out, leaving their children. While this next generation is not any less stiff-necked, they have also lived most, if not all, of their lives seeing God’s miracles. Entering into the land of Canaan was not a vacation either, but it proved to be another defining change in surroundings. The tale of the Exodus and subsequent Wilderness remain an incredibly important and identity-giving section of Scripture, it is referenced later by the psalmists, prophets, Jesus, and others. The writer of Hebrews references this story and encourages us “Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through such disobedience as theirs” (Hebrews 4:11).
Where does your head say ‘no’ to what God is calling you, and yet your spirit tells you to trust? How are you being called into God’s rest today?
9. Abraham- “The Place I Will Show You”/ Canaan (Genisis 12)Abram, in Genesis 12, is called by God to “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). He is told to leave everything that he has, everything that he knows, and to follow a voice from heaven. I don’t know if any of us would as willingly go, but he does. Perhaps he goes because God also promises that he will have a great name, a great nation, a blessing, and have a land of his own. Abram packs up his belongings, his wife, and lets his nephew and family tag along, but then they just go. The journey takes Abram from Ur (modern day Iraq), all the way through Canaan (modern day Isreal), and even to Egypt (modern day, well… Egypt). In the end, Abram had his name changed to Abraham, a miraculously born son (and a not so miraculously born son), and a great accumulation of wealth. Abraham, among all of the people and families of the earth, was chosen to go and journey with God, to talk with him, and to be the beginning of God’s divine rescue plan, through which every nation of the world would be blessed. In many ways, it is not really a vacation, but in some ways, the life of a nomad, moving from one place to another is like a permanent vacation.
Where has God called you to leave the comforts of what you know to enter into his great story?
8. John- Island of Patmos (Revelation 1)The Island of Patmos actually sounds like a place we might want to go on a vacation, in fact, many people do. For John; however, the stay was less than voluntary. John the evangelist was placed on the Island of Patmos during the persecution of the church as a religious prisoner. It was there while worshiping on a Sunday morning that he received a vision of the risen Christ and an apocalyptic revelation of God’s final victory over the powers of this world. While many of the visions of the book of Revelation are strange and a little bit alarming (okay, maybe a lot of bit), it has long been a book of hope for God’s people. John’s revelation reveals that in the end God wins, and holds all things in his hands. During times of oppression and persecution, it serves as a reminder that God’s sovereignty is above any other authority (no matter how much they might think of themselves). For those who suffer, it is a reminder that God is with us in our suffering and that it serves a greater purpose. None of this would be able to come to John unless he was able to take time and listen for God. In the end, of the vision, John has a glimpse of the New Jerusalem descending in the clouds, where Christ welcomes all those who have trusted in his name. John describes the great city,
“The wall is built of jasper, while the city if pure gold, clear as glass. The foundations of the city are adorned with every jewel… And the twelve gates are twelve pearls… and the street of the city is pure gold, transparent as glass… I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is he Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its light is the Lamb… Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” (Revelation 21:18-22:2)
Sounds like a pretty nice vacation spot to me!
What inspiration, vision, or revelation awaits you if you just would slow down enough to allow God to speak? What everyday distractions are keeping you from a real encounter with Christ?
7. Elijah- Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19)Elijah took a vacation from his life as a prophet in 1 Kings 19. Sure, he was running away from Jezebel, the Queen of Israel, and her sacred vow to kill him. Maybe, she was not very happy about his direct prophesying against King Ahab and herself, and his humiliation and then slaughter of 450 prophets of Ba’al. All of that aside, Elijah decided that he needed a little ‘me time,’ and thought that the wilderness near Beersheba might be a nice relaxing spot… to die. God had other plans, however. After Elijah had a couple of naps and ate some divine food provided by an angel of the Lord, he took a relaxing hike up Mount Horeb. There on Horeb, God met Elijah, not in wind, earthquake, or fire, but in silence. God spoke to Elijah and set the prophet straight on a couple of important things. Elijah insisted that he was the only one left that continued to serve God, but the Lord told him that there were seven thousand others. God gave Elijah some clear goals to achieve and even the name of an apprentice. Time away was very useful for Elijah.
What does God have to say to you in the silence? How might your decision-making process be effected by a nap and a sandwich? Do you need to be reminded of God’s mission for you, and how could time away (maybe in nature) help you to re-remember your personal calling?
6. Philip- Samaria, the Wilderness Road, Caesarea (Acts 8)Hopefully your vacation this year is not instigated by murder and persecution, but Philip’s certainly was. The book of Acts takes a bit of a hard turn in chapters 6 and 7 when Stephen, a man chosen to be a Deacon for the early church, is stoned to death. This event kick-starts a persecution of the early church which up to this point has been mildly tolerated. On the plus side, it also kick-starts the church to venture outside of Jerusalem (which Jesus had told them to do back in chapter one), and bring the gospel with them. Chapter 8 is a collection of stories about Philip, another of the chosen Deacons, who preaches with great success among the rowdy cousins of the Jewish people (who they didn’t really want to claim), the Samaritans. The Samaritans and a magician named Simon received the gospel, baptism, and eventually the Holy Spirit. Next, Philip was sent by divine messenger to the road between Jerusalem and Gaza where he ‘happened’ upon an Ethiopian man, seeking to understand a spectacularly messianic passage of Isaiah. After the Ethiopian man received both the gospel and baptism, Philip gets whisked away to Azotus and there continued his preaching to Caesarea.
How might God be calling you to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ wherever you go? Sometimes we get nervous talking about God with people we know or are likely to see again, on vacation, that excuse is gone.
5. David- Caves of Adullam (1 Samuel 22)Again, this particular ‘vacay’ is the result of running for his life, but for David, the time in the caves of Adullam was definitive. Because the spirit of the Lord had left Saul (the current king of Israel) and was with David (the anointed and future king), Saul was insanely jealous of David because of his Spirit of God, youth, good looks, faith, courage, musical ability, etc. This jealousy manifested itself in certain words and tasks thrown at David, also certain spears. Eventually, it got so bad, that David left the palace, and ran to the wilderness. He spent years hiding in various places, but mostly in a system of caves called Adullam. As he was there, many people came to him, and many of them not the most reputable, “Everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him; and he was captain over them.” (1 Samuel 22:2). Yet from this motley collection of nobodies, David (through God) shaped them into David’s Mighty Men, a group not only respected for their military prowess but also their faith and respect as pillars of their community. This time away taught David to trust in God, to take the time to be still and know God, to thirst for him like a parched land, and shaped him into the king he would one day be.
How is God calling you in your times of rest a relaxation to focus on God, on God’s greatness, on your own faith, etc? What plans does God have for you and those around you that could not be predicted from the past?
4. Peter- Joppa (Acts 9-10)After checking out Philip’s vacation spot, Peter went to take a seaside holiday in Joppa. He stayed at a very nice house of a man named Simon (I am assuming they met at a Simon club meeting). Being a little tired out from all the healing and raising from the dead, Peter decided to rest on Simon’s roof. While he was there enjoying the sun, the ocean air, and a time of personal prayer, he got hungry and asked for something to eat (rooftop view and room service, where do I book?). However, while they were making a kosher sandwich for him, Peter fell into a trance and saw a giant sheet descending from heaven. The sheet was full of all sorts of animals: “lambs, and sloths, and carp, and anchovies, and orangutans, and breakfast cereals, and fruit bats, and large ch…” (Armaments 2:9 f.) well you get the idea. Looking over this veritable buffet of living creatures, both clean and unclean (according to the Law of Moses), a voice from heaven tells Peter to take and eat. “I can’t do that,” says Peter, “some of those things are unclean, and also gross, I may not have always been the most observant of Jews, but I know what I am not supposed to eat” (Obviously, I am paraphrasing a bit). The voice replies, “What God has made clean, do not call profane” (Acts 10:15). Just to make sure he gets the message, Peter sees this vision twice more. Right about then, some men come to the door looking for Peter, having been sent to him by a Righteous Roman Centurion. Eventually, Peter realizes that the vision means that the gospel is meant fro those who are not Jewish.
How might God be surprising you with a fresh perspective, a vision for the future, maybe even an actual vision, if you would just slow down and receive it?
3. Paul- The Known World (Acts 13-28)Not long after Peter figured out his vision, Paul (the Apostle formerly known as Saul) started out on his three missionary journeys. Over many years, he traveled over much of the Roman empire, and therefore, the known world. Some of the time he went willingly, choosing his next destination. Many times he was encouraged by the populace of one town to leave them, sometimes by way of encouragement, more likely by way of a mob. On his last ‘missionary’ journey, he was being taken (in chains) to Rome in order to be judged in the Roman courts. Everywhere he went, Paul preached the gospel. He would preach in the Synagogues until he was kicked out, then he would preach wherever else he could. He became the guest of a prominent seller of fine fabrics in Philippi after converting her whole household (Acts 16), He preached from the Areopagus in Athans using an idol ‘to an unknown god’ to argue the gospel to them (Acts 17), was shipwrecked on the Island of Malta (Acts 27-28), and eventually preaches in Rome. Literally, thousands come to believe on Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior because of Paul. He set up dozens of house churches all over the place and wrote the majority of the New Testament to boot. He was sent into the wilderness and whatever place God showed him, but unlike some of those who went before, he went there willingly. How is God calling you to go out and proclaim his gospel?
How is God calling you to go out and proclaim his gospel?
2. Adam and Eve- Paradise (Genesis 1-3)In the beginning, God created the heaven’s and the earth, but it was missing someone to really enjoy it, so God created the first woman and man. There they had the best vacation that anyone has ever had. Every day was full of dining on luscious fruits, meaningful work, and simply basking in God’s spectacular creation. During the evenings, they would have long walks with God himself, asking every question that came into their heads, simply enjoying their Creator’s presence and company. They did not have to worry about anything: hungry? grab a fruit; thirsty? there’s a spring of the purest water; tired? take a nap. Even the dress code was simple, nothing! What is more, they were not encumbered with all of the shame and body issues that we carry with nudity. I imagine they were much like my toddler, who thinks nothing about being “nakey-boy,” and is quite disappointed when we tell him that he has to wear pants when his friends come to visit. This is the vacation of all vacations, the rest that we were created for… literally. By God’s grace, we have been freed from the sin and death that got Adam and Eve kicked out of that beatific garden, and the book of Revelation gives us a glimpse of the vacation that we will one day experience when Christ invites us into the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21-22).
How is God calling you to experience his creation now? How is God calling you to walk and talk, to commune with your Creator?
1. Jesus- Time and Space (Philippians 2)While the vacation in God’s paradise is going to be wonderful, it would not be possible without another vacation. Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi quotes what may well be the oldest Christological hymn in written form. Through it, Paul commends that they (and we) think of others before ourselves, and to have the same mind as Christ Jesus, “who, though he was in the form of God” (v. 6) being of the same substance, makeup, trans-dimensional existence, or as the Council of Nicea put it, “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God.” Jesus, the Divine Word, once (though ‘once’ is difficult to think of outside of time) had (again, a temporally bound word which inadequate here, but the best we can do) the same all-knowing, all-powerful, ever-present, not-bound-by-time-or-space, etc. etc. etc. nature of God the Father. However, Phillippians 2 goes on to tell us, Christ “did not regard equality with God/ as something to be exploited,/ but emptied himself,/ taking the form of a slave,/ being born in human likeness” (v. 6-7). So, the divine Word, who we know as Jesus Christ, emptied himself of all those God-like qualities and took on humanity. Think about that for a second… He went from an omnipresent existence outside of time, transcending every dimensional plane of existence (current estimates are 10, but that may not be all), able to see and understand everything from the entire universe (multiverse?) down to the vibrating plunk-length energy ‘strings’ that the string theory of quantum physics tells us makes up the building blocks of everything. He went from that state of being to ours, bound to three spatial dimensions (height, length, and width) and the unidirectional dimension of time… one moment at a time… always in the same direction… It’s like going from the most amazing immersive virtual reality game to only being able to play Pong, it’s like going from the vastness of the Pacific Ocean to a damp sponge, it’s like going from the poshest luxurious hotel to sleeping on rocks. Why would he do this? “So that at the name of Jesus/ every knee should bend,/ in heaven and on earth and under the earth,/ and every tongue confess/ that Jesus Christ is Lord,/ to the glory of God the Father” (v. 10-11). Jesus took on this lowly state so that he could die as an expiation for our sins, so that the wrath of God could be appeased, so that we could be reconciled to God the Father and be adopted as sons ( and by ‘sons’, scripture means our ability to inherit, not gender) of the Most High God. He did it for us, and because of that, God has exalted him above every name. Because of Jesus Christ’s self-abasing and underwhelming vacation, you have the ability to vacation with him for eternity.
How might you take on humility so that others can be lifted up? How can you have the same mind that was in Christ Jesus?
God has blessed us so abundantly with a beautiful creation, with freedom from sin, and the ability to rest and relax. I pray that this summer you would take the time to reflect on the living God and all that he has done to provide for your needs. Step out of the ordinary, into the extraordinary life that God has called you to.