He Went First

Pioneers.  Explorers.  Trailblazers.  Others have gone before us.  And it’s a good thing.  Forerunners like Lewis and Clark established the possibilities of roads that moved people westward.  Neal Armstrong will forever be remembered for his leap from the lunar space module.  Rosa Parks has a name synonymous with standing up by sitting down.  Vistas and horizons can be conquered because someone else traversed the land first.

God sets the pattern for all human activity including the routine of walking.  Indeed, the idea of the verb in Genesis 3:8 suggests not only did God regularly move about in the garden He had made, but He did so for Himself.[1] Adam and Eve knew God’s habit, being alerted by hearing His approaching footsteps.[2] Literally, God was “going traveling.”  He was moving “to and fro.”[3]

What is the significance of such a cryptic statement “God walked?”  As The Personal God, He is invested, involved, connected; communion with humanity is His habit.  The response of sinful men and women has been to stop walking, to hide.  It was not until Enoch that humans could claim the same action—a continual traveling companion with God[4].  In order for us humans to reestablish walking as a God given activity, we must reestablish our “walk with God.”[5]

The opposite of God walking with His people or people walking with God is to be directionless, meandering through life.  Cain’s line demonstrated the problem when one has no direction: it is to wander.[6] The alternative to a travel plan is to wander aimlessly.  Being a vagabond is a homeless situation.  One is without roots.  Instability makes a person mentally unsteady, wavering, a reed swaying in the wind.[7] The opposite of walking is endlessly wandering.  The endless end is endlessness.

But it is Leviticus 26:12 “I will walk among you” that recaptures the original intention of God.  Here the presence of God is said to be in His dwelling, His tabernacling with His people.[8] In fact, the reason God established a place to live with His people is so that God could move among His people.[9] Walking in the garden, walking in the tabernacle both indicate God’s present personableness with His people.

The tabernacle became flesh in the New Testament in the person of Jesus.  God’s movement amid humanity bears repeating: “The Word became flesh and tabernacled for a while among us.”[10] In this way, Jesus is our forerunner, our pioneer, the One who has gone before us.  He tasted death for everyone, sharing our humanness, preceding us into heaven.[11] Jesus is the source of salvation for all who obey him, saving completely.[12] The earthly tabernacle was simply a copy of Him, the perfect tabernacle, who was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people.[13]

Walking with God is now possible again.

Mark Eckel loves the pioneering spirit, living it out at Crossroads Bible College.


[1] Victor P. Hamilton. 1990. The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17. (Eerdmans): 192, n. 3.  The hithpael in Hebrew tells of a durative, continuous action.

[2] Some have suggested that what was heard was God’s voice, not His actual movement.  While there is some substance to the idea that hearing someone’s approach can be understood as hearing someone speak, 2 Samuel 5:24, 1 Kings 14:6, etc. use the same Hebrew construction for the noise of footfalls.  To this point some have suggested this and other physical manifestations of God were the pre-incarnate, second person of the Trinity, Jesus.  Walton, et al ties the word “sound” to “thunder” contending from Zephaniah 2:2 that God was coming in judgment, a precursor to the couple “hiding” as he suggests in The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament. (IVP): 32.

[3] Theologians refer to an “appearance” of God as a theophany.  Exodus 33:20-24:3 records an example as God says, “You can see my aftereffects, the results but the very presence of God you cannot see.”

[4] Genesis 5:22, 24.

[5] “Walk, the metaphor for personal relationship with God, will be explored in upcoming installments.

[6] Genesis 4:12, 14, 16 all record the idea that Cain “wandered away” from God.  “The land of Nod” was a name that meant to wander: literally, Cain was going to wander in the land of wandering.  On the other hand, Enoch “traveled with” God as in Genesis 5:22, 24.

[7] Leonard J. Coppes. 1980. “Nod.” Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. (Moody): 560-61.

[8] Exodus 25:8.

[9] Deuteronomy 23:12-14.  Laws governing toilet habits prompted God to say “Your God moves about in your camp.” 2 Samuel 7:6-7 records the other Old Testament statement that God “moves” amongst His people, also in a building context.  The end result was that God’s people could “walk with heads held high.”

[10] The English word “lived” or “dwelt” does not capture the Hebrew concept which is clearly passed into the Greek language here in John 1:14.

[11] Hebrews 2:9, 14-18; 4:14-16.

[12] Hebrews 5:23-28.

[13] Hebrews 9.

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