This article is about the wilderness experience Israel had when they were freed from Egypt, and how this kind of faith experience is true for all Christians.

Source: The Monthly Record, 1997. 2 pages.

The Wilderness Experience

In the Old Testament, few experiences of God's People are given greater promi­nence than the forty years of wandering in the Wilderness. They fill the pages of four of the first five books of the Bible. The Psalmist frequently refers to them. Hosea writes affectionately of the wilderness as a place of true fellowship with God; Jer­emiah too remembers those years with equal awareness of the love of God. Why is this? To answer the question, we need to think carefully about the Old Testament, bearing in mind how the writers of the New Testament used it.

Some Christians treat the Old Tes­tament as old, belonging to an age that became irrelevant once Christ came. They see it as important because it foreshadowed his coming through typology and by pro­phetic statements about him but they do not see it as applicable to the events of daily life today. What they forget is that the early Church had no other Bible than the Old Testament and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit they used it to teach, rebuke, correct, and train in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). It was in relation to these very things that they made good use of Israel's years in the Wilderness. Furthermore they made it very clear that Israel's experiences apply to God's people today (1 Corinthians 10:11).

A picture of the Christian life🔗

If we look at the events of God's People coming out of Egypt and going on to the promised land, then read the appli­cation of their experiences to us, as it is recorded in 1Corinthians 10, it will become evident that the pilgrimage from Egypt to Canaan is one of the clearest and most challenging pictures of the Christian life in all of the Old Testament. The blood on the doorposts in Egypt was an act of obedience that saved them from death just as the blood of Christ can save us from spiritual death. In this connection it is important to remember that it was what the angel of God saw in that blood-covered doorpost that ensured their safety, not what they saw. They could not even see the blood because they were shut inside their houses at the time.

As they escaped from Egypt they were led onward by a cloud in the daytime and a pillar of fire at night, both represent­ing the presence of the Holy Spirit. How­ever, as they journeyed, the Egyptian ar­mies pursued them, vividly demonstrating that though they had been freed from the consequences of sin they were still in bond­age to the sinful world that formerly held then captive. Not until God had opened a way through the Red Sea and destroyed the power of Egypt were they fully emanci­pated. Their new found joy was reflected in the Song of Moses (Exodus 15), a song that appears again at the end of the Bible, along with another song (Revelation 15:3), as the Lord's people in glory engage in worship, in this case after sin and all its conse­quences are abolished for ever.

As a redeemed people they now had a sense of purpose. They were on a God-ordained journey, with the land of Canaan as their destination (Exodus 15:13-17). That destination and its precursor, the crossing of the Jordan River, is often de­picted as the end of our earthly life, the Jordan referring to physical death and Canaan to life in heaven. While this is true in the sense that Israel's possessing of the land is like our eternal inheritance in Christ, it is equally true that our inheritance in Christ begins now, not just at death. He­brews chapter four, especially verse three, is a reminder of this.

Wilderness life is essential🔗

As they begin their journey to the promised land, the Israelites discover that the wilderness is an essential part of the way. It is the only route possible, but they are assured by the continuing cloud and pillar of fire that they are not alone. God is with them. Nevertheless it soon became evident that they were little prepared for the hardships of the way. Though deliv­ered from the power of Egypt, the spirit of Egypt was very much alive inside them and they needed to be delivered from it. The wilderness experience was the place where that deliverance could take place. Deuter­onomy chapter eight, verse two, explains God's purpose: "Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you, to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his com­mands. "

Wilderness experiences are essen­tial for every Christian, for in that setting of barren emptiness and hardship we learn to rely on God for our needs and choose to obey him even when our own judgment suggests the opposite. Just as Israel discovered that the only way to their prom­ised inheritance involved a wilderness ex­perience, so today the Christian who is truly committed to the Lord will also learn that the path of growth must include a wilderness experience. Maturity in the Christian life is shaped in this way (1 Peter 1:6-7). The Lord Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. Paul had a wilderness experience, and so did David and others. Moses, the one who led Israel through to the edge of the promised land had prior deep and lasting trials in a wil­derness during his forty years of exile from Egypt.

It is true that Israel need not have spent forty years in the wilderness learning their lessons. They could have reached the land of Canaan much sooner. Like us, they were slow to learn and many of them never did learn to trust and obey God. Read again the passage referred to above, 1 Corinthians 10, and see the record of those human weaknesses that drew them into loss of trust and therefore failure to go on to their promised inheritance, weaknesses that are as prevalent today as then. Fortunately, this same chapter tells us that we need never fail under temptation. God is well able to help us no matter what our circum­stances may be (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Reaching the Promised Land🔗

While the wilderness experience can mean failure, and it did for so many of those who came out of Egypt, it can be enormously beneficial, as was evident in the lives of Joshua and Caleb. The wonder­ful spirit found in these two men was born out of their time in the wilderness. They went through their journeys with a firm trust in God and so reached the land of promise. If we are hankering after self interest and personal desires rather than seeking what we might call the "Crown rights" of the Lord Jesus Christ then we will fail. It was in order to show his faithfulness, power and purpose that God led Israel out of Egypt, and while we cannot frustrate these plans of God we can lose the privilege of being part of them.

Caleb and Joshua not only suc­ceeded but, much more than that, they became pioneers for the others, the new generation, to lead them into the land. That new generation of Israelites had an opportunity that their parents had forfeited, and Caleb and Joshua provided the link that kept a door of opportunity open for them. All through the years, the younger Israelites were able to observe and learn the difference between these two men and the others.

Those of us who are older need to remember that another generation of be­lievers is watching us. They are not greatly concerned about our words. They are not influenced by what we profess to be, but they do take note of who and what we are in our lives. They look for evidence of the transforming power of our relationship with the Lord. Paul urged us to be follow­ers of him as he was of Christ. That is the calling of every Christian: to inspire others to follow Christ by what they meet of him in us.

Moses, Joshua, and Caleb all con­vince us that the emptying of self interest which takes place in the wilderness, and the experience of being dependent on God in every situation of need are neither wasted experiences nor selfish achievements. They form part of the plan of God to bring us to maturity, and they enable us to serve as lighthouses for the generation that follows.

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