Throughout the Old Testament, “Egypt” is used as a metaphor for slavery. The Israelites spent 430 years in Egypt, much or most of which was spent under the Egyptians’ thumb. The kind behavior shown to Joseph and his family was not continued by the Pharaoh “who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8). Life soon became intolerable for the nation, even to the point of being forced to kill their own male children. But God was watching over His people the entire time, even and especially during the worst days. And when the time was right, God intervened. Pharaoh was humiliated, Egypt was crushed and looted, and Israel emerged on the other side of the Red Sea as a nation to be seriously regarded and respected.
But the story was not yet over. God was not content with simply delivering the people from an uncomfortable situation. He was determined to bring them to a better life in a place He had prepared for them. As Moses reminded the people in Deuteronomy 6:23, “He brought us out from there in order to bring us in, to give us the land which He had sworn to our fathers.”
“He brought us out to bring us in.” The poetry is as powerful as the message. Unfortunately, the people struggled to develop the faith they would need to receive God’s promise. They were prepared to leave bondage, certainly. But they lacked a clear determination to enter into the Promised Land. The result, initially, was complaining. At every turn, it seems, the people lodged their complaints against God to Moses and Aaron, insisting that they were no better off than when they were in Egypt. Ultimately, when they officially rejected God’s blessing at Kadesh-Barnea, they began to search for a new leader who would take them back to Egypt — and, presumably, all of the horrors that went with it (Numbers 14:1-4).
We would do well to remember the story of Israel in the wilderness, for it is our story as well. We, the church, the “chosen race” of God (1 Peter 2:9), once were enslaved to sin. Then when we chose to follow our Father’s chosen Leader, He showered us with grace and lifted us out of the pit of bondage (Romans 6:23). In the moment, we were grateful. But eventually the thrill of salvation began to fade, and we settled in to our new existence. And it was hardly what we had anticipated. We had been lured by Jesus Christ into a quest for heaven. It was God’s assurance to us. And somehow, although Jesus had never given us reason, we jumped to the conclusion that we could get a head start on the heaven business early.
And in a sense we did. Like Israel in the wilderness, we have been treated to an advanced view of what life might be like under the care of God. He showers us with physical blessings — “daily bread,” he calls it in Matthew 6:11. More importantly, we are blessed to enjoy fellowship with our Creator and Benefactor. He is shielded from us to a great degree, but we see enough of His power and majesty to remain in a constant state of awe and give proper reverence and obedience to the One He has sent to guide us across the Jordan.
But perhaps He blesses us too well in the wilderness. We receive so much from His hand, we may come to expect that it is somehow our due — that the system has failed somehow when we are not awash with heavenly milk and honey here on earth. Like Israel of old, we take His blessings and use them to pursue other “gods” (Ezekiel 16:15-16) such as position, popularity and education — even going so far as to give such “gods” the credit for our success in the flesh (Hosea 2:4-6). Most of all, we forget where we are going. We forget we are “going” anywhere.
It takes deliberate, conscious effort to think on heavenly things (Colossians 3:2). Without it, we will forget why we left Egypt in the first place. We may even forget how much more preferable our current life of faith is to the life sin afforded us (Romans 6:20-21). With effort, though — and certainly, through God’s grace — we will find the courage and purpose to endure our 40 years in the wilderness and enter into that rest God has prepared for us (Hebrews 4:11).