Part 6: The Road to Sinai
Meditations in Exodus: 49. Desert & Promised Land
Ex 15:22 Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water.
And so we move into a new phase in the life of Israel. They have been delivered from Egypt and Pharaoh has been dealt with so he will not come after them again. Now, as we have already seen, Israel are being led by the presence of God in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. When the cloud moves they move, when the cloud stands still, they stand still. It is, if you like, a picture of the life of the Christian being led by the Spirit.
Now the moment we say that, we need to introduce the subject of ‘types’ in the Old Testament. Types in the Old Testament mean pictures from the Old Testament history that reveal something of the truths and reality of New Testament experience. Rom 15:4 tells us that the Old Testament writing were written for our instruction and encouragement. In the New Testament, we find it constantly refers to the Old Testament and often indicates that the Old Testament showed pictures that speak of things to come in the New. Wherever possible we should look for Types where the Bible expressly indicates one, but sometimes we may assume a Type where it is so clear that one can be considered. So, before we rush on to observe Israel’s journey through the wilderness, it might be helpful to see these ‘types’ or analogies in the bigger picture.
Egypt is seen as a picture of the world and of our life before Christ. “World” in Scripture has three different meanings: i) the planet on which we live, ii) the people on the earth, iii) the system of godless attitudes held by the majority of people. It is this last meaning that we consider here. Egypt or our unsaved lives is where the people are in slavery, ruled by a tyrant (1:8,9 / 1 Jn5:19 ) where the people want to be free but are unable to deliver themselves.
The Desert or the Wilderness is seen as the start of the redeemed life. It is entered through the Passover, a picture of Jesus dying for us. It is a place of learning to trust God and that is what all the immediate studies will be about. It is a place where God guides but we have to learn to trust Him to overcome every difficulty. It was supposed to be a limited experience and they were supposed to pass through it and enter the land. We too are called to go on to maturity (see Heb 6:11-14/ Eph 4:13-15).
The Promised Land is, if you like, the second phase of the Christian life where we now trust God and see that it is a place of receiving our inheritance from Him. It was God’s promised inheritance for Israel (see Gal 4:7 / 2 Pet I :4 / Mt 25:34) and it was to be a place of natural abundant provision (see Eph 1:7,18). It was also a place of battles to take the inheritance from the unbelieving, godless, occupiers of the land (see Eph 6:12 ) but the victory was assured for them in accordance with God’s promise Josh 1:3-5 (see 1 Cor 15:57 / Rom 8:37 / Rom 16:20 / 1 Cor 15:25 ) and that was obtained as they obeyed his instructions (see Jn 15:5/ Jn 14:12.15)
Before we leave these particular ‘analogies’ can we emphasise the difference between the Wilderness and the Promised Land, for they often confuse Christians. They are both places of learning and obedience and they are both places of God’s provision. The Wilderness experience, we will see, takes God’s people through a number of trials or testings all to do with daily provision and the key lesson to be learnt is to TRUST this loving God that He is for us and WILL provide for us everything we need. There are no exams for this and there is no set time for this; it is simply a learning process that we have to go through, and sadly many Christians never seem to leave the wilderness and get to the place of simply RECEIVING all the goodness of God that He has for us that just has to be taken.
So, we have been delivered out of the ‘world’ (Egypt) and are transiting to the Promised Land through a world that is not always comfortable. This phase begins, “Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur.” (v.22a) The fact that Moses is mentioned as the leader doesn’t detract from the fact that it is God leading them as we noted above, but Moses is still simply His figurehead at the head of this people. At first sight this might seem bad news that God (and Moses) is leading this people into the desert on the Sinai Peninsular, a distinctly inhospitable part of the world but there are two reasons for this.
First, as we saw in Study no,45, God did not want them to go due north because that would have meant war with the belligerent Philistines and Israel were not yet ready for war. Second, the desert affords Israel the opportunity to learn many thing about their deliverer. So far they have only seen God as the bringer of judgments; now they need to learn that He is also the provider of their daily needs. He is not just a warrior but a loving father who looks after His children.
So they are led into the desert. What does that remind you of? “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert” (Mt 4:1) God’s training and, yes, God’s victories, are often won in the desert, the dry and arid place, the place where you feel all alone. There is nothing romantic about the desert: “For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water.” (v.22b) It is a place of shortages, a place of limitations, a hostile place – but God is still there with us and in that dry, arid, hostile place, He will reveal Himself as our provider, our carer, the One who not only delivered us out of Egypt but the One who will walk every step of this life with us, being there for us all the time.
So if you feel like you are in a desert – you probably are, but it is a place of learning and a place of trusting and a place of God providing. It is also a place where our limitations are revealed, our imperfections shown up and we realize afresh that we are here by God’s grace and mercy, not because of our endeavors, our cleverness, our brightness, but because a lamb was slain for us. Do you feel excited by all the lessons that are about to come? If not, let me reassure you that God IS love and everything He allows in this desert experience is for your good and for your maturing and for the blessing of His world. Are we ready? Then let us begin.