One of the most comprehensive pictures of the gospel in the Old Testament is the exodus of God’s people from Egypt, their wandering in the wilderness, and their overdue arrival in Canaan – the land promised to their forefathers. The experience of the Israelites laid out in the Old Testament books from Exodus to Joshua is an expansive narrative, a fascinating saga, and full of gospel symbolism.
Let’s jump right to the gospel application and then work backward through some of the passages and their symbolism. The Israelites in Egypt represent the lost person; the person without Christ. The Israelites enslaved by their Egyptian taskmasters are a picture of the lost person enslaved by sin. The apostle Paul wrote that before we embraced the gospel and received new life in Christ, we were slaves to sin. We were under sin’s penalty, sin’s consequence, and sin’s power.
But just as the children of Israel were rescued by God Himself from their slavery in Egypt, so we too have been rescued by God through Jesus Christ. Recall that the Israelites were “saved” by the blood of the Passover lamb sprinkled on their doorposts on the night the angel of death visited Egypt. Likewise, we have been saved by the “precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (I Pet 1:19). The children of Israel, enslaved in Egypt, represent the lost person without Christ.
Moving to the end of the story, the promised land (Canaan) is a picture of new life in Christ that is characterized by a restful walk in the Spirit. (It does not represent heaven even though this is a common theme in our hymnals.) Life in Canaan for the New Testament believer is marked by the recognition that the Christian life is lived by faith, not self-effort. It is experiencing Christ living His resurrection life through you. It is not trying to attain something that we already have – victory in Christ – by our own power and prowess to live the life. It is fully resting in what Christ has done for us in delivering us from the penalty and power of sin.
Is it possible to believe the gospel, place our faith in Christ for salvation, and not experience this restful walk of faith? The New Testament makes clear that yes it is possible to believe in Jesus, but have a life marked by carnality, walking in the flesh (our own power), and a lack of living faith (not to be confused with saving faith that all who are in Christ have). This is the third type of person represented in our Old Testament story; the believer in the wilderness.
You see, the space between the lost person (Egypt) and the believer at rest in Christ (Canaan) is the wilderness. The wandering life of Israel in the desert is a picture of the wilderness Christian; the believer who, for whatever reason, is not experiencing “Christ in you”, the Holy Spirit at work in their lives, the power of faith, and freedom from the power of sin.
The biblical basis for this wilderness Christian idea is found throughout the New Testament, and we will head to some of those passages next time. To summarize today’s post: the children of Israel in Egypt represent the lost person. The wilderness represents the believer who has yet to experience what God has promised and accomplished – wholehearted life in Jesus. And the promised land, Canaan, is the believer who has entered a life of restful walking in the Spirit by faith.