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Egypt, Wilderness, Babylon, Canaan

January 15, 2010

On Sunday I preached a sermon at church which was a bit of first for me. The following is a summary of what I said:

There are the four geographical locations mentioned in the Old Testament where the Israelites spent significant amounts of time:

Egypt, Wilderness, Babylon, Canaan

I shared a few thoughts about each place:

The Israelites went to Egypt when Joseph was in charge and there was a famine in Canaan. They had gone voluntarily and Joseph had promised to provide for them. However Joseph knew Egypt was not going to be the permanent home for the Israelites. Joseph knew that one day God would arrange for his people to return and when that day came, Joseph wanted them to take his bones back to Canaan. This is pretty surprising because Joseph only lived in Canaan for the first 16 years of his life; he spent most of his life in Egypt. Yet he knew that Canaan was his real home.

At the start of the book of Exodus we find the Israelites had become slaves. Living in Egypt had become a life of bondage and for the Israelites that meant making bricks.

Exodus 5:6-18

The Israelites could never make enough bricks, the work was never finished, they were always making bricks for someone else. Never making bricks for themselves, never achieving any sense of achievement but always making bricks for someone else’s benefit.

I wonder if you’ve ever felt like that. You can never do enough to please the foremen in your life. Maybe your foreman is your boss, or your teachers or even your parents and you feel that no matter how much you do it is never enough. It’s never quite good enough, no matter how much effort you put in, it is never enough. Or maybe it is not people but circumstances. Circumstances that make you feel like whatever you do it is never enough. That’s what life in Egypt is like.

The most prominent emotion of living in Egypt is the feeling I can never do enough. It’s the feeling that I’m not good enough. I can never do enough to please God. It’s the sense that God is displeased with me. Even after we become a Christian this feeling can linger with us.

So how do we leave Egypt?
It is recorded in Exodus 2:23 – The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help, because of their slavery went up to God.

So firstly they cried out to God. We too need to cry out to God. We need to acknowledge that on our own we can never do enough. Secondly on the night of their deliverance the Israelites were to take the blood of a lamb and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of their houses. It is a picture of what God for us. By Jesus sacrifice and only by his sacrifice we become holy and righteous in God sight.

The Wilderness
In order to get to Canaan it is necessary to go through the wilderness but we are not supposed to stay there. In Deuteronomy 1:2 we discover that it takes eleven days to go from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea. However the Israelites ended up spending 40 years in the wilderness…40 years to make an 11 day trip.

Numbers 9:17-23

They sound like a very obedient people. When the cloud moved they moved. When it stayed, they stayed. These people seem quite different to the ones who refused to enter the Promised Land. Yet they had an ulterior motive. The cloud provided protection from the sun during the day and provided warmth during the night. So there was a very good incentive to pack up and move when the cloud moved.

In the long term this is not what God really wanted. It was a mere shadow of how he really wanted to guide his people. Ultimately he didn’t want people who were motivated by their own comfort, by their need of shade or warmth. He wanted people who would follow him because they trusted him, because they loved him, because they believe in his good intentions. God wants people who will willingly follow his plans for their lives knowing that God’s plans probably won’t bring the most comfort but nevertheless believing they are the best plans for their lives.

The most prominent emotion of living the wilderness is immaturity. It’s expecting God to send a cloud or some sort of visible sign to comfort me and direct me. It’s living by what I see God doing and not by faith.

Living in the wilderness is expecting God to run the world the way I want it. It is turning up on a Sunday morning or at Bible study or at youth group and expecting someone else to feed me to drop manna or spiritual food in my lap without me having to study to find it. It is expecting to get water out of a rock—refreshment that I didn’t have to lift a finger to get. It is expecting God to be focused on my needs instead of me being focused on God.

How do we leave the wilderness?
We grow up. We fed ourselves which means we read the Bible regularly. We pray. We come to church not because of what we get out it but we come with the intention of blessing God and blessing others. We remember it is not about us but rather that it is all about Jesus.

Coming up next: Babylon and Canaan

by Susan Barnes
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Susan Barnes

~ writer of insightful posts about God and faith