From World to Wilderness to Promise
Much of the emphasis in the modern church world has to do with avoiding the snares of the world, and well it should be! If we love the world, or the things of the world, we simply cannot serve Jesus. It is abundantly clear throughout the Scriptures that the thinking and material pursuits of the world system will destroy our spiritual lives.
But the history of the children of Israel revealed through the Old Testament teaches us that there is more than simply coming out of the world! The account of Moses leading the people out of Egypt symbolizes breaking free of the world system; the separation from bondage and slavery to the world and its way of thinking. To the modern Christian, this is representative of embracing a whole new world view, a completely different perspective and understanding of life, purpose, and what constitutes "success". In fact, the first message that Jesus brought after his victory over the devil in Matthew Chapter four, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand," expresses this very idea (See Matthew 4:17). Contrary to the modern idea that repentance is "feeling sorry about what you've done and determining to change your behavior," the New Testament idea of repentance has more to do with changing the way we think. Naturally, changed thinking will result in changed behavior, but the opposite is not necessarily true.
But just because we we have escaped "Egypt" and no longer think like the world, does it hold true that we are walking in our inheritance and are thinking like Jesus?
Moses didn't take the children of Israel as far as God had promised them they would go. Though he did lead them out of bondage to Egypt, he led them only into the wilderness. In fact, of those that came out of Egypt with Moses, only two are recorded as actually having entered into the land of promise - Joshua and Caleb. The rest of that generation died in the wilderness, never having attained all that God had for them. And a journey that some say should have taken only eight days took 40 years! Those that moved in to the Land of Promise weren't born in Egypt, they were born in the wilderness.
For many years now, I've believed that we, as the Church in general, have been much like the children of Israel. Some of us had dramatic ("Red Sea") conversion experiences, and were supernaturally delivered from our captivity to the world system, others of us were reared in Christian homes and never experienced the depth of depravity that holds the world in bondage. But in either case, we either entered, or grew up in, a church system that has, for the most part, lost much of the life and power of the Holy Spirit. Just like those that Joshua finally led into the Land of Promise, when we were born again, we were metaphorically "born in the wilderness". That is, we began our spiritual journey in a religious system that has yet to enter the "Promised Land".
Beginning as early as the third century AD, the anointing and supernatural power of the First Century Church was lost to greed, political ambition, and religious tradition. Personal revelation was lost to the pagan idea that we need a clergy to mediate our relationship with God (there is only One mediator according to 1 Timothy 2:5). The reality that we are already a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9) became obscured by the popular misconception that in order to follow God, we must find and follow an anointed man (or woman). This idea remains firmly held to this day. Just like the 12 tribes of Israel transferred their dependency to Moses for their leadership and direction, we live in a system that largely relies on the revelation of others to sustain us, believing that this is God's pattern. Those few leaders who pay the price to "climb the mountain" for themselves, find themselves overwhelmed, burned out, discouraged, and drained by the "responsibility" they feel to "feed their flocks". Meanwhile, just as in Moses' day, those in the Christian community who are unwilling to "climb the mountain" do little more than expect to be led and fed, then complain when things don't go their way.
Like those who were born in the wilderness, we've looked to our own "Moses'" to lead us. We rely on our pastors and church leaders to interpret the Scriptures for us. We believe somehow that those who are in "full-time ministry" are either more qualified, or more able to hear from God than we are. Our first visit is to the doctor when we're sick, not to the Healer. Our initial response to any need in our lives is to work harder, not to pray harder. True, we're following God when we see the pillar of fire move, and we know the manna of His daily provision, but the kind of first century revelation and the Holy Spirit's impact on the world around us is largely missing from our lives. We've heard about the incredible miracle working power of God to heal, deliver, and restore, but, by in large, we haven't personally experienced much of that dunamis (Greek word for power) for ourselves.
But God had more for His children - and He still does!!! In His faithfulness and mercy, God made provision for the children of Israel to enter and possess a land "flowing with milk and honey" (Exodus 3:8, Leviticus 20:24 and others). The land God promised is defined in Joshua 1:4 as "...the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the River Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun...". What a beautiful revelation God is giving us! Looking at the meanings of the original Hebrew words will give us some insight that the average reader might overlook. The word "Lebanon" in Hebrew means "whiteness" and "Euphrates" means "fruitful". He has washed our sin whiter than snow (Isaiah 1:18) in order that we may bear fruit - and fruit that remains (John 15:16)! That's the Land of Promise for the New Testament believer!
He has made us His children - "joint heirs with Christ" (Romans 8:16-17), given us everything we need for life and godliness, and He has given us the opportunity to partake of His nature ((2 Peter 1:3-4). That means that everything He is, belongs to us! The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand (Matthew 4:17)! That means that our "Promised Land" - righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:7) - is available to us now!
It won't be easy to conquer, however, for just as in the days of Joshua and Caleb, the land is inhabited by "giants". As Joshua 1:4 reminds us, it's the "...land of the Hittites...". In Hebrew, the "land of the annoyer". We'll never know the land of promise in our own lives until we overcome everything that irritates, annoys us, or causes us to fear. Just like the children of Israel, we must first cross our own "River Jordan," experience our own "circumcision" (personal covenant with God), learn to feed ourselves, fight for our freedom, and overcome the "Hittites" and the "giants" hiding behind the strongholds of vain imaginations and high things that exalt themselves against the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).
It starts by taking Jericho (Hebrew = "the place of His fragrance"), the place of heart intimacy with God, but, like the city, our hearts can be heavily fortified and walls must come down. Maybe God's strategy for taking the place of His fragrance today is the same as it was for His children in the days of Joshua - to learn to keep our mouths shut in the face of adversity, stop our murmuring and complaining when things don't go our way, and allow the Lord Jesus to destroy the walls we've built around our own hearts and flood us with His fragrance.