It is the year 1450 B.C. in ancient Egypt. We can feel the excitement in the air as the children of Israel just learned that the pharaoh has consented to their freedom to leave Egypt and return to their homeland, the land of Israel.
They were on the way to the Promised Land! To top it off, the local people gave them valuables – gold, silver, and jewelry, so glad they were to get rid of these troublesome people, and their troublesome but powerful God. The children of Israel were thrilled to leave because they were leaving a life of slavery – of long days of heavy labor, building the pharaoh's monuments.
As they headed into the desert – men, women, children, with all their worldly belongings, their exuberance began to wear thin as they experienced heat with no shade and thirst with little water. Some even wanted to go back to Egypt and its stability, even though it would be returning to a life of slavery.
When they finally arrived at the edge of the Promised Land, they sent in 12 spies to check out the land and its inhabitants. When the spies returned after 40 days, their reports are ominous. Ten of the spies were freaked out by the inhabitants, saying: "There we saw giants, and we were like grasshoppers in their sight." Numbers 13:33
But Joshua and Caleb, the other two spies, tore their clothes and exclaimed: "The land we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us, 'a land which flows with milk and honey.' Only do not rebel against the Lord, nor fear the people of the land, for their protection has departed from them, and the Lord is with us." Numbers 14:7-9
But the majority prevailed, and refused to enter the Promised Land in spite of God's promises to deliver it to them. God responded with righteous anger at their unfaithfulness. After seeing miracle after miracle in their deliverance from Egypt, they rejected God's guarantee of safety and victory, and embraced disbelief when the Promised Land lay just before them.
So God decreed that this generation would wander in the wilderness of Sinai for 40 years and die in the desert, so their children could enter the Promised Land. When their children grew up and entered the Promised Land, God gave them victory after victory.
There is a vital parallel with our own lives. Many people are still enslaved – not by cruel taskmasters as in Egypt, but by the seductions of the world, the lusts of the flesh, or the lies of the devil.
They are attracted to darkness rather than light, and embrace a life of sin, thereby trapping themselves in this life and into eternity. But we can become free of the slavery of sin, for Christ paid the price to set us free.
"For you did not receive the spirit of slavery leading again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry: 'Abba, Father.'" Romans 8:15
In like manner, many people are wandering in their own wilderness, perhaps moving from one religion or philosophy to another, or one relationship to another, always seeking fulfillment and knowledge but never finding the Truth of Christ.
Perhaps they too, like the children of Israel, were given an opportunity to go into the Promised Land – a life of peace in Christ in the Kingdom of God, but were too afraid or unwilling to repent of their sins, die to self, and receive Christ. They resisted the promptings of the Holy Spirit, unwilling to pay the entrance price to the narrow path that leads to eternal life in heaven.
Finally, there are some – a smaller number, who took the narrow path and made it into the Promised Land – a life in Christ, led by the Holy Spirit, and responding to God's call on their lives, carrying out the work that He has set before them.
So which of these spheres are you in – a life of slavery, wandering in the wilderness, or in the Promised Land, as a follower of Christ in the Kingdom of God? The Lord is calling those of us who are enjoying life in the Spirit – the Promised Land, to reach out to those who are enslaved or wandering in the wilderness and help them find the Way to Christ. But we need to act, for time is short, tomorrow is not guaranteed, and eternity is forever.
To God be the glory.
Mark Peterson is a retired educator who's worked with people in Southeast Arkansas. He's a member of the vestry at First Lutheran Church at Eighth and Rock streets at Little Rock. The community is invited to join them for worship at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays. Details: FirstLutheranLR.com.
Editor's note: Pastors, ministers or other writers interested in writing for this section may submit articles for consideration to [email protected]. Please include your phone number and the name and location of your church or ministry. Writers should have a connection to Southeast Arkansas.