Lessons for the Wilderness: 1. Initiatory Lessons

 •  10 min. read  •  grade level: 7
In the First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians (ch. 10; 11), we are told that the incidents which happened to God’s earthly people, Israel, contain special lessons for our own souls. “They were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages are come.” “The things which happened to them, happened for types,” and are used for us to that end. As Christians, therefore, we come in under the final dealings of God before the Lord comes; and judgment will then take its course. The Lord stays that solemn day of reckoning with the world, whilst gathering out of it a people for His name. When that action of His Grace closes, the day of the judgment of the Quick has arrived, by which He will cleanse His kingdom from all things that offend and from them that do iniquity, and will bring in that day of blessing, long looked for in the Millennial earth.
Before touching upon the Lessons for the Wilderness presented in these “things which happened to them,” I desire to say a little on the preparation of the People and their deliverance, which placed them in the Wilderness as a place of trial and exercise of heart, for Forty Years. I desire to do so, because there are so many of God’s people who do not stand in the consciousness of His full salvation. There is a feeling at times in their souls, which they would hardly like to admit or to analyze, that all is not well. It may be an undefined sense of hesitancy when they challenge their own hearts, or are challenged by others; a feeling which they cannot well account for nor define, but still there it is. The truth is, they have never reached the fact of their own hopeless ruin and guilt in the sight of God. Were this so, we would not find such thoughts intruding at all. The heart turns back upon its experiences, which haunt it even in its brightest moments, and they feel that all is not as it should be.
I am sure there is in such a state of soul, the want of being candid and open with God (at the bottom). There is an effort to conceal or to gloss over these moments; to forget them, until they make their unpleasant companionship painfully felt. What I mean by being candid and open with God is this: that we have never fallen down before Him and poured into His ear the truth of these unhappy experiences which are shut up in our hearts, and sought His grace to remove them forever.
Have you, my reader, ever gone, in the secret solemn moments of intercourse with God, and told out to Him this marring hindrance to your full peace and joy? Possibly you may never have done so—and yet perhaps you hope it will come right some day, and thus the harassing thought has never been brought out between your soul and God. No wonder, then, you are not free.
Do not expect, with such fancied concealment on your part, that God will pass such over, and give you to enjoy His grace all the same. Of course I am well aware He knows all about it. So does the parent who is aware that his child carries an unhappy secret in his heart. But he longs, too, that the child should open his heart and bring forth the secret (which the parent knows), and talk to him about it in the confidence which love inspires, for love truly known always inspires confidence. It is impossible to love a person truly without confiding in him.
But to return. What a wonderful thing it is to have self, with its sins and backslidings, its fear of death as its wages, and of God’s judgment at its end, all cleared away; and God, in His perfect love, taking possession of the whole vision of the soul! How free then is the spirit of the child of God. What rest then does he enjoy. How the Spirit of God witnesses with his spirit that he is a child. There is no painful questioning whether or not such is the case; but there is the freely flowing testimony of God’s Spirit with his that this is a clearly-settled thing. All is free and bright between him and God. His will is broken: he submits himself; he drops into the arms of love, and rests in the grace that saves. He worships and adores without effort and without check; and his heart goes out freely without a thought to God of self. The Lord is before his soul; both in what He has done, and what He is.
Let us now look back somewhat on the things which happened to Israel.
They were slaves in Egypt. Here was both their condition and position before Him—in bondage as to the one, and on the other in the territory where Satan ruled. We may ask the question here, What does Egypt signify? Just as Syria, and the Wilderness, and Canaan, have their spiritual and typical meaning, so has Egypt. It is not man in nature as God made him; nor is it man in nature fallen (that is Syria). Egypt is man in nature, fallen, and captive under the power of the enemy. Hence an Israelite redeemed and in the possession of the land, coming to worship the Lord with his basket of firstfruits, should own this as his former state and say, “A Syrian ready to perish was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there with a few, and became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous: and the Egyptians evil entreated us, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage: and when we cried unto the Lord God of our fathers, the Lord heard our voice, and looked on our affliction, and our labor, and our oppression: and the Lord brought us forth out of Egypt, with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” (Deut. 26:5-75And thou shalt speak and say before the Lord thy God, A Syrian ready to perish was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there with a few, and became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous: 6And the Egyptians evil entreated us, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage: 7And when we cried unto the Lord God of our fathers, the Lord heard our voice, and looked on our affliction, and our labor, and our oppression: (Deuteronomy 26:5‑7)). Man in nature had fallen, and he was under the enemy’s power; God alone could now deliver.
But first He must show that He had interposed. Israel groaned by reason of her taskmasters; but Israel’s groans were groans of misery, not cries to Him who alone could help. For when his Deliverer came, Israel would have none of Him: Moses must be refused. Israel must reject her Savior, as well as Egypt refuse his claim. When this was so, and that “boasting could be excluded” in all—then and then only will He interfere. We never really know the Gospel, until we see that we have rejected Christ!
This is the state of things in Ex. 2. God’s Deliverer appears now for the first time. Affection for His people was the spring that moved his soul! “It came into his heart to visit his brethren the children of Israel” (Acts 7:2323And when he was full forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren the children of Israel. (Acts 7:23)). “He spied an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew, one of his brethren,” and he “slew the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand.” Again he went out the second day, and seeing two men of the Hebrews striving together, he said unto him that did the wrong, “Wherefore smitest thou thy fellow?” “But he that did his neighbor wrong, thrust him away, saying, ‘who made thee a ruler and a judge over us?’ For he supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them, but they understood not.” Then Moses fled away: the figure of a rejected Christ.
There is now another thing which must be established ere we learn fully the Gospel. We have had in ch. 2 a rejected Christ in figure, now in Ex. 3 we have the “strange sight” which Moses turned aside to see, at the back-side of the desert, after his forty years. “The Angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire, out of the midst of a bush; and he looked and behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. And Moses said, I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt!
Let us repeat this expression of wonder —“Why the bush is not burnt!” Let us put it in another form, if we may; and say, “How can God, who is a ‘consuming fire,’ burning up all that is contrary to His Holy Being, reveal Himself without consuming?” Here was the grand question, Can He “who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity,” have to do with man otherwise than by judgment in righteousness? Yes; most surely He can and has done so; He has revealed Himself in Christ! And Grace now reigns, through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord! Such is the gospel. The very foundation of all is this imperishable basis. And mark well, beloved reader, it is as the God of resurrection, He thus interferes (Luke 20:3737Now that the dead are raised, even Moses showed at the bush, when he calleth the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. (Luke 20:37)). This great fact comes out plainly in the Lord’s reply to the Sadducees. He says, “Now that the dead are raised, even Moses showed at the bush, when he called the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”
Here, then, we find a marvelous group of divine principles clustering together, for the spiritual mind. A rejected Christ, and the God of Resurrection, revealing Himself through Grace in righteousness, as the foundation of the Gospel! Who could have conceived such a group of truths, here in type presented to us, but One who is divine and whose Book is divine?
But when we turn to the New Testament—to the Antitype, what wonders there await us! In the Epistle to the Romans -where the soul’s great questions are settled for each one individually, we find the deep foundations laid in these very truths. That Epistle begins with a rejected Christ. We read of “The gospel of God... concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, (which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh); and declared the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection of the dead” (Rom. 1:1-41Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, 2(Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,) 3Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; 4And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead: (Romans 1:1‑4)). Here we have the Heir of David according to the flesh, cast out and slain; but raised from the dead by the God of resurrection. And when the apostle would tell us of the great work which flows from this, he adds, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto salvation, to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is God’s righteousness revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:16,1716For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. 17For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. (Romans 1:16‑17)). Here then we have the group of divine reality -which we meet in type in the book which first unfolds redemption.
Surely this must be so: God’s principles, whether taught us by types or facts, are always the same. How much more precious, of course, are the facts—it is on these we rest. The types edify and confirm the soul which is settled on the never-changing facts. It is there our souls may rest assuredly. We are not called to rest on promises as to these things. The truths of the Gospel are facts—divinely attested and satisfying to God and to him who rests there.