When we read the Bible we enter into the national narrative of the people of Israel. By giving our allegiance to the God of Abraham, Moses, David, and the prophets of Israel we join into their national narrative. We become participants in the same unfolding spiritual drama as those characters we read about in these ancient scriptures. The story of God’s liberation of the people of Israel from Egyptian slavery, His guiding hand through the wilderness, His teaching of His divine commandments, and their ultimate deliverance into the promise land is a microcosm of God’s plan for humanity and is a macrocosm of each believer’s spiritual journey.
Just outside the border of the promised land Moses beseeched the people of Israel with the following words:
“So obey the commands of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and fearing him. For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land of flowing streams and pools of water, with fountains and springs that gush out in the valleys and hills. It is a land of wheat and barley; of grapevines, fig trees, and pomegranates; of olive oil and honey. It is a land where food is plentiful and nothing is lacking. It is a land where iron is as common as stone, and copper is abundant in the hills. When you have eaten your fill, be sure to praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. “But that is the time to be careful! Beware that in your plenty you do not forget the Lord your God and disobey his commands, regulations, and decrees that I am giving you today. For when you have become full and prosperous and have built fine homes to live in, and when your flocks and herds have become very large and your silver and gold have multiplied along with everything else, be careful! Do not become proud at that time and forget the Lord your God, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt. Do not forget that he led you through the great and terrifying wilderness with its poisonous snakes and scorpions, where it was so hot and dry. He gave you water from the rock! He fed you with manna in the wilderness, a food unknown to your ancestors. He did this to humble you and test you for your own good. He did all this so you would never say to yourself, ‘I have achieved this wealth with my own strength and energy.’ Remember the Lord your God. He is the one who gives you power to be successful, in order to fulfill the covenant he confirmed to your ancestors with an oath. Deuteronomy 8:6-18
Just as Israel had to be liberated, instructed, tested, and humbled before entering the promised land, we must journey on a similar spiritual path if we want to be grafted into the saving covenant of Israel. When we accepted God as our Lord we were freed from our bondage in darkness. Our shackles of sin were broken. In liberating us God defeated the Pharaoh, the dark king of this world. We passed through the Red Sea with Israel in baptism. We left behind the kingdoms of this world and its idols. He revealed His character to us and instructed us through His Word. We were spiritually tested by God in the wilderness. Like the Israelites, we must choose to enter His covenant. We must either be self-reliant or wholly trust in God’s provision. Will we be terrified by the dangers of this world or find security under God’s wings? Will we hold onto our pride and self-assurance or humble ourselves and give all glory to God?
The promised land was to be a gift and blessing to the people of Israel. The description of the land mirrors the language of abundance describing the garden of Eden. It was God’s plan for this land to be the start of the reversal of the fall of man, the restoration of His created order. God wanted to return the people to his Sabbath rest in the land. Unfortunately, the people did not stay faithful to God’s holy vision for the land and broke the covenant. Foreseeing the dangers inherent being in a land of abundance without a circumcised heart, Moses warned the people about pride and wealth. He cautioned them never to say, ‘I have achieved this wealth with my own strength and energy.’
In the history of mankind, the time and place we currently inhabit, America in the 21st century, may be at the pinnacle of human wealth and comfort. We have access to technology and conveniences that the ancient people of Israel never could have imagined. In this time of abundance, we also live in a society that valorizes individualism, success, wealth, achievement, and self-reliance. We are told by our society that everything we have is what we alone have earned. We are told that what we possess is ours alone. God responds back to us that all of creation is His, everything we have He has given to us. He is the one who gave us the strength, intelligence, and talents to work and achieve what we have. He alone is the one who gives us the power to be successful. Not to be successful for our own purposes, but to further His plans through our lives. May we follow the pleading of Moses, and not fall to the stumbling block of pride and wealth. Michael Humphrey