Delivered from Egypt, Enslaved to Canaan

Out of Egypt

The children of Israel were miraculously brought out of Egyptian bondage in a day.  The concentration of miracles they experienced was astounding – numerous plagues, the Passover, the parting of the Red Sea, the drowning of their captors…  On top of that, their leader Moses, had several direct encounters with God. The Israelites were fed in the wilderness with manna and quails, the ground parted when iniquity threatened from within their ranks, and their clothing did not wear out for forty years despite the harshest conditions.  These series of events were so staggering that they became the pivotal landmark for all future generations of Israel, even up until now.  In fact, Christians also partake of the glory of these former days and, like the day of Pentecost, view it as a dawning of a new age –and it was.

As human beings, we have a tendency to reflect on miraculous, outstanding, and extraordinary events, almost forgetting that the process and response resulting after the events are equally important, if not more so.  Most religious people want to live in the past, forever rejoicing in the experiences of others in days gone by, forgetting that it is by our actions today that we will be judged.  In one day the children of Israel were led out of Egypt, but the spirit of Egypt plagued them every step of the way during their wilderness journey.  When the generation that originally left Egypt was virtually wiped out, only then were they allowed to cross over into the Promised Land.

Hallelujah!  Praise the Lord!  The battle had finally been won!  Now that rebellion had been eliminated, the lusts of Egypt put out of mind, and the torch had been passed on to a new generation, the land of milk and honey was now theirs for the taking.  Joshua was such a powerful, exemplary and influential leader that the author of his book commented: “And Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that overlived Joshua, and which had known all the works of the Lord, that he had done for Israel.”  (Jos. 24:31).  They were a people on fire for God, who knew of Whom they were called and what their purpose was.

They were ready to work for the Lord and to vanquish the enemies of the land.  Things were going very well.  So well, in fact, that the biggest rebellion Joshua seemed to face was when a single man, by the name of Achan, decided to pocket a “goodly Babylonish garment” and a few other items that happened to catch his eye.  (Jud. 7:21).  Relatively speaking, this is ‘kids’ stuff’ compared to the number of destructive things each of us have happily brought into our homes.  Overall, you could not have asked for a more dedicated people.

But unfortunately this was not to last.

The Plateau

Like Israel, many of us today who were once delivered with a mighty hand from the clutches of the world and brought into the Body of Christ, have only gone so far and no further despite so many things still left to overcome.  You may still remember the feeling of coming to know the Lord in the early days of your journey.  As you were exposed to the word of God, you asked yourself in amazement, “Where was this my whole life?”  You were overcome and ready to tell the world of the Lord Jesus with what little knowledge you had.  But somewhere along the line have you levelled off, perhaps coming to a plateau or relative standstill?  Have you been freed only to become enslaved by something else?  Maybe nothing as obvious as your previous bondage, but take an honest, hard look to where you place God in line with your other priorities and you may be shocked by what comes to light.

For most of us today, the great danger is not that we will renounce our faith.  It is that we will become so distracted, full, rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre, diluted version of it.  On a whole, this is the state of our 21st century church world – the Body of Christ included.

Spiritual Death

Serving God is not an over-complicated matter, even with all the obstacles we face.  The Lord graciously gives us time, and over time, we are to develop sincerity, commitment, dedication and the fruit of the Spirit.  (Gal. 5:22-23, 1 Cor. 13).  Rather than becoming robots running on a program, God has commissioned us to become stewards who are challenged to use our own judgment with what we have been given. We will err in judgment, fall often, but also enjoy the victories God helps us to win.

In the end, the main purpose of the Church is to preach and reflect a message of sanctification in lifestyle from an ungodly society. Also necessary is the development of a deep, sincere humility and love for the Lord, one another in the church and compassion for those outside.  Love and compassion are things, like faith, that only become real when they inspire action.  Otherwise they are dead – plain and simple.  (Jas. 2:26).

And we too, unless we constantly nurture and carefully consider our faith, can gradually separate ourselves from God – attempting to seek Him and at the same time escape Him.

Do you think the church at Sardis actually knew it was regarded as dead?  (Rev. 3:1).  After all, it had a great reputation.  We can also be deceived into thinking that we are more than we really are and make ourselves happy in the process – our own little world.  But what we ought to do is judge ourselves according to our properly motivated response to God’s word, the depth of our conversion and how we relate to the needs of those around us.  We don’t just want to build churches, but churches that are approved by God.

When the Lord looked down on Asia Minor towards the end of the first century, did he feel obligated to send a letter to every structure with a steeple and a preacher?  No. History claims there were dozens of churches in existence at this time.  The Apostle John was specifically told by the Lord Jesus to distribute the message, now known as the Book of Revelation, to “the seven churches which are in Asia…”  (Rev. 1:11).  When God looked down He did not see the masses, but the few.

It seems these were the cream of the crop.  And out of the seven, four were near death unless they decided to recover themselves right away – poor Sardis was described as “dead” already.

How can it happen that something which started off on such a good foot can so quickly fall away into stagnancy or even death?  Pentecost had just happened a few decades earlier and yet most of these churches now appeared to be on life-support.

To each of the churches, Christ said pretty much the same thing: “I know your works, and your labour…”  The Lord Jesus was drawing attention to their commitment by measuring their response against the word delivered unto each of the churches.  When we honestly measure our “works” in response to the vast amount of knowledge dispensed in our churches, what do we find?  Though we were not saved because we were doing good works, we are “created in Christ Jesus unto good works…”  (Eph. 2:10).  The Lord does expect a response to His word – not merely a mechanical response or one bound only by duty.  He expects a response based on correct motives and understanding.  It’s not complicated.  The word of God is preached to encourage us, give us hope, transform our lives, ground us, inspire and motivate us to respond in accordance with the message.

We can have everything at our fingertips and still be far from God.  On a worldwide scale, more information has been published in the last 30 years than in the previous 5,000 years. That’s as strong a contrast as any.  And yet, despite this staggering fact, it would seem that we – society and church included – have largely traded wisdom for information.

Confusion in Canaan

“After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do; and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do: neither shall ye walk in their ordinances… I am the Lord your God.”  (Lev. 18:3-4).

When the nation of Israel crossed over into Canaan, the Promised Land, God mysteriously left a large number of other nations in the land as well.  You would think that after 40 long years of wandering and suffering, the land of “milk and honey” would be waiting for the Israelites on a silver platter— but no.  Just as in our own lives, even after we have been saved and converted, we are still left with temptations, roots of bitterness, weaknesses and character flaws.

Israel was commanded to overcome these nations by either destroying them or avoid becoming influenced by their customs and way of life.  Under the command of Joshua and the elders after him they did just that.

But there were still nations in existence when Joshua and his elders passed off the scene.  Israel was confronted with a choice: keep fighting or assimilate.  We are also confronted with a similar decision.

“And ye shall make no league with the inhabitants of this land; ye shall throw down their altars: but ye have not obeyed my voice: why have ye done this?” (Jud. 2:2).

The children of Israel had forgotten the golden calf, the leeks and the cucumbers.  After all, hadn’t they been delivered from Egypt?  They were saved – praise the Lord!  But with such a light conversion of their own, they soon, “followed other gods, of the gods of the people that were round about them…”  False gods like Baalim and Ashtaroth were now competing with “the Lord God of their fathers, which brought them out of the land of Egypt…” (Jud. 2:12).  How could they possibly be so blind?

We are in the same boat as Israel during those early days in Canaan.  And just like them, many of us fail to realize that the “nations” were left on purpose, not to be befriended but overcome.  We intermingle and dabble with the things of this world not fully recognizing that “many strong men have been slain by her.” (Prov. 7:26).

Rather than overcoming, we befriend the gods of Hollywood, technology, the music industry, sports and entertainment, the commercial world and employment…  As the world runs, so we run.  Ignorant of our captivity, we love our oppressors, tuning in each week to make sure we don’t miss a thing.  There are scarcely any role models with admirable character, only idols of fame, beauty and vanity.  In Judges 3:1-2, it states that the nations (or obstacles) were left intentionally to “prove Israel by them” and “to teach them to war”.  Likewise, we are to mature and take on more of Christ’s Spirit as we are confronted with our trials and temptations from within and without. (Eph. 6:13-18, 2 Cor. 10:4-5).

Did you know that you could sit in on a conversation – in person or on MSN Messenger –about the latest music or the opposite sex with young people in the church and walk away without a single clue about what was discussed because of all the code words and slang?  As Nehemiah lamented, “their children spake half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak in the Jews’ language, but according to the language of the people.”  (Neh. 13:24).  Today, it would seem that many parents are so enamoured and impressed with their children’s intelligence when it comes to worldly matters that their spiritual state becomes secondary.

When we wilfully and excitedly take on the spirit of society, how can we wonder at our present state?  Really and truly, is the Lord and His principles still the focus of our lives?  If the answer is “yes”, then we’re on the right track, and if it’s “no”, we need to recover ourselves.  The battle within is hard enough without us constantly gorging ourselves on things that bring instant gratification but ultimately only frustration, destruction and lost time.  As scripture dictates from beginning to end, when we embrace the evils, vanities and past times of the world we will be judged as the world.  (Rev. 18:4).

The tragedy of the book of Judges is that the bondage Israel suffered under the hands of their many captors in this new land seemed to be almost as bad as the hard bondage of Egypt – if not worse for the fact that they should have known better.  Just look at the bondage-repentance roller coaster documented in Judges:

  • 3:8 – 8 years
  • 3:14 – 18 years
  • 4:3 – 20 years
  • 6:1 – 7 years

Thank God that a strong leader named Gideon came on the scene in chapter 6:11.  But not long after, the nation of Israel was involved in doing “evil again in the sight of the Lord.”  By the time chapter 13 rolls around, they were sent into bondage for 40 years!  In prison lingo, that’s what you call ‘hard time.’  And it didn’t stop there, but by now you get the picture.

Freed Again

God is a good God, full of mercy, long suffering and kindness.  He sent His Son who, Himself, became acquainted with mankind and all of our shortcomings, and still He died for us.  On a personal level, He reached into your life and mine to deliver us from sin, death, torment and a life without purpose.  As the Apostle Peter rejoiced, “According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness…”  (2 Pet. 1:3).  God is for us!

As was stated earlier, the outcome of this war is determined by our day-to-day response to God’s word as opposed to the envisioned ‘gun to your head.’  This Christian walk is really quite practical.  We hear the word of God, and we are to live it, letting it become a part of us first before we proclaim it, not another piece of education to simply enlighten us or give us something to debate about.  It takes time, a lot of wrestling and prayer before it sinks down deep, but God is there to help us.  That’s why He’s given us a lifetime.

Most of us are in captivity again at this very moment.  It may not be the garlics and cucumbers of our former life that we look fondly upon, but something new and captivating.  Let us not just quote it, but may we come to that place where we put off the things of this world that enslave us, allowing us to honestly say that we are not ignorant of Satan’s devices.  (2 Cor. 2:11).