Images of the Savior (23 -- The Church in the Wilderness)
After God had redeemed his people from their slavery in Egypt, and destroyed Pharaoh and his hosts in the Red Sea, it is very significant that he did not immediately whisk them away to the promised land, but rather brought them first by slow degrees through a barren wilderness, where they sojourned and camped as pilgrims, and by heavenly supply fitted them with all the necessary provisions for their journey until they had finally reached their destination in Canaan. In this arrangement, we see an indication of the state of the Church on earth, which has already been redeemed, and for whom the victory has already been won, but which must nevertheless press on through the wilderness of sin as a company of strangers and pilgrims until she should finally reach her home in the promised land of God's presence. It is most fitting, therefore, that this time of wandering is filled up with so many precious glimpses of the person and various ministries of Christ, who continually sustains his Church in the time of her sojourn. About these diverse types and images, we will now inquire in a little more detail.
We see first, that immediately after the crossing of the Red Sea, the children of Israel composed a song in which they exulted in Christ as a Man of War and a strong Deliverer, and danced and rejoiced before him. So is it ever with the Church; it matters not that she is still in the wilderness, and has not yet arrived at her home: Christ has already saved her, the victory has already been won, and he will reign forever and ever. Thus it is today, that because Jesus has already triumphed over the forces of darkness (Colossians 2:14-15), and swallowed them up in defeat through the blood of his cross, his Church must ever sing of his great triumph at Calvary, no matter how long and dusty her pilgrimage might be. Christ is her mighty Warrior and her God who ever reigns, and looking to him and the triumph he has already secured at Calvary, she dances through the wilderness in the joy of a certain hope and surpassing peace.
Second, we encounter at the campsite of Marah, which means bitterness, another image of the Savior which is very sweet indeed: for there, the waters which the Church so desperately needed were bitter and poisoned; but Moses threw in a tree, and they became sweet, and sustained the Church with life. So too, we had none of the life-giving waters which we so desperately needed until Christ, by the tree upon which he hanged, brought life-giving waters out of this world's sea of miseries, which had only poisoned us before. And it is here that Christ won that name Jehovah Rophekah, the Lord your Healer, for by that tree he healed his people of their bitterness, and removed from them all the diseases of Egypt, just as he would later heal his people indeed through the cross. And so the prophet later rejoices to proclaim that â€œby his stripes we are healedâ€ (Isaiah 53:5).
Third, we see in the camp of Elim that, after Christ had delivered his people from Egypt, he formed them into a mature and fully-developed Church in the wilderness; and we see, moreover, that this mature Church is but a company of pilgrims and strangers, but is nevertheless sustained with abundant waters in the barren land through which she presses. So it is said of her that she encamped by the water, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees. Now, these twelve springs were types of the twelve patriarchs from whom God's people sprang, and likewise, of the twelve apostles upon whom the Church was founded; and the seventy palm trees were types of the leaders and pillars of the mature Church. So then, this camp was an indication that the Church in this present wilderness is a great and mighty people, built upon the twelve apostles, and governed by leaders who are pillars in God's house; just as Israel, who sprang from the twelve patriarchs, was a fully-developed nation in the wilderness, and was governed by those seventy elders whom Moses appointed (see Numbers 11:16-17). So also, when Jacob first came to Egypt, it was with his twelve sons and a household of seventy members (see Genesis 46:27; Exodus 1:5), which indicated that there God would develop these twelve tribes into a mature nation; and so also God's leaders and saints are very often compared to trees, planted by the rivers of water, etc. (e.g. Psalm 1:3; 52:8; Isaiah 44:3-5; Jeremiah 17:7-8).
Fourth, and very notably, when the Church grew hungry as she pressed on through the wilderness, God rained down bread from heaven, which was very sweet to the taste and nourishing to the body; and he continued to provide her with this bread until she had finally reached the promised land. Now, this was a very evident type of the body of Jesus, who came down from heaven to be true Bread for his people, giving up his body to be broken so that they might have life and nourishment which will last until they arrive safely at home. So today, we still feast upon the Bread of Heaven, when we observe the Lord's Supper; and so God continually supplies nourishment and faith for our journey home, through a constant remembrance of Jesus' sacrifice. Now, that this manna was intended from the beginning to be a type of our spiritual nourishment, through Jesus' own body, is suggested in Psalm 78:24-25, where it is called â€œthe grain of heaven,â€ and â€œangel's foodâ€ (cf. also Psalm 105:40), indicating that it was always intended to have an instructive force and spiritual significance, and was not merely for the physical nourishment of the bodies of the Israelites.
Fifth, in the event of the water brought out of the Rock, we encounter another evident type of Christ; for at that time, the people had no water, and were complaining and rebellious; and yet, instead of smiting the murmuring people, God commanded Moses to smite the Rock, and immediately there came forth an unceasing supply of sweet water. Now, this Rock in the wilderness was most certainly Christ, even as Paul later asserts (1 Corinthians 10:4). And so it was, that when we were rebellious and complaining against God, so that we deserved his wrath, God looked down upon us, but instead of striking us with eternal punishment, he struck the Rock of our salvation, and brought an ever-flowing stream life-giving water from his side. It is partly in accordance with this type that the Apostle John most solemnly testifies that, when the spear struck Jesus' side, there flowed out both blood and water (John 19:34-35). Now, just as this Rock followed Israel in the wilderness, and constantly supplied them with water, so Jesus is our Rock, always present with us, always strong and immovable, and always supplying us with nourishment from his pierced side, which was smitten of God in our stead, so that we might be given life indeed.
Sixth, in the defeat of the Amalekites, we also obtain a glimpse of our great Savior: for then, the children of Amalek, which were the offspring of Esau, assailed Israel in the wilderness; but Moses interceded for them, holding up his rod; and as long as he held it stretched up to heaven, Israel prevailed mightily, through the fighting of Joshua, the Captain of the Lord's Host. Now, Christ is both Joshua and Moses to us in our struggles: as Moses, Christ always causes us to prevail by interceding for us with God, and ever lifting up to the Father that cross upon which he died, just as Moses lifted up to heaven his staff. And as Joshua, Jesus ever fights for us, and through him our enemies are put to flight. Now, even as Aaron and Hur helped Moses lift up his staff, and even as the armies of Israel fought under Joshua, so Jesus allows us to partake with him of the battles which he wins for us; and through his grace we are able to intercede for the Church, and cry out to God for its victory; and likewise to fight for its advance, and bring about its great triumph in all the world through the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God and the Gospel of Christ.
Seventh, and finally, as we have already observed, Moses' delegating his authority to seventy elders, who served the people and governed them in his name and by the power of the Spirit whom God had put upon him (Exodus 18:17-24; cf. also Numbers 11:16-17), was typical of the like circumstance in the Church today. For Jesus has called out leaders and servants to be his under-shepherds, and has given them his Spirit to enable them to fulfill their duties (see John 16:12-14; also Acts 15:28; 1 Corinthians 7:40, etc.); and to these leaders of the Church he gives the very solemn authority to make decisions in his own name and with his own power (see Matthew 16:18-19; 18:18-20). So he ever provides his Church with all the leadership that she needs in the time of her sojourn; and so likewise he most strictly admonishes us to reverence and follow the elders of the Church, as they follow Christ (e.g. 1 Timothy 5:17-19; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Corinthians 11:1); for in doing so, we will be led to the promised land in triumph, sustained always with the presence and provision of Christ Jesus our Savior.
As we look to this journey of our forefathers, who had been redeemed from Egypt and went out a mighty army into the wilderness, built upon the twelve patriarchs and governed by the seventy elders endowed with the Spirit of Moses, and who there camped by the plentiful waters, let us remember that we, too, are built upon the twelve apostles and governed by elders who minister in the power of the Spirit; and, though strangers and pilgrims in a wilderness of sin, yet we camp always by abundant and life-giving waters. And let us remember especially, that whatever we might need for our journey, whether it be food, water, guidance, shelter, or victory over our enemies, Christ is always present with us, and ready to become anything we might need. Thanks be to the Father of Lights, who has so richly given to us all the spiritual blessings of Christ!