No rescue is complete until the captive is out of harm’s way and preferably taken to a secure place with provisions where they can rest without fear. Occasionally, we see scenarios where freed individuals are left to find their way to safety once liberated from captivity, and sometimes, they end up in jeopardy again, often through no fault of theirs. If I were in danger and had the choice, I’d prefer my rescuer to take me to safety instead of finding my way myself. Thankfully, Jesus saves to the uttermost [Hebrews 7:25], so we never need to fend for ourselves after He frees us. Nevertheless, a successful journey from captivity to safety often depends on the rescuer’s abilities and character and the captive’s willingness to trust them.
The Bible contains two major rescue stories, one in the Old Testament and the other in the New Testament. In the Old Testament, the story centres around the children of Israel who migrated to Egypt because of a famine and became exceedingly fruitful, just as God promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. However, intimidated by their numbers, the Egyptians forced them into hard labour and slavery [Exodus 1:8-14]. But God also promised Abraham that He would deliver the Israelites and bring them back to the land He covenanted to Abraham [Genesis 15:14-21]. Then, about four hundred years later, Moses fulfilled this prophecy and led the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt for the promised land, Canaan [Exodus 12:36-37].
In Canaan, God prepared a place of rest and prosperity for Israel where He would meet all their needs. It was theirs if they did what He instructed them [Exodus 3:8,17, Deuteronomy 28:1-2]. Tragically, only 2 of the roughly two million people who left Egypt made it to the promised land. Furthermore, a journey that should have taken less than two weeks lasted forty years. A lot went wrong during this period in Israel’s history, but ultimately, they paid the price for not trusting their Deliverer. They complained repeatedly about their provision and temporary situation. They yearned for the supposed goodies of Egypt and even suggested they were better off back there despite their suffering and oppression at the hands of the Egyptians [Numbers 11:4-6]. They turned to an idol at the first opportunity, just weeks after God had delivered them [Exodus 32]. Worse still, when they got to Canaan, all except Joshua and Caleb refused to enter and possess the land because of unbelief [Numbers 13 -14]. So, the generation that left Egypt died in the wilderness, never experiencing their inheritance [Numbers 14:30].
In the New Testament, all humanity, not just the descendants of Jacob, need a Deliverer because anyone who sins is a slave to sin, and all of us have sinned [John 8:34, Romans 3:23]. In the bondage of sin, we serve the evil one, alienated from God with no hope [Ephesians 2:1-3, 12]. But just as God sent Moses in the Old Testament, He sent Jesus, a far superior Deliverer, to rescue us [Hebrews 3:3]. Jesus broke the power of sin and Satan over us and delivered us from eternal death (conditions far worse than the oppression the Israelites experienced in Egypt) through His death and resurrection [John 3:16, Colossians 1:13, Revelation 20:11-15]. In the Old Testament, God took Israel from slavery in Egypt to Canaan, the land He covenanted to Abraham and his descendants. Therefore, we should expect a similar destination as part of the New Testament rescue package that’s far superior. Sadly, many reject Jesus’s offer of salvation and remain in bondage [2 Corinthians 4:3-4], and we must continue to pray for them. But for those who choose liberty, where’s their promised land?
On one occasion, Jesus said He came to give those who believed in Him abundant life [John 1:12, John 10:10]. So, for Christians, the promised land isn’t a physical location we’re trying to reach as it was for the Israelites, but a triumphant way of life, available through Jesus to us here and now [2 Corinthians 2:14]. So, instead of trekking two weeks to get there (striving to earn what God has promised us through works), we can have it now by faith and inherit all the blessings God promised Abraham’s descendants through Jesus [Galatians 3:15-29]. In the letter to the Hebrews, the writer draws on the lessons of Israel’s tragic experience to warn us. Just as God prepared a place of abundance, peace, prosperity and security in Canaan for the Israelites in the Old Testament, He has prepared a place for believers – His rest. Like the Israelites, we can miss it through unbelief [Hebrews 4:1-2].
The New Testament contains several covenant guarantees sealed with the Blood of Jesus for believers. Those promises reveal the depth of God’s love for us and encompass all we need for life and godliness and the legal authority to partake of God’s divine nature [2 Peter 1:3-4]. Placing our faith in God and His promises brings us into His rest. However, we can harden our hearts towards His promises through unbelief. If we do, we can’t enter God’s rest [Hebrews 3:7-19]. Paul echoes the same message, warning us not to emulate a generation who doubted God despite what He did to deliver them from bondage, lest their fate befalls us too [1 Corinthians 10:1-11]. Instead, let’s imitate Joshua and Caleb, the two men who entered the promised land because they unwaveringly trusted God.
Our journey from the bondage of sin and darkness to abundant life is a pilgrimage of faith, facilitated by grace and peace multiplied to us through the knowledge of God [Colossians 1:9-10, 2 Peter 1:2]. It’s a well-trodden path [Jeremiah 6:16], and we’d do well to emulate those who obtained what God promised them because of their faith and patience [Hebrews 6:12].