Redemptive-Historical Survey: 7 | The Wilderness Wanderings (LDBC Recap 3/20/16 Pt. 1)

Explanation

logo-lake-drive-baptist-churchOn Sunday, January 24th, 2016, I began a Core Seminar on Redemptive History & Biblical Theology at my church, Lake Drive Baptist Church. During the course of this series I’ll be sending out emails recapping lessons and directing recipients to resources for further study.

Rather than just share these recaps with my church family, I’ve decided to share them here on the blog for anyone else who might be interested. I will be posting them occasionally over the next couple of months on a weekly basis or so.

See previous posts:

Recap/review

This week we covered the role of (1) the wilderness wanderings and (2) Israel’s entrance and initial life in the Promised Land in redemptive history.

We will break this week’s recap into two posts, one for each of those two “episodes.”

Overview of Biblical material

Numbers

  • From Sinai, where Israel received the Law, Israel continues towards the goal of God’s Exodus-deliverance—experience of the new-creational kingdom covenant blessings, esp. entrance into the Promised Land.
  • The people complain, and complain, and complain!
  • In unbelief (cf. the 12 spies incident) the people refuse to enter the Promised Land.
  • God responds by sentencing that entire generation (with the exception of Caleb and Joshua) to wander the rest of their lives in the wilderness. They will not experience the new-creational kingdom covenant blessings.
  • God supplies their needs during this time (e.g., manna, quail, water).
  • The people continue to complain and rebel.
  • But God remains true to his new-creational kingdom covenant purposes and prepares the next generation to enter the land (through a second giving of the Law, i.e., Deuteronomy [duet {two} + nomos {law}).

Role within Redemptive History

With that overview in place, we now want to ask, how do the wilderness wanderings fit into redemptive history? That is, how do they fit into God’s purposes of bringing about his new-creational kingdom?

  • Summary

We can summarize the role of the wilderness wanderings in redemptive history (the story of the outworking of God’s new-creational kingdom) this way: God’s people fail to enter God’s new-creational kingdom due to disbelieving disobedience. God postpones yet remains committed to his covenant-bound purpose of bringing about his new-creational kingdom.

Let’s unpack this.

First we said, “God’s people fail to enter God’s new-creational kingdom due to disbelieving disobedience.” In other words, the realization of the covenant-bound new-creational kingdom blessings (of particular focus here is the land-[“God’s place”]-dimension or element of this new-creational kingdom) is postponed due to disbelief and disobedience.

We see here the conditional element of the covenants coming through, i.e., the necessity of faith-fueled faithfulness for experience of the covenant blessings. Namely, the people must believe.

We should also note here that this sin of disbelief which resulted in the judgment of the “wilderness wandering” prefigures the rest of Israel’s history which is characterized by such disbelieving-disobedience. The same sinful condition which produced such disbelieving-disobedinece here will not somehow cure itself later in Israel’s history. Thus, even at this point, we are tipped off to the fact that this story isn’t going to end well. Based on the Mosaic Covenant’s “promised” curses, we can expect–even here–that Israel eventually be exiled (unless, of course, something changes her sinful condition).

The second dimension to this summary is “God postpones yet remains committed to his covenant-bound purpose of bringing about his new-creational kingdom.” God has guaranteed these promises and he will see them through. Thus, he remains faithful to his plans. He does not throw off his new-creational kingdom purposes due to human disobedience.

And this pattern—harmony between God and Israel, followed by Israel’s unbelief and disobedience, followed by God’s judgment, followed by God’s restoration and grace, all of which is undergirded by God’s faithfulness despite Israel’s unfaithfulness—we will see, is recapitulated (repeated) throughout Israel’s history. 

  • What we learn:

In addition to this summary, we can note several other things that this episode demonstrates and teaches us about redemptive history.

First, again, we are reminded that experience of the covenant blessings requires faith-fueled faithfulness (obedient-faith).

Second, in her state of sin, we are again confronted with the fact that Israel is unable to provide this faithfulness; she is unable to keep the covenant. Again, as throughout redemptive history, the problem of human sin is brought to the fore.

Nevertheless, third, we see that this judgment is only a postponing of the blessings which are still guaranteed by God’s promise. Therefore, this episode demonstrates somewhat implicitly that the experience of the new-creational kingdom blessings is based on God’s guaranteed promises, and thus God’s grace. God remains faithful despite human unfaithfulness.

  • Reflections

In closing, we made the following reflections.

We noted how this episode, like so many others, confronts us with the truth of the Gospel by making explicit our problem with human sin. In Israel’s history and struggle with sin, we see ourselves. Israel is a mirror to the universal human condition. And just as Israel cannot perform spiritual surgery on herself, neither can we. The law, as we know, cannot solve the problem either. If anything, it only makes our problem with sin more dramatic. The law says what “do,” but it can’t give the ability to do what it commands. The law, in other words, is not a spiritual surgeon. Thus, here, as elsewhere, we comer face to face with our inability. We need God’s grace. We need God himself to act savingly for us. We are not the faithful human covenant partner. We need God himself to be faithful despite our unfaithfulness

And that’s exactly what Christ does in the Gospel. In Christ, God writes himself into the story as he becomes a human–Jesus. In Christ, God then meets the demands of the human covenant partner by providing the faithfulness we never could. As we discussed, Christ takes upon himself the role of Israel, the role of humanity. As we see in Matthew 3, he enters the wilderness like Israel. He goes there for 40 days like Israel’s 40 years spent wandering. Like Israel, he is tempted in this wilderness. But three times Jesus cites Deuteronomy–a book that calls Israel to avoid the temptation-yielding sin of the wilderness wanderings–and successfully resists the temptation to which Israel fell. Christ, therefore, is the faithful covenant partner, the faithful Israel. And by faith in him we are united to him and are caught up in his victory. We share in his faithfulness; and he then conforms us to himself, making us the sort of people who become actually faithful to God. Thus, our experience of the covenant blessings rests on his faithfulness. These postponed but guaranteed covenant promises find their fulfillment in him.

That is the Gospel.

  • Summary

Thus, to recap: God’s people fail to enter God’s new-creational kingdom due to disbelieving disobedience. God postpones yet remains committed to his covenant-bound purpose of bringing about his new-creational kingdom.

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