Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
Before, during, and after his rescue of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, the Lord continually made the same promise to them over and over. God repeatedly told the Israelites, “And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites- a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:17). I think most of the time when we read this we sort of write it off as just flowery language; but really consider for a second: a land flowing with milk and honey. Even for trying to sound pretty it sounds fairly exaggerated and I’m sure it did for the Israelites as well. I mean, come on, milk and honey? Who can believe that?
Let’s look at the Israelites as we explore this. They were a generation that was born into slavery, and now as the Lord led them they were entering into a desert. Most of the people of Israel probably had never even heard of this magic land of Canaan where apparently milk and honey were quite abundant. However, what they had heard of was a magical and holy land called Eden. Unfortunately, what they had heard about Eden wasn’t very uplifting. Scripture recalls,
So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life (Genesis 3:23-24).
Not only had the first two people alive been banished from the Garden of Eden, but they had also doomed the rest of mankind to a similar fate. Things got worse though, for even if somehow the Israelites could return to the Garden of Eden, there’d be no way to get to it, as the world had been changed through a catastrophic flood! The Bible reminds us,
The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than twenty feet. Every living thing that moved on the earth perished- birds, livestock, wild animals, all creatures that swarm over the earth and all mankind. Everything on dry land that had the breath of live in its nostrils died (Genesis 7:20-22).
So when Moses started spreading the word about God’s promise of a land flowing with milk and honey, it’s not surprising he didn’t get a lot of positive press at first.
We give the Israelites a hard time when we read about their journey in their desert and their varied faith failures. But consider this, they came out of a land with no hope and walked into the desert. Ok, to be sure, the desert had its share of miraculous moments. Asaph instructs us by writing,
He divided the sea and led them through;
He made the water stand firm like a wall.
He guided them with the cloud by day
And with light from the fire all night.
He split the rocks in the desert
And gave them water as abundant as the seas;
He brought streams out of a rocky crag
And made water flow down like rivers (Psalms 78:13-16).
This all sounds pretty cool, right? There’s more too,
Yet he gave a command to the skies above
And opened the doors of the heavens;
He rained down manna for the people to eat,
He gave them the grain of heaven (Psalms 78:23-24).
When we read passages like that, we think, “Wow! How could they ever rebel against God or break faith with him!? He was feeding them every day!” But put yourselves in their shoes, you wake up: sand, you look around outside: sand, you go for a walk: sand, you eat: sand in your teeth, you wash your clothes: covered in (now) wet sand from the wind, you go to bed: sand. This was all they saw. God brought them out of a land of slavery into a non-stop sea of sand and punishment. And where were they headed anyway? According to what they’d been told, they were going to the land of their ancestor Abraham. We can read about God promising Abraham the land in Genesis 13:14-17,
The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you (Genesis 13:14-17).
Sounds awesome, right? Well, it is. But that’s not the whole story. You see, this promise came on the day that Abraham and his nephew Lot decided to separate. Here’s what happened,
Lot looked up and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan was well watered, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, toward Zoar. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east. The two men parted company: Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom (Genesis 13:10-12).
Lot got to pick first and he chose the best land for himself. In fact, it was comparable to the lushness of the Garden of Eden or Egypt in its prime. Wait. The Israelites were coming out of Egypt…and going into Canaan, the land of Abraham…the land that was less-awesome than Egypt. Something doesn’t add up, and it didn’t add up to the Israelites either as they wandered the awful desert.
The desert was a place without pity and without hope. It was terrible. The miracles kept the people alive, but the sand and heat everywhere kept them miserable. And to top it all off, they were heading to a place that even their history books (or tablets or scrolls) noted as being not as good as Egypt. And yet when they spied out the Promised Land they got the most surprising report. We read,
They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land. They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit” (Numbers 13:26-27).
As hopeless as the desert was, God had been true to his word. There was on the other side of the river a land waiting for the children of Israel, a land that indeed flowed with milk and honey; a land where the produce was so great that even a cluster of grapes had to be carried by two people. And keep this in mind: the people who said this were the same people who also reported that the people of the land were too strong and that they should not go into it. Even the spies who dissuaded the people from entering their inheritance couldn’t deny just how awesome the Promised Land was. When it was decided that they would not enter the land, it elicited this response:
Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes and said to the entire Israelite assembly, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us” (Numbers 14:6-8).
Notice that they say the land was “exceedingly” good. That is to say that not only did the Promise Land actually flow with milk and honey, but it exceeded all other expectations of it. It was better than any of the Israelites could have imagined.
So…what does this have to do with us? We have been promised heaven through the Word of God. John writes during his vision in heaven,
Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes- who are they, and where do they come from?”
I answered, “Sir, you know.”
And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore,
“They are before the throne of God
And serve him day and night in his temple;
And he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them.
Never again will they hunger;
Never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat upon them,
Nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd;
He will lead them to springs of living water.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:13-17).
We’re promised a future in a land where nothing sucks. All of our pains here on this earth will melt away and all of our needs will be met. It sounds too good to be true. But so did the promise of a land flowing with milk and honey to the Israelites. Nevertheless, God was faithful with that promise, so we can count on him to be faithful with this one as well. So, be patient my friend in this world of awfulness that we currently inhabit, for ahead of us is a greater place that where the Israelites went. Scripture tells us,
Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accept the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.
So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised (Hebrews 10:32-36).
Think back on when you were first brought into the saving power of Christ and how the Holy Spirit filled you with joy and excitement. That’s how the Israelites felt on day one out of Egypt, but unlike them I implore you to hold on to that exuberance, because we in Christ have a promised land waiting for us as well. Don’t give up hope, don’t stop believing, and press on toward that which you’ve been given. Now for those of you who are not a part of Christ yet, this only applies to the believer. Notice that John’s vision mentions that the people were washed by the blood of the Lamb (who is Jesus), and in the above verses it says that the promise of heaven is for those who do the will of God. The will of God is that we believe in his Son, Jesus Christ; and that we trust in his salvation through his atoning death on a cross. If you don’t believe this, then you’re wandering in the desert without a Promised Land to look forward to, only death and hell wait- and if you thought the desert of life sucked, just wait until you get to experience awfulness 24/7 for eternity. Trust God, believe in his Son, and follow the Holy Spirit as you’re lead into the land promised to all of God’s children.