In retrospect, we may not think that walking out of Egypt is necessarily the most exciting or notable aspect of the experience of Israel in the wilderness. After all, having a large number of people who spend most of their time walking, and rarely even fighting their own battles or even able to do mundane tasks like provide enough food for themselves, is not necessarily the most exciting sort of model for our lives. Yet there are at least a few obvious matters of this experience that are worthy of our attention. Obviously, much more could be said but as is often the case, time and space are somewhat limited (especially time), let us focus on a couple of the most obvious aspects of this experience, as even that will be an ambitious task to think about.
First, we have to understand that even if the experience of Israel in the wilderness is not particularly glamorous or necessarily exciting on a day-to-day basis, they are of a high degree of relevance in our lives as believers. It should be fairly obvious to any reader of the Bible that the experience of the Exodus was foundational to Israel throughout its history and through the writers of the New Testament for Christians today. Given this large amount of evidence, it would be impossible to go through all of it in detail, but it is nevertheless important to recognize at least on some level the large amount of influence the Exodus has with regards to the practice of believers. This influence is particularly strong in the law, the writings, and the New Testament, and is not absent from the prophets either.
In the law, for example, the experience of Israel in Egypt and departing Egypt was to have an influence on the way that believers lived their lives afterward. In Deuteronomy 5:12-15, the rationale for keeping the Sabbath is one of social justice relating to the experience of slavery. As God freed Israel from slavery in Egypt, so Israel too was to avoid exploiting others by making them work seven days a week and denying them rest and forgiveness of debts. Obviously, this remains relevant for believers today. Likewise, the prohibition on kings returning to Egypt (Deuteronomy 17:16) is related to the experience of the wilderness, and a few other laws specifically. In the prophets, it should be imagined, these laws are referred to, reinforcing the value of the wilderness experience in having a lasting relevance for the lives of believers, even if indirectly. The writings are full of references to the experience of the wilderness, from the mourning of the people of Israel at the time of Nehemiah about the sins of the people and their culpability in their exile experience (Nehemiah 8:1-12), and especially the writing of numerous psalms that address the wilderness experience (see, for example, Psalms 95, 105-107, and 136, to name but a few examples) in the light of then-contemporary relevance. The same is true when the wilderness experience is used by Paul to urge the brethren of Corinth to avoid complaining or falling into the lust of evil, or testing God by a lack of faith (see 1 Corinthians 10) and by the author of Hebrews to remind us that the promised freedom from death and exploitation and injustice is yet to come, and so there remains a Sabbath for God’s people to remember and practice (Hebrews 3 and 4 ).
Even a cursory look at the scriptures ought to help us understand the multifaceted nature of the influence and the relevance of the wilderness experience on believers. For one, it is a lengthy and extended story of God’s love for a faithless and rebellious people, a microcosm of the entire experience of God in dealing with both ancient Israel as well as the church. We can learn from the mistakes of others before us, even if we tend to make the same foolish mistakes time after time and generation after generation. We also ought to recognize the interconnectedness of our lives with those of other generations, and with some parts of scripture and other, and some parts of life and others. The same principles and the same patterns apply, helping to reinforce the lessons of others and the consistency of God, both in mercy and in judgment, in dealing with mankind.
Let us close with a surprising aspect of the wilderness experience that has especial relevance to the lives of Christians that is not often exhibited. God told Israel in Exodus 19:4 that he bore them up on eagle’s wings and brought them to Him in Sinai. Without the grace and providential action of God, Israel could not have been saved from slavery. Neither can we as Christians be saved from the slavery of sin and oppression by our own efforts alone. Yet, we should also notice that Israel was not supernaturally brought to Mount Sinai, but rather they had to walk every step of the way, however reluctantly, however fearfully. The same is true for us. God bears us on eagle’s wings to His kingdom as well, but we must walk every step of the way. Let us walk wiser than the ancient Israelites, and with greater faith and obedience than they did.
 Some of these matters have been dealt with in other blog entries, for those who want more detail: